Disappearing Earth Book Review

The debut novel Disappearing Earth by Julia Phillips is both compelling and complex. Her writing captures the nuances of life. The reader is exposed to tragedy and loss, maternal love, stoicism, anguish and hope.

Disappearing Earth begins with the kidnapping of two young girls on the Kamchatka Peninsula. Their disappearance is threaded through the stories told month by month for the following year. To a certain extent each chapter could stand alone. Yet there is a connection. Sometimes obvious, and other times only as the novel unfolds.

Russian Background with Global Insight

While the stories involve women from the Kamchatka Peninsula, a remote area of Russia, the stories are cross cultural. There are male characters, but the driving force for each story is a female. Phillips captures the hopes, dreams and fears women face. Lost love, adjusting to motherhood, missing children and divorce are just a few of the themes covered.

Global insight offers readers a chance to bond with the characters. It is easy to imagine the same stories taking place in your own backyard. Each chapter pulls at the emotions. The women in the novel may be fictional but their dilemmas are real.

Disappearing Earth

An underlying theme is how women cope with adversity. After the kidnapping, one would expect the novel to focus on the mother of the missing girls. However, her story does not appear until the end. Instead, Disappearing Earth focuses on a large number of characters, each coping with difficulties in their lives. The characters overlap just enough to allow the novel to flow.

Julia Phillips has an engaging writing style. Her characters come to life. They are the richness of Disappearing Earth. This is not a mystery per se. The kidnapped girls are a background noise for most of the novel. The true wealth of the book is the global appeal and recognition of how women across the Earth have so much in common.

I highly recommend this first novel by Julia Phillips. If you would like to know more about the author, visit her website by clicking here.

 

 

 

 

June 2019 Wrap-Up

June 2019

This month has been a whirlwind! New family member, second year production on the big garden, and travel to multiple states. Most of the travel has been business related, but the end result was a very busy June 2019.

In the Garden

Highlights of the garden are the leafy greens, peas, radishes and a few early beets. But the star of the show was the garlic harvest. The heads vary in size, but at least half are what I call grocery store quality. Since the total is in the hundreds, I am set for a while. Some are still drying along the garage wall, but I have earmarked some of the early harvest for long term storage. These heads of garlic are in a burlap bag in cool storage of a basement room.

The big disappointments of the garden was a lack of maturing spinach and the small crop of sour cherries. While I know the latter is a result of the late freeze, I am not sure why I am having trouble growing spinach in the big garden. I will try a fall crop and hope for a better outcome.

In the Library

In addition to the books reviewed, I have read the latest “Brit in the FBI” from the duo comprised of Catherine Coulter and J.T. Ellison. The Last Second was action packed. I also read another fictionalized biography of a woman in history. Karen Harper’s American Duchess revealed much about Consuela Vanderbilt unknown to me. Much like The Only Woman in the Room, the author acknowledges that the book is a work of fiction.

Keep posted for reviews of the above. Additionally, I am reading quite a bit on the latest and greatest in kitchen and bath counter tops. I have engaged in working on a foreclosure and the house needs quite a bit of updating. Hopefully I will be able to share some before and after pictures.

Travel

All of the trips I made were to places I had already visited. However, an overnight trip to Salina, Kansas was eye-opening. Most of the time I have just stopped for gas as I was passing through on one of the two Interstates that bisect the town.  I enjoyed spending the night there and will feature this small city in a future post.

Time flies when you are having fun. June 2019 flew at supersonic speed. Very appropriate for this fifty year anniversary of Apollo 11. For those of you looking for a scholarly account of the Apollo mission I highly recommend Moonport: A History of Apollo Launch Facilities and Operations: The NASA History Series by Benson and Faherty. Fair warning, the original edition is so lengthy that when NASA re-released the book it was split into two volumes with distinct titles.

The Home Edit Book Review

Reading The Home Edit: A Guide to Organizing and Realizing Your House Goals felt like I was listening to a conversation between authors Clea Shearer and Joanna Teplin. Perhaps it was the introduction which gave a glimpse of how they met. Or maybe it was the first person point of view. The end effect was a book that felt like you were part of a conversation.

The Home Edit takes household organization to a whole new level. I love the approach taken by Shearer and Teplin. Instead of jumping into the fun part of buying organizational units for the home, they have a straightforward approach to editing your home life.

The Home Edit Process

The first step in the process posited by Shearer and Teplin is to take everything out of the space undergoing an organizational face lift. By everything, they emphasize every single thing! Then, once all the items are out, group like things together.

