IR Sci-fi/Fantasy

Alex and the Ironic Gentleman by Adrienne Kress

Right now I’m on the beach at Acapulco and I’ve just finished Alex and the Ironic Gentleman, so I thought I’d take a moment and post about it!

It takes a while to get going, which is probably my main complaint. And then once Alex’s adventure starts, there are quite a few detours. The style of the writing is almost fable-like, but the structure doesn’t match up with it.

But Alex is likable and there are lots of interesting characters that she meets along the way, so it’s a fun read with lots of adventures. Everything seemed to wrap up pretty quickly, so I’m hoping that there’ll be a sequel.

Just a warning: It’s a little violent at times (what did you expect, there are pirates?!) and there are consequences for some of the characters.

My rating: A-

That great Beetle fleet in the sky…and a sack of booties

Last night, we packed everyone into what is quite possibly the world’s biggest car – Ismael’s brother’s Suburban – and drove to Taxco, a town about halfway between Cholula and Acapulco. This morning, because we were in the world’s biggest car and Taxco has the world’s smallest, steepest, and windiest streets, we took a taxi into the zocalo.

But not just any taxi.

A Beetle taxi.

Because I have now seen Beetle heaven. When a Beetle stops running anywhere in the world, I am sure it must appear on the streets of Taxco ready to trundle up and down the tiny streets. Seriously. I know they’re used in Mexico City, too, but the sheer volume of them in Taxco is far superior.

Oh, and there’s a church and the town is famous for its silver (I saw a few rings that I liked, but I just bought a new kitchen, so only photos for me – see picture), but if you take one thing away from this post it is that old Beetles never die, they just go to Taxco.

Now we’re in Acapulco, relaxing in Karls’s friend’s family’s apartment, cooling off with a cerveza (see picture). We saw the fuerte de San Diego (see picture) this afternoon and tomorrow we’re off to the beach! In January!!

January Daring Bakers Challenge!

Thanks to the wonders of the internet, I am not actually here posting this – I’m in sunny Mexico (at least I hope it’s sunny!), having left behind the arctic wonder that has become central Illinois. But before I left, I managed to get this challenge completed.

This month’s challenge is brought to us by Karen of Baking Soda and Zorra of 1x umruehren bitte aka Kochtopf. They have chosen Tuiles from The Chocolate Book by Angelique Schmeink and Nougatine and Chocolate Tuiles from Michel Roux.

Let me start by saying that, apparently, cream horn molds do not actually exist in my vicinity. At all. I called/went to EVERY possible store that I thought would have them, including a professional kitchen supply shop. NO CREAM HORN MOLDS. So I just had to sort of very carefully and with lots of swearing attempt to roll them into a cone shape by hand.

NOT COOL.

Literally.

I wasn’t sure how thick to spread the batter and I think they ended up being kind of uneven. Also, I probably should have let the egg whites come to room temperature before I added them to the butter mixture because I think they made the butter seize back up again and ended up in clumps in the batter. ALSO, I let the second batch bake for less time than the first and they were too soft to hold their shape and then I overbaked the third batch and they ended up being too crispy to roll without cracking.

So I really only got two good ones (okay, to be honest, I ate some of the more misshapen ones and they tasted super-yummy – especially the lovely, crispy third batch) that would be in any sort of way picturesque. I filled them with Ina’s Lemon Mousse which, oh, my god, SO GOOD. But since I only ended up with two fillable cookies, I had an actual ton of mousse left over. Guess I’ll just have to eat it by itself – darn!

Click on the Daring Bakers logo above to see lots of other beautiful and tasty tuiles!

Drink my tea, it’s beautiful!

Claire and I are exhausted after a lot more walking around today and are currently watching Mexican television. Trashy Mexican television, to be specific, that we don’t understand, so we’re making up our own dialogue, hence this post’s title.

Today we went to Puebla, a larger town near Cholula, and took the hop-on, stay-on bus tour there. We learned a very sad story about how the two mountains nearby were formed:

A girl was in love with a brave warrior and when he left to go into battle, she promised to be true to him. Soon news came that he had been killed in battle and she died of a broken heart. Unfortunately the news wasn’t true. When he returned and saw that she was dead, he gathered her in his arms and they disappeared. Over night, two mountains appeared, one in the shape of a sleeping woman and one in the shape of a kneeling man, keeping watch over her.

