Friday, April 29, 2011

Random Recipes: Maple Roasted Chicken and Sweet Potatoes

Maple Roasted Chicken and Sweet Potatoes

Original (practically verbatim) recipe from Real Simple:

Serves 4| Hands-On Time: 15m | Total Time: 1hr 40m


• 1 3 1/2- to 4-pound chicken, cut into 8 pieces
• 2 large shallots cut into 1-inch wedges
• 2 small sweet potatoes (or nicely colored yams), peeled and cut into 1-inch chunks
• 2 tablespoons olive oil
• 1 teaspoon kosher salt
• 1/4 teaspoon black pepper
• 3 tablespoons maple syrup
• 6 sprigs fresh thyme


1. Heat oven to 400° F.

2. Rinse the chicken and pat it dry. Arrange the chicken, onion, and sweet potatoes in a 9-by-13-inch baking dish. Drizzle the oil over the chicken and vegetables and season with the salt and pepper. Toss to coat. Drizzle with the maple syrup and top with the sprigs of thyme.

3. Roast, stirring the vegetables once half way through, until the chicken is cooked through, about 1 hour, 15 minutes. Let rest for 10 minutes before serving.

Perfect for a cold rainy day, or when it decides to hail in the middle of April.

Thursday, April 28, 2011

In honor of the Royal wedding...

Reblogged from the Pages Worth Remembering tumblr
Because that will be much more fun than watching the ceremony and you know it :)

Monday, April 25, 2011

Hear the Ghost Lights Chime...

Because every story must start somewhere, Briony, of Franny Billingsley’s Chime, starts hers with this:

If Eldric were to tell the story, he’d likely begin with himself. That’s where proper stories begin, don’t they, when the handsome stranger arrives and everything goes wrong?

But this isn’t a proper story, and I’m telling you, I ought to be hanged.

And so begins the story of Briony the Witch, who can hear and see the Old Ones in the swamp; Briony the deceitful, who damaged her sister’s mind and burnt down the library; Briony the poisonous vine, who let her stepmother die.

Just outside of London, Briony lives in Swampsea with her distant Reverend father and her mentally damaged sister. In this fantastical world, the inventions of the early 20th century – railways, motorcars and gaslights – are still trying to find their way into a small town where the swamp is haunted by the Old Ones, and witches are hanged by the neck until they are dead. Bad news for Briony who has been hiding her wicked state and wickeder deeds behind a mask of bland amusement and a soul filled with self hate. Especially now that the railway is coming, along with plans to drain the swamp, something the Old Ones will fight with every weapon they have.

And that weapon happens to be the only girl who can hear them.

With the railway come Eldric, the fidgety boy-man with the lion eyes who sees everything that Briony keeps hidden and asks questions of those things she knows to be facts.

In the town of Swampsea Franny Billingsley creates a lush, decaying world inhabited with one of the barbed characters I have read in a very long time. Briony hates herself for the wrongs she believes she has committed and for being a being she perceives to be sinful, truly hates herself. This is not an emo play for attention; she prides herself on never letting anyone see what is going on, but a deep hatred of self. Yet at the same time, she has this prickly sense of pride and humor that wind their way through her narration. This self loathing that Briony feels will make it hard for some readers to connect with her – I admit that I find it eye opening, and after a few pages momentarily wondered what I’d gotten myself into – but once you do connect, she is one of the most interesting characters I’ve read in quite sometime. Briony is a puzzle – to herself and to others – and it takes Eldric’s arrival and his curiosity to make her question some of the pieces she’s already put in place.

It is because Briony is so inwardly focused on examining the pieces that Eldric may come across as a bit of a cipher. His character is there, but it’s doled out in bits and pieces as he questions and reconstructs our heroine. It is his arrival that allows Briony to escape from the monotony and preconceptions that have clouded her mind. It is his support that allows Briony to tell us the true stories…or at least as true as she can see them.

Chime is making its way on to many “Best of” lists and the awards are well deserved. Franny Billingsley has created a truly unique world filled with mystery and characters that capture you long after you stop reading. With its slightly antiquated language and self loathing main character, though, I know it won’t appeal to all readers. This is not an easy read, but if you stick with it, I believe you’ll find that it is a wonderful one. Highly recommended.

You can purchase Chime from these fine retailers: Powells, Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Borders, Your Local Indie, or you can pick it up at your local library.

Book Source: why, my local library, of course. I read this book thanks to your tax dollars.