Then comes the tough part, the editing. Writers understand editing often means cutting out or reducing words. Well, the same thing applies to individuals implementing The Home Edit. After everything is taken out of the space, purging is required.

Shearer and Teplin give solid advice on reducing the amount of “Things” in storage. Letting go of all the items we accumulate over the years can be tough. But I liked the common sense approach they took.

Organizational Fun

Measuring each storage space is critical for the organizational plan. Then, the next step to the Home Edit is the fun part. Armed with the measurements, Shearer and Teplin send you shopping for containers. This is a key part of the plan and sounds fun to me. The authors suggest utilizing containers for all the groupings made during the home edit process.

Another key aspect of their shared organizational process is ROYGBIV. For those unfamiliar with that acronym, sorting or grouping colors in the order of the rainbow, This concept carries throughout the house. Clothes, toys, and even food can be grouped using ROYGBIV.

Real Life Examples

A bulk of the book features real life organizational examples. The authors suggest beginning with organizing drawers and working up from there. They even provide a list of easy versus difficult parts of the home to organize.

In addition to photos providing lots of inspirational examples, the authors give a few tips. One of their basic tips for keeping an area organized is the one thing in one thing out motto I talked about in a Fall 2017 post which you can view here. Reducing the amount of “Things” needing storage is key to an organized home.

I found The Home Edit inspirational. Since I have never been to a store that specializes in containers, I am anxious to visit one. Most of the ideas shared by Shearer and Teplin are ones that can be adapted to suit individual needs. If you are someone that doesn’t know how to get a handle on clutter, this is the book for you.

 

Swiss Chard with Raisins and Almonds

Swiss Chard with Raisins and Almonds Recipe

I love this recipe based on sautéed Swiss Chard. Beth shared the recipe with me last summer. She had adapted the recipe from The Gourmet Magazine. Now I am sharing my version which has been further tweaked. My almond tree is not producing nuts yet, and I have not learned to dehydrate grapes into raisins. But the onion, garlic and Swiss Chard are products of my garden.

                                                 Kitchen Items

                                     You will need the following items from the kitchen to prepare the dish. Cutting board, sharp knife, measuring spoons, measuring cups, and a skillet with lid. I use a cast iron skillet. Optional tools are a garlic press and a hand held food chopper. If I am cooking alone, I utilize the last two items. However, my husband prefers cutting everything up with his chef’s knife.

 

Ingredients

4 to 5 large leaves of Swiss Chard, leaves finely sliced and stems chopped
1 small to medium onion, chopped
1-2 cloves garlic, minced
¼ cup slivered almonds
¼ cup raisins
2 TBS olive oil
2 TBS balsamic vinegar

Directions

Heat olive oil on medium until warm. Saute the minced garlic and chopped onion until the onion is translucent. Stir in the almonds. Then stir in the Swiss Chard. Cover with lid and reduce temperature as needed. Cook 4 to 5 minutes or until the chard is wilted. Stir in raisins. Finally stir in the balsamic vinegar.

I use a scant two tablespoons of the vinegar. This recipe serves two hungry people. I have omitted salt because I think the balsamic vinegar is the only needed flavoring for the fresh ingredients.

As you can see by the picture, the sautéed Swiss Chard with Raisins and Almonds yields about a cup per person. We enjoyed a summertime meal of a turkey sandwich with fresh lettuce from the garden. Later in the summer we will naturally add slices of tomato. Also from the garden were golden beets. The pickle was made from last summer’s cucumbers with a recipe from Small Batch Preserving. But the best part of the meal is the Swiss Chard with Raisins and Almonds!

Slow Dancing with a Stranger Book Review

Today is the longest day of the year. The Alzheimer’s Association uses this day to generate awareness for the disease. The topic of Alzheimer’s is a tough one for me to write about. I have a close family member suffering from this memory thief. So, I thought a book review of Meryl Comer’s Slow Dancing with a Stranger: Lost and Found in the Age of Alzheimer’s was an appropriate choice.

Personal Story

Slow Dancing with a Stranger tells the story of Dr. Harvey Gralnick, the husband of Meryl Comer. An extremely intelligent man, Gralnick was able to compensate for the disease at work for quite some time. However, behavioral changes at home signaled to his wife that something was off.