I think it’s the warrior that’s the volcano which overlooks the area – it last erupted in 1999, but Karla says that it’s only the ash that reaches them, not the lava – it’s smoking at the moment as you can kind of see from the picture below (it looks like a cloud near the top, but it’s smoke).

After the tour, Claire and I went to two museums one of which was the Museo Amparo which was really nice and interesting, too, and then to a couple of churches.

Tomorrow evening we head off to Acapulco via Taxco!

A story!

Here is a picture of Karla, Claire, and me in front of the cathedral in Puebla from last night (much easier when someone else takes the picture).

Apparently, the same architect designed both this cathedral and the one in Mexico City at the same time. When they went to build them, though, the blueprints got mixed up and the cathedrals were built in the wrong cities. That’s why the door to this one is not on the side facing the zocalo – since it’s actually the cathedral that was supposed to be in Mexico City, it doesn’t quite fit into the space!

Electrolytes!

Today Karla had to work, so Claire and I were on our own for most of the day. After a bit of a lie-in (Claire is usually quite the taskmaster travelwise), we decided to walk far, far away into Cholula to see the underground pyramid and ruins (Piramide Tepanapa) and then up even more steps to see the church of Nuestra Senora de los Remedios (see picture!). There’s also a snow-topped volcano around here somewhere, but it was too hazy to see it well.

Then we walked even further than far, far away to the market square where I had a very successful conversation with a lady in a shop (in Spanish!).

We’re back at Karla’s right now for dinner and then she and her husband are going to take us on a car tour of Puebla, where Claire and I will go tomorrow.

Also, Karla has a Bearda (well, actually, her name is Luna, but you’ll see why I called her that soon) – I think she’s cuter than Beardo. What do you think?

What we learned today…

…and yesterday, if I’m honest. Claire, Karla, and I went into the city and went to the Museo Coracol (I think – it’s whatever the Spanish word for ‘snail’ is) and to the castillo there (again, I’m blanking on the name). Mostly we learned a lot about Mexico’s history, but I also learned that my reading Spanish is actually not too shabby – my speaking Spanish is still abominable. Then we went to the Museum of Anthropology and learned a bit more.

This morning Karla’s father drove Claire and me into the city (Karla had to head home to Puebla last night) where we got on a hop-on, hop-off bus tour and spent the next couple of hours (the traffic here is actually unbelievable!) riding around seeing all the sights.

We stopped at the Zocalo (sp?) and saw the cathedral and the one of the huge flags, saw murals by Diego Rivera, had lunch at a super-yummy vegetarian restaurant we stumbled across, and managed to navigate the subway back to Karla’s parents’ home all by ourselves!

Now we are on a bus to Puebla to Karla’s house. I’ll leave you with a photo of Claire, Karla, and me outside the museum and one of Claire and me in the Zocalo. Please excuse the quality of the pics – it is extraordinarily difficult to take a self-portrait with an iPhone!

Off to a good start…

Claire and I arrived in Mexico City super-early this morning (5:00!). After settling in at Karla’s parents’ house with showers, breakfast, and naps, we all headed off to see the Pyramids of the Sun and Moon. It was really neat to see and Claire and I successfully climbed the taller of the two (the Pyramid of the Sun) – I figured I’d done St. Paul’s, I could do this!

New TV: Friday

Battlestar Galactica (9:00 CST, SciFi)

Yes, I know it’s Saturday, but I don’t get the SciFi channel and am forced to wait until Saturday to download it – in this case, it allowed me to have a BSG marathon with my friend, Jillian, culminating in the new episode which her husband had downloaded and burned for us to watch. And, yes, I am begrudgingly counting this as new television – it’s actually the continuation of the fourth season after the world’s longest television hiatus. Seriously.

It ended with the humans and the Cylons finally finding Earth only to discover that it is a nuclear wasteland. Depressing, right? Well, it didn’t get any lighter with this new episode.

Supremely dark, the fleets are dealing with the fact that they can’t stay on Earth. Along the way, Starbuck finds something interesting and so does Colonel Tigh (though I will be supremely disappointed if the things they found are true and not actually red herrings).

