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review 2018-01-18 14:45
"A Drink Before The War - Kenzie and Gennaro #1" by Dennis Lehane
A Drink Before the War - Dennis Lehane

How can this be my first Dennis Lehane book? How did I miss someone who writes like this?

 

I went into the book in complete ignorance because I liked the title.

 

I was immediately impressed by a new style of hard-boiled PI that mixes swagger with self-deprecation, reluctant empathy and hate-driven violence.

 

My only point of confusion was why the author had set this piece of edgy, I'm-self-confident as long as I don't think about it or the dreams don't get me, noir. in the 1990s. It took me ages to realise it was PUBLISHED in the 1990s.

 

"A Drink Before The War" is set in 1990s Boston and is wrapped around a plot involving corrupt politicians covering up the truth about the worthless excuses for human beings that they are, gang warfare, blackmail and multiple attempts on the lives of our two PIs.

 

The novel is powered by two challenging themes that feel contemporary: racial hatred as an unchangeable reality and the violence of abusive fathers and husbands. These two themes are braided together to explore what happens to the powerless when love and violence are twisted around one another and the corrosive effect long-harboured hate has on our ability to be human.

 

I admired Lehane's ability to provide a bold and ballsy shell for the two PIs while still letting us see the doubts and hatreds that eat at them. There's no preaching here, no moralising. This is not a discussion of issues and options, it's an up close and personal look at the consequences of abuse and hate, the hard choices they face us with and how much it costs us to make the right call.

 

The story is told mainly from Kenzie's point of view, so it's his head we get to crawl inside, his nightmares we share and his history that we discover, but Gennaro, his tough, competent, friends-since-childhood female partner is also well drawn. She is married to a man who beats her, has a partner who is constantly trying to woo her, is half the size of people trying to kill her and is still the most grounded and determined of the two PIs.

 

The plot twists but doesn't cheat. The setting feels authentic. The dialogue is sharp without becoming mannered, The violence is disturbing and morally ambiguous.

 

This is noir at its best. I'm sorry I missed these in the 90s but the good news is that there are five more Kenzie and Gennaro books in print so this year I'm going to enjoy catching up.

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text 2017-12-30 11:40
16 Tasks of the Festive Season: Square 3 - St. Martin's Day - and Square 15 - Newtonmas

Tasks for St. Martin’s Day: Write a Mother Goose-style rhyme or a limerick; the funnier the better. –OR– Take a picture of the book you’re currently reading, next to a glass of wine, or the drink of your choice, with or without a fire in the background.

 

Tasks for Newtonmas: Take a moment to appreciate gravity and the laws of motion. If there’s snow outside, have a snowball fight with a friend or a member of your family. –OR– Take some time out to enjoy the alchemical goodness of a hot toddy or chocolate or any drink that relies on basic chemistry/alchemy (coffee with cream or sugar / tea with milk or sugar or lemon, etc.). Post a picture of your libations and the recipe if it’s unique and you’re ok with sharing it.

 

I decided to combine these two into one for a late candlelight breakfast this morning:

 

 

 

The drink is white hot chocolate; a gift from my BFF from our trip to London back in June.  Basically, it just calls for the white chocolate powder to be mixed into hot milk ... my mom, however, had the brilliant of very alchemically correct idea of adding a pinch of ground (or instant) coffee.

 

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text 2017-12-29 21:01
16 Tasks of the Festive Season: Square 11 - Dōngzhì Festival

Tasks for Dōngzhì Festival: If you like Chinese food, tell us your favorite dish – otherwise, tell us your favorite dessert.

 

Alright, I admit I haven't made these in a while (so the pretty pics aren't mine), but the Chinese recipes are from a cookbook I brought from a trip to Hong Kong, and which I used to cook Chinese meals for my friends after my return, and the dessert recipe was a runaway success in our family for years after I'd discovered it in one of the first cookbooks I ever owned.

 

(Note: metric conversions are rounded to the nearest semi-decimal.  Trust me, they work well enough on that basis.)

 

Chinese Food

Cha Shiu Buns

Ingredients:

Yeast Dough

1 tsp dry yeast

1/2 tsp sugar

1/2 cup (ca. 120 ml) warm water

6-7 oz (ca. 170-195 g) plain flour

 

Pastry

10 oz (280 g) yeast dough (see above)

3 oz (ca. 85 g) sugar

1/2 tsp ammonia powder

1/4 tsp alkali water (or just salted water)

1-2 tbsp water

1 tbsp oil

4 oz (ca. 110 g) flour

1 tsp baking powder

 

Filling

6 oz (ca. 170 g) roast pork (= cha shiu)

1 tbsp finely chopped chives or spring onions

 

Gravy

1 tsp oil

1 tsp white wine

1/2 cup (ca. 120 ml) stock

1 tsp oyster sauce (optional)

1 tsp light soy sauce

1 tsp sugar

2 tsp cornflour mixed with

    1 tbsp water

 

Preparation:

Yeast Dough

Dissolve the dry yeast and sugar in warm water and leave for 10 minutes to prove.

Stift the flour on to a table and make a well in the centre to pour in the yeast solution.  Work in the flour to knead into a soft dough.  Place in a greased mixing bowl and cover with a towel.  Leave to prove for 10-12 hours.

 

Pastry

Place the yeast dough, sugar, ammonia powder and alkali water in a big bowl.  Add the water and oil to the mix into a thick cream.

Sift the flour and baking powder together on a table and make a well in the centre.  Pour in the yeast cream. Slowly work in the flour and knead into a soft dough.

 

Filling

Dice or shred the cha shiu.

