in a dark, dark wood, or, a Fun Way to Spend a Cold day Between the Covers

in a dark, dark wood by ruth ware

I recently read in a dark, dark wood by ruth ware and found it delightful.  I heard the interview on NPR with the author, and thought, that sounds like just the way to while away a cold day.  And it is.  This book takes place over the course of a weekend hen-do, which is basically a bachelorette party for you non-Brits out there.  This is all about a hen-do gone WRONG though.  It combines the usual bachelorette shenanigans with a good old-fashioned Agatha Christie-esque locked room murder mystery.  Its part murder mystery, its part Clue, its part unsolved mystery.  Its a fast read, and manages to not be overly ridiculous.

The book open with Nora, our heroine, getting invited to the hen-do of a friend, Clare, she hasn’t seen in 10 years.  The hen-do is to take place in chilly November, in a remote location in the UK.  The isolated, atmospheric setting help heighten the tension, and support the aspects of the story that are necessary for a mystery like this – limited cell service, unexplainable tracks in the snow, etc.  To up the ante, Care is actually marrying Nora’s former flame, but Nora doesn’t know this until after she’s arrived and already in the midst of the weekend.

Some reviewers have remarked that the book is bordering on cheesy – there is, after all, a shotgun hanging on the wall when everyone arrives, thats supposedly loaded with blanks.  Dun, dun, dun.  Frankly, though, this didn’t bother me.  I didn’t feel like this book was ever asking you to take it THAT seriously.  I don’t think its trying to be high literature, and I’m ok with that.  I felt like this was a book that harkens back to the “good ole days” of Agatha Christie, and maybe even Nancy Drew.  Even the title riffs on the genre, and the cliche of “A dark and stormy night.”  Yet the book manages not to be cliche, in my opinion.  If you’re a fan of old fashioned mysteries, pick this book up without delay.  If you’re looking for something with crime scene analysis, forensics, grit, or noir, give this one a pass.  For me, I enjoyed it and will read this author again.

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Homemade Ramen with Shiitake, Kale, and Onion, AKA, How to Make Your Old College Self Jealous

Delicious ramen from Two Ten Jack's in Nashville.
Delicious ramen from Two Ten Jack’s in Nashville: Vegetable broth with burnt corn, collards, benishoga, mayu, and an extra egg, because always have an extra egg!

For many of you, Ramen might conjure images of your youth or college, when all you could afford was the box of too salty ramen that provided a giant bowl of filling warm soup.  Heat it in the microwave, and watch those crispy noodles unfurl and soften.  Its basically a science experiment.  And if you’re like me, you haven’t had that in ages.  It wasn’t until a few years ago that I learned this is not at all what Ramen is supposed to be.  Rather, ramen is delicious, fresh, bright, and GOOD for you.  Check out this bowl of ramen I had at a to-die-for delicious restaurant in Nashville not too long ago.  What really set this ramen off was that soft boiled egg.  Oh. So. Good.  Two Ten Jack in Nashville, TN is an izakaya, or Japanese pub style restaurant and Ramen house.  And I will go there everytime I’m in Nashville.  Because slurping noodles in a bowl is as much my jam as jam.  See what I did there? 😉

So anyhow, after having had that amazing bowl of yum, I’ve been craving it, and there is no place in Knoxville where I can satisfy that craving.  Enter Pinterest.  I found this pin about 21 different ramen noodle recipes you can try at home (I should never be allowed on Pinterest hungry.  Or not hungry for that matter).  Hello and thank you!  So this weekend’s snow storm had us trying the first and easiest.  I like this recipe, because I frequently have these ingredients on hand.  Kale, mushrooms, veg broth.  Onions.  These can almost always be found in my refrigerator or pantry, and if they can’t, its because I am probably on my way to Whole Foods to replenish them.  To be fair, I did change this recipe.  And it was still delicious.  I think there are endless ways to punch this up.  Here’s what I did.

Shiitake Mushroom and Kale Ramen
Adapted from Recipe on Nutmeg Nanny

First, I doubled it, because I have to share with my husband.  Also, this soup is basically healthy, with little added fat, so you can feel free to indulge in a giant bowl.  Not that I did, and still had a second helping.  If my husband tries to tell you that, don’t believe him!

