2015 reading challenge: April report

I’ll preface this month with one book that’s not on the list, because I didn’t finish it: Kazuo Ishiguro’s new novel, The Buried Giant. I like a bit of literary fiction on occasion but this was just a slog. I got about a third of the way through and realized I didn’t care about the characters, I wasn’t engaged with the plot, and whatever allegory he was trying to construct seemed more obvious than the one-liners in Furious 7. So I stopped. Next!

Fourth month for the Popsugar reading challenge.

Here are the categories I completed in April:

A book a friend recommended:
Start with Why by Simon Sinek. Grade: B

A book with a number in the title:
Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel. Grade: A

A book set in the future:
Obsession in Death by J.D. Robb. Grade: B

A book from an author you love that you haven’t read yet:
Dead Heat by Patricia Briggs. Grade: B

A book with antonyms in the title:
Medium Raw by Anthony Bourdain. Grade: B

A book set in another country:
Otherwise Engaged by Amanda Quick. Grade: A

A popular author’s first book:
Shards of Honor by Lois McMaster Bujold. Grade: B

A funny book:
Mark Cooper Versus America by Lisa Henry & J.A. Rock. Grade: A

A book more than 100 years old:
Gilgamesh translated by Stephen Mitchell. Grade: A
(Figured if I was going to read something old, I’d go for really old – in fact, the oldest written fiction that exists in the world, from what I understand. This new translation is well done and compelling.)

A book at the bottom of your to-read list:
Every Idea is a Good Idea by Tom Sturges. Grade: B

I don’t think I read more books than usual this month; it’s just that most of them managed to fit in one of the challenge categories. Ten categories down this month!

Months completed: 4 of 12 (30%)
Challenges completed: 24 of 50 (48%)

Food Friday: Tres Leches Cake

I had to share this cake recipe with y’all even though I haven’t tried it yet, because it sounded so interesting. It uses the same device for moistness that my favorite Jello ‘poke’ cake does, except instead of Jello poured over the hot cake it’s a milk/cream mixture. It’s from Ina Garten’s new (2014) cookbook, Make It Ahead.

Tres Leches Cake with Berries

from Make It Ahead, Ina Garten

1 1/4 c all-purpose flour

2 t baking powder

3/4 t kosher salt

3 extra-large eggs at room temperature

1 c plus 5 T granulated sugar

2 t pure vanilla extract

1/2 c whole milk

1 1/4 c heavy cream

1 12-oz can evaporated milk

1 14-oz can sweetened condensed milk

1/2 t pure almond extract

Seeds scraped from 1 vanilla bean

8 cups mixed fresh raspberries and sliced strawberries, for serving

sifted confectioners’ sugar, for dustin

whipped cream [there’s also a recipe in the cookbook for this, a make-ahead version that stays whipped for a while thanks to the addition of creme fraiche]

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Butter a 9x13x2″ baking pan.

Sift the flour, baking powder, and salt into a small bowl and set aside. Place the eggs, 1 cup of granulated sugar, and the vanilla in the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment and beat on medium-high speed for 10 minutes (really!) until light yellow and fluffly. Reduce the speed to low and slowly add half the flour mixture, then the milk, and finally the remaining flour mixture. Mix with a rubber spatula to be sure the batter is well mixed. Pour the batter into the prepared pan, smooth the top, and bake for 25 minutes, until the cake springs back when touched lightly in the middle and a cake tester comes out clean. Set aside to cool in the pan for 30 minutes.

In a 4-cup liquid measuring cup, whisk together the heavy cream, evaporated milk, sweetened condensed milk, almond extract, and vanilla seeds. Using a bamboo skewer, poke holes all over the cooled cake and slowly pour the cream mixture over the cake, allowing it to be absorbed completely before continuing to pour on more of the mixture. Cover the cake with plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least 6 hours.

To serve, toss the fruit with the 5 tablespoons of granulated sugar. Dust the cake with confectioners’ sugar, cut in squares, and place on dessert plates. Surround the cake with the fruit, put a dollop of whipped cream on top, and serve.

Buying digital patterns from Knipmode

Note for all you Knipmode fans: you can now buy PDF patterns from their website and pay using Paypal. Although the website still looks the same, the backend has clearly changed, because the process for buying patterns is quite different from the last time I did it (last year sometime, I think). I read, on the Pattern Review boards, something about the publishing company that used to print Knipmode going out of business, and Knipmode being taken over by a new publisher. Presumably all the changes are due to that.

Unfortunately, it’s still not that easy to browse previews of the magazine or to browse the digital patterns. But at least it’s possible, with some patience and Google Translate open in another tab, to buy PDF patterns, and pay for them with Paypal if you want (credit cards are also an option, but international purchasing can get weird with those sometimes).

Keep in mind that the PDFs are sized for A4 paper/printers – if you’re printing on 8.5×11, you can shrink the instructional pages so they’ll fit on the page. But make sure not to do that for the pattern pieces, or your pattern won’t be the right size – printing A4 on 8.5×11 at 100% will crop off the top and bottom of each page just a little bit, but in my experience not so much that you won’t be able to figure out how the pattern goes together. (Note to self: figure out if my printer will print on A4 and get some A4 paper.)

2015 reading challenge: March report

Third month for the Popsugar reading challenge.

