My adventures in pregnancy, motherhood and beyond

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Monday, November 22, 2010

What's 4 Dinner Recipes

My mother, being mom extraordinaire, sent me a bunch of recipes to try that meet with the dietary requirements. One of them was for baked scallops, and one was for lemon-garlic tilapia. James isn't a huge fan of scallops, but he'll try anything I make at least once, and as long as he doesn't say "It tastes bad," he's free to say it's not his cup of tea and make something else. Apparently a "back-up plan" means different things to the two of us, so James was stuck with something he didn't particularly feel like eating.

Pre sauce and cooking
The baked scallops recipe says it makes enough for four, so I halved the scallops, but kept what I figured would be the sauce the same. It's super easy to make. Just crumble up Ritz crackers for the buttery round crackers or use breadcrumbs. Add in the garlic and the pepper. I would recommend trying lemon pepper since that would complement the lemon part that comes next. After rinsing the scallops off and patting them dry, cover them in the breadcrumbs and lay them in a lightly greased glass baking dish.

Post cooking. Our stove is not even...
For the "sauce" I mixed together the melted butter, lemon juice and and wine, then poured it over the scallops. Since I hadn't halved the sauce, there was a lot of it and the scallops ended up in a bit of a soup. We popped it in the oven for about 15 minutes til the scallops looked nice and cooked. There was still a lot of the sauce left bubbling away in the pan, but I scooped out the scallops and served them up. Maybe I didn't cook them long enough or maybe it was too much of the sauce, but it was not the experience I expected. I love scallops. But these scallops tasted awfully fishy, were rubbery and the sauce tasted like the alcohol of the wine hadn't burned off completely. I ate them anyway (James did not), but I would not recommend baking scallops. If you're going to make scallops, I would sautee them with white wine, butter and lemon. Or go to McCormick and Schmick's and get their scallops with the carrot-chipotle sauce (delicious!). If you want to try the recipe, feel free, but I will stick to sauteeing scallops from now on.

The lemon garlic tilapia was delicious! We had pretty much everything we needed except for the filets, so James picked some up on the way home. We decided to grill the tilapia, so we used aluminum foil to make little packets and put each filet into a separate packet. We added the lemon juice, the butter and the garlic to the fish, then James folded up the packets and put them on the grill. At this point, I remembered that we hadn't added the pepper. Genius, right? James does the cooking of meat and fish since I'm always worried I'll undercook it, so he took care of the grill and when he pulled the tilapia off the grill it was perfectly white and flaky. The filets stuck to the foil, so I would recommend spraying the foil with pam or something before grilling. I would also add a lot more lemon juice than the recipe calls for and add the lemon pepper before grilling the fish. Despite the pepper mishap, the fish turned out delicious. We added some lemon pepper to the fish after plating it and heated up some mashed potatoes as a side dish. All in all it was a delicious satisfying dinner. However, both James and I ate two filets on our own, so I would say the recipe serves two, not four. If you're looking for an easy, quick and yummy weeknight dinner, I would totally recommend this recipe. Tilapia isn't very fishy, and cooking the fish in the aluminum foil seals in the flavour. Sorry, no pictures of the tilapia, but we were hungry that night.

One thumbs down, one thumbs up and another day closer to getting those dietary restrictions lifted. It's not so bad when we cook, but going out is nearly impossible. So we're off to hunt another recipe for tonight's meal: curried rice and shrimp anyone?

Tuesday, November 16, 2010


I am a soup fiend. Even when it's over 100 degrees out, I will be most comfortable eating soup and wrapped in a blanket inside (important point: the ac is on). I especially love the Greek soup Avgolemono, which is an egg and lemon based soup. My favourite avgolemono can be found in Coronado at the ferry landing: Spyro's Gyros makes a delicious version. Daphne's is ok, but not quite the same, however, Daphne's can be found much easier. In 2008, the Contra Costa Times published a recipe for avgolemono and my mom cut it out and mailed it to me. It's been stuck to my fridge ever since. This year, in my attempt to cook more often, James and I decided to cook it for dinner one night. The recipe in the Times does not include chicken, but most versions of the soup have bits of chicken in them. If you want to make it vegetarian, I guess you could substitute vegetable broth for the chicken broth, but it won't ever be a vegan dish because of the egg. I tried to find an online version, but was unable to find the correct version, but this should take you to the version I springpad-ed: Avgolemano recipe.