Some of the details shared by Comer hit home. She shares her frustration of a doctor ignoring her concerns and diagnosing the problem as a combination of stress and depression. In essence, the medical providers stuck together. {Fortunately, when my family member was assessed, it was by a panel. She charmed the pants off the eldest male in the room. (She minored in drama.) He found her vivacious and felt the problems with memory and mobility were natural aging. However she scored poorly on the tests.} Thus I could emphasize with Comer.

Caring for Alzheimer’s Patients

A good amount of Slow Dancing with a Stranger discusses the difficulties in caring for an individual with Alzheimer’s. Comer discusses the many types of care she sought out for her husband. Her shared experiences are valuable to others. The decision on the best way to care for a family member with dementia is incredibly hard. It helps to read about another’s experience.

The decision on type of care may change as the patient progresses through the stages. Comer tried a variety of approaches. This insight is perhaps the most helpful part of the book. While no two patients experience the disease the same, it is helpful to understand the different steps in the deterioration of an Alzheimer’s patient.

Advocating for Alzheimer’s

Comer focuses on advocacy for Alzheimer’s in the latter pages of Slow Dancing with a Stranger. I found this part of the book uplifting. Since she was a former television journalist, Comer was contacted by the PBS News Hour to spotlight her struggle caring for her husband. After much soul searching, she agreed. The airing of the segment spotlighting Alzheimer’s re-opened doors for Comer. Friends and strangers alike reached out. The end result was non-profit work focused on early recognition of Alzheimer’s as well as ways to delay if not prevent the onset of the disease.

Since all proceeds from Slow Dancing with a Stranger directly support Alzheimer’s research I strongly encourage each of you to purchase a copy. Then buy a second copy and give to a friend, family member or to your local library. If you have a friend or family member suffering from this difficult disease, reach out to them and their caregiver today; The Longest Day.

 

 

Rain, Rain and More Rain on the Plains

Rainy days are rare in the part of the world I live in. But rain has fallen four days in a row for a total of just over two inches. Considering our annual average rainfall is 15 inches, the rain over the last four days is significant.

Wet Season

April, May and June are the rainy months for our section of the High Plains. Snow often falls in April which hinders the garden. This year we had the frigid temperatures but not much in the way of measurable snowfall. Then May continued the cooler than normal temperature with a last frost on the 21st of the month. Unfortunately, the month was also dry. Just over an inch of rain watered the garden.

Thus you can understand my excitement of two inches of rain in just four days. The historical average has taken some hits this decade. The beginning featured a carryover of the drought that started in the late ‘00s. The lowest total precipitation for our county occurred in 2011 when just over six inches of rain fell. This was in the middle of a run of years where the rain total fell below ten inches.

Perhaps the ongoing focus on world economics kept this serious drought from the spotlight. This time period was actually drier than the Dust Bowl years. Our area lost a lot of population to the Front Range as individuals and families moved to where jobs could be found.

Fortunately 2015 heralded the end of the drought. The area received over 21 inches of rain. Everything turned green. The High Plains are beautiful with this amount of moisture. The wheat grows tall and the heads are laden with grain. The key to the harvest is a drying period in the weeks before harvest. That might be a problem this year.

Rain and Water Conservation

Since twenty inches of water is a banner year, we are accustomed to conserving water in our part of the world. Unless high winds and/or very hot days pop up, the garden will now not receive water for a week. During dry spells of little to no rain, I water the garden early in the morning. Soaker hoses are the preferable method since our winds carry the spray from sprinklers astray.

Plantings also come into play. After very dry winters and springs, the only flowers in the garden are the perennials. The food crops need the water. So no pretty annuals. The yards tend to brown during a dry year as well.

Stewards of the Earth

I believe gardeners are stewards of the Earth. Both water and soil conservation are important. Rain is welcome in my pat of the world but other areas are receiving more than what is wanted. Those areas with greater annual rainfall need to keep an eye on hard surfaces. Pavement keeps the rain from soaking into the soil. Thus dangerous runoff and flooding is a concern.

We have flash floods when a thunderstorm dumps inches of rain in a short amount of time. So even here in a sparsely populated area, street flooding can occur. The years (few and far between) of heavy spring rains can cause the creeks to look more like streams.

So hardscapes in the garden need to be thought out. Our recent patio addition has flagstone laid upon a gravelly sand. Additionally, a drain pipe was inserted to allow excess water to flow under the herb garden into the lawn.