Friday, April 22, 2011

Random Recipes: Cheater Pot Pie

Cheater Pot Pie

  • Olive Oil
  • 1 package of chicken breasts
  • ½ Onion diced
  • 1 to 2 leeks halved and chopped
  • 4 celery stalks diced
  • 1 bag Country style Potatoes
  • 3 to 4 carrots cleaned and chopped
  • Mushrooms (I use the pre-sliced baby bellas)
  • 2 garlic cloves diced
  • 12 to 18 ounces of Potato Leek soup (I use the Imagine low sodium – comes in a box)
  • 1 bag pre-shredded Tillamook Cheddar Cheese (I like sharp)
  • 2 sheets (one package) Pepperidge Farms Pastry Sheets
  • 1 tablespoon melted butter
  • Spices to taste: salt, pepper, thyme, marjoram, whatever sounds

In one pan, cook up the chicken breasts in a light drizzle of olive oil. Salt and pepper to taste (add thyme for additional flavor if you so desire). When the chicken is fully cooked, remove from heat and shred or chop it up into small pieces.

In another pan, sauté the potatoes and carrots in olive oil until they are almost fully cooked, then add the onions, leeks, celery, garlic, mushrooms. Again, salt, pepper, or add herbs to taste (I added thyme, marjoram and a light dusting of a mixed Italian herb). When finished, toss in the fully cooked chicken and mix together.

Roll out the Pepperidge Farm sheets. Layer the first sheet in the pie tin so that the extra dough hangs off the sides, then lay day a layer of shredded cheese (I like cheese so I added almost half the bag). Pour in the veggies and chicken mix, and then add ¼ of the remaining package to the top. Pour the potato leek soup over this and then tap/shake the pie tin gentle to help it settle throughout.

Now sprinkle the remaining cheese over the top because you can never have too much.

Wet the rim of the pie tin crust and then cover with the remaining sheet of dough. Cut the excess off so that only about an inch (or inch and a half) remains hanging over the edge of the tin. Rolls and pinch this up to create the pretty crust edge.  Create a vent in the top of the pie (I use a knife to cut in a decorative S). Brush the melted butter on to the pie top.

Bake at 400 degrees for 45 to 55 minutes (you will probably need to cover the pie with tin foil for the last 15 minutes to prevent burning).

Allow to cool for 10 minutes at least before serving.

Monday, April 18, 2011

Enchanting to meet you...

From the website/jacket cover for Enchanted Ivy by Sarah Beth Durst:

A story about getting into college. You know, taking the campus tour, talking to the gargoyles, flirting with the were-tigers, riding the dragons...

While visiting the campus of Princeton University, 16-year-old Lily discovers a secret gate to a magical realm and must race against time to save herself, her world, and any hope she has of college admission.

It’s Class Reunion weekend at Princeton and Lily’s grandfather has invited Lily and her mother along for the first time. Finally it’s a chance for Lily to visit the university of her admission dreams and to have a break from being the child of a woman who regularly experiences “brain hiccups” – hiccups that have obscured her mind so completely that she cannot even remember her marriage to, or the subsequent death of, Lily’s father.

With their arrival on campus, grandfather reveals that this is not just a weekend away, but Lily’s chance to win her way into Princeton. To do so she must pass the test set forth by his fellow members of the Vineyard club. Simple really, just a scavenger hunt. And if she fails? Well, she’s still welcome to apply through admissions. A win-win situation, right?

But then the boy with the tiger striped hair shows up and the campus gargoyles start moving and talking. Her mom’s remaining sanity is fast depleting and if Lily wants to keep her focused on the here and now, then she’s got to find this Ivy Key. But that’s kind of hard to do when she might be experiencing “brain hiccups” of her own.

I’ve previously read Sarah Beth Durst’s Wild series – Into the Wild and Out of the Wild – and enjoyed her ability to take the fairytales that Disney taught us and twist them back to their darker origins. She does this even while acknowledging the greater truth: in real life heroes can often be villains and villains can sometimes save the day. It all depends on who is telling the story.

As with the Wild series, Durst uses pre-existing mythological creatures – fairies, dryads, were-animals, and gargoyles – but adds them to the world and mythology many of us would not be familiar with: the history and architecture of Princeton. The gates and gargoyles of Princeton animate to help guide Lily through her adventures and into other worlds, while working within the confines of established Princeton lore. This gives a rather unique spin on the creatures that inhabit much of the Young Adult literature being written today. (Gargoyles do not get nearly enough love if you ask me.)

When I first heard about Enchanted Ivy, I thought that this would be aimed at an older (read YA) audience. While Lily is definitely older than Julie from the Wild series, in some ways she reads the same age. Part of this is due, I’m sure, to the isolation Lily experiences having a mother known for her eccentricities and moments of crazy. What small glimpses we are given of Lily’s pre-Princeton weekend life, are of a girl who is shunned by the other students and spends her non-school hours taking care of her mother. This has caused her to miss out on many benchmarks that other high school students in their Junior year would have experienced. Still, given that she has been taking care of her mother, I didn’t expect her to read as young as she did. Especially since she too worries about suffering from her mother’s mental illness.