James and I decided to halve the recipe since we didn't want to feed 8 people. We halved everything but the lemon juice, and that's because I love tart flavours, if you don't, just use the juice of one lemon, which should be plenty. Bring the broth to a simmer and cook the rice fully. Last night, we had a bit of a mishap since we halved the broth, but forgot to halve the rice. If that happens, just add more broth and bring it back to a boil. The original recipe called for the egg whites to be beaten until they form stiff peaks. That's ridiculous. I'm not going to use my awesome Kitchenaid mixer to beat two egg whites and my wrist got way too tired, so just beat the yolks til they thicken and beat the whites til they're nice and frothy. Then fold the whites into the yolks: mix in a little at a time, trying to bring the yolks up and over the added whites. Make sure you mix it all up before adding the next part of the whites. When the rice is cooked completely, you can add in the egg mixture, stirring the broth constantly. This makes the soup get thick and frothy. Add the chopped up chicken and let it heat through completely.

This soup is nice and light, and it's really easy to make. It's great for a late night dinner, and there's usually some left over for lunch or a snack the next day. Best of all it's free of dairy, red meat, spiciness and grease! Going out to eat with these restrictions isn't fun, but it's a good way to jump start my desire to start eating healthier, I guess. Tonight: baked scallops!

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Risotto with Edamame and Chicken

With all these restrictions on my diet a lot of the foods I crave are off-limits. Mainly potato-based products like french fries and potato chips, but I'm not a starch-ist: my mini pico de gallo pizzas are off limit, as are salsa and tortilla chips, spicy tuna rolls and pretty much anything that comes out of our freezer. So after a day of following the rules, I wasn't too optimistic about the first recipe I decided to try. Both James and I were too tired to cook Friday night, so instead we treated ourselves to McCormick and Schmick's and their delicious, heavenly crab bisque.

But, that's a review for another day. The risotto with edamame, lemon and tarragon was a recipe from Real Simple and not quite up our alley. I figured with some adjustments I could find a way to make it appeal to James' palate (add chicken) and even get him to enjoy eating vegetables! So I stopped by the store to pick up some edamame (I could not find any pre-shelled edamame), a lemon, an onion, tarragon and chicken broth. I forgot the arborio rice, but James picked up the perfect amount later on in the day. He had some trouble finding it; it was made by a company called Tilda, and it's made specifically for risotto. With that underway, we began our altered risotto for the night.

Risotto with added chicken broth
While James chopped up the onion (I am incapable of cutting onions without bawling--hence I covet the onion goggles) I worked on de-shelling the edamame. While the recipe recommends 1.5C of edamame, we only had about one cup, possibly less (but they're expensive!!). James sauteed the onions with butter in our lovely Calphalon saucepan. We then added the risotto (without liquid? yes!) and cooked that for two minutes while constantly stirring. We then added a cup of dry white wine; the recipe recommends sauvignon blanc, and we keep a bottle of Starborough's sauvignon blanc in our fridge, so we used that. It's inexpensive but it's still a good glass of wine after a long day. After all the wine was absorbed, we began to add the chicken broth. 4.5 C of chicken broth, added .75 C at a time, allowing each addition to absorb before moving on. It is amazing how much one cup of risotto can grow with the help of that much liquid. It took quite a long time for everything to absorb, but it was worth it in the end. It takes 6 additions of broth to add all the required broth.
Lemon zest, salt and pepper, tarragon

Everything added in!
Once all the broth is added and absorbed, you can stir in the edamame, 1 Tbsp of fresh chopped tarragon, 2 tsp lemon zest (I de-skinned an entire lemon, so I'd recommend getting two lemons) and the salt and pepper. All these recipes call for kosher salt; I don't know the difference, but we just use regular salt and it turns out fine.  You also stir in the .75 C of grated parmesan (it says to use the .25 C left to garnish). This is where we differed from the recipe. While it looked and smelled delicious already, we decided to add some chicken to our risotto. This is where the pre-cooked grilled chicken comes in. Those little packs of grilled chicken have been such life savers for us. We used the rest of the package left over from my soup and just pulled apart the chicken into bite size chunks, adding it into the mixture.

