Another Turn of the Page: More Snowbirds and Jack

“In the dime stores and bus stations/ People talk of situations/ Read books, repeat quotations/ Draw conclusions on the wall”
Bob Dylan

shelfWell if I thought last month was sparse, member-wise, this month was even thinner. A few more birds flew south to escape the winter deep freeze. We did have a new person but not really. Let me explain. When I arrived there was a man standing at the table presumably asking about the group. This is not unusual, we get interested people and we welcome any and all who are readers who want to share their books. I went to get coffee and upon my return, discovered that he decided to join us. He had a book in hand so I figured he came prepared. After introductions were made, he was Jack, Bea did the author talk about John Irving. The roundtable was next and I elected to go counterclockwise to save Jack from being the first to speak. I didn’t want to put him on the spot. After our third member had shared her book, another man arrived and tapped Jack on the shoulder. This was Jack’s ride and it was time to go. I told Jack I was sorry we hadn’t gotten to him and did he quickly want to talk about his book?

Now here’s the weird part, he didn’t want to talk about his book but instead told us a tale ‘about being outside the Two Rivers Bus Station in December and meeting a woman who needed a place to stay and she was a looker, and came home with him and is still there and how cool a woman like that would be interested in him….’ and then he left. We all looked at each other with that ‘Huh?’ look on our faces. Ellie, who had been sitting next to him, said he smelled like he had drunk a six-pack for breakfast. I bet John Irving could turn that experience into an interesting novel.

Oh well, on to our books. Only six this month since Jack wouldn’t share his.

february1. In One Person by John Irving (2011) 425 pages. John Irving was the author of the month and Bea presented his body of work but I decoded to feature this one since it is his most recent. It is the story of Bill, a bisexual, who as an older man looks back at his life, his relationships, his upbringing in order to analyze how he came to be who he is. (I just loved the cover.)

2. Killing Patton: The Strange Death of World War II’s Most Audacious General
by Bill O’Reilly (2014) 304 pages. This continues O’Reilly’s “series” of books preceded by Killing Lincoln, Killing Kennedy and Killing Jesus. Patton died in a mysterious car accident. This book takes you through the final years of the war and relates the suspicions and conspiracy theories surrounding Patton’s death. Our reviewer thought the book readable, interesting and well-researched.

3. Three Minutes in Poland: Discovering a Lost World in a 1938 Family Film by Glenn Kurtz (2014) 432 pages. Glenn Kurtz finds a homemade travel film made by his grandfather in 1938 that includes 3 minutes of film shot in the village of Nasielsk, Poland. These three minutes are the only known moving images of this town whose Jewish population of 3,000 was be reduced by the Holocaust to 100 people. Part of the author’s search to solve this mystery begins when a woman, viewing the 3 minute film in the Holocaust Museum, recognizes her grandfather as a thirteen year old boy.

4. The Lost City of Z: A Tale of deadly Obsession in the Amazon by David Grann (2005) 351 pages. “Z” is supposed to be the long, lost city of some South American civilization. Think El Dorado. Many explorers in the early 20th C searched for it but none as earnestly as British Colonel Percy Fawcett. The author tells the story of Percy’s many travels into the jungle, where he ultimately disappears, as well as the author’s own trek to discover any evidence of Fawcett’s remains or of Z. Though fascinating, his book is not for the squeamish, because along with these trips comes malaria, yellow fever, swarms of blood-sucking insects, snakes, poisonous frogs and of course the inevitable thirst and near starvation. All described in vivid detail.

5. American Sniper: The Autobiography of the Most Lethal Sniper in U.S. Military History by Chris Kyle (2011) 381 pages. This is the autobiography that was used as the basis for the current box-office smash film, American Sniper. “Gripping and
unforgettable, Kyle’s masterful account of his extraordinary battlefield experiences ranks as one of the great war memoirs of all time.” -Goodreads

6. Secret Wisdom of the Earth by Christopher Scotton (2015) 466 pages. Fourteen-year-old Kevin and his mother are sent to spend the summer with a beloved grandfather in eastern Kentucky after the death of his younger brother has left Mom traumatized. His dad frequently hints that Kevin is in some way responsible for the tragic accident. Luckily, his father heads back to Indiana, leaving Kevin to have the most unforgettable, summer of his life.

