28 November 2012

An Everlasting Meal

I really liked this.  Tamar Adler has a way of making this style of cooking and eating accessible and real.  She's just great to read.  And even though my cooking is generally very different from what she writes about in this book, we're still following the same basic principles.  I don't think I'll ever be as fanatic about French and Italian cooking as I ought to be, at least to be a person who care about food in the US, but that's okay.

In a way, I felt like I was reading what a cookbook should be like.  The best cookbooks are much more than a collection of recipes, but they're a way of life. 

27 November 2012

Shenandoah Books

I've been reading a lot about the Shenandoah Valley since it's here, so these are a few books I've read so far.

Shenandoah Voices- I enjoyed reading this.  It's mostly short anecdotes and it's really heavy on the author's own ancestors, but that didn't ruin it at all. 

Mennonite Recipes from the Shenandoah Valley- This felt like reading a LDS ward cookbook from the same time period.  Americans cooked the same basic stuff all over the country with a few regional variations.  I picked out the unique recipes because all the rest are easy to find.  I always love reading a cookbook though.

Shenandoah Heritage- This was specifically about the people who lived in what would soon become Shenandoah National Park.  It was written in 1978 so, while it was more modern than sources I've read from the 1920s and 30s, it was still somewhat biased against the people of the park.  Still, a very interesting read.

From Amish and Mennonite Kitchens- This wasn't specifically about the Valley, but the authors are from there.  It was similar to the one I reviewed above.

20 November 2012

Sour Cream Apple Pie

So we've been having a pie fest recently because it's that time of the year, and since the South is apparently pie country, I've made some new pies.

I now know why my mother always said pie is too sweet.  We've had some horribly sweet pies (although they were pretty good once liberally covered with lime juice).  I'll give the chess pie another chance with a modified recipe, but I'm not sure I'm quite converted to pecan pie.

Anyway, I'm still trying new ones but without as much sugar.  Today's was a sour cream apple pie that was really good.  My middle son loved it most- he ate half the pie by himself, and that's unusual for him.  He eats everything, just not lots of it.  The original recipe had less sugar than many do, but I cut it half anyway and thought it was about right, although still a little too sweet.  Less of the crumb topping would be good, or just leave it out.

Unbaked pie crust in an 8" plate
3 cups chopped apples
2 tablespoons flour
1/4 cup sugar, or to taste
1/4 tsp salt
2 tablespoons lemon juice
1 cup sour cream
1 egg
1/2 tablespoon vanilla

1.5 tablespoons butter
2.5 tablespoons sugar
2.5 tablespoons flour
1 tsp cinnamon

Combine the apples, sugar, flour, lemon juice, and salt and dump into the pie crust.  Combine the sour cream, egg, and vanilla and spread over the apples.  Bake at 425 for 15 minutes, then at 350 for 25 minutes.  Combine the rest of the ingredients into a crumb topping, sprinkle over the top, and return to the oven to bake at 400 for 10 minutes.

17 November 2012

Savory Sweet Potato Galette

I have to get this recipe down before I forget how I made it.  I wanted to make a savory galette like I did recently with cabbage and sausage (only this time I stir-fried the cabbage, red onion, and garlic before baking it and I think that was better), but with sweet potatoes.  I couldn't really find a suitable sweet potato filling so I made this one up that turned out to be really, really good.

I used a half recipe of the pastry I always make (1.5 cups whole wheat flour, 1/2 tsp salt, 1/2 cup grated cold butter, 2 tablespoons lemon juice, and a bit of water).  I had too much filling, but I was trying to so I'd have plenty and could use it for leftovers too.

Prick 3 large sweet potatoes and cook them in the oven or microwave till they're nearly done.  Let them cool, then peel and chop into bite-sized pieces.

While the sweet potatoes are cooking, chop one large onion and a tart apple like a Granny Smith.  Sauté the onion till soft, then add the apple and cook till the apple has softened but still holds its shape well.  Add the sweet potatoes, salt and cayenne to taste, and Old Bay seasoning (I think I put in about a teaspoon) and cook for a few more minutes till everything is hot and flavorful and as soft as you want it to be.

Roll out the pastry and put it on a cookie sheet.  Mound the filling into the middle, leaving about 1.5 inches around the edges, then fold the edges up to make a rim around the vegetables.  There will be a large hole at the top.

Bake at 350 for about 30-40 minutes.  Let it sit a few minutes before serving.

The tart apples were perfect with the sweet potatoes.  You could use different seasonings if you like.

16 November 2012

Civil War Sites, part 1

We live in the middle of a huge number of Civil War sites.  Many major battlefields are less than two hours ago in several different directions and there are smaller sites all over the place (like on the hill where the grocery store is).  So we're working on seeing as many of them as we can while we're here.

We're using some books from the library, but the most practical source of information and maps has been at Civil War Traveler.  They have maps of several different sections of Virginia and the sites are generally marked with a Civil War Trails sign (sometimes they could be marked better, but generally we've been successful in finding what's marked on the maps).

This is a project we can do on a tight budget because, even though there are museums and such at some sites, it seems there's nearly always some sort of historical marker you can see without paying, and if you get books from the library, you should have more information at your fingertips.

I also love driving around Virginia. 