Mmmm, risotto
All that's left after that is to transfer it to bowls, pour a glass of wine and sit back and enjoy the Percy Jackson movie (see it before you read the books, otherwise it's a let down). James and I each had three spoonfuls of risotto and had smaller second servings, and there was even enough left over for a decent lunch today. It was delicious, and though it felt creamy, it was light, but still filling. There was a little bit too much edamame for my liking, but you can adjust that as you see fit. If you look up risotto, real simple will also suggest the same thing, but with peas and prosciutto. We might just have to try that sometime.

Tonight: Avgolemano or what you do with your unused, de-skinned lemons!

Friday, November 12, 2010

Restrictions: Spicy Food, Red Meat, Pork, Fried Food, Greasy Food

For the next two weeks I will be on a restricted diet. No spicy food, no red meat, no pork (no problem!), no fried food and no greasy food. It's going to be quite a challenge to find tasty foods for both James and I that meet those restrictions, especially considering James' love of any food involving meat. My GI doctor also recommended that if I eat dairy, I take lactaid, which helps digest the lactose found in dairy products. 

For lunch I decided to try to make something tasty that met those restrictions and was still flavourful. I looked around the pantry, wanting to use stuff we already had. I came up with my friend Ashley's egg drop soup, which I modified to make it heartier and a bit more flavourful. I emptied a can of chicken broth into a pot and started to bring it to a boil. I added a splash of lemon juice and more than a splash of soy sauce, then added some ground garlic, onion and ginger. 

Once the chicken broth was boiling I added one egg (beaten), which automatically cooks and become fluffy (this is very fun to play with!) and a handful of soba noodles, as well as 5 mini chicken-cilantro wontons. Once the soba noodles were mostly cooked, I added some pieces of pre-cooked chicken and allowed everything to cook for a while.

It ended up being so much yummier than the original egg drop soup recipe I'd been using (chicken broth, soy sauce and egg) and a lot more filling too. It made two bowls of soup, which filled me up nicely. It only took about 15 minutes to make, which meant that as a late lunch, I didn't have to wait too long to eat. 

Tonight comes the real challenge: making a meal that James will enjoy while still abiding by those rules. We're going to try a risotto with edamame recipe I found in Real Simple and add some chicken to it for protein. I'll be trying to change my snacking habits to something healthier than potato chips (it's pomegranate season!) and pay more attention to what I'm eating.

Damn, I'm craving salsa...

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

The Physick Book of Deliverance Dane

From the moment I saw The Physick Book of Deliverance Dane by Katherine Howe, I knew I wanted to read it, and the inside flap only confirmed that. The book deals with what I consider one of the most fascinating period of American history, the Salem witch trials. In addition, the book's narrative switches between the past and the present (well, the relative present), which I've begun to take as a sign that a book will be to my liking. Ever since Labyrinth by Kate Mosse, I've searched out books like that, and have always been happy with the results.

The Salem witch panic has always fascinated me, for many different reasons. The sheer panic caused by one word, the loss of innocent lives, the lack of remorse the girls had for their part in it, it was astounding. I think I was the only middle schooler that checked out the non-fiction books on the witch trials at my school, but those books seemed to sympathize with the girls, painting them as the victims. Perhaps not the victims of bewitchment, but victims of the social and religious tensions at the time. To me, the victims have always been those accused of witchcraft. This book seems to highlight the thesis I defended in my paper about the differences between magic and religion: magic is simply the 'other,' which in another context would be considered religion. In fact, the most common explanation regarding certain of the accused is that they were cunning women, who were like medicine women, the precursors to modern physicians.

The book switches between the 1990's and the past, following a line of women down through the centuries. Connie Goodwin is a graduate student in American Colonial history who has just been accepted into Harvard's PhD program, and is spending the summer doing her mother a favour over the summer by cleaning up and attempting to sell her grandmother's house in Marblehead, Massachusetts. Her attention is caught by a scrap of paper bearing the name Deliverance Dane, hidden inside a key, which fell out of the family Bible. This leads her on a chase after a new, original source from that period, which suggests that perhaps it was not just the social and religious tensions that led to the Salem witch panic, but that perhaps certain people were practicing what was considered witchcraft at the time. This intersects with what then becomes her research, and a cast of characters is drawn into the story: her advisor, Manning Chilton, co-advisor, Janine Silva, friend, Liz, mother, Grace, dog, Aldo, romantic interest, Sam. The characters, no matter how small the part are all thought out and colourfully drawn. The interactions between them never seem contrived (unless they're supposed to be a bit strained) and the book has a feel of genuine story-telling that one can get lost in.

