Bookish Matters

The person, be it gentleman or lady, who has not pleasure in a good novel, must be intolerably stupid.

—Jane Austen, Northanger Abbey

Thursday, May 31, 2012

In the Garden—Ants!

Ants are eating my strawberries!!! Aaaahhh! What do I do?

They've also been biting my toes.

Monday, May 28, 2012

On the Bookshelf—Review of The Paid Companion

The Paid Companion by Amanda Quick
Romance, historical fiction

Set in Regency England, this romance has a murder mystery twist. Deep beneath London's streets, a madman navigates a lost river, heading toward his secret laboratory of alchemy...

When the Earl of St. Merryn's great-uncle is murdered, St. Merryn is determined to find the culprit, but all those match-making socialites of London's ton won't give the rich bachelor any privacy in which to dig for clues. Enter Elenora Lodge, who lost all her money and possessions in a gamble of her step-father's. Lodge is working as a paid companion, hoping to raise enough money to start a bookshop and set herself up as an independent woman. She can't resist when St. Merryn offers her triple wages to masquerade as his fiancee in front of the ton, but soon finds herself involved in the murder case. As the flap copy says, The Paid Companion is "a love story about an ice-cold business agreement that turns into something far more heated."

In novels of the Regency and Victorian era, it is difficult to come to a compromise between the historical reality of the extreme culturally-imposed sexual innocence and ignorance of the women and our modern desire for scenes of sex and passion. In many historical romances, the sex scenes are a chore to read for this reason, awkward and problematic, something to get through in order to get to more interesting facets of the plot. But Quick did a fairly good job at supplying a believable heroine who can satisfy the historical and modern demands of the genre.

The Paid Companion is thoroughly fun, sprinkled with moments of humor and tenderness. One of my favorite quotes from the book: "I see that you find the notion of a hidden door even more stimulating than my lovemaking." I appreciated references to horrid novels and Minerva Press as well as to Mary Wollstonecraft. There were a couple minor plot holes (like why a pretend fiancee will actually help St. Merryn find the murderer) and occasional moments where the dialogue and character's voices didn't ring true. Despite these problems, I still consider this novel one of the better romances I've read and look forward to reading more from Amanda Quick.

Friday, May 25, 2012

Food Friday—Menu

What I am eating these days:

Shakshuka on whole-grain toast (Shakshuka is this Israeli dish where you poach an egg on top of some spicy tomato vegetable business. So good. Recipe in Vegetarian Times June 2012.)
Toast and honey

Tacos with refried beans, red cabbage, and avocado mango salsa

Fresh veggies

Pasta with asparagus, broccoli, and tofu ricotta

Homemade donuts
Beaucoup toaster pastries

Any new recipes you're excited about? Any advice on how to use up a head of cabbage?

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

On the Bookshelf—Favorite YA

Today we are discussing favorite YA and teen novels, series, and authors. In making the below list of favorite YA, I've noticed two qualities that reappear: humor, and feminism. Apparently I like funny books with strong heroines. There's also a fair amount of fantasy.
Some of the books I read when I was a teenager, some I've read for the first time more recently, and some are beloved both now and then. Some I've listed the entire series, sometimes I've listed only the first book in the series, because I am also noticing the first book in a series is often the best, even if the rest of the series is still worth reading.

My favorite YA and teen books:

All books by Tamora Pierce. I haven't read most of these since high school, maybe my first year of college, but I remember them as being awesome. Think the Song of the Lioness series. Page-turning fantasies set in alternate realms, knights, mages, magic. What makes these books truly stand out (for me, at least) are the heroines and the feminist themes. In the Song of the Lioness, a girl disguises herself as a boy to train as a knight.  What is more, Tamora Pierce does not shy away from sex like most YA novels do.

Celine by Brock Cole. Celine is a painter trying to survive high school. She is quirky and clever, and I laughed really hard while reading this book. It's gotten a string of awards, including an ALA Best Book for Young Adults and a School Library Journal Best Book of the Year.

Sunshine by Robin McKinley. I debated putting this book on the list, not because I don't adore it, but because I wasn't sure if it was considered YA. It was originally marketed for adults, but we just got at work we just got in a glittery copy aimed at teens. So. This is one of the few wholly and truly good vampire books out there. It's similar to the Sookie Stackhouse books (y'know, True Blood). The protag works in a cafe, there are were-animals, etc. In fact, I wouldn't be surprised if Charlaine Harris read Sunshine before she wrote her own series. The difference is that Sunshine is actually good. It's actually well-written.