 

Dinner was Served

It has been a week since Curt and I were shopping and cleaning and prepping for our Foodie Group dinner. But last Saturday did finally arrive. There were a few minor blips like forgetting the salad forks (my husband suddenly turned into Emily Post as the salad was served) and not spreading the vegetables out on the dinner plates (that remaining empty area next to the potatoes looked like we missed something). But everything tasted good and there was a lot of lively conservation and laughter, so I think it was a success.

We got so caught up in the cooking and plating and serving that I didn’t take any pictures but here is my table setting. It was fun having the dinner on Valentine’s Day.

tableAnd I know I was being coy about the menu last week but now that all is finished, this is what was served.

UntitledThe salad was very good, the potatoes were interesting, the carrots and beets could have been more attractive though they tasted good, the meat was fine but not special and maybe a little overdone. I could have had a 2nd and a 3rd of dessert but restrained myself. But in my opinion, the star of the evening was the chowder. Curt based the chowder on an escargot/mushroom appetizer he had at Le Petit Chatelet when we were in Paris. This restaurant is right next to the famous “Shakespeare and Company Bookstore.” You can get a glimpse of it in the last seconds of Woody Allen’s movie, “Midnight in Paris.”

credit: Paris for Epicureans, 2014

credit: Paris for Epicureans, 2014

In Paris, Curt’s soup/chowder appetizer arrived with a puff pastry on top and was quite amazing.  Hidden under the puff pastry crust was a rich escargot and mushroom chowder.

Escargot en Croute: le Petit Chatelet, Paris

Escargot en Croute: le Petit Chatelet, Paris

We tried doing the puff pastry top but that was pretty much a failure so our version had puff pastry croutons instead. And since snails are not a widely shared taste treat in our group, Curt used side-stripe shrimp and sea scallops instead. It was truly wonderful. Sorry about the lack of photo but here is the recipe we served.

Seafood & Wild Mushroom Chowder after le Petit Chatelet
serves 6

1 quart corn stock
Mushrooms: 1/2 c. Chanterelle, 1/4 c. Morel,
3/4 c. Chicken of the Woods, 3/4 c. Brown Beech  – all cut into bite-sized pieces
1 large shallot, minced
4 large sea scallops, quartered
12 small shrimp, we used side stripe
1 c. heavy cream
3 c. seafood stock (Swanson’s or homemade)
white pepper
salt
saffron, pinch
2 T. flour
2 T. olive oil
2 T. butter
1 dash hot pepper sauce, like Frank’s

Saute chanterelles in 2 T olive oil till tender, add 2 T. flour and cook to make roux. Add 1 T. butter & remaining mushrooms and saffron.  Cook I minute, stirring. Add corn & seafood stock. Stir to incorporate roux. Simmer 20 minutes. (to this point all can be done ahead)

Add scallops, shrimp & hot pepper sauce, cook 5 minutes.
Add cream & 1 T. butter, bring to a light simmer.

Serve with puff pastry croutons & a drizzle of shellfish oil.

For croutons, just buy a commercial puff pastry. Cut dough into 3/4 inch squares and bake according to directions on the box.

Shellfish oil is made by combining a pile of shrimp, lobster. or crab shells in a sauce pan with 1/2 C. grape seed or canola oil, 1Tbs. tomato paste and 1/2 tsp. of smoked paprika.  Saute for 10 minutes.  Remove from heat and let sit until cool.  Strain out the shell bits and reserve the oil for garnish on chowder or soup.

Note: We had corn stock that we made at the end of last summer from fresh corn cobs after we cut off the corn kernels for freezing.

Hope your Valentine’s Day was as fun as ours.

 

Guests arrive in Twenty-Six Hours

rose2I usually use this blog to talk about the aftermath of a successful meal or dinner party. However, right now I am caught up in the whirlwind of preparation for the Foodies Group dinner this coming Saturday so taking a breath and talking about what’s happening seemed like a perfect break from the action. Tomorrow will definitely be crazier as we get close to opening the door to our guests so you won’t be hearing from me for days.

The past week has been taken up with the heavier cleaning, like the floors. But that is good, because if I didn’t invite guests over every other month or so, I’d just put off the major clean up and clutter purge till spring. And it’s not like the dust is an inch thick but the papers, books, magazines, mail, etc. really starts to take over tables, counters, chairs, the floor.