Anyway, we went to the central Shenandoah Valley earlier this week.  We saw the Port Republic, Cross Keys, and New Market battlefields, plus other various things. We did very little at New Market though, in comparison to what was there, since VMI owns a lot of the battlefield.  There's a museum and self-guided walking tours included in the admission.

I've been having trouble planning how we'll see all these sites.  It would be nice to do them in somewhat chronological order, but that really isn't practical.  Appomattox would make a lovely day trip, but I don't want to go there before going to at least a few other places.  And Manassas/Bull Run is a hassle to get to (although relatively close to a Lego store as my children like to point out).

Good Riddance, Twinkies

What does it say about us that some of our quintessential American foods are Twinkies and Wonder Bread?  I don't see anyone mourning the loss of Nature's Pride whole grain bread or Hostess's other real food.  I can't get too worked up about the disappearance of Ding Dongs from the American diet.  If we're lucky, they'll never come back. But I don't think we'll be that lucky.

15 November 2012

Bride Kidnapping, part 50 million

There was a good post at Registan the other day about bride kidnapping. It's written by a Kyrgyz reporter and is focused on Kyrgyz response and action to a proposed law in parliament to increase the potential prison time in case of a conviction for bride kidnapping.

There is a significant legal ramification if this law is passed.  Kyrgyz law differentiates between different types of crime and the basic way to tell what sort of crime it is is to look at the prison time.  Different types of crimes (private, public/private, and public) are investigated in different ways.  Only public crimes require that the police get involved.  For other types of crimes, the police can only get involved if the victim wants them to.

Right now the prison time for bride kidnapping means that it is not a public crime.  So the police, by law, cannot get involved unless the woman who was kidnapped initiates things herself.  As the article at Registan points out, a woman in that situation is extremely unlikely to do so and there are a huge number of reasons why which I've talked about often elsewhere on this blog.

But this new law would move bride kidnapping into the public crimes section.  That means that anyone who knows the crime has been committed (her family members, someone in the boy's family, a friend, someone on the street, anyone, really) can contact the police and at least get an investigation going- they don't have to wait for the kidnapped woman's okay.  That doesn't mean that the police actually will do that, but by law they would have to.

This distinction in crimes is not well-known at all in Kyrgyzstan so it's entirely possible that it wouldn't make much of a difference in getting these cases prosecuted.  I'm also completely unconvinced that the families of either the boy or the girl generally want the police involved at all.  I think it's possible that this law would just make the boy's family more anxious to smooth things over, but that the marriage would still take place.  I still don't think a legal solution is what will change people's perceptions of bride kidnapping.  Education will.

The One and Only Ivan

This was a nice little book about a gorilla, protecting animals, friendship, so many things.  It's based on a real gorilla who was named Ivan and died just a few months ago in a zoo.  It's worth reading about the real Ivan (there's a bit in the book, but much more online) too.

While the basic outline of the story is true, the plot itself isn't, which is obvious if you read it.  It's really just simple.  But nice.

14 November 2012

The Night Circus

I have mixed feelings about this book.  In some ways it was amazing.  It's a really great plot and the writing is lovely.  But the characterization just wasn't there in many places.  The only characters that really worked were Bailey, Widget, and Poppet.  I just couldn't care much about the main characters.  It also felt a little half-baked in places.

But I have no regrets in reading it.  The amazing parts really did largely make up for what was missing.  It just felt like it could have been more when I finished it.

13 November 2012


I knew I'd forgotten to blog about a book recently, but I could not remember the title of it (or much else, for that matter).  But today I was thinking about dust jacket covers that give away too much, I suddenly remembered enough to blog about.  I often don't read the dust jacket till I'm well into the book because they often give away too much at the beginning, but I read a little of this one, unfortunately.  In addition to getting a very basic fact about the book completely wrong, it also made no secret about a major plot point that isn't revealed till the very end of the book.  There's foreshadowing, yes, but I think it matters to the reader that you don't know that particular detail.

Anyway, it was a fine book, even if I can't think of the title.  I'll remember not to break my rule in the future of not returning books to the library till I've blogged about them.

And just in case you can help me, the book is about a brother and sister whose father was schizophrenic.  The sister's son, who is also mentally ill, dies in an accident at the beginning of the book.  The book largely about the brother and how he deals with the consequences of his nephew's death in all of their lives.

08 November 2012

The Book of Lost Things

I really enjoyed this new take on old fairy tales. 

02 November 2012

Downton Abbey

So I finally got caught up on real life by watching Downton Abbey.  I'd missed all the fun while we were overseas, but I'm ready for January.  Too bad I knew most of the plot points ahead of time, but it's okay.


We had colcannon last night for dinner, for Samhain.  I just kept it simple and made it like this:

7 large potatoes, peeled, boiled, mashed, and seasoned with butter, milk, and salt
1 large onion, diced
1/2 head cabbage, sliced
Salt and pepper to taste

Saute the onion and cabbage in some butter (at least 2 tablespoons) till just starting to brown, then season with salt and pepper.  Combine with the mashed potatoes and heat if it needs to be.  Check the seasoning again before serving.

I also made an apple cake and soda bread.  I'll make my Welsh cakes tonight as soul cakes.  Nice to have Halloween, Samhain, All Saints' Day, All Souls' Day, Día de los Muertos, and whatever else all together here so we can spread things out.