Though I've had this book on my 'to-read' shelf for quite a while, I only picked it up a few days ago. It isn't an easy read, but it isn't dry or boring either. It captivates the reader and transports them into the worlds of the characters, be it the 1990's and Connie or the 1690's and Deliverance or Mercy Dane. While I'm not historian, the historical interludes seem to be historically accurate, and the reader can see the effort, thought and research the author put into those sections. There are some unanswered questions at the end, but nothing that will nag at me like those questions left by the Exorcist. Though the ending wasn't a surprise to me, there were a few twists I wasn't expecting, and the book still kept me glued to it page after page, until the last word was read.

If you enjoy historical novels with a bit of the supernatural thrown in, this book is right up your alley. It's not completely stuck in the past, but the interactions with and the connections with the present are fascinating and fun to explore. It's a book that will last you more than a day; I spread out my reading over about 5 days or so and enjoyed every time I pulled back a new layer of the mystery. The story was far too easy to get lost in, and I had vivid dreams of living in a romanticized version of those historical parts (with computers however, but my dreams should be the study of a research project). The characters are genuine and likeable (or hateable, if they're the antagonist) and the story moves along at a good pace, with the author seeming to have a sixth sense regarding when to put in the historic bits and when to leave the reader hanging for more. I would definitely pick up this book; it is worth the money (even worth the price of a hardback novel!)

Monday, November 1, 2010

Chicken Piccata Pasta Toss

Our quest to reuse our leftovers continued on Thursday. After our pasty experiment, we still had some filling leftover. James got some chicken breasts and havarti cheese and made some delicious chicken rolls. We had two chicken breasts left over. Instead of freezing them, I decided I'd make something with chicken in a few days. So on Thursday, James and I decided to try Rachel Ray's chicken piccata pasta toss. I love anything piccata and I'm also in love with pasta, so this seemed perfect.

Prep for the sauce, all measured out
James went ahead and cooked up the two chicken breasts while I prepped for the sauce. I decided to wait to cook the pasta so it would still be hot when the sauce was done. Now, maybe I'm a wimp or maybe my eyes lack some sort of protection, because I cannot cut up onion, shallots, or even more than a clove of garlic without my eyes absolutely streaming. James makes fun of me, but I'm seriously considering getting myself some onion goggles from Bed, Bath & Beyond because I have to use the food processor to save myself. So I peeled and roughly chopped the two shallots and four cloves of garlic and put them in the food processor, which minced them up really nicely. Adding some more oil to the pan, we added the butter, the garlic and shallot mix and sauteed until they turned a nice shade of brownish-gold. We added the flour, but we did not cook for two minutes, since it clumped up and immediately started burning. So we added the wine immediately and let it reduce before adding in the lemon juice and the broth. If I were making this again, I would add more lemon juice, since I only put in about 3/4 of a shot glass. We then added the parsley and the capers (yum), and let that cook until the sauce started bubbling a bit. We then added the rest of the butter, to add a shine according to Rachel Ray, and the chicken breasts, which I had been cutting up into bite-size pieces while James worked on the sauce.
Sauce, pre-chicken

When I thought we had about 10 minutes left, I started the pasta (start it earlier!!). Though the recipe calls for 1 lb of penne, I used only 1/2 lb since that was about all our pot could safely hold. This ended up being a blessing in disguise since it made the pasta to sauce ratio PERFECT! If you like your pasta with a more substantial sauce, make just 1/2 lb, it's still plenty for two people. We kept the sauce covered and on low heat while the pasta cooked, then strained the pasta, put it back in the pot and added the sauce. We mixed it up and served it up in bowls to make it easier. Sorry for the lack of pictures of the finished product, but James and I were both pretty hungry by the time we finished. We both had two bowls of the piccata, which amounted to about 4 scoops from a pasta spoon each. (I actually had thirds because it was so yummy, but that was a bit too much food.) We still had enough left over for a full serving afterwards. If you're going to save it, be aware that when it's reheated, the sauce isn't as sauce-y, but it's still really good.

The aftermath
The aftermath of the dishes was pretty intense. We used about three cutting boards, a bunch of knives and all the little prep bowls I dirtied (though it did make life easier). It didn't take that long to clean up, and most of it went into the dishwasher. Either way, from someone who hates doing dishes, it was totally worth the mess we made! Let me know if you make it and find any other helpful tips!

