Success!

Once again, I got a craving for coconut, which is on the top of the Controversial Ingredient list. I decided that I would give the Cherry Macaroon Tart from 101 Cookbooks a try – mostly because macaroons are the one coconut-based dessert that I can usually be trusted to like.

And because there’s something very soothing about pitting cherries without a cherry pitter.

And I lucked out! This is very good – the coconut is moist and not too stringy or chewy even though it is the main flavor of the tart. I only wish I’d used more cherries – I think the dish I was using (a 9-inch round rather than her recommended 8×11) was smaller which made for a higher coconut to cherry ratio than I think I’d like. Also, the cherries I had were almost abnormally large. If they’d been smaller, there would have been more in the 1/2 pound of cherries the recipe called for and perhaps more evenly distributed.

As you can see, it did suffer from First Slice Syndrome, but it was still very tasty…

I have to admit, though, that I actually made this a few days ago, but I was too full from the yummy, yummy huevos rancheros from the always fabulous Smitten Kitchen I made to taste it.

July Daring Bakers Challenge!

So this month’s Daring Baker challenge was…let me get this correct…a Filbert Gateau With Praline Buttercream. My first question was ‘What the hell is a filbert?’ Unfortunately, the recipe was not much help at all, calling, as it did, for not a single filbert. It did call for hazelnuts, so…maybe filberts are hazelnuts when they’ve been cooked/baked? My second question, I have to be honest, was ‘And this is different from the Opera Cakes we made…how?’

But I figured it’d be fun to get a second try at a nut-based cake and a first try at making the other kind of buttercream and a proper carob ganache. However, based on my appreciation of the opera cake, I decided to halve the recipe (I’m afraid this sort of cake just isn’t my favorite kind of thing). I should have taken some pictures to demonstrate the scale of it because it’s quite cute, being all small and everything.

However, halving the recipe was a bit of a challenge as it called for 5 egg yolks and 7 egg whites. Rather than weighing them out and then taking half of that, I decided to sort of split the difference and do three of each…which may have altered the consistency of the cake somewhat (it was surprisingly dense – more like a quickbread than a light, airy cake), but was not untasty. Mostly I was impressed with the ganache – the carob behaved amazingly well and set just like it was supposed to.

And everyone else that I foisted this cake off on insisted that they really liked it, so it really must just be me.

And now for a couple of pictures:

Looks nice enough, right? Not from the side!

If I’d been thinking about it, I would have mushed the layers of cake down a bit more – as it was, the ganache split between the layers. So, yes, more successful cake, more successful buttercream, whipped cream (impossible to mess up, really), same for the sugar syrup – which means that it was definitely a worthwhile project.

Click on the Daring Bakers icon at the top there to see lots of other (more beautiful) cakes!

Summer blockbuster tally, part 8

I haven’t seen an episode of The X-Files in absolutely ages, but I was still looking forward to seeing the new movie. It was fun to catch up with Agents Mulder and Scully (though they’re no longer agents, I think), but I felt like there were a lot of things that I missed – most having to do with their relationship to one another – very confusing!

Plotwise, I think it just felt like an extra-long episode of the series, nothing really special. Things felt a little disjointed and confusing – just like the series, I guess. And it was a bit gruesome, but that’s to be expected, I suppose. Unfortunately, I think it was a little…boring.

But it has made me want to go back and re-watch the series to see if it still holds up, so that’s where I’ll be for a while!

Summer blockbuster tally = 4-3-1

ETA: Carp! Sounds like there was a post-credits tag scene, but I didn’t know about it to stay – anybody out there in Internet-land know what it was? I’ll be searching for a download otherwise…

Look who’s back!

It’s not the drones – I haven’t seen them since the wasps showed up (don’t worry, I…took care of them) – I think it must be a female since it’s not all black like the drones are and doesn’t have the white spot in its forehead like the drones do.

It was really enjoying the meyer lemon plant – climbing around all the flowers and sticking its head right inside. And look how furry it is! So cute!

Boldly gardening what no one has gardened before…

I opened the door to my balcony this afternoon to go out and water everybody and promptly stopped and said ‘Holy fuck!’

Apparently, I have discovered a new species of cucumber: Stealth cucumber. I’ve been repeatedly checking on this little fellow:

and was concerned that no progress was being made. What made me stop and swear today was the sight of this:

Amazing! I honestly have never seen that cucumber before and have no idea where it came from. In sadder news, I was very excited to see that my tomatoes were finally ripening. Looks good, doesn’t it?