Another big project this week was the shopping. I think we went over our recipes 5 times, bought the meat last Friday, did a big shop yesterday and still found out this morning that we were out of honey. So while I finished dessert prep, Curt made a final run to the grocery. When he got home he mentioned it was a good thing we picked up our flowers yesterday because today every mother’s son is buying flowers for Saturday…oh didn’t I mention, we chose Valentine’s Day for our dinner. But it will be fun and I have a color theme to work with, those red roses in the opening banner will give you a hint.

stockThis morning Curt was already working on his fish stock for the chowder, and even I, the non fish lover, thought it gave the house a nice bistro-like fragrance.

shrimpOnce I finished my breakfast it was my turn in the kitchen. I don’t do much food prep when we have these dinners; I’m the ambience and logistics manager, but with Curt doing five dishes I said I would take on dessert. At first, there was a lot of lobbying for tiramasu. After all it is Valentine’s Day and that is a luscious sweet. But I discovered the new cookbook we are using, Plenty More by Yotam Ottolenghi did not just have wonderful vegetable dishes but also desserts.dessertI found one that could be made ahead and assembled just before serving. Perfect. Consequently, my food contribution is already complete.

cherreisNow all I have left today is the vacuuming, tomorrow is the table setting, the bathroom, dishes from food prep, a shower, the wine, the appetizers……wheh! I need a nap just thinking about it. How did we ever do these dinners when we were working fulltime? And where did those dirty dishes come from?

cleanBtw, if it seems like I am being coy about what we are serving, I am. It really isn’t a big secret but it is fun to surprise our friends and I believe they might read this before arriving tomorrow.

Eating while Katy Perry Sings

wings2Well yesterday was the big game, the whole enchilada, the big Lebowski….yes, the Superbowl. Up here in Green Bay, we weren’t too excited about the actual game. How could we choose between the evil empire from New England or the ospreys from Seattle (who, by the way, beat our team in the playoffs)?  But the Superbowl is also a big reason to eat some good food and we didn’t want to skip that part of the day. So we reminded ourselves that the Superbowl wasn’t just a game, it had, hopefully, new and interesting commercials and a musical halftime, which turned out to be worthy of the opening of the Olympics. Certainly enough entertainment to eat along with.

We started early with a fine lunch. There was leftover chicken from Saturday so after making some broth from the carcass Curt put together a couple of bowls of noodle soup.

Noodle soup a la Curt

Noodle soup a la Curt

Chinese egg noodles, green onions, chicken, radishes, cilantro sprouts and a dollop of fermented soybean paste on the top. It was great. So let’s call this our nod to the West coast team. This looks more like a Seattle dish than a Boston dish.

About two hours after lunch was done chili preparation commenced.

chilispMeat needed to be cut up and spices gathered: cumin, ancho chili pepper, paprika, Mexican oregano, cayenne pepper, guajillo. Once all of those ingredients and the beans and the onions were in the pot it was time for the chicken wings. We have a deep fryer but frankly it is kind of a mess and a big deal to use it for just two people. Also the less deep fat frying in our diet, the better. These wings were oven baked.

Wings right out of the oven

Wings right out of the oven

A day ahead, they were prepped. For every pound of wings mix together 3/4 tsp of baking powder and 3/4 tsp of salt. Put the wings into this dry mix and toss till they are thoroughly coated. Lay them on a rack on a cookie sheet, uncovered, and refrigerate overnight.  To get a crispy skin you want the wing’s skin to dry out.

About an hour before you want to eat, preheat your oven to 450 degrees.  Bake the wings for 20 minutes.

Turn the wings and bake for an additional 15 – 25 minutes depending on the size of the wings.

Take out and toss with your favorite coating. We divided ours in half. Half plain, half coated with a mixture of Kikkoman Thai Chili Paste, vinegar, Major Grey’s Chutney and Frank’s Original hot cayenne pepper sauce.

These turned out great and around 5:30pm they were ready. Oh yes, and kickoff happened at 5:30pm too. While the game proceeded we filled up our plates, then sat down to eat during the first bunch of commercials. The Brady Bunch/Snickers ad was the best of that group. Back to football…time to get more wings and wine. This was the pattern till all the wings were gone.

