Fictionista, Foodie, Feline-lover

Sunday, March 31, 2013

Pacific Rose Apples

When I moved to Los Angeles, I discovered all kinds of really delicious fruit I'd never encountered before, fabulous berries, wonderful melons, magnificent stone fruit (dragon heart plums!!!). And best of all, I found that you could more than the three default types of apples (Red Delicious, Golden Delicious and Granny Smith) in any grocery store. I come from a family that knows apples and my uncle (who lent his name to Jim's Apples) had nothing but disdain for those varieties. I think he would like the Pacific Rose Apple, a sweet and crisp variety that has just shown up in California supermarkets. It's another one of those lovely red and gold (or red and green in some cases) apple and it fills the spot previously held by the Envy Apple, which is now out of season. Pacific Rose apples are cheaper than Envy apples, which is another selling point for them. (Although once you've had one, you won't need to be sold.) For more information on Pacific Rose apples, go here.

Netflix Streaming and me

Despite what all the nutritionists say about eating mindfully--i.e., eating your meals at a table like a civilized person--I often eat lunch at my desk. I'm not actually working. Most often I'm updating social media or checking the news or even playing solitaire, which I find very soothing if it's been a stressful morning. Sometimes I'm writing.  I don't need to pay attention to what I'm eating as it's pretty much the same thing I eat for lunch every day.  Sometimes, if I don't have a heavy workload, I like to extend my lunch hour into 90 minutes, or even two hours and watch a movie. I have the cheap Netflix option that allows me to stream movies and television shows to my heart's content, which would be awesome if I wanted to watch gems such as Stop or My Mom Will Shoot; DC Cab (starring Mr. T) or Brainsmasher: A Love Story. There are some good movies available, even some great ones--like Lars and the Real Girl and the documentary This Movie is Not Yet Rated, and it's a great place to catch up on television series you'venever seen (like Weeds), but often I have to click through screen after screen to find something that I either haven't seen or would want to see. And then I found this blogpost on the Huffington Post's "CaptNetfliain7 Tools to Help Y Gadget" site:  Netflix Movies on Streaming that are Actually Good: & Tools to Help You Find Them. Written by Jason Gilbert and posted early last month, it's the first place you need to go to improve your streaming life. I also discovered "Netflix Instant Movies that Don't Suck," a blog that updates fairly regularly. My lunch-time movies breaks have gotten so much more fun. (And if you haven't seen Lars and the Real Girl, you should. It's quirky, warm-hearted and funny. Ryan Gosling acts his heart out and eve

Kushiel's Dart by Jacqueline Carey--an anti-review

I read for a living as well as for pleasure, and I read a lot.  I mostly read mysteries for my own amusement, but I also love horror and fantasy and all the hybrids of those three genres. Watching Game of Thrones (it's back tonight!!) has rekindled my love of historical fantasy and I'm always looking for fantasies that feature female protagonists. When Kushiel's Dart by Jacqueline Carey crossed my desk, I was delighted. I wasn't daunted by the length (900+ pages) because I like a writer who takes the time to build her world. I wasn't put off by the sometimes overly ornate prose. (I  cut my teeth on Tolkien.) I wasn't even put off by the heroine's profession (she's basically a sacred slut). At least, not at first. The further I got into the book, though, the more disenchanted and disengaged I felt. The protagonist, Phedre, is so incredibly beautiful and so incredibly sexy, and so incredibly awesome all around that it becomes tiresome. She is the quintessential "Mary Sue" character and that kind of character is usually not very interesting. And yet...Kushiel's Dart has 453 reviews on and 251 of them are five-star reviews. I don't feel the love. And neither, actually does Phedre, because she's an anguisette, a woman who experiences agony and ecstasy simultaneously.  It's not that she can't feel pain, she feels it as exquisite pleasure. The more I read, the more I felt like I was reading 50 Shades of Grey tarted up in fantasy dress. To put it mildly, I was disappointed. To put it frankly, there were times I was kind of icked out by the heroine's belief that her only value was as a sex object. Not to mount my feminist hobby horse but here at Kattomic Energy, it makes me kind of sad that girls are reading this book and identifying with the heroine. It's really ashame because the world-building was terrific.
Opinions anyone?

Roasted Brussel Sprouts Recipe

It's Easter Sunday and I am in a cooking kind of mood. I just posted the recipe for roast Pork Loin with Pineapple-Mustard Glaze over at my Southern Cooking site at BellaOnline and now I'm about to go make it for Sunday dinner. (That would be lunch to y'all Yankees.) I haven't actually done much cooking this month. i am fortunate enough to live with a good cook who takes up the slack when I'm busy. So roast pork loin and maybe some baked Brussels Sprouts. This is the recipe you make for people who turn up their noses at Brussels Sprouts. The recipe turns them into lovely, spicy morsels that are as addictive as junk food.  Really.  I promise.  (There are people in this world who will try to convince you that if you mash up steamed cauliflower it takes like mashed potatoes. I am not one of those people. But believe me when I tell you that the first time I made these, they didn't even get to the table--people were eating them right off the pan, standing over the stove.) Yummy and good for you!

Roasted Brussels Sprouts

Preheat your oven to 400 degrees (F).

Spray a cookie sheet with non-stick spray or linen with aluminum foil that's been lightly coated with olive oil.

1 1/2 pounds fresh Brussels Sprouts (You use frozen but fresh sprouts are dirt cheap, so why not use fresh?) 

3 Tbsp. olive oil
1 tsp. garlic powder
1 tsp. Herbes de Provence
1 tsp. salt
tsp. (or more) Crushed red pepper flakes.  (Can also use 1/2 tsp. cayenne pepper)

Combine spices with olive oil in a big Ziplok bag and shake up. 