During yesterday’s rain we looked for ways to improve drainage. We will make a few adjustments to the section of the patio covered by pavers instead of flagstone. The pavers serve as a flat area for the grill to roll out on. Our high winds necessitate moving the grill to a sheltered place when not in use. In fact, it is time to tackle that project since more rain is forecast for this afternoon!

 

 

Garlic Growing in the Garden

Cabbage and garlic side by side
Companion planting of garlic and cabbage

Garlic Growing

Late last summer I went overboard ordering and planting garlic. For years I just used the kitchen garlic that had begun to sprout. Needless to say my past results were lackluster. But this year I have garlic growing in the main garden, garlic growing in the herb garden and garlic growing among the flowers. Truly garlic is everywhere.

Learning About Garlic

I am still learning quite a bit about garlic. Some of my resources include the following books; Organic Hobby Farming and Garden Secrets. I also consult two key websites. The first is www.sustainablemarketfarming.com and the second is www.thespruce.com and I highly recommend both. To be honest I planted the garlic late last summer without much thought.

Last August through November was a bit of a whirlwind and I made several mistakes from an organizational point of view. First of all, I did not label garden signs with the types of garlic. I planted multiple varieties of both soft and hard neck garlic. I did try to keep the types separate. But I did not organize them in such a way that those in one row were soft neck and another was hard neck. Fortunately, nature provides some clues.

Differentiating Between Soft Neck and Hard Neck Garlic

The two types of garlic growing in the garden appeared at the same in the early spring. But in early May, scapes appeared. Hard neck garlic sends a scape up three to four weeks before the bulb is ready to harvest. The scapes are considered a delicacy. I don’t recall ever eating scapes before this spring. They are delicious!

Additionally, the scapes allow one to determine which garlic plants growing are hard neck. This is important because another key difference between soft neck and hard neck is the storage life. Soft neck garlic stores two to three times longer than hard neck. Since I have a large amount of hard neck, my family and neighbors will share in the bounty.

Another way to determine the type of garlic growing in the various gardens is by the stem. Hard neck garlic has one central stem. It is quite sturdy and straight. The soft neck varieties have leaves that are more pliant. Their stems tend to fall over much like onions when they are ripe.

Harvesting The Garlic

Since I have a large amount of garlic and most of the garlic growing is in the raised row garden, I bought a garden fork this spring. I am not sure how I have lived without one! The fork loosens the soil which makes harvesting easy. Because of succession planting I was careful harvesting two of the garlic groupings.

In one of the soft neck beds, I planted some cucumbers by seed. Two cucumber plants emerged before harvest. So extra care was called for around those plants. I also inter-planted cabbage among some hard neck garlic.

I harvested the garlic from around one cabbage head before noticing the beneficial properties of the garlic. The cabbage plants came in a six pack. So I split the pack and three small plants are among dill and near the chocolate mint. My research indicated this deters the moths that lay eggs of the cabbage worm. The dill strategy was a failure but the garlic has worked like a charm.

Cabbage with holes in leaves
Cabbage planted near dill under attack
Cabbage plants in a bed of garlic
Little to no leaf damage on cabbage planted with garlic.

 

 

Garden experiments are important even when they are accidental. The photos show how little damage the cabbage planted among the garlic has compared to the hole riddled cabbage alongside the dill. I will definitely combine cabbage and garlic again.

Drying

Currently I have over one hundred garlic heads drying in my garage. I live in a very dry climate so this is possible. However, from what I have read, fans are used in areas with greater humidity. I still have four groupings of garlic growing in the garden. So, I am watching them closely to make sure they do not over mature.  Garlic left in the ground too long creates cloves that pop out of the skins. This ruins the ability to store the garlic.

I have learned a lot from this garlic crop. This has been a big success so far. However, I won’t know for a few months just how well the bulbs store. I have read several conflicting reports on how to best store the bulbs. Thus, I need to experiment and see what works best for me. Let me know your garlic tips and thoughts in the comment section below. I hope you enjoy the slide show. 

 

 

Cabbage with holes in leaves

Elephants Can’t Fly Book Review

Elephants Can’t Fly

Elephants Can’t Fly by Charlotte Christie is a wonderful addition to a young child’s library. This board book is beautifully illustrated by Cee Biscoe. The gray she uses for the elephants is both a cool blue and warm and fuzzy at the same time. But it is the inspirational words of Christie that makes this 2017 book such a find.

Elly is a young elephant. Naturally, she loves to explore like any young offspring. She observes nature and she tries to imitate. All the things one will see in a youngster.