But then I turned it over:

Disaster! Anybody out there know what happened? Did I leave it on the vine too long and it started to rot or is that some kind of tomato infection or something? I’m a little concerned about the meyer lemon tree.

If all those flowers turn into meyer lemons, I fear I will be overwhelmed!

My new addiction…

So when you’ve had enough of reading books, head over to Hulu.com.

IT’S AWESOME! You can watch streaming video of TONS of TV shows (and some movies, too, apparently, but TV!) FOR FREE! Last weekend, I spent, like, all of Saturday watching WKRP in Cincinnati. And then when I woke up at 3 in the morning and couldn’t get back to sleep, I thought ‘You know what would do the trick? Some Dick Van Dyke Show. And right now, I’m watching The Bob Newhart Show!

So if you feel like wasting some time and brain cells, head on over. It’s where I’ll be!

Here, have some turkeys: I tried to embed the Thanksgiving episode of WKRP for you, but WordPress is stupid and won’t let me, so I’ve just linked to it instead. 😦

Nonfiction

Ghost Ship: The Mysterious True Story of the Mary Celeste and Her Missing Crew by Brian Hicks

So after finishing Artemis Fowl, I decided that I wanted to read a ghost story. Though not a real ghost story, Ghost Ship definitely satisfied my craving for something spooky. It tells the story (and history) of perhaps the most famous ghost ship, the Mary Celeste. Found adrift a few hundred miles off the coast of Portugal by the Dei Gratia, what made it stand out was that there was no good explanation for what had happened.

Hicks explains that shipping tragedies were not uncommon. When it was first reported in the shipping news, it was just two lines long and listed among five other ships that had been lost. Even ghost ships were not that rare at all – in the same year that the Mary Celeste was abandoned, there would be dozens of other ghost ships discovered adrift in the Atlantic. What made the Mary Celeste so special was that no one could come up with an explanation.

The sailors on the Dei Gratia decided to split their crew and sail the Mary Celeste back to Gibraltar with them where they would claim the salvage reward. It was during their hearing that it gradually came out that, not only did know one know what had happened, no one could come up with a good guess as to what had happened.

Bad weather? Although the Atlantic is known for having the harsher weather and rougher seas, there was no damage to the Mary Celeste that would result in an experienced crew abandoning it in a lifeboat on the open waters. Also, all the hatches were wide open – not the best choice in stormy weather, of course. The sailors’ wet weather gear was all still hanging in their bunks and nothing in the way of supplies or provisions seemed to have been taken nor did it seem they had left in a hurry.

Mutiny or piracy? The captain, Benjamin Briggs, had a reputation as a good one, not the kind to inspire mutiny and ultimately, there was still no reason for the crew to have abandoned ship once they’d committed mutiny and the very fact that there was still a ship to discover (and again, nothing had been taken or even rifled through) seems to dispell the pirate theory.

Despite the fact that there is not much of the story to tell, Hicks turns the tale of the Mary Celeste into a riveting book. The first half of it is taken up with telling of the Mary Celeste’s past (she was originally named the Amazon) and that of her ill-fated captain, Benjamin Briggs and his family (all but one were seafarers and of those, I think only one managed to not die at sea). The slowest section is concerned with the trial of the Dei Gratia’s crew, but it needed to be there to coax out all the finer details and, I think, much of the information we have regarding the Mary Celeste comes from the trial’s transcripts. Then Hicks moves on to theories (including one about disappearing islands due to an underground river running below the Sahara – very cool if it’s true), hoaxes, and a brief (and slightly misplaced) foray into a discussion of the Bermuda Triangle (which is often blamed for the Mary Celeste’s disappearance, despite the fact that she was nowhere near it at the time).

As in the best of ghost stories, there are no answers to be had here, but when Hicks finally presents his solution in the last pages of the book, it is elegant and chilling in its simplicity.

My rating: A- (and the minus is only because he name-drops Clive Cussler into an awkward epilogue)

Guess what I did today!

I GAVE BLOOD TODAY!

I know this is not a big deal to many of you, but I’ve always been too scared to do it. Today, though, the blood drive at work was in memory of one of the other editor’s mother who recently passed away and it was that extra guilt which, along with my normal guilt, finally made me say ‘I have no excuse not to do it, I am a grown-up and I shouldn’t be afraid of things like this, I am going to do it!’

And even though I very nearly passed out, it was not nearly as scary as I’d always thought it would be. It’s not the needle or the blood that always freaked me out before, but the rubber band they strap around your arm to find a vein. But now they just use a blood pressure cuff, so I needn’t have worried! I made it all the way through, but as soon as she’d removed the needle and was putting the bag of blood in the cooler, I suddenly felt very lightheaded. They tipped the chair back, put cool cloths on my forehead and neck, and assured me that I was not the only one that day to do the same thing. After about fifteen minutes, I was feeling better and munched on my cookie reward.