Here are the categories I completed in March:

A book by an author you’ve never read before:
The Bohemians: Mark Twain and the San Francisco Writers who Reinvented American Literature by Ben Tarnoff. Grade: A

A book of short stories:
Shifting Shadows by Patricia Briggs. Grade: B

A graphic novel:
Persepolis by Marjane Satrapi. Grade: A

A book with nonhuman characters:
Blood of Tyrants by Naomi Novik. Grade: B

A book that was originally written in a different language:
The Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up by Marie Kondo. Grade: C

Months completed: 3 of 12 (25%)
Challenges completed: 14 of 50 (28%)

Meal planning service face-off: No More To-Go vs 5 dinners, 1 hour

For several years I had a subscription to eMeals, and tried several of their plans. They were always more oriented toward other parts of the country with their grocery store choices, and toward families with small children (read: boring ‘white people food’ without much spice or variation). So when my subscription was up last year I let it expire. During the same period I got several deliveries from Blue Apron (which I wrote about a little here) that were a little too fancy and involved for what I wanted to cook on a weeknight. What I was looking for was something in-between: recipes that were interesting but not too involved.

Around Christmas there was a discount offer for the meal planning service No More To-Go* on Amazon Local, and I decided to try it out. It’s similar to eMeals in that there is a new slate of recipes each week, and it includes a grocery list. They’ve recently revamped the site so you can tweak your plan before you print it out, with the ability to remove meals or add meals from the recipe archives, and see the changes reflected in your grocery list. It’s easy to use and all the recipes I’ve made have been tasty.

My only issue is that there’s no choice in type of diet included; however, everything is reasonably healthy, no crazy Paula Deen stuff here, but there are a lot of starches. I’m still trying to eat mostly low-carb without grains, so that’s less convenient for me personally. However, the recipes have really hit the sweet spot of being interesting enough without being too complicated, so I will likely continue to subscribe once my initial deal is over. In my opinion, No More To-Go* is worth checking out if you have a more adventurous palate but like the idea of a weekly meal plan.

[*Both of these links are affiliate links; if you visit NMTG and decide to subscribe, I get a small cut. I paid for my own subscription and am writing this review of my own volition because I like the service.]

5 Dinners 1 Hour is a new website that offers a weekly plan like eMeals or No More To-Go, with the difference that everything is prepped beforehand so that it can be cooked quickly on the night of. As you might guess, the claim is that you can do all of your grocery shopping and prep on the weekend, the latter taking less than an hour, and then have five meals ready to be cooked when you get home from work. Basically it’s intended to be like Rachael Ray’s Week in a Day, except actually save you time instead of keeping you in the kitchen all day long.

Unfortunately, I was less than impressed with the recipes. The built-in grocery list was handy, but the way the recipes printed out was a bit confusing, and overall most of the recipes were super-dull and obvious. I realize that novelty isn’t necessarily the prime factor that you might be looking for in this situation, but the recipes have to be at least as decent as my old standbys, or I might as well just make the same four things over and over, you know?

If you’re really tight on time, 5 Dinners 1 Hour might be right for you. They do have a 14 day free trial that you can try out, without having to give your credit card info, and during the trial you can see the archive of the current month’s recipes as well as the previous month’s, so you can get a pretty good idea if it’s going to be the service for you.

Food Friday: cookbook recommendation and pork & kale

Apparently Nigel Slater is some sort of culinary celebrity in the UK. I’d never heard of him until Marisa at Food in Jars mentioned his newest cookbook during her favorite cookbooks of 2014 roundup. After a while on my library’s hold queue, Eat became available this week and I really enjoyed it. I’ve not made anything from it yet – I added several recipes to my ‘try this’ queue on Plan to Eat – but I fully expect to enjoy the results. It’s written in a narrative style, in paragraphs without the ingredients being mentioned ahead of time, and that makes it a much less clinical experience to read (and, I presume, to cook with). If you’re looking for interesting but not crazy-complicated food to make at home, I highly recommend you check out Eat.

Next week I plan to post a review of two weekly meal planning services that I’ve been trying out. The below recipe is a modification of a recipe from one of them, 5 Dinners 1 Hour. In honor of Nigel Slater, I’ve written it in his style from Eat, even though he has absolutely nothing to do with this recipe.

Slow cooker pork & kale
Adapted from a recipe from 5 Dinners 1 Hour

Plug in your slow cooker and spray with cooking spray. Add 3-4 pork chops* to the bottom (preferably bone-in, about 1 1/2 – 2 pounds). Clean a bunch of kale and tear into medium-sized pieces, adding on top of the pork. Dice a medium onion and toss it in (or be super-lazy and use half a bag of frozen chopped onions). Open a 14 oz can of diced tomatoes (preferably with garlic) and pour on top. Add a couple glugs (~2 tablespoons) of balsamic vinegar. Cook until tender, 3-4 hours on high or 6-7 on low, I would guess, stirring the greens and tomatoes occasionally if possible. If you get home early and you have a bunch of spinach or arugula to use up, dump that on top to cook down for the last 30 minutes to an hour. Good alone or served with rice or couscous.

* I defrosted mine the day before in the fridge, but if you haven’t you could probably get away with starting from frozen, as long as you have a couple extra hours to let the whole thing cook. You might end up with too much water; I dunno.

2015 reading challenge: February report

Second month for the Popsugar reading challenge. I’m getting to the point where I’ve knocked off most of the easy categories, and need to start choosing ahead of time which categories I want to complete, rather than reading a book and fitting it into the categories ex post facto.

By the way, I’ve included grades (A-F) for each book, and will go back and add them to the January post as soon as I publish this. They aren’t intended as some sort of overall guide to literary merit, just a loose approximation of “Did I enjoy reading this? Did it accomplish what it set out to do?”

Here are the categories I completed in February:

A book published this year:
Procrastinate on Purpose: 5 Permissions to Multiply Your Time by Rory Vaden. Grade: C

A book with a love triangle:
The Beautiful Ruins by Jess Walter. Grade: B

A book you can finish in a day:
Funny Girl by Nick Hornby. Grade: B

A book that made you cry:
Boy on Ice by John Branch. Grade: B

Months completed: 2 of 12 (16.66%)
Challenges completed: 9 of 50 (18%)