Christie begins the story giving examples of things elephants can’t do. But then the story unfolds and Elly achieves the impossible. All because no one told her she couldn’t. Thus this simple story is also very meaningful.

Author

A quick search on the Internet yielded little information about Charlotte Christie. The first hit brought up the actress. Adding writer to the search bar brought up a young writer looking for an agent. Then the addition of the title resulted in numerous places to buy the book and a matching stuffed elephant.

A similar search for Cee Biscoe brought up lots of information. She illustrates children’s books. So finally, I searched for Jellycat Books, the publisher of Elephants Can’t Fly. Jellycat is a company specializing in plush toys. But they also sell baby gifts and under this category are some board books, including two about Elly. But the two have different authors. (Same illustrator.)

So, I am no closer to discovering Charlotte Christie the author. I hope Elephants Can’t Fly is not her only book. If it is, I hope she writes another. Because the message of Elly and her willingness to try is the key to this lovely story. If you know anything about the writer of this wonderful children’s book, please share in the comment section.

I love this story and can’t wait to read it to the newest addition to the family. Even newborns can be read to. Thus, I have written her name on the book plate provided on the first page. Tonight I will hold her and read to her for the very first time. Welcome to the world little one!

 

New Kitchen Herb Garden

Establishing the New Kitchen Herb Garden

Last year’s garden extension was the raised row garden which fills a great bit of space in the side lot. But this year’s addition is a new kitchen herb garden. It is located on the back side of the new patio. This allows the new kitchen herb garden to face east. The patio wall provides shade from the afternoon sun. Always a bonus out here on the high plains.

The poured concrete raised garden has a PVC pipe running beneath which allows the patio to drain. Currently the planter is hand watered. This keeps me checking the progress of the plants in the new kitchen herb garden.

Transplants from Divisions

Two of the plants growing in the garden are divisions from existing plants. The lemon balm was relocated in the fall of 2017 from a spot now incorporated into the patio. Then in the fall of 2018, the plant was divided and a small amount placed in the new kitchen herb garden. I was very excited to see it appear this spring. We use lemon balm in our hummus.

Our other transplant was a division of chives. These herbs are the first to appear in the spring. They are an easy plant to divide. I have them centering the bed. If you have never divided plants, chives are a great plant to practice on.

New Plants

Perennial herbs are the focus of the new kitchen herb garden. I have two types of sage in the garden. The common sage is a perennial while the pineapple sage may or may not make it through the winter. This is a first year for me to grow pineapple sage and I can’t wait for the red blossoms. The local hummingbirds will love it.

The thymes, a lemon and German will winter over easily. I love using thyme in my cooking. The two types give me a savory and a citrusy option. I also have two mints, an orange mint and a Corsican mint. The Corsican is very low to the ground with extremely small leaves. I will need to keep an eye on the orange mint since I do not want it to overtake the entire box.

Tender perennials like the stevia and lemon grass will be interesting to watch over the winter. The placement of the new kitchen herb garden might create enough of a micro-climate that they make it through the winter. Of course, the type of winter will have a say as well. The same holds true for the two rosemary plants and the lavender.

My lone annual is a purple leaf basil.  I planted it in front of the chives for a dramatic effect. The textured deep purple leaves are perfect in front of the lavender blooms of the chives. The majority of my cooking basil remains in the side garden. We live on basil in the summer so the dozen traditional plants would over- take the new kitchen herb garden.

Diagram of Garden

Diagram of new kitchen herb garden
Diagram of New Kitchen Herb Garden

 I hope you enjoy the slide show!

 

 

 

 

The Black Ascot Book Review

Book Cover showing a race horse

The Black Ascot

The Black Ascot by Charles Todd is an historical murder mystery. The book takes its’ title from the 1910 Ascot races. Because of the death of King Edward VII, all attendees at the Ascot races wore black. The murder takes place following a race day.

The accused, Alan Barrington, disappears after the inquest and before the case goes to trial. The majority of the book takes place 1921. This allows the author to incorporate bits and pieces of history from The Great War.

Scotland Yard

In 1921, Scotland Yard Inspector Ian Rutledge receives a tip. Alan Barrington has been spotted back in England. Rutledge convinces his superior to allow the old murder case to be reviewed. Even though Rutledge was not involved in the original Black Ascot murder investigation, he wants to bring Barrington to trial.