I don’t know what blood type I am, but I think they send you a note telling you – I’m hoping to be something rare and exotic, of course, or one of the universals would be fun.

So you should donate blood (if you don’t already) – if I did it, you can do it!

IR Sci-Fi/Fantasy

Artemis Fowl: The Time Paradox by Eoin Colfer

I LOVE Artemis Fowl. I may even love him better than Harry Potter. MAYBE. I can’t believe I just typed that, but it MAY be true. Maybe. At any rate, I’m always happy to see a new Artemis Fowl book come out – especially after the fiasco that was Colfer’s Airman (I got about halfway through, decided that it was a kid’s version of The Count of Monte Cristo, and got very disheartened when I saw how much more I had to read.) – and this one does not disappoint.

In this, Artemis’ sixth book, there is much to love – it’s very heavy on Artemis and Holly, who are my two favorite characters and there are some (welcome) developments in their relationship along with very exciting action and gadgetry, as always. Artemis is oddly uncertain in this book – I don’t know if it’s puberty or what, but it was a little unnerving to see him doubting his decisions and a little bit off his game when faced with his most treacherous enemy so far, himself (and someone else, but I don’t want to give it away). But when it matters, he is the same old sure, unflappable Artemis that we all know and love.

Yes, there is time traveling and Colfer (and Artemis) handle the paradoxes quite well and cleverly. There is also only a little bit of Mulch Diggums (my least favorite character due to his heavy reliance on bodily functions for humor) and THANKFULLY, there is no sign of what’s-her-name from the last book. Thank you, Eoin, for jetisonning (how do you spell that – the spell-checker won’t leave it alone, no matter what I try – it’s a word, right?!) that little bimbo. And, although he’s still in good-guy mode here, it looks like Artemis will be turning to a bit of Robin Hooding in the future – I’m glad to see him planning to make a return to crime – it suits him better – but I’m a little bit disappointed that Colfer felt he needed to qualify it (those of you who know me will know why that disappoints me).

My rating: A

It’s not only sweets ’round here…

At the same time that I noticed I had three lemons roaming about the fridge, I realised I had a half-full carton of ricotta cheese that desperately needed to be used (I may have had to scoop out a few bits that were a funny color…but the rest of it was fine!). Although a Google search for ‘lemon ricotta’ turned up about five pages of recipes for lemon ricotta pancakes, I stumbled across one for Pan-Fried Lemon Ricotta Gnocchi.

Very tasty – I mean, it’s basically fried chese, so how can you go wrong? Last night I had it just with a bit of basil and lemon zest, but for lunch I added some homemade pesto and it was just as good.

Fiction: Sci-Fi/Fantasy

Victory of Eagles by Naomi Novik

This is the fifth Temeraire book and a welcome return to the more action-packed adventures of the first two books. Not that the others weren’t fun and enjoyable, by any means, but I did sort of feel like they had a tendency to get a bit bogged down in politico-speak and I’d keep thinking ‘Oh, just get to the part where Temeraire kicks some Napoleon ass!’

I think when I reviewed the fourth book, I said it felt more like setup for the fifth book and it totally pays off. There is drama and intrigue and a few rather intimidating pitched battles and some new dragons (I adore Perscitia!) and Temeraire is fantastic and Laurence is angsty and England herself is at risk!

Very, very good – I don’t want to give away the ending at all, but I’m very intrigued to see what happens in book 6 (I’m assuming there’ll be one…) because unless it’s going to focus more on Temeraire fighting for dragons’ rights (and I’m not sure that’s going to matter much where they’re off to), I can’t figure out what the overarching conflict is going to be.

My rating: A

Book nerd note: Not only did they switch Temeraire over to hardcover, they changed the cover art so they match the earlier books even less! Lame!

Better than the orange cake!

I discovered three lemons in the fridge yesterday and, since I didn’t know how long they’d been there, decided the best plan of action was to use them immediately. So I made this Lemon Frosted Lemon Cake – oh, so very tasty! Apparently it’s a poundcake, but it’s a little bit lighter, I think – and certainly more moist than the orange cake was (though that may have been that I didn’t end up doubling the baking time on this one).

The lovely lemon cake

The lovely lemon cake

(Ooh, look at the new, fancy caption option – or has it always been there and I’ve only just noticed it?)