2 Cups of Fresh Kale, sliced into about an inch to two inch pieces.
I was lame and forgot the green onions, so I substituted a purple onion.  About half of one large purple onion, diced.
1 cup of shiitake mushrooms, sliced (portobellos work fine in this too, but perhaps maitake would be divine?)
1 jalapeño, sliced (I like heat, but if you don’t omit this)
About 6 cups of Veggie broth
1 and 1/2 teaspoons ginger
1/2 tsp salt
1/4 tsp pepper
2 teaspoons (or to taste) of a Japanese Ginger Dressing/Marinade, as I couldn’t find a specific garlic ginger sauce
Sriracha – both at the end of the sauce, and added on top to taste for an extra zing
Sesame Oil – woks get hot, so I think sesame works a bit better than
A squirt of lemon juice at the finish

I also had fresh Phad Thai noodles on hand, because my husband frequently makes Phad Thai for me.  I am lucky, I know.  I used these instead of the packet of ramen.  Frankly, as much as I love REAL ramen, I can’t even stand the smell of the packet anymore!  I was really poor in college.

Sautéing Mushrooms, Kale, Onions, and Spices.
Sautéing Mushrooms, Kale, Onions, and Spices.

I started the onions in a skillet wok first, then added the jalapeño, kale, and mushrooms.  When all was mostly softened I added the ginger paste, and some sriracha.  Also the powdered ginger, sat, and pepper.  Stir to combine, and to let the favors release from the ginger, for about one minute.  Then add the veggie broth.  Bring to a boil, then add your noodles, and cook until soft, or your desired level of doneness.  For me, since I used fresh Phad Thai noodles from Whole Foods, this was about 1 minute.  Serve in a large bowl.  Give it a little squeeze of lemon.  Season to taste.  Fight over leftovers.

Next time, I am going to up the ante, with a few more peppers, actual green onions AND real onions, and fresh ginger.  I will also add the soft boiled egg, because YUM.  How would YOU improve this recipe?

These Two Books Don’t go Together, Except, They Do

So I’ve probably mentioned on here that I have eclectic reading tastes.  You can tell from my review guidelines, I like a little bit of everything.  And I have just finished two very different books, but two books that absolutely go together in my opinion.  The first book I’ll talk about is literary, elegant, and moving.  The second book is YA, a page turner, and all kinds of fun.  What they have in common, besides that I read both and liked them both, is that they both are magical, mysterious, and compelling.  Do you like that in a book? Because I sure do.

Eleanor by Jason Gurley

Eleanor by Jason Gurley

I was provided a review copy of this book by Netgalley, in exchange for a fair and honest review.  And I can honestly say this book is lyrical, painful, dramatic, and beautiful.  It deals with generations of repressed feelings, a horrific family tragedy, and a magical, dreamlike quest by Eleanor, the main character.  Eleanor is born into a family that has suffered many tragedies in recent generations, and before long, tragedy visits Eleanor herself in the loss of her twin sister.  In order to truly understand her family’s past, and to find any sort of healing, Eleanor must undertake this quest through a mysterious, magical land.

I found this book to be surprising and refreshing in it’s depictions of the depth and breadth of human emotion, as well as compelling.  To be honest, the beginning of the book was a bit tough for me, because it deals with some of the older generations in the family feeling trapped and confined by their marriages and, indeed, their families.  I was afraid this was going to be another one of those literary “masterpieces” that drag the reader through endless pages of angst about middle age, white people, and marriage discontent.  However, before too long Eleanor is transported on her quest, in a dreamland where all the typical rules of nature no longer apply, and we move with grace towards a finish that is empathic, rewarding, and satisfying.  This is a lovely book that I hope gets some attention.  For me, the combination of the artful, literary prose and the fantastical plot are win-win.

 

 

 

The Killing Jar by Jennifer Bosworth

The Killing Jar by Jennifer Bosworth

The Killing Jar is a young adult novel about a young girl, coming of age, and coming to understand the magical powers she possesses.  Indeed, Kenna, our main character, is one part normal teenager, other part magical creature who holds life and death in the power of her touch.  While on the one hand, the novel is very much YA – the heroine gives lectures about music, is a musician herself, and battles over her growing feelings for the neighbor boy.  But on the other hand, the novel is very much about desire, and the danger of giving in wholeheartedly to desire.