Shell Shock

Inspector Ian Rutledge begins the review by getting to know the victims as well as the accused. His investigation involves interviewing past Inspectors and witnesses. Many of these individuals were mentally and/or physically affected by The Great War.

Rutledge also suffers from shell shock. During World War I, Rutledge loses a close colleague. But the ghost of Hamish “talks” to Rutledge throughout the book. When the issue of the inspector’s shell shock takes a pivotal turn midway through the book, so does the case.

Charles Todd

Charles Todd and his mother Caroline team together to write both the Ian Rutledge and Bess Crawford series. Even though the list of published works is long, this was my first time reading a Charles Todd book. It will not be my last.

I love the combination of historical events and fictional murder mystery. Even though the Ascot races did not figure prominently in the book, naming the novel after the 1910 races was appropriate. A true blackguard caused the motor car crash taking the life of one and severely injuring another.

The expert writing not only kept the reader turning the pages, but also created a stand-alone book. I did not feel as if I were missing something by not reading previous titles featuring Inspector Rutledge. The intrigue of the plot combined with the well-developed characters made this one of the best reads of the 2019 year. I would not be surprised to find it on my end of the year list of favorites. (Click here for the 2018 list.)

The Black Ascot is highly recommended. Buy or borrow a copy today.

May 2019 Wrap-Up

May 2019

While May 2019 is not officially in the books, the time is nigh. To avoid two posts in one day, I am writing and posting just a bit early. Considering the number of things that have already occurred this month, an early wrap on May 2019 will not hurt a bit.

Kentucky Derby

We began the month preparing for a Kentucky Derby party. Among the recipes whipped up were a Derby Pie from Racing to the Table and Bourbon Brown Sugar Nuts from the May 2019 edition of Better Homes & Gardens. The party was a great success despite or perhaps because of the outcome of this year’s race. Our weather was perfect as we migrated to the back patio after the telecast.

Not long after the Derby, I traveled to Kentucky. I was fortunate enough to take pictures of a 300 year old bur oak. Visit the slide show at the end of this post to see this amazing tree. I have a twenty year old bur oak in my yard. The trunk is only a foot in diameter. We are quite a bit drier in our part of the country, but if it lives 300 years, maybe someone will marvel the way I did over the tree in Kentucky.

Wacky Weather

The spring months on the High Plains of the United States are full of surprises. May 2019 is no exception. Last year I planted some tomatoes in the ground in late April. But this year I suspected would be one with a late freeze. I was right. The morning of May 21 I awoke to a frost in the garden. Immediate losses include eggplant and melon. I suspect further losses. Two of the tomatoes and half the peanuts look iffy. Fortunately, most of the herbs are close to the house. A micro-climate exists in their location. Not a single basil plant was lost.

Just a few days later, spring thunderstorms brought hail and a few small tornadoes to the region. We were spared both. The total rainfall for the month was 7/10th of an inch. Steady winds of 30 M.P.H. with gusts above forty dry things out in a hurry. Watering is essential.

The Love Quilt

I am approaching the finish line with The Love Quilt. I think I will finish before the newest addition to the family arrives. But it will be close. I like to hand quilt. Weaving the needle back and forth through the layers calms me. But the process is very time consuming. If or perhaps when arthritis strikes, (Some stiffness is occurring) I may need to invest in a long arm sewing machine.

The design of the next quilt is complete. So, I will begin the process of cutting and piecing once I finish the current project. The next is a challenge because it is two sided. The quilt design will need to be an allover pattern.

Garlic and Greens

The garden harvest for May 2019 consisted of greens-multiple types of lettuce- radishes, onions and garlic and garlic scapes. I have a bumper crop of garlic. I have only dug the ones in the front flower bed. But I have begun the process of drying and curing. Using the garlic scapes as an indicator, most of the bulbs will be ready the second week in June. I have never before had such success with garlic. The raised row garden concept is incredible. If you have not read my review of the book by Jim and Mary Competti, click here. My yields have increased exponentially. I love their website as well, Old World Garden Farms.

Reading Highlights

This month my reading focused on various blogs and websites I follow. I find first-hand accounts of what works in the garden quite helpful. But I also like to read blogs from around the world. Since I live in a rural, isolated area, the online community of bloggers keeps me connected.

On the book front, look for this Friday’s review of The Black Ascot. I loved this historical murder mystery. My gardening took a backseat Memorial Day because I spent hours reading this Charles Todd mystery. Definitely a page turner! Enjoy the slide show.