I like Sunshine, beyond things like good plot and interesting characters, because it doesn't fall into the cliched tropes that most in the vampire genre do, and the heroine is someone a feminist could actually support. Vampires are not sexualized and romanticized, but nor are they merely blood-thirsty monsters. The protagonist does not fall in love with a vampire, nor does she become a vampire. Romance is not at all a main plotline, you could barely even call it a sub-plotline, but the protagonist owns and is comfortable with her sexuality in a way even few modern heroines are.

Robin McKinley's other books, specifically aimed at teens, are all good, too.

The Pagan Chronicles by Catherine Jinks. A historical series set in medieval times. The sarcastic sixteen-year-old Pagan Kidrouk becomes the squire of a Templar Knight. I read these in high school, and I remember the primary qualities of the books being hilarity, but as the series went on, there were surprisingly heart-wrenching moments.

The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins. Duh.

All books by John Green. Paper Towns, Will Grayson, Will Grayson, The Fault in Our Stars. John Green's books have a mix of pop culture and high brow allusions, humor and elegance. Green exceeds at creating entertainment studded with poignant observations of what it means to be human. Be prepared to laugh out loud, and with his latest book, to cry.

All books by Dianna Wynne Jones. Especially Howl's Moving Castle, the Dalemark Quartet, and Deep Secret. Jones was the sort of author who was quietly subversive, blending zany new elements of fantasy with more traditional fantasy without giving into certain negative cultural norms. For instance, it was not unusual for her to have heroines that could fully hold their own. There were no off-to-the-side Hermiones nor modern-damsels-in-distress like Bella of Twilight. Another example is that her books neither danced around nor romanticized sex.

The Confessions of Georgia Nicolson by Louise Rennison. These books are flat-out funny. Also rather British. I read them both in high school and in present day. They are mainly about a girl and boyfriends and school and all those teenagery things. I don't know what to say about them that could fully convince you of how great and hilarious these books are and how much I heart them.

That's probably a long enough list for now. Here are a few honorable mention roughly in descending order: His Dark Materials by Philip Pullman, The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian by Sherman Alexie, Sabriel by Garth Nix, The Princess Diaries by Meg Cabot, Clockwork Angel by Cassandra Clare, The Amulet of Samarkand by Jonathan Stroud.

What are your favorite YA? Any recommendations?

Friday, May 18, 2012

In the Kitchen—Avocado Mango Salsa

The last few days I've been craving Mexican food with really fresh bright flavors. This salsa fits the bill. I've eaten it on scrambled eggs, with tortilla chips, and on flat-bread tacos. Yum! The only thing to note is that the avocados can get mushy, especially the riper they are.

Avocado Mango Salsa


1 avocado, peeled and diced
juice of 1 lime
1 mango, peeled, pitted, and diced
1/2 red onion, diced
1 jalapeno, minced
1 tablespoon cilantro, minced
salt to taste

1. Put avocado in a small bowl. Add lime juice and gently toss to coat.
2. Add the rest of the ingredients and gently toss.
3. Enjoy!

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Gardening Wednesday—Dear Diary

What's going on in my backyard this week: I've got spinach and snap peas growing! The last week we've had plenty of sun and warmth, and my little seeds are taking off. No chives coming up yet.

My strawberry plants have little yellow fruits on them. Their original leaves are going limp and brown, which is troubling, but most of them are putting out new leaves. I'd really like a few handfuls of straw to use as mulch around them to keep the temperature of the soil right and keep the berries out of the mud.

My tulips and daffodils are all losing their petals. Anyone know how long it takes for bulbs to go dormant, are how to tell if they're dormant?

Lilacs started blooming just a few days ago! The ones in my yard are not only fragrant, but have large pale petals that are lovely. When I drive around Moscow and Pullman, I'll catch wisps of lilac scent through my open windows even when I don't see the trees. My neighborhood is full of lilacs, and they're one of my favorite flowers.

