Recent Story Recommendations

It’s been a while since I’ve written about any shows or books on here, so I figured it was about time to list some of the better ones I’ve seen or read from the last two or three months. I’ve been concentrating on reading rather than writing lately, so I’ve read a little more, and also seen some new shows.

Shows

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Steven Universe: One of the best cartoon/anime shows I’ve seen, hands down. I just can’t say enough about this show right now. It is special and unique, and worth checking out even if it’s not your usual thing. Not only is this some cool scifi in a older grade school/middle-school age show, it deals very directly with real-life issues like friendship, love, and loss in a more fantasy/scifi setting, while still being appropriate for a younger audience. It is highly musical, very relateable, with a good story and characters, and just overall a great show. It’s won quite a few awards, and well deserved.

 

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The Dark Crystal: Age of Resistance: Seeing The Dark Crystal  movie for the first time only this year (do see it if you haven’t!), we were interested in checking out the show, now released on Netflix. It captures everything that’s so great about the movie, and is definitely something to check out if you’re at all a fantasy fan, or even just a fan of stories or great art. Even the original was a masterpiece of puppetry, and so is this. This is Lord of the Rings level craftsmanship and quality, so don’t pass it up. You’ll forget you’re watching inanimate objects. While family-friendly, this does a bit more mature than the movie was.

 

Books

Best Children/YA

Goblin Secrets: The first of a children’t fantasy series, this book immerses the reader in the world of Rownie, a young boy in from the poorest section of town. His older brother is missing, and acting is outlawed. Then, a performing troupe comes to town. This is an interesting world, with some compelling story and decent characters. Especially notable is the life and customs of the troupe, and their masks. Some things turn out well, others do not.

Best Fiction

Snow Flower and the Secret Fan: This is the first book I’ve read by Lisa See, who, like Amy Tan, specializes in tales of China, and which I like very much. This book in particular centers around two women, Lily and Snow flower, and their special life-long relationship. It’s full of research of the customs of the regions, including both foot binding and nu shu, a “secret” writing language developed in that part of China and used exclusively by women.

Best Non-Fiction

Meg, Jo, Beth, and Amy: The Story of Little Women and Why It Still Matters: Although I hardly ever read non-fiction, I do like Little Women and Louisa May Alcott’s works. The author of this book spoke at our local library, and my mom and I went to hear her and got her book. As someone who doesn’t really read non-fiction, this book was a compelling case for the novel as both a good reading and literature, exploring the reasons why it was and is beloved by those who have read it, and why it doesn’t normally have a place in taught literature (spoiler alert: it’s a girl’s book). It has a decent background on the Alcott family, looks at culture over time, and no matter your gender, this may be a good read for you if you want to examine any of these topics or themes further.

 

Completed Books (July-August)

Ship of the Dead

Rich People Problems

Grass for His Pillow

Dragons of Deltora (books 1-3, 4 in progress)

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Chocolate Potato Chip Cookies

The next cookies on my list were these chocolate cookies with potato chips in them. It is a double chocolate cookie, with both cocoa powder and chocolate chips, and then crushed potato chips.

Close-up of chocolate dough with crushed potato chips visible in the mix.

The dough is rich and delicious–if you like chocolate covered potato chips, then you will love these. Especially the dough.

 

Cookie sheet lined with parchment paper, with 12 scoops of dough, ready for baking.

I used a cookie scoop and got 2 dozen cookies, with less than a pint left, and so decided to keep the rest of the dough to eat. Did I mention how good it is?

The recipe says to take them out after 10 minutes and let them rest on the pan, which is unusual for cookies, so I tried what I’d normally do, and then this as well. It will seem like they’re not quite done cooking, but sitting on the pan for a few minutes before transferring to a cooling rack ended up with a somewhat softer cookie than cooking until it feels done.

A stack of cookies in a white container.

These went to a friend’s charity function for autism, and we kept about 10 to eat. They are quite good, but the dough was even better. Definitely try these!

Savory Herb Shortbread Crackers

5 crackers arranged on a small plate with a plant pattern.

As part of my tea, I tried a savory short cracker from my Pinterest board, and was rather pleased with the results. These small, pleasing crackers take some time as such a small scale, but aren’t finicky in themselves–only if you’re doing an herb or flower on each cracker.