Sunday, October 31, 2010

The Exorcist (Spoiler Alert!)

Not the most timely book review, but then I didn't watch the movie until last fall. Finally strapped some steel to my backbone and was disappointed to find the movie more creepy/disturbing than actually scary. Some parts were gross (the vomit), but more often than not it was sexually disturbing.

The book was not so different. It wasn't so much scary as weird. It explained a little more than the movie did, as is often the case with books. The beginning in Iraq wasn't such a non-sequitur and Merrin's previous experience with the demon was touched upon, which I don't remember in the movie. However, there were a lot of questions that were NOT answered by the book, and I truly hate loose ends like that. Some were minor, like the fact that Karras died before he could deliver Kinderman's message to Engstrom about Elvira. Now I'm wondering if Engstrom ever found out that his daughter was getting help, and how his wife dealt with the news. The more important questions dealt with the demon itself: what demon was it? The book alludes to a mesopotamian wind demon named Pazuzu, but also makes reference to Legion, the demon driven into the pigs in the New Testament. It is also never explained how or why the demon chose/met/became aware of Regan, whom it posseses. The biggest question that is the most aggravating to me is that when Karras originally interviews the demon, he asks it if it would die if Regan (the host) died and the demon replies that it would not. However, when the demon posseses Karras and he throws himself out the window, the demon disappears from the story, supposedly having suffered the demise Karras inflicted upon himself and his possessor.

Despite the questions that were left unanswered the story of the book was interesting. Though I thought the writing was quite choppy and confusing. I found the first 50 pages or so extremely tedious to get through. Not only was nothing happening in the story, but the writing itself made the story hard to follow. The mother's character, Chris MacNail, seemed to be especially hard to follow at the beginning. Here's an example of her thoughts as written by Blatty: "Hi, little wonderful girl next door! Can I speak to your husband? Your lover? Your pimp? Oh, your pimp's in the poorhouse? Avon calling! She stuck out her tongue at herself. Then sagged. Ah, Christ, what a life! She picked up her wig box, slouched downstairs and walked out to the piquant tree-lined street." (Page 17-18) Her entire reverie made no sense whatsoever, and had nothing to do with what was going on in the story: she was getting ready to leave for filming and made a silly face in the mirror.

Either way, by the time I realized what it was about the writing (I always believe in giving books anywhere from 50-100 pages to capture my interest), I was too invested in the story to not find out how it ended in the book. It was a pretty good story, but with the confusing writing and the unanswered questions, I'd say that if you want to know the story, watch the movie. Don't waste more time than necessary for a book with loose ends and confusing writing, no matter how good the story.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Turkey-It's What's for Dinner

Well, now. As you may or may not know, I'm not exactly an Iron Chef. My forays into the culinary world are quite recent, and as much as I enjoy cooking, it's not always relaxing. My main concern is the mess left behind. Well, last night we filled up the dishwasher and used at least 3 different pans, but it was totally worth it.

I've been collecting recipes I want to try for a while, and decided this weekend that Monday would be the perfect night to try Real Simple's crispy turkey cutlets. I'll go through the recipe, but if you want to follow it on your own, you can find it here along with the recipe for green bean salad, which we decided to forego. We bough a pound of turkey cutlets from Albertson's and made sure that we had everything we needed this weekend. All that was left to do was put the dinner together.

Garlic mashed potatoes courtesy of James
We started with mashed potatoes. We had potatoes left over from our pasty experiment, so we decided to use the rest of our Idaho golden potatoes to make some garlic mashed potatoes. Peel and chop potatoes, boil, strain, return to pot. Add milk and a clove of minced up garlic, then mash up in the pot (Note: if you have Teflon coated pots and pans, do not use a metal masher--I see a trip to the store in our future...). We added a bit too much milk, but the potatoes were still the most delicious tasting potatoes ever. Mmmm.