I'm having issues with the lawn mower (user error?) but I don't mind too much because I love the long grasses. When Kingsly the cat comes to visit our yard is a jungle for him to explore. Tall seeded grasses look like little trembling aspens, and the dandelions-gone-to-seed rise even taller, scattered throughout like clouds.

In the Garden—Don't Throw Out Those Coffee Grounds!

Gardening tip: Add those coffee grounds to your garden after you've had your morning cup.

You've probably heard coffee grounds are good for the soil and a good ingredient in compost. I'd already mixed grounds into my soil in the fall before I planted my bulbs, and now I'm putting little piles of my used grounds around my strawberries. Coffee grounds contain nitrogen, calcium, and magnesium.

But wait, there's more! Turns out slugs hate caffeine. Who knew? If you have a slug problem, make little coffee borders around your garden or scatter the grounds over the plot. I'd heard that the coarse grounds aggravate the slugs' slimy underbellies, but caffeine in high enough concentrations can kill the little guys. Coffee grounds probably won't kill the slugs, but it'll deter them. Also, when it comes to adding coffee, moderation is advised. But the reason for that I do not know.

Have any gardening tips you'd like to share? Suggestions for keeping the slugs away, or more information on the many fabulous uses of coffee?

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

On the Bookshelf—Review of Gilt

Gilt by Katherine Longshore
YA, historical fiction

This book is published today!

15-year-old Kitty Tilney works for the Duchess of Norfolk, one of hundreds of distant relatives living at Norfolk House, hoping to make connections and get into the court of King Henry VIII or make a successful marriage. In this world everything depends on who you know or who you are pretty enough to catch the eye of. But Kitty is neither of these things; she is without connections, plain, and her only talent is making lace. Until her best friend Cat—Catherine Howard—wins the heart of the king. Now Kitty gets to join the royal court as the Queen's chamberer. But life at court is not all that Kitty and Cat dreamed it would be when they played as children. There is always someone watching, there is always a secret to keep, and rumors can get you killed. Whether or not your head stays on your neck depends on how well you can hide behind your gilt facade. Kitty must decide who to trust and who to put her loyalty in.

This was an enjoyable, engaging book. While I'm familiar with Henry the Eighth and his many wives, I haven't read much historical fiction from this period. I didn't know a lot about Catherine Howard, and it was fun to be immersed in all those period details I wasn't familiar with—all those snoods and gables and kirtles. And of course, the codpieces.

The relationship between the manipulative Cat and the backbone-lacking Kitty is fairly transparent and has been done before, but then, this is for teenagers. There were occasional moments (like reactions to a rape) that seemed out of keeping with the times, bordering a bit too much on a modern woman's perspective. But despite a couple flaws, I found myself willing to sit for a few hours to engross myself in the novel, and once I finished reading it I continued to think about it.

What I appreciated about this book is that for a YA novel targeted at girls, the protagonist's romance was really downplayed. There are a couple strapping young men Kitty gets involved with, and drama ensues, but whether or not she ends up married is not in any way the main focus of the novel, and nor do her romantic interests play a role in the climax of the story. While I like a good romance as much as the next person (don't you know it!), it's refreshing to read fiction for young women that doesn't hinge on whether or not the gal gets the guy.

Gilt is nothing special, but if you have an interest in historical fiction or YA you could certainly do worse than read this book. Thanks to Gilt, I'm going to try other historical novels from this time period, and I'll be interested to see what more comes from Longshore. I've heard hints this might be a series.

Sunday, May 13, 2012

Sundry Sunday—Menu

Grapefruit or pear
Scrambled egg with spinach and tomato
Overnight oatmeal
Goat milk yogurt

Pad Thai (the batch I made a week ago or more is lasting forever, and that's a good thing!)

Vegan sushi (I am practicing my sushi making skills, and it is going fabulously. To celebrate the end of the school year, on Friday night the gentleman friend and I had Japan night: We made sushi while listening to J-pop and rock, drank sake, ate pocky, and watched anime. Good times.)

Vegan chalupa with red cabbage and kale and avocado mango salsa

Chopped vegetables

And the usual little sugary treats plus maraschino cupcakes.

Friday, May 11, 2012

In the Kitchen—Tidbits

Happy Friday! Today I was going to post my recipe for maraschino cupcakes, but when I made them yesterday they didn't come out quite as wonderfully as I'd hoped. I did everything the same as I did when I first created this recipe, as far as I know, but I guess I'll have to play with it more. So today just a short post. Two facts, and one picture.