 

Gravy

Heat the oil in a hot wok (or frying pan).  Sizzle wine and pour in the stock.   Season to taste and thicken the gravy with the cornflour solution.  Remove wok (pan) from the stove and stir in cha shiu and chopped chives / spring onions to mix well.  Dish and put into refrigerator to chill.

 

To complete:

Roll the soft dough into a long strip and cut into 24 equal portions.  Flatten each portion into a small round.  Place a tsp of filling in the centre of the round, then draw in the edges and form small pleats to wrap up the filling.  Stick a small squre piece of grease proof paper to the bottom of each bun.

Arrange the buns in a steamer, then steam over high heat for 8 minutes.  Remove and leave to cool.  Steam a second time for 2 minutes, then serve hot.

 

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Lemon Chicken

Ingredients:

2 boneless chicken breasts, about 6 oz. (ca. 170 g) each

2 lemons

1 beaten egg

1 cup (ca. 235 ml) cornflour

oil for deep frying

2 parsley sprigs or chunks of broccoli

 

Chicken Marinade

1 tbsp ginger juice

1 tbsp white wine

1 tbsp light soy sauce

1 tsp sugar

1 tsp cornflour

1 pinch of pepper

 

Seasoning

1/2 cup (ca. 120 ml) stock

1/4 tsp salt

3 tbsp vinegar

2 tbsp sugar

1/2 tsp sesame oil

1 tsp wine

1 pinch of pepper

 

Gravy Mix

2 tbsp custard powder

1/2 tsp cornflour

3 tbsp water

 

Preparation:

Wash and trim the parsley / broccoli and set aside for later use.

Mix all the ingredients of the marinade.

Slice the chicken breasts into large thin pieces, then immerse in the marinade for 30 minutes.

Toss the chicken in the beaten egg, then coat evenly with the cornflour.

Heat the wok (or frying pan) until very hot and pour in the oil to bring to the boil.  Slide in the chicken to deep fry until golden brown.  Drain, cut and dish.

Squeeze out the juice of one lemon and mix with all the seasoning except the wine.

Heat another wok (or frying pan) and bring 2 tbsp of oil to the boil.  Sizzle the wine, then pour in the lemon mixture and season to taste.  Mix the custard powder and cornflour with the water, then stream into the sauce to thicken.  Blend in the last tbsp of oil and mask over the chicken.

Slice the other lemon and arrange on or around the platter with the parsley / broccoli.

 

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Dessert: Sherry Cream

Ingredients:

1 lime (or small lemon)

75 g (ca. 2 1/2 oz) icing sugar

125 ml (ca. 4 fl oz) sherry (preferably Amontillado or Oloroso)

300 g (ca 10.5 oz) double cream or crème fraîche (not: sour cream!)

2-3 drops of essence of vanilla or orange

a few slices of orange

 

Preparation:

Brush clean the lime / lemon in running water, then dry and julienne the peel (cut into thin tiny slices).  Squeeze out the juice of the lime / lemon and blend with the icing sugar until the sugar is dissolved.  Then mix in the sherry.

Whisk double cream / crème fraîche until foamy, then slowly mix in the lime juice and sherry blend, as well as the essence of vanilla / orange.  Fill cream into large serving bowl or small dessert bowls, sprinkle with lime / lemon peel juliennes, and decorate with orange slices.

 

(Note: This also works with port or madeira, if your taste runs more that way.)

 

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review 2017-12-08 18:52
I Savored This Book
My Paris Kitchen: Recipes and Stories - David Lebovitz

I had so much fun reading this cookbook/memoir over the past week. I didn't hurry, just enjoyed the recipes, the little stories, and the vibrant pictures that David Lebovitz included. 

 

I will say that I found the recipes intriguing and thought everything sounded great. I am now addicted to salted butter and found out things that I never knew before regarding duck fat. Also I now want to buy all the duck fat and make it with potatoes. Mmmmmm.

 

I would say that I wish that we had more stories included. The recipes are great, but the book comes alive for me when Mr. Lebovitz gives readers an intimate look at his life in Paris. Whether it is finding out where to get kale or how to purchase cheeses, he makes everything seem like a fun adventure. 

 

One warning. Do not read this book if you are even a little bit hungry. 

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text 2017-12-02 20:09
16 Tasks of the Festive Season: Square 2 - Guy Fawkes Night

Tasks for Guy Fawkes Night: [... M]ake yourself a nice cup of tea and settle down with a good book to read. Which kind of tea is your favorite? Tell us why.

 

 

The tea in this mug is Earl Grey, one of the teas I got today during our trip to Frankfurt.  It's most constantly been one of my favorite teas as long as I can think; I like all things with a citrus taste, so the mix of black tea and bergamot oil is right up my alley.

 

Other favorites include certain Darjeeling and Assam teas, Yunnan, Keemun, Oolong, English and Irish Breakfast, Chai, and a large number of the blends marketed by Kusmi, Whittard of Chelsea, Tazo, Taylors of Harrogate, Fortnum & Masons -- and of course by that lovely Frankfurt store, which sells a huge variety of blends of their own.  (In the denomination of "blends" I include, for present purposes, "real" / black or green tea blends as well as the non-actual-tea fruit blends that the French call tizanes.)

 

The mug pictured above is in almost constant use, too, btw.; it's a large one that holds 0.5 l (= 17 fl. oz.) of liquid, so I frequently make my tea right in this mug, even if I know I'm going to have several mugs in a row -- it'll always be nice and freshly brewed that way.

 

I grew up with afternoon tea; it was downright a "thing" in our family, whereas coffee was the stuff that you have for breakfast and drink too much of at the office.  These days, I can't tolerate large quantities of coffee any longer, but I can drink tea to my heart's content.  As a result, my kitchen doesn't even have a coffee maker -- but it does contain a water heater, and large quantities of tea:

 

 

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