Around halftime Curt heated up the chili that was prepared earlier. This would be our nod to Boston. While Katy Perry rode in on a tiger puppet we filled our bowls, topped them with a tablespoon of sour cream and added a corn cookie on the side. By the time Katy was in her beach togs dancing with sharks we were ready to eat. chiliAfter chili we watched some football till the next episode of Downton Abbey started on another channel. Bye football. Mellowing out with another glass of wine (Curt had a beer), we watched our favorite English upper class family. Once it was done we even had time to see the final interception of the big game. Yes, the evil empire won but seeing the shocked expressions on the osprey’s faces made it all worth it.

Another Turn of the Page: Beginning the Year

“I disappear into books. What’s your superpower?” -Anonymous

11-Batman

Our January meeting always has fewer people. Mostly because many are snowbirds and have flown to their respective nests in the southlands, but we were also lessened this month by illness. The flu has been flying about and seems to have caught some of our members. The others probably said,”yuk, it’s cold! and pulled the covers higher.”

But the magnificent seven who met had some good books to share. Pete started us off with a brief report on Richard Paul Evans. Best known for writing fiction with conservative Christian themes and strong family values, he’s a real Hallmark kind of writer. And though those books are not my reading choice, I have to give this author credit for using his money to found The Christmas Box House International, an organization devoted to building shelters and providing services for abused and neglected children.

So on to the books of January:

January1. The Mistletoe Promise by Richard Paul Evans (2014) 251 pages. Pete who did our author recommends this book by Evans. It is about two people with painful secrets who meet during the Christmas holidays and decide to sign a contract pretending to be a couple to help each other get through the holidays. This book received favorable reviews from men and women alike.

2. Longbourn by Jo Baker (2013) 332 pages. Are you a Downton Abbey fan? A Jane Austen lover? Then you’ll probably enjoy this view of the belowstairs world of Pride and Prejudice.

3. The Chili Queen by Sandra Dallas (2002) 304 pages. An entertaining story about Addie French and her bordello called The Chili Queen, with a setting in the New Mexico territory of the 1880’s. Much more than a story set in a “hookhouse”..and they serve great chili too.

4. Deep Down Dark by Hector Tobar (2014) 320 pages. The San Jos mine collapsed outside of Copiap, Chile, in August 2010. As the subtitle states, this is “the untold stories of the 33 men who were buried and the miracle that set them free.” Fascinating, but you may want to pass on this one if you suffer from claustrophobia.

5. Mercy Falls by William Kent Krueger (2005) 434 pages. I decided to read this author upon recommendation from one of our members. He writes regional mysteries set in far Northern Minnesota featuring Cork O’Connor, the sheriff of a small town. I picked up this one ( #5 in the series) at a booksale and immediately got engrossed. And then at the “end”, found out it was the first of a two-parter!  My suggestion, start at the beginning of the series with Iron Lake. And when you get to Mercy Falls make sure you have quick access to Copper River.

6. The World’s Strongest Librarian by Josh Hanagarne (2013) 291 pages. This book is a big surprise because it is so much more than the story of a librarian. Josh Hanagarne is 6’7″, a librarian, a Mormon and a sufferer of Tourette’s Syndrome. Oh yeah, and he uses body-building as a way to help control his Tourettes. Funny and entertaining…you are going to love this guy.

7. Painted Horses by Malcolm Brooks (2014) 336 pages. Catherine Lemay, a young archeologist, is hired by the Smithsonian to survey a Montana river canyon before a dam project gets the okay. Why she was hired and who helps her becomes tangled with stories of WWII survivors, Indian politics, prehistoric relics and wild horses.

8. Still Life with Breadcrumbs by Anna Quindlen (2014) 272 pages. An unlikely “coming of age” story and love story because the main character, photographer Rebecca Winter, is a woman in her 60’s. Reviews were very mixed, even from people who are fans of Quindlen.

 

Not Eggs-actly

eggbanner.jpgIt’s somewhat of a joke among my friends that I believe, and have often said, adding an egg to any left-over is a good thing. An egg can transfer almost any soup into a breakfast (I lo-o-o-o-ve soup for breakfast). An egg can elevate some left-over vegetables to a lunch or even dinner. It adds protein to what might otherwise be a thin offering. It adds an eggy richness to almost anything. In my opinion, the egg should be poached or fried when used in this kind of savior role, but scrambled eggs work sometimes too (scrambled eggs and chili anyone?).