Before cooking, after dredging
Then we moved on to the turkey. Like our favourite chicken-fried steak recipe, you season the turkey (you'll need double the amount listed to season both sides), then dredge in flour, lightly beaten egg, and then instead of flour again, dredge in bread crumbs. We just used Progresso's bread crumbs, since they were on sale. This added a nice crunch to the cutlets. Here's what the cutlets look like before cooking <--.
A little too browned, but still yummy
We filled a pan with 3 Tbsp of olive oil, and James began frying the cutlets. The recipes recommends using medium-high heat, but we have a bizarre stove, so medium was good for us. Our stove is also on a slant, which means all the oil runs to one side, but James is an amazing cook and manages to deal with it perfectly well. Fry the cutlets approximately 2-3 minutes on each side (3-4 for us) until they're golden-brown on each side. Now, we put them on a baking sheet and kept them warm in the oven. This wouldn't have been a problem, but we had the oven at 275 degrees (you'll see why later) which ended up drying up the cutlets. If you need to keep them warm, but the oven on the lowest setting. Or even better, plan your gravy in advance, before the cutlets are cooked.

If you know me, you know that I love gravy. And I mean, LOVE. So we decided to try to make our own gravy. James has pulled off lemon-butter sauces off the top of his head, so I thought that just giving him the basic ingredient list would be fine. Keep the oil that's left in the pan after frying, add butter, milk and flour. Add the flour SLOWLY!! Otherwise, you'll end up with our problem, and have huge globs of flour, instead of a smooth gravy. Sine turkey doesn't add a lot of flavour, and bread crumbs don't leave as much on the pan as a last dredge of flour does, you'll need to add some chicken broth or stock. My recommendation is to actually follow a recipe instead of making it up. We did not add chicken broth, and had clumps of flour. Ours also tasted like flour-y milk, so we tossed it out and James headed to Ralph's to buy some canned gravy. Not exactly the best, but better than nothing.
So yummy!

After all this time, the potatoes were a bit milky and the turkey was dry around the edges. However, in the middle it was both moist and crispy on the outside. It was an absolutely delicious dinner, and worth all the trouble of cleaning up. If you don't want gravy or have a gravy plan in advance, this would be a five star dinner. Even with the problems we had, James and I both gave it four stars. We both want to try this recipe again, making a few changes and both of us cooking (James acted as a sous-chef and I sat out and just directed since I had a killer headache).

A homemade snack, to-go
While everything else was happening, I took the pumpkin seeds from our jack-o-lantern yesterday and washed them off--warm water in a large bowl, then a colander with a large hole. I went online to find the best way to roast pumpkin seeds and found a site called the Pumpkin Patch. It recommended roasting them on a cookie sheet at 275 degrees (see, it all makes sense) for anywhere from 10-20 minutes. I wanted to season them with something other than salt, so I decided to try something new. I put them back into the bowl I washed them in (sans the water), added some olive oil, lemon pepper, salt and just a touch of garlic. I mixed it all up, and spread the seed out on parchment paper that I put on top of the cookie sheet (saves you a lot of clean up). I roasted them for the recommended time, though I think a little longer might have been better. They're delicious! Makes sure you really spread them out, since where a few were piled up, they didn't roast as well, but if you like a lemon-y smokey taste, these little snacks are great! Yum!

All in all, a great night, and four stars out of five for the recipes, with the few changes we recommend!

Monday, October 25, 2010

Author Review: Rick Riordan

I will be as audacious as to say that Rick Riordan is the next J. K. Rowling; in fact, he may even be a better writer than her. His books are aimed at a young adult audience, but the way that Riordan mixes mythology and history into his stories is amazing, and provides a fun platform for those interested in different, modern takes on mythology, as well as a platform for things to study about the old mythology.

Courtesy of
I started with The Red Pyramid, which is the first book in the Kane Chronicles. This book focuses on Egyptian mythology. Since I've been obsessed with Egyptology since I first learned what Egypt is and what an archaeologist is, I was very interested in this book when I saw it at Barnes and Noble. I was a little wary though; wasn't this a book for kids? I enjoy reading, but I want a complex storyline, even if the prose isn't incredibly advanced. I had nothing to worry about. I don't want to give away the story, but a brother and sister find out that they are actually Egyptian demi-gods, and it's a tale of their self-discovery in that respect, and a quest to save their father. It is the first in a series, and I can't wait for when Riordan releases the next in this series.