Fact: Green tea helps protect skin from UV radiation. Summer's on its way, so drink up!

Fact: Chopping or crushing garlic activates the beneficial properties. Letting it sit 10 minutes after chopping and before cooking increases the healing sulfur compounds in the garlic. So if you're feeling under the weather, make some pesto with raw garlic.

And here's a fresh take on the food pyramid:

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

In the Garden—Early/Mid May To-Do List

Summer may not officially start for over a month, but it feels like it's almost here. This is finals week, and I'm 90% of the way to summer vacation. On top of that, the weather the last couple days is sunny and even hot.

Now, I can't let this weather fool me. It's still too early for me to plant anything that isn't a bit frost resistant. But here's what I can do:

Start seedlings indoors ASAP! Calendula, oregano, sweet peas.

Sow dill as well as more spinach and snap peas outdoors. Consider starting in individual containers. I feel like the seeds I've already planted directly aren't taking well. It may still be too early for them to come up, but I don't think they like the neighborhood cats digging through them.

Weed and mulch area where my tulips and daffodils are growing.

Monday, May 7, 2012

On the Bookshelf—Magic and Afternoon Tea

It's finals week and I have a huge end-of-semester paper due in, oh, 43 minutes. So instead of writing a whole new post for Literary Lunes I went through old unfinished posts and found this one. There's no description of the third book on the list, so just take my word for it that it's a great book.

I'm a fan of alternate history fantasies that take place in England. You know, the magicians are shooting each other with their magic wands and then take a break to eat cucumber sandwiches. This is how I like things. If Lord Byron is in them, all the better.

Here is a sampling of such alt histories, and if anyone has suggestions for more, please comment or send an email.

1. Sorcery and Cecelia or The Enchanted Chocolate Pot by Patricia C. Wrede and Caroline Stevermer

Sorcery and Cecelia
is a bit like Jane Austen plus magic. Austen but more playful and slightly more risque. A Mysterious Marquis, a fake marriage, an enchanted chocolate pot: Could it get any better? And yes, it does have Lord Byron. I suggest you read Katie’s blog post on it.

2. The Bartimaeus Trilogy by Jonathan Stroud

This is an England in which the government consists of magicians, and the magicians get their power from summoning and enslaving djinni. What makes this series is the protagonist Bartimaeus, a sassy and sarcastic 5000-year-old djinn. Bartimaeus was the djinn of Gilgamesh and helped build Uruk, spoke with Solomon, assasinated Gengis Khan, and did many other things as the slave of magicians.

I read the first book, The Amulet of Samarkand, in June 2008. I loved the fresh and funny voice of Bartimaeus. The second book, The Golem's Eye, I didn't like nearly as much, I can't remember quite why but I think Stroud was getting a bit melodramatic. However, there was a character, Honorius the insane djinn trapped in the skeleton of a prime minister, who was fabulous. The third book, Ptolemy's Gate, was back in form. By this point, of course, things in England are getting chaotic and tension is growing and everything is building towards a grand epic climax. But more interestingly to me, we are finally learning information about one of Bartimaeus's masters, one twelve-year-old boy from 126 BC named Ptolemy.

Hm. I guess it doesn't do much good for me to talk about the third book if you haven't read the first and second, so I'll stop there. To sum up the trilogy: Thoroughly entertaining. Entertaining is really the best word for it.

3. Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell by Susanna Clarke.

One of my favorite books. Just read it.

Friday, May 4, 2012

In the Kitchen—May Day Feast and Syllabub

On Tuesday, my gentleman and I had a Beltain/May Day feast. It was a simple affair, since Dead Week isn't the best time for extensive cooking. We had a white wine from Camas Prairie (our local winery), dandelion salad, honey cake, and syllabub.

May Day foods are basically foods that are in season, and eggs and dairy to symbolize new life and growing babies. Thus we picked dandelion greens from my yard and then mixed them with what I had on hand—tomatoes, chickpeas, olive oil, balsamic vinegar, and dried basil. Ideally the May Day dandelion salad would include strawberries. I used this recipe for the honey cake. It was delicious, but I'll probably play around with it and eventually post a version specialized to my preferences (egg-free, and lots of rum).