 

 

 

The Last-Book Review

The Last by Hanna Jameson has a mix of mystery combined with the psychological aspects of a nuclear war. The protagonist is Dr. Jon Keller and the premise of The Last is that these events are captured in his journal. Keller, a historian, believes he is describing the end of the world. This writing ploy utilized by the author works.

Mystery of The Last

During the process of survival, the small group of humans stranded high in the Alps comes across a dead body of a small child. Cause of death is unknown, but time of death approximates the nuclear attacks across the globe. Keller is determined to find the truth.

His obsession with the mystery combined with the stress of surviving the nuclear blast create a study in psychology. Keller and other survivors handle the events in a variety of ways. Hanna Jameson has written a book that straddles genre lines. The survivalist theme focuses more on mental health and less on day-to-day needs. She accomplishes this with her setting, a high end Switzerland resort.

Thus, The Last offers much to readers not focused on end of the world scenarios. The cast of characters is diverse. Keller interviews each for his journal. Again an excellent format by author Jameson. The reader connects with the characters. The mystery slowly unravels as the individual back stories are revealed.

Realism

For the most part the book is plausible. The fears of the characters, including those with visions of ghosts, ring true. Communication after the blast continues via social networks. It seems even a series of nuclear attacks cannot defeat the Internet.

However, there were a few points requiring a suspension of belief. This includes the end scenario. A functioning city is not far from the hotel. Here the murderer is himself murdered. The journal entries may be used to justify the actions. But Keller does not write the final entry. His refusal to address a rotten tooth has endangered his life.

The Last by Hanna Jameson is entertaining. The book would be great read for a beach or mountain vacation. The psychological components are intriguing. While there are some violent scenes, much of the book focuses on the mental challenges individuals face after a world changing event.

 

Winter Range Book Review

Winter Range by Claire Davis depicts the harsh environs of Montana cattle country. The story takes place during winter in the midst of a long drought. Davis is accurate in her portrayal of both land and people. The disturbing plot conveys the many nuances of living and working in a rural, isolated small town where events are dictated by nature and the weather.

Triangle of Characters

Ike Parsons is the protagonist of Winter Range. He is a transplant, not a native of Montana. Parsons is the sheriff and he takes his job seriously. He runs afoul of the western code of live and let live.

But the job did not bring him west, love did. Pattiann is his wife. A daughter of a long time ranch family, she met Ike while back East for school. She is complex. Still angry that the ranch will pass down to the male heir, her past relationship with Chas Stubblefield creates an added twist to the conflict.

Stubblefield is a villain. Or a man down on his luck. It all depends on perspective. His herd of cattle is starving. His debts are too great and he has been cut off by the bank and the feed supplier. The conflict becomes critical when the sheriff interferes.

Unwritten Code

Winter Range provides a look at personal conduct in the rural areas of the western United States. Life is impacted by the harshness of nature. Hot summers and cold winters combined with rainfall that may not even reach a foot in one year create a demanding climate. Thus, the inhabitants face challenges not found in urban areas.

This hardscrabble life dictates a different outlook on life. One of non-interference. A man’s property (or family) does not brook interference. Thus, a belief that Stubblefield has a right to let his herd die. Since Parsons is an outsider he does not share this view. So there is a showdown.

Winter Range

Claire Davis has written a book that is disturbing to read. There is violence both man-made and natural. The secondary characters round out the book. But the triangle between Ike, Pattiann, and Chas centers the story. Winter Range is both a commentary on the western way of life and a tale of love and expectations.

Miss Colorado USA-Madison Dorenkamp

Madison Dorenkamp is Miss Colorado USA for 2019. She just competed in the Miss USA pageant which was held in Reno Nevada. The following is an interview via email. I hope you enjoy reading about this remarkable young woman. She is a genuine person. Hardworking and determined, Madison Dorenkamp is a great representative of the Millennial generation.

Interview Questions

Econogal: What has been the most stressful part of the pageant process and how did/are you coping with it?

Madison: Oddly enough, planning outfits was super stressful to me. I didn’t really have many outfits that I felt fit correctly, expressed my personality, and worked for the occasions at Miss USA. Leading up to Miss USA, I bought outfits that I felt expressed my vibrant, flirty personality. To keep everything organized I took photos in every outfit with accessories so that when I got to Miss USA I wouldn’t have to stress about it at all.

Econogal: Going forward, what do you hope to give back to the Miss USA pageant and to the State of Colorado?