But wait, I recently encountered an egg of a different ilk. Salt-cured egg yolks. I saw a mention in one of those upscale cookbooks that line the shelves at almost any bookstore in the run-up to Christmas.  Salt-cured egg yolks were not something that was on my radar but when I saw a recipe in a book called Flour + Water by Thomas McNaughten, I immediately swooned.  What was this thing – cured egg yolk?  It sounded delicious, strange, rich, luxe, umami.  I had to find this food.

Turns out the rest of the world seems to already know about cured egg yolks.  A quick search of the inter-web revealed numerous sites with recipes, photos and opinions about cured egg yolks.  The basic idea is to take fresh (critical information!, FRESH) egg yolks and bury them in a dry cure of salt (and maybe other stuff).  Some recipes call for 100% salt.  Some use 50% salt and 50% sugar.  Many use ratios somewhere in between.  Some add other stuff (black pepper, cayenne, fennel, miso, soy sauce).  What’s a boy to do.  I wanted to try this but I didn’t want to waste a bunch of eggs on an experiment gone wrong.  So I trod a middle path of simple, and a second path of “sounds good, let’s try it”.

My two batches (shown below, side-by-side) follow the same basic procedure just the salt mix differs.  Each version shown below is enough to cure 4 – 6 yolks.

Mostly Salt Version
2 C. kosher salt
1/4 C. sugar
1 Tbs. fennel pollen
2 tsp. black pepper
1/2 tsp. ground fennel seed

Simple but more Sugary Version
1-1/3 C. kosher salt
2/3 C. sugar
2 tsp. black pepper

Fresh egg yolks buried in curing salt mix

Fresh egg yolks buried in curing salt mix.

 

For either version, mix the dry ingredients and put a 1/4″ – 1/2″ layer in the bottom of a non-reactive container.  Make depressions in the salt mix to hold the yolks.  Carefully separate the yolks from the eggs, getting the yolks as free from white as you can.  Once separated, carefully place a yolk in the depression.  Once you have placed as many yolks as you will be curing, gently spoon some of the remaining salt mix around and over the yolks, covering them by about 1/4″ to 1/2″.  Cover the container and place in the fridge for 1 week (7 days).

As I noted above, I didn’t want to end up wasting a bunch of eggs.  But on the other hand, if this turned out great, I didn’t want to have to go through all the trouble and have little to show for it.  So I prepared 4 chicken-egg yolks for each of the cures and 2 duck-egg yolks which I cured in a mixture of the two salt mixes.

eggs.2

Yolks after 2 weeks in the salt cure.

After a week I checked the progress, not knowing exactly what I should be looking for.  The yolks seemed like a firm but fragile jelly and a pretty sticky.  The instructions I had seen said they would be firmer, more like gummy bears.  So, I covered them back up and let them sit in the fridge another week.  In hind sight, leaving them buried in the salt but not putting a lid on the container would have sped up the drying/curing but fridge space was at a premium and I wanted to stack the containers so I put the lids on.

eggs.4

Brushing excess salt cure off the yolks.

Another week later, they’re firmer.  So, on to the next step.  Carefully clean as much of the salt mixture off the yolks as possible – not easy because the yolks are sticky and still surprisingly delicate.

eggs.5

Yolks laid out on cheesecloth, ready to be swaddled.

eggs.7

Swaddled yolks tied off between each one.

eggs.8

Swaddled yolks ready to go back into the fridge. The 4 on top were cured in the fennel cure. The two in the middle are the duck yolks.

Once clean, the yolks are swaddled in a strip of cheese cloth, tied off between each yolk and  returned to the fridge for another week or two of drying, uncovered.

The end result is a yolk that is about half or less the size of what I started with.  The texture is firm, sort of like Swiss cheese.

Now, after all that, what do they taste like?  Reports on the inter-web rave about the richness, the depth of umami.  One likened grated cured egg yolk to dried mayonnaise.

eggs.9

Finished cured yolk grated over ravioli. One-half yolk is enough to season 2 servings.

In my opinion, not so much.  They’re salty.  They taste vaguely of egg.  The added flavor elements of black pepper and fennel are subtle but present.  In the end, I think it was an interesting egg-speriment.  I’m glad I tried to make them.  I find them useful as an umami flavor addition/boost, like anchovy or miso.  My favorite use so far is to grate half of one over a simple pasta with an olive-oil, garlic sauce. They’re also nice grated over a green salad or into a simple vinaigrette dressing.  Ultimately I probably won’t take the time to cure egg yolks again. But you should! It’ll cost you some time but you won’t be sorry.