That said, Enchanted Ivy was a quick, fun read that would work as a great transition book for Middle Age readers looking for a gateway into YA or a light, but mythology filled novel for older readers looking for entertainment on a sunny afternoon. The violence of the fight scenes rank low on the scare scale and Lily’s romantic interactions with the two male protagonists go no hotter than a kiss each. Tye, the tiger haired boy, does vibe a little too heavily on the “but we’re soul mates” side of things, but not to the point of restricting Lily’s activities or other stalkerish (read: Edward-ian) traits.

Sometime this summer when it finally warms up, I’ll probably be adding her other novel, Ice, to my reading list. The idea of a modern day adaption of the fairytale “East of the Sun and West of the Moon” that includes arctic travel sounds like just the thing once the weather actually hits the 80s.

You can purchase Enchanted Ivy from these fine retailers: Powells, Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Borders, Your Local Indie, or you can pick it up at your local library.

Book Source: I picked this up at the fantastic branch of my local library. My library rocks! Congrats on the new book scanners, guys.

Friday, April 15, 2011

Random Recipes: Baked Risotto

Here's the deal, I'm not the world's greatest cook (nor do I pretend to be), but I do enjoy cooking. And I enjoy sharing the recipes that work out. Lately though, I never have them on hand to share with someone at work when I want to, so I'm going to post them here. Now all I need is access to the internet.

The recipe below was adapted from the Baked Rissoto recipe from Williams-Sonoma. You can find the original here.

Baked Risotto

Serves 4 to 6| Hands-On Time: 30m | Total Time: 50m


  • 3 Tbs. olive oil
  • 4 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1 small onion minced
  • 1 ½ cups Arborio rice
  • ½ cup dry white wine
  • 4 ½ cups chicken broth (warmed – but only if you have time)
  • ½ - 1 cup grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese
  • 3 Tbs. cold salted butter, cut into 6 pieces  

Possible Vegetable Combinations

  • 1 – 2 cups mushrooms
  • 2 cups tomatoes diced (recommend a mix of yellow and red for color and flavor)
  • 1 ½ lb. asparagus, tough ends trimmed
  • 2 leeks, white and light green portions halved and thinly sliced
  • 1 tsp. chopped fresh thyme

  • Diced up pre-roasted Squash (this is the newest version of this, so you kind of have to wing it if you want to go the Squash route. I would suggest using delicata squash you've cut into rounds and roasted at 400 degrees for 20 minutes)


    1. Preheat oven to 400° F.
    2. Choose which vegetable combo you are going to enjoy:
      1. If leeks and asparagus: In 3 ½ qt. wide Dutch oven over medium heat warm 2 Tbs. oil. Add leeks (and onion); cook, stirring occasionally, until soft (about 8 minutes.) Add garlic, thyme and salt; cook 1 minute.
      2. If mushrooms and tomatoes: In 3 ½ qt. wide Dutch oven over medium heat warm 2 Tbs. oil. Add onion; cook, stirring occasionally, until soft (about 8 minutes.) Add garlic and salt; cook 1 minute. Add rice; cook, stirring occasionally, until lightly toasted, 2-3 minutes.
    3. Add rice; cook, stirring occasionally, until lightly toasted, 2-3 minutes.
    4. Add wine; cook 1 minute.
    5. Stir in 3 cups broth, increase heat to medium-high and bring to simmer.
    6. Cover; bake, stirring once halfway through, until rice is tender and liquid is absorbed, 25-30 minutes. (You may want to add an additional 1 ½ cups of broth halfway through.)
    7. Meanwhile:
      1. If you chose asparagus: In a skillet coat asparagus with 1 tbs. oil; season with salt and pepper. Preheat pan over medium-high heat. Cook asparagus in batches, turning occasionally, until tender, 7-8 minutes per batch. Cut on bias into 2” lengths. Add to risotto with the 3 Tbs. of unsalted butter when you remove it from the oven.
      2. If you choose mushrooms and tomatoes: sauté tomatoes until soft in preheated grill pan (medium to medium-high) with 1 to 2 Tbs. butter (or you can substitute olive oil). Add to risotto at baking halfway point. Sauté mushrooms until browned slightly in preheated grill pan (medium to medium-high) with 1 to 2 Tbs. butter (or you can substitute olive oil). Add to risotto at baking halfway point.
    8. Remove risotto from the oven and stir in cheese, salt and pepper.
    9. Serve.

    Wednesday, April 13, 2011

    Things to Know. Links for Later...

    Originally from Without Romance, Life Is..., reblogged from Pages Worth Remembering, a tumblr worth checking out.