Courtesy of

I then devoured the Percy Jackson series. This is Riordan's best known series, and the first installment has even been turned into a movie. In The Lightning Thief, a young Percy Jackson (13, I believe), is suddenly attacked by monsters, including a fury and a minotaur. He then discovers that he is a son of a Greek god (I won't say who) and that the only safe place for him is a place called Camp Half-Blood, where he finds he is not the only demi-god in the world. The next 4 books (making a total of 5) deal with the coming battle between the gods and Kronos, an evil titan. If you know anything about Greek mythology (think back to 7th grade!) you will enjoy seeing the modern versions of well-loved myths. The books are a quick read once you're into them; I averaged one book a day for the last 4 books. However, the story is gripping, the writing is witty and you just cannot put these books down!

Courtesy of

I waited, quite (im)patiently, for the next book, The Lost Hero. This book is a continuation of sorts of the Percy Jackson series, and the first book in Riordan's new Heroes of Olympus series. I got the sneak peek on my nook, which pretty much drove me nuts, til the book was released on Oct 12. It opens with a young man (about 16) waking up on a school bus, holding hands with a girl, and having no memory of anything, even his name. This first book chronicles Jason's journey, with his two friends Piper and Leo, and we run into familiar faces from the Percy Jackson series. Again, I don't want to give away too much, but I adored this book! One of the reasons I loved it was that the characters ended up in my hometown of Walnut Creek, CA and a battle took place on Mt. Diablo, so it was familiar territory toward the end. It was marvelously written, and left me craving the next installment, as it left a few plotlines definitely NOT tied up nicely.

If you enjoy a fun read that's also educational (in a totally non-boring way), pick up any of the Riordan books. I would recommend starting with the Lightning Thief or the Red Pyramid, since Heroes of Olympus involves characters from the Percy Jackson series. Maybe you'll become an older (demographic of 12 yr olds) Riordan fan, like myself.

Cornish Pasties

If you've never had a pasty (rhymes with "nasty"), you have been missing out! These delicious culinary creations come from the British isles and were said to have come about as a hearty lunch for miners, with the crust giving them something to hold on to. I first read about these in a Cat by Lillian Jackson Braun and was lucky enough to stuff myself with them when I stud]ied abroad in Ireland. Most countries have some version of a meat and pastry dish, be is pasties, Jamaican patties or meat pies. All of them I have tried so far are delicious. Since I can't find pre-made pasties or anything similar here in California, James and I decided to make them this Sunday night.

My first attempt at Cornish Pasties (yum!)

We started by looking up a traditional recipe on and decided on the Emeril Lagasse recipe, which seemed to be the most traditional one. Here's the link to the recipe so you can try it yourselves:

We started with the dough around 3 in the afternoon. It wasn't too difficult. I didn't have a sifter, so I used a berry colander to sift through the flour, salt and sugar, and it worked like a charm! I "cut" the shortening into the dry ingredients with my fingers, which was messy, but fun. Basically, you mix it until it looks like big crumbly dough. After you add the egg and water, you can truly start to knead it, and it begins to look like a typical dough. We wrapped it in plastic wrap, put it on a plate and left it in the fridge for a few hours. If there are little white dots all over your dough when you pull it out of the fridge, don't worry, it's perfectly fine.

Frank, our jack-o-lantern
We decided to eat early, so James started dicing up the carrots and potatoes. While the recipe calls for 1/4" cubes, we cut them pretty small, and James managed to practically liquify the onion in the food processor. We mixed all of that with about .67 lbs of cubed chuck steak, salt and pepper. While James worked on that, I pulled out the dough and floured it very well (it is sticky!) and rolled it out. I used one of our saucers to cut out 6 rounds. I had to reroll the scraps a few times to get all 6 rounds, but I still have some dough left over. I then beat an egg and grabbed our silicone barbecuing brush (I wish I had a pastry brush). I took each round, brushed egg along half of the outside rim and then put a little handful of the meat mixture inside the center of the round, and off to one side. Then I folded the pastry in half and pinched the ends together. I continued this until all of the pasties were on a baking sheet. We brushed the tops with the egg, put little slices in the top of the pasties to prevent explosions and stuck them in the oven. We turned our temperature down a bit since our oven is crazy hot, but after about 35 minutes (during which we carved a jack-o-lantern) we had absolutely delicious pasties.

James and I each ate two pasties, meaning we have two left over, one of which was finished as my lunch. The only thing about the pasties is that they did not have a lot of seasoning or flavour to the meat in them. A little bit of garlic, or a marinade or a bit of searing would have helped a lot. So now that we have a basic recipe, we can play around with both seasonings and filling!

Pumpkin Spice cookies with cream cheese frosting