So lots of interesting things have been revealed – I’m not sure how they’re going to manage to tie everything up in only 9 more episodes (though word on the street is that the final episode will be a whopping 3 hours long!), but I can’t wait to find out.

My rating: I don’t want it to end, but I’m anxiously awaiting the complete series box set so I can rewatch it from beginning to end.

p.s. – Are any of you seriously not watching this show? Shame on you – get thee to Netflix or thy local library and WATCH IT!

A quick test…

Since I’ll be leaving on holiday (Mexico, New York, and the UK) soon, I figured that I should test the WordPress app on Edward to see if I can post from my iPhone while I’m away.

Plus my cats are being super-cute and I thought I’d try to post pictures of them for you!

Here’s Arthur in my computer bag and Josephine in her kitty-princess bed:

Nonfiction

Blitz: The Story of 29 December 1940 by Margaret Gaskin

The next in my Blitz research readings, this book took me nearly forever to finish. And I can tell you why, too. The entire book reads like front matter – I kept sighing in frustration and thinking ‘Man, this Introduction is LONG’ only to realise that I was on page 100-and-something, deep in chapter 14. The first half of the book is background information, leading up to December 29 – the raid which resulted in the second Great Fire of London and the famous, famous picture of St. Paul’s rising, somehow unscathed, from a dense cloud of smoke as the City burned around it. Led astray by yet another subtitle (Margaret, either get there quicker or change your subtitle)!

When we finally get to the main action of the night in question, the pace really picks up. Until it immediately drags to a glacial pace again. I see what she was trying to do – throughout the introduction, she introduces certain characters (some are firemen, some are journalists, some are American, most are Londoners, some are women, some are men, all of them are real) that she is then going to follow through the events pretty much as they happen. Unfortunately, I found this hard to follow. It may have been my fault – not realising where she was going, I didn’t know that I needed to remember all these different names (the only one I could recognise each time was Nev Coates). It also made it sort of difficult to get a sense of the night all in one go because it was chopped up as she jumepd back and forth around the City, checking in on the different people. I think it would have been easier to follow – though perhaps less pretty – if she’d just taken us through the night person by person.

(I have to say, though, that the sections of the book are fairly cleverly named – I didn’t get it until I got to the section of the night itself which is called “Fugue” – that’s when I realised what she was meaning to do with the different characters, weaving their experiences together to create one tapestry of the night [I’ve always wanted to use that tapestry metaphor and it just fits here – I don’t care that it’s cliche!].)

She had lots of interesting information and she definitely captured the feeling of being there, right in the midst of the towering flames and the bombs falling, but I feel like I should have been glued to the page, holding my breath to find out what havoc was going to be wreaked on London. Instead, it just felt like a burden to pick this book up each night. So I see what she was trying to do and I’ll give her points for it (and for using the St. Paul’s photo on her cover), but it’s not what I was hoping for.

My rating: B-

Ina, Ina, Ina…

I was a little wary of this recipe because the reviews over at Food Network are pretty much split into two groups – those who had no problems at all with this cake and those whose caramel glued itself to the pan. Unfortunately, I ended up falling into the second group.

I’m really not sure what happened – I felt like I followed the instructions as given (I didn’t use a candy thermometer because a. I haven’t found mine yet and b. you’re making such a small amount of it, I didn’t really think it would work very well anyway.), letting the caramel cook until it was a warm amber color, but after I’d baked the cake and let it cool for 15 minutes, the caramel had hardened into little candy crystals, basically cementing the cake into the pan.

So I put it into a very shallow water bath and back into the warm oven in an attempt to soften the caramel without actually continuing to bake the cake. And it worked! I’m not sure my end result is the same as Ina intended, but I got it out of the pan (though only three of the apple slices came with it – the rest I had to peel off and set back into the inverted cake) and it’s actually really tasty – either it was underdone when I took it out (though it didn’t sink like an underdone cake) or my idea of putting it in the water bath helped keep it from going any further.

It’s nice because it’s not supersweet and with the apples on top, I can convince myself that it’s suitable for breakfast as well as dessert (I mean, really, is it any worse than a doughnut would be?).