 

Just Another Wednesday Night

Wednesday. Dinner. Our House. Just the two of us.dinnerMy husband loves to cook. Once everything is prepared and cooked and tossed and toasted it is time to take the elements and compose the plate.

Tonight was sliced avocado, topped with a salad composed of apple, radicchio, curly endive, red onion and blood orange tossed with a balsamic vinaigrette. Add to this garam masala seasoned scallops. Texas toast and white wine on the side.

Yes, just another Wednesday night. Bon Appetit!

plate

My Reading Year

I exceeded my goal of fifty books by eight!

In 2013, I planned on hitting fifty and fell short by three. Well darn, how could that be? So in 2014 my resolution was 50, for sure. Not only did I read a lot more this year but I listened a lot more. I found I was spending a lot of time in my studio working on my art and listening to the radio, time that could be spent reading. Simple solution, have someone read to me. Multi-tasking at its best. So I started buying more books from Audible and forced myself to learn how to download books from the public library’s collection called, One Click Digital. I now love OCD because I got hooked on the Longmire series of books by Craig Johnson. Once one book was done I wanted the next, NOW! THIS MINUTE!! If you are a reader of series books you know what I mean. You want to know what happens next to your favorite characters of the moment. Forget waiting lists, reserving or driving around from library to library ( ’cause don’t cha-know, one library doesn’t carry all of one series. They get sprinkled between the various branches). Hey I’m a retired librarian, I know the secrets and the method to their madness. So download it and continue on.

But I digress, here are my reading highlights of the past year.

Well as I mentioned, Craig Johnson’s Longmire series was really enjoyable. I learned of his books because there is an A&E series we’d been watching based on the books (will be moving to Netflix next year.) What was fun is the books are different. Sure, Walt Longmire is the same, craggy, easy-going small town sheriff in present day Wyoming who is seemingly well read like his creator, but his deputies aren’t or they have very different personalities (case in point, Vic) and the cases they work on are separate from the television series. So, double your pleasure. Here are books 1,2,3. Also, the narrator of the audio books, George Guidall, is really fine.

craigThe other series I continued to read was David Baldacci’s “John Puller.” John Puller is a combat veteran and  a military investigator in the U.S. Army’s Criminal Investigative Division. He gets the tough cases. Sure, he’s over the top, super intelligent, crack shot, savvy in the field…but who wants to read about an average guy who pulls the easy jobs. Baldacci is also a guilty read for me. His books are what I call “fast reads”, that is, start on Monday, done by Tuesday, next book please. Great thrillers. I read books 2 (The Forgotten) and 3 (The Escape) this year. But you need to start with Zero Day.

zero

Okay, I’m a Science Fiction/Fantasy fan. No apologies, I love this genre and I think the majority of readers are missing some good stories because they think it’s all like Star Trek or Peter Pan ( both worthy in their own ways). I had three favorites in this category.

First, The Martian by Andy Weir. This author self published The Martian in 2012,but then Crown Publishing picked it up in 2014. I bought it from Audible on the basis of one review. The story is basically about astronaut, Mark Watney, who is presumed dead when a Mars mission goes bad because of a severe storm. His crew mates leave for Earth. Except Watney is alive and now has to figure out how to survive till NASA notices and tries to figure out how to rescue him. It has been described as Apollo 13 meets Castaway and that is just about right. Get it in audio, the narrator does a good job. I heard Ridley Scott is making a movie of it to be released this November.

Second, Red Rising by Pierce Brown. I am also a self-confessed fantasy, Young Adult, dystopian novel junkie. This one seemed to sing to me. Darrow, is a member of the lowest caste, the Reds, in a color-coded futuristic society. He has been told his work, dangerous mining on Mars, is for the good of the society and will ensure a wonderful future for all. Lies of course. After tragedy hits close to home he is contacted by the rebels who ask him to take on the body and mannerisms of a Gold (through training and surgery) and infiltrate the ruling class. First in a series but wow! what a great start. Better than Hunger Games and I would rank it more an adult novel than YA.