    From the Smithsonian by way of Dear Author, I want this book when it finally comes out...whenever that is (No one seems to have it listed as existing): Pink and Blue: Telling the Girls From the Boys in America.

    Tuesday, April 12, 2011

    Free Young Adult Novels...for as long as they last

    Easily in the top five reasons people come here from Google is Free Young Adult Novels, so here you go. Leila from Bookshelves of Doom let her readers know that Amazon is giving away Maureen Johnson's 13 Little Blue Envelopes and Aprilynne Pike's Wings.

    From the free Kindle version's product description for 13 Little Blue Envelopes:

    Inside little blue envelope 1 are $1,000 and instructions to buy a plane ticket.In envelope 2 are directions to a specific London flat.

    The note in envelope 3 tells Ginny: Find a starving artist.

    Because of envelope 4, Ginny and a playwright/thief/ bloke–about–town called Keith go to Scotland together, with somewhat disastrous–though utterly romantic–results. But will she ever see him again?

    Everything about Ginny will change this summer, and it's all because of the 13 little blue envelopes.

    I loved 13 Little Blue Envelopes enough when I read it several years ago that I went out and bought it. It's sitting in the YA section of my bookshelves as we speak. Ginny, despite what she thinks, has more guts than I will ever have when it comes to taking off by myself, and Maureen knows how to write a great character to carry you alone for the ride. When I found out that the followup, The Last Little Blue Envelope, will be available on April 26th in hardcover and ebook, I even made a note on my calendar.

    While I can't vouch for Wings because I haven't read it, apparently the publisher is aiming for the Twilight* set. From the product description:

    For a limited time, the book that Twilight Saga author Stephanie Meyer lauded as "a remarkable debut" is available for free.
    Laurel was mesmerized, staring at the pale things with wide eyes. They were terrifyingly beautiful—too beautiful for words. Laurel turned to the mirror again, her eyes on the hovering petals that floated beside her head. They looked almost like wings. In this extraordinary tale of magic and intrigue, romance and danger, everything you thought you knew about faeries will be changed forever.
    Apparently its about Fairies? Let me know if they're evil (I like 'em evil) and I'll check it out. Illusions, the conclusion to the Wings Trilogy, will be available on May 3rd, 2011.

    *I know, I know, you can read. Thank you, Captain Obvious.

    Monday, April 11, 2011

    Oh Vera, I'd never ignore you

    From the cover copy of Please Ignore Vera Dietz by A.S. King:

    ---Is it okay to hate a dead kid?
    ---Even if I loved him once?
    ---Even if he was my best friend?
    ---Is it okay to hate him for being dead?

    Eighteen-year-old Vera's spent her whole life secretly in love with her best friend, Charlie Kahn. And over the years she's kept a lot of his secrets. Even after he betrayed her. Even after he ruined everything.

    So when Charlie dies in dark circumstances, Vera knows a lot more than anyone—the kids at school, his family, or even the police. But will she emerge and clear his name? Does she even want to?

    An edgy, gripping story, Please Ignore Vera Dietz is an unforgettable novel: smart, funny, dramatic, and always surprising

    This is the story of more than Vera Dietz. This is the story of Vera and Charlie – their friendship, his death, and the death of their friendship. This is the story of Vera and her father, Ken, and Vera’s mother. This is a story of past mistakes driving future actions, children fearing to follow in their parents’ footsteps, trying to be invisible and trying to live.

    Oh, and this is a story about a Pagoda, inanimate though it may be, that watches over Vera, Charlie, Ken and the town.

    Vera Dietz is a high school senior and full time Pizza Delivery Technician who’s desperately trying to not wind up a pregnant teenage stripper (her mother’s early path). She’s trying to drink through the grief and forget her best friend Charlie’s death and all the pain and confusion that came before and after.

    Of course, this would be easier if he would just stop haunting her, but then so would a lot of things.

    A.S. King has the amazing ability to create amazingly three-dimensional characters that capture the beauty of living even as they suffer the pain and the loneliness of being left behind. Vera’s wry humor in the face of her sorrow and the mystery and destruction that was Charlie is matched by her father’s journey to grow from his past, recover from his divorce, and raise the best daughter possible.

    I knew that A.S. King could write wonderful prose and interesting characters thanks to her previous novel The Dust of 100 Dogs, but with Vera she captured the grieving process and my heart.

    Recommended for adults and teens alike, this book definitely deserved to be a Michael L. Printz Honor Book for 2011.

    You can purchase Please Ignore Vera Dietz from these fine retailers: Powells, Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Borders, Your Local Indie, or you can pick it up at your local library.

    Book Source: I picked this up at the fantastic branch of my local library. My library rocks!