Cut the tough ends off the sprouts and remove any wilted leaves or yellow spots. Cut in half or in quarters and shake with the seasonings. (Don't worry if any leaves fall off, they'll cook up nice and crispy.)

Spread the seasoned sprouts on the cookie sheet and bake for 40 minutes until they're crisp at the edges and tender on the inside. If desired, sprinkle with more salt before serving.

Serve hot.  

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Binding Spell by Christine Pope--a book review

Taken from her aunt's estate by kidnappers who were actually after a royal princess, Lark Sedassa finds herself in the hands of a nobleman who is in no hurry to correct his mistake when he discovers his beautiful captive is herself the daughter of a wealthy and influential family. Not only does he not intend to return Lark to her family, the golden-eyed Kadar Arkalis intends to make her his bride.
Binding Spell is the latest of Christine Pope's fantasy-romance series "Tales of the Latter Kingdoms," and she's painting with a darker palette this time out. There's malign magic at work in Kadar's castle, and secrets that could prove deadly for himself and his people. Lark, who practices her own magic in secret, must face the threat this evil poses and finally accept her own powers, which she has always kept hidden.
As always, Pope's writing is lushly sensual, hauntingly descriptive without shading into purple prose like those fantasy novels where there are so many adjectives readers begin to wonder if the writer was being paid by the word. The Latter Kingdoms may be fantastic realms, but the details of the day-to-day lives of the characters that live there have a realistic familiarity.  Gowns get dirty; food stores have to be replenished; inconvenient mistresses need to be sent away.
The characters share that reality and are dimensional and believable. Lark is a serious-minded young woman whose growing love for her husband eventually extends to everyone in his domain. Indeed, one of the best scenes in the book occurs when Lark uses his ability to sense lies to dispense justice in Kadar's "Hall of Grievances."
Kadar is a flawed man whose flaws bring him to the brink of terrible actions, but those flaws also make him more than the usual "alpha male" hero. The attraction between him and Lark goes beyond chemical into the alchemical, and their bond is stronger than any magic. (Pope makes her readers wait for her lovers to consummate their passion but she makes the wait worth it.)
What fantasy would be complete without an evil magician? There's one here, and he's a great character, the kind of manipulator you would get if you crossed Iago with Grima Wormtongue.  You'll know he's trouble the moment you see him, just as Lark does.
Fans of the Latter Kingdom series will be amused by the references Pope makes to plot-points from earlier books, and be intrigued by the teasing hints she offers of characters that will appear in later books. With each "tale," this series gets richer and more developed and while the books stand alone, readers really should treat themselves to all of them.

Orange Cauliflower
I don't do the grocery shopping for my household, but the other day I found myself in the produce section of my neighborhood Ralphs. There, nestled next to the broccoflower (possibly my favorite vegetable) was ... an orange cauliflower. Naturally I wanted to bring some home and taste it but it was way more expensive than any head of cauliflower should be, so instead I came home and Googled it.
Turns out the orange variety (tons more beta-carotene than the white variety) was developed from a mutant plant found in a swamp north of Toronto. Food writers who have tasted it say it's a bit sweeter than white cauliflower. Well, now I'm even more intrigued. For more information on this colorful new vegetable, go here.  Also check out the Saveur.com article, "The Story Behind Orange Cauliflower."

Sunday, March 17, 2013

Suggested Reading for St. Patrick's Day

And it's a feminist fiction bonus...
Check out Erin Hart's series of books about pathologist Nora Gavin. If you laready know the series, you're in luck, the latest in the series, The Book of Killowen, was just published this month. Archaeologist Cormac Maguire is back too!  Author Hart is incredibly accessible. She's on FB (and not just a fan page) and you can find out more about her books at her site. Nora is an American but the books all take place in Ireland.
For another kind of Irish mystery, dip into Tana French's books featuring the Dublin Murder Squad. The paperback version of her latest, Broken Harbor, will be released next month. 

Friday, March 15, 2013

Read some Roman Noir for Ides of March

If you don't know Kelli Stanley's great roman noir novels (Nox Dormienda and The Curse Maker), today is a good time to change that.  Set in the first century AD, the books' protagonist is Arcturus, a physician. The books are lots of fun.

Friday, March 8, 2013

Sunday, March 3, 2013

The Red Market by Scott Carney, a review

Scott Carney is an investigative reporter who became interested in the "red market" economy while on assignment for and Mother Jones Magazine. The topic kept expanding and before long, the author was deep into the research that would become this book, an examination of the trafficking--legal and not--in human tissue. As it turns out, all those urban legands about waking up in a hotel room soaking in a tub of ice and missing a kidney are not far from the truth, and Carney recounts tales of people kidnapped and kept captive in order to drain their blood and whole industries related to what is called "reproductive tourism." Along the way he gives his readers the history of blood donation in America and the UK and explains how laws designed to protect patient privacy actually help the criminals who are making billions off the illegal trade in human tissue of all kinds.

This is fascinating stuff, a peek into a world that operates on the edges of medical research and in the shadows of government institutions. A thriller writer could find a lifetime of inspiration here. Who knew that India was the source of most of the skeletons found in medical schools today, or that they were sourced from bone traders who got them from grave robbers? (Carney interviews one bone trader who freely admits he snatches burning bodies from funeral pyres as soon as the families have left.) India's ban on exporting human tissue has onlly driven the bone trade underground, and Carney recounts a visit to a rural police station where a cache of skulls has been confiscated and bags of leg bones are coveted by both the Buddhists in next-door Bhutan (as raw material for flutes) and hospitals who want to use them for grafts.