The book opens with the main character reminiscing about a haunting experience in which she discovers she has incredible power, the power to take a life with a touch.  After her family is attacked, she discovers that power is just the tip of the iceberg.  She is soon exiled to a community where she suddenly feels like she belongs.  That she is not an outcast, rather, but someone to be appreciated, admired even.  This feeling does not last, though, for Kenna suddenly begins to wonder if she is in danger.  Is she about to be made a pawn because of her power?

The book is fast moving, well plotted, and leaves you hungry for more.  I hope this book has a follow up, and that Jennifer follows it up soon!

Meyer Lemon Marmalade: An Easy, Fun Food Gift Idea

Gorgeous Meyer Lemon Marmalade in a coupe glass from Food and Wine Magazine. What a fabulous idea for serving it at your next brunch table!

So while scrolling the internet in search of fun food gifts for the holiday season, I came across this recipe by Emily Kaiser from Food and Wine Magazine for Meyer Lemon Marmalade, which sounded perfect to me.  It’s something that isn’t too sweet, yet is made with only the lemons, sugar, and water, so is far and away one of the easier jams or marmalades to prepare.  It can be used during the holidays, or even saved for a special occasion.  Plus, I love jams and marmalades, in their cute little jars!

My husband and I at the start of the ball for annual Hands On Literary Festival and Masquerade Ball.
My husband and I at the start of the ball for annual Hands On Literary Festival and Masquerade Ball.

You’re probably like, why didn’t you tell us about this BEFORE the holidays?  Mostly because I was too busy making it, wrapping gifts, and preparing for a literary festival and masquerade ball that I host over New Year’s in New Orleans.  I actually thought I would skip posting about this altogether, until the other day, when I gifted someone with a spare jar as a birthday gift, and they were ecstatic.  I thought, really, this is a gift that would be good to have on hand all the time, and I think it could be tasty in any season.  I have used it to top a melty brie, spread on pancakes, crepes (put the marmalade inside, and top the crepes with this blueberry chia jam, toasted almond slivers, and Grand Marnier whipped cream for a delicious brunch), and toast.  The next time I make it, I am planning on doing a Satsuma and Meyer Lemon blend.

Meyer lemon strips getting ready to be blanched.
Meyer lemon strips getting ready to be blanched.

It does take a bit of time to prepare.  About 3 hours total, and in the future, I will always be doubling this recipe.  It makes about five standard jelly jars full, but believe me, everyone wants some, so five jars are gone lightning fast.  An since it takes about 3 hours to make (the recipe online indicates two, so I’m either slow, or they are optimistic), a double batch seems prudent in terms of time management.  After my first batch, I rapidly had to make a second because every jar was spoken for, or had topped the aforementioned brie, filled crepes, or in some other fashion made it’s way into our stomachs.  In fact, now that I mention it, I may just triple the batch next time, because that may be the best way to ensure I have some on hand for those need-a-gift and -can’t-bear-to-shop times.  More is ALWAYS better, right?

 

 

 

You can find this recipe for Meyer Lemon Marmalade by Emily Kaiser online here at Food and Wine Magazine.  Here are a few notes/tips I ahve for making it:

  • Make the strips even thinner than you think – they should be thin strips of candied lemon peel by the end.
  • It will seem like it is never going to set, then suddenly, it does.  It actually took more like 35 minutes or so for mine to set, but you’ll know the right consistency when you see it.  Is that helpful at all, lol?
  • At the “spoon it into jars phase” the mixture will be hot and sticky.  Have several towels on hand, and if you burn yourself like I did, remember, burns and cuts are supposed to be badges of honor in the kitchen 😉
  • Next time I make it, like I said, I am going to use a dozen and a half meyer lemons, and a dozen and a half satsumas. Risky? I’ll let you know how it turns out.
  • Always make sure you have a jar just for you to enjoy.  Don’t give it away until you’ve tried it yourself! Because why should your friends and family have all that delicious to themselves?