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These are made with the 1-inch cutter, which is perfect for tea, but I ended up with a lot of them, and still have some of the dough in the fridge. Some of the herbs didn’t want to stay on the cracker, but the parsley leaves were the best of all of them. I used thyme, oregano, and parsley in these, and replaced half the flour with whole wheat flour.

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The crackers taste better than the dough. They’re good, savory, and spelled like pizza while baking. I will likely make these again sometime, although not soon, and perhaps not as small.

Tomato Sauce with Wine-Cooked Mushrooms

A large flat box with a mix of red and yellow tomatoes.

Recipe

Ingredients

  • 1 oil-garlic-herb cube
  • 1 large sweet onion, chopped or diced
  • 1-3 Tbsp garlic
  • 1 Tbsp butter
  • 1/2 lbs mushrooms
  • Chianti, up to 1/4 cup
  • Half a flat of tomatoes
  • Fresh oregano & basil
  • 2-3 bay leaves
  • 1/8 cup Chianti
  • 2-3 Tbsp balsamic vinegar

 

Method

  1. Start oil cube in a pot large enough to make the sauce in, either a large pasta pot or a stock pot. Add onions and cook until soft, adding garlic part way through, until about 10 minutes have passed.
  2. Add butter and mushrooms. Cook a few minutes, and then add Chianti, a little at a time to keep the bottom of the pot from building residue.
  3. When mushrooms are mostly cooked down, add tomatoes, however you like to do yours.
  4. Add herbs.
  5. Simmer until the tomatoes have broken down.
  6. Blend (I use an immersion blender), add remaining Chianti and balsamic vinegar, and simmer for another hour.

Notes

To Peel or Not

There are several options available in preparing tomatoes for sauce, including:

  • Blending
  • Blanching and removing the skins
  • Chop and throw them in the pot

If you’ve read my blog for a while, you might guess that I generally go with the easiest option–I simply cut them up and throw them in the pot. Tomato skins are indigestible, so professional sauce companies blanch and peel their tomatoes. I generally don’t have time for this, and although I have blended them in the past, I find it too watery for my tastes.

If the peels really do bother you, blending is the quickest way to get rid of any large pieces of them. You could also use an immersion blender later in the process if you will have other large vegetable pieces you’d like to blend. Most of the time I don’t care too much, but sometimes I do like a more finished appearance.

Flavors

The one thing you should always do when making a tomato sauce is choose ingredients you like. When I first started making sauce, almost every recipe I looked at included peppers. I don’t like peppers that much, and therefore I didn’t like the sauce I was making. Once I stopped using them, I liked the results a lot better.

While meat sauce (1 lbs. ground meat per pot) usually tastes the best for DH and I, I also use a lot of vegetables–onions, mushrooms, and squash are the ones I use most often. They’ll impart more flavor the more they’re cooked. Roasting is usually best, but I generally only have time to cook them in the pan before adding tomatoes.

Another great thing to do for flavor is to use fresh herbs over dried. It will impart more flavor as it cooks than dried–just use more if you only have dried.

Balance

When making sauce from scratch, you’ll have balance the flavors of your sauce between acid and sweet, unless you are using a mix of tomatoes that includes sweet ones like orange or yellow. I have traditionally used brown sugar in mine, although you can used whatever sweetener you like. I’ve also been known to add balsamic vinegar for depth. Wine, as was used here, Worcester, and soy-based sauces can also be used.

 

Bowl with tomato sauce over meatballs and cheese.

Rainbow Pinwheel Cookies

White and green pinwheel cookies with rainbow sprinkles around the edges.

These turned out colorful and tasty, and I’m really happy to have finally managed to get a roll/log cookie to stay in the proper shape. Mostly because I made these by doing the individual steps over 5 different days–they had plenty of time to chill in the fridge!

I used this recipe from Pip and Ebby, with only 1 modification–I have liquid food coloring, so used that instead. It made the green dough a tad softer, but that’s about it. Keep this really cold between steps to get a great shape. Recommended for anyone who loves color. They say this is a sugar cookie, but it’s really more of a butter cookie in how it functions.