Syllabub is an English dessert. I first learned about it in that charming book The Little White Horse, set in Victorian England. It is milk or cream lightly sweetened and curdled with wine. Originally, you milked the cow straight into the bowl of wine. Unfortunately, I didn't have a cow on hand, so I bought heavy cream from Washington to use (the co-op was out of Idaho cream!). I decided to make this for May Day when, while perusing recipes for the foods in The Little White Horse, I discovered syllabub on this May Day page. The first time I made it according to the directions for simple syllabub sans cow. I used agave instead of sugar. I'm not sure it worked right, because it didn't curdle or thicken, but the gentleman and I still thoroughly enjoyed it. It basically tasted like sweet cream with an alcoholic undertone—how can you go wrong?

I just tried making syllabub again. This time I added a tablespoon of lemon juice and between a 1/2 and 1 teaspoon lemon zest to a half cup of white wine. I let that steep (in my fridge) for a few hours. I heated up a half cup of heavy whipping cream mixed with two teaspoons agave nectar, then added that to the lemony wine. I whisked with an electric mixer until it was all bubbles.

This second attempt is much like the first, except pleasantly lemony. The bubbles didn't last long&mdah;it's just a liquid. A very tasty liquid, granted. Am I heating the cream too hot? Am I whipping it on too high of a setting? I've found another recipe that gives a bit more detail on the whisking so I'll try again next May Day. If you have any syllabub or whip cream tips, tricks, or stories, leave a comment or send an email!

How did you celebrate May Day?

In the Kitchen—Menu

What I'm eating this week:

Banana bread
Tofu scramble or field roast and yams
Toasted brie on bread with blackberry jam (For this I chose a goat's milk brie. It is so creamy you don't even have to heat it up for it to be melty. However, it does have a slight bitter note.)

Quinoa and lentil salad
Cut veggies

Pad Thai (recipe in Vegan with a Vengeance)


Brie with caramelized onions and hazelnuts in filo dough, served with triscuits, apple and pear slices (I'm using normal cow's milk brie for this. Recipe in Better Homes and Gardens New Cookbook.)

Small indulgences (I allow myself two sweets a day, and I get to choose from these):

Dark chocolate in assorted flavors
Sweetened soy yogurt
Toaster pastries
Maraschino cupcakes (Recipe coming soon to a post near you!)

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

In the Garden—Garden Diary

It snowed this morning.

I've been waiting for more snow. I knew we weren't done with winter completely. But the snow didn't stick and now the sun is shining. Happy May Day!

Some of my tulips and daffodils are fading, but in addition to the red tulips I've got yellow tulips and two orangish pink ones. One is tiny and adorable.

Since last I posted about my flowers, peachy daffodils have come up. I consider this nothing short of a miracle. Last spring I noticed these beautiful peachy daffodils growing in the community garden. I love all things pale peach (including my boyfriend?), so when I went bulb shopping in the fall I looked for these daffodils, but found none for me to plant. But I was satisfied because I found ice folly bulbs, some of my favorites.

And yet, and yet! Only one ice folly has sprouted, but many of these peach flowers are blooming. Miracle!

Last week I planted twelve strawberry plants in various places about the yard, spinach seeds, and chives. I planted chive seeds from last year, so I hope they come up, and I also transplanted a chive I had in a pot indoors from last year that was scrawny and out-growing its pot. I've already got tiny green strawberries.

The west-facing plot was a complete mess, so I did some serious weeding and battled against a bunch of ugly spiders who had claimed the spot. Whoever had previously worked in this space seemed to be confused about whether they were trying to grow plants or creating a rock garden. In addition to large rocks, there was also a lot of kitty-litter-like pebbles. Anyway, I composted the plot, planted snap pea seeds and three strawberries while neighborhood cat Kingsly stepped in the soil and tried to play with the weeds. The neighborhood cats are using my freshly dug and seeded soil as a bathroom, and I'm hope that doesn't disturb things too much.

I still need to start seedlings indoors.

I also discovered the people I share the backyard with (I call them Mr. and Mrs. Downstairs) are moving out and will be replaced by two men. Unless these two men are big gardeners, I now have probably double the space in which to plant things. Yes!

What are you doing in your garden?