Third, Neverwhere by Neil Gaiman. A little bit of fantasy, a little bit of horror and written by one of my favorite authors. This was a treat because it was a BBC full-cast dramatization. Sound effects and music and a descent into the world of London Below. That’s right, a huge world below the city where evil lurks and things definitely go bump, and grind, in the night.martian2Onward to the horror category, though Neverwhere could qualify, you can’t beat the King, Stephen King of course. Last year his Dr. Sleep was my horror favorite and I can’t say that Mr. Mercedes, this year’s pick, was better but it was the good and the best King I read this year. Definitely better than Revival in my opinion. And though I love a good demon, Mr. Mercedes was all about real-life horror – an insidious psychotic killer who goes up against the former cop who failed in the first go-round to catch him. King is the master of good vs evil.
MrmercedesI belong to a book group and because of that I also read some mainstream fiction. It is good discipline for me or I would just read SF/horror/fantasy for the rest of my life. I am not that one minded but this group definitely broadens my horizons and puts variety into my book life. For me the best from this group was Flight Behavior by Barbara Kingsolver. In this fiction book she explores environmental themes and the migration of the Monarch Butterfly but ties it seamlessly together with the life of a woman who is trying to sort and make sense of her life, her marriage, her family. I also love Kingsolver because she writes beautifully. You don’t fast read her books, you savor them.

flightFinally I think you may have noticed the lack of nonfiction. I read some. It is not my favorite reading and many nonfiction books that I start I do not completely finish. But I did read a few this year and this is my top pick, Make Good Art by Neil Gaiman, designed and illlustrated by Chip Kidd. It is Gaiman’s Keynote address to the University of the Arts Class of 2012.  It is a gem of a book. I’ve linked to his address here, which is wonderful, but combined with Kidd’s design, it is amazing. Find a copy if you can.

make-good-artSo there you have the highs of my year. Here’s a link to the complete list. Titles in green were Curt’s reading. My resolution for 2015, 60 books, for sure!

Between Holidays

Between Christmas and the New Year I love to work on jigsaw puzzles. I bought one this year and put it under the tree for me (no one else quite has my passion), but I was surprised by my sweetie with two more puzzles. I’m set for the winter or at least until mid-January. You see, I get a bit fanatical when it comes to jigsaw puzzles. Once one is on the table, ready to go, I can’t keep my hands off of it. I visit it many times during the day and in the evening while watching television I continue to put pieces together.

The first one I tackled this year was a picture of candy wrappers. I started Sunday during the Green Bay Packer division championship game. This was a good choice as the game was exciting but turning over 1000 pieces was boring. Turning the pieces is the worst part of doing a puzzle.

The Turning of the Pieces

The Turning of the Pieces

And of course they didn’t all fit on the table so box lids and cookie trays had to be added.

End of Day One

End of Day One

By the end of Day One, I had all the damn pieces turned over, the border done and a few of the major color blocks in.

Day Two had me visiting the table often. So by the time my back gave out and my eyelids wouldn’t stay up I had made some significant progress, in spite of a MAJOR puzzle faux-pas. If you have worked a jigsaw puzzle you know that one of the keys to the solution is the cover art on the box. Unless you have a specialized puzzle that warns you ahead of time that this will be 3D when you are done, or not a rectangle or whatever, you take it on faith that the cover picture represents the completed puzzle. With this one I kept finding colors and words that didn’t match up with the box. Okay, a bigger challenge than I originally thought. Onward!

End of Day Two: more major blocks of color take shape.

End of Day Two: more major blocks of color take shape.

 

Plus a few ready to be added on Day Three

Plus a few ready to be added on Day Three

Day Three. Major push day. I am totally hooked. The cover trick is making me a bit crazy but it’s not enough to dampen my spirit. Instead I am ready to conquer this sucker. Mid-day I pull up a chair, plug-in an audio book and attack. By the end of Day Three I am seeing major light at the end of the tunnel, except for that squirrelly spot in the upper right and a few spots in the middle.

Day Three. Woo-hoo!

Day Three. Woo-hoo!

Day Four was trips to the store for on various errands, some straightening up around the house, etc. but in between the necessities of life I would wander over to the puzzle and put in a piece here, a piece there. By evening I had maybe 35 pieces left and those went fast.

Day Four. Done!

Day Four. Done!

So tonight is New Year’s Eve. The puzzle will go back in the box and I will eat, drink, make merry…watch a movie, bang some pots at midnight but no puzzling…well, maybe tomorrow.

For those of you who would like to compare the box to the finished piece, here is a scan of the cover. 10 candies from the box weren’t in the puzzle, 11 different candies were in the puzzle and 3 were in completely different locations.

Cover of box

Cover of box