Madison: I am trying to do as much with this title as I can. I am doing my best to make connections, set up sponsorships for the girls who come after me, and attend as many events as I can. I think it is easy to watch the Miss USA pageant, and feel like that is not a real girl. I hope to make those who meet me know that it is possible to be a real girl, and make your dreams come true.

Goals

Econogal: I remember you had two goals when in my classroom. Earning a four year degree and becoming Miss Colorado. Now that you have achieved both of these, have you made new goals? What are they?

Madison: I have so many new goals. I have prioritized my health and fitness, and am keeping that as a permanent goal. I have come to realize that eating healthy and exercising really do affect all areas of life. My short term goal is to be the best Miss Colorado I can be while balancing my full time career and continuing to be successful at it. My long term goal is to be a very successful lifestyle entrepreneur. I want this to include my blog/brand, a cookbook, a novel, and someday a restaurant or coffee shop. I like the hustle, and unknown, and knowing that I can inspire someone every day, even if it’s just one person.

Tips

Econogal: Do you have any tips to share on achieving a work- life balance?

Madison: Good luck (lol), but really I don’t know if that exists. I try to block out some me time usually this is from 5-9am. During this time, I take a workout class, maybe take my dog for a walk while listening to music or podcast, and I meditate. I try my best not to be on my phone before 9am; however, that doesn’t always happen. I love my job, and being Miss Colorado, and am constantly thinking how grateful I am for my life, but when it comes to a social life, I don’t really have one unless it involves taking a workout class together.

Econogal: What message would you like to send to your supporters?

Madison: Thank you, thank you, thank you. Every time I went on stage, including at Miss Colorado, I told myself one word, grateful. I believe that gratitude towards everyone who has supported me, and continues to support me is what has made me able to reach my goals. I wouldn’t be where I am today without the support I have received from everyone.

Final Comments from Econogal

Each decade I remain on Earth, I hear more and more disparaging remarks about the younger generations. In the far reaches of my memory I remember similar comments about my generation. One of the reasons I like blogging is the connection it gives me to other individuals braving the technological changes in our world. These changes may be daunting for me, but nothing new for the Millennials.

Madison Dorenkamp and her generation entered this world on the cusp of a technological generation. Cartoons such as the Jetsons showcased a make-believe lifestyle of robots and self-driving modes of transportation when I was a kid. Now the reality is one of robots not only vacuuming the home but truly able to run the home.

Thus it is inspiring to see individuals such as Madison striving to make a difference in their world. I love the hashtag #ownyourdifferent that Ms. Dorenkamp uses on her Instagram accounts. I admire Madison and the many, many Millennials in my life for their hard work and dedication to their specific goals. The future is bright.

Miss Colorado USA

If you would like to follow Miss Colorado USA 2019 you can search for MissCOUSA on Instagram or access her website at www.madisondorenkamp.net both are entertaining. The ‘In the Kitchen’ section of her website has a recently released recipe for Vegan Rice Krispy Treats.

I would like to thank the wonderful staff at Miss USA for arranging this interview. I last saw Madison Dorenkamp in October of 2017, but I love the ability to follow her successes on social media. Another bonus of technology. Thank you for the interview Madison!

Baby of the Family Book Review

As a debut novel, Baby of the Family shows tremendous effort by Maura Roosevelt. The book is complex. The author explores a number of social and economic issues. But the key message of this coming-of-age Great American novel is the importance of family-even a dysfunctional one.

Economics of Old Money

Although his death occurs at the beginning of the story, the character of Roger Whitby, Jr is instrumental to the plot. His life is a reflection of many third-generation moneyed Americans. There is pressure to build upon the successes of those before. But Whitby was unable to handle life’s adversity. So success eluded him. Thus, downward mobility commenced.

Fathering nine children from four wives added to the complexity of his life. The reader barely glimpses the offspring from the first marriage. So their financial status is unknown. Instead the focus of Baby of the Family is on Brooke Whitby, the youngest surviving child of the second wife; Shelley Whitby ,Roger’s youngest biological child born of the third wife; and Nick Whitby, the adopted son from the fourth and final marriage. The novel centers on the social lives and finances of these three characters.

Baby of Family #2

Brooke Whitby is the most grounded of the three. She is a nurse in Boston. Her parents’ marriage fell apart shortly after the death of her younger brother. Brooke has contact with her older siblings but is not close to them or her mother. Flashbacks give the reader a glimpse into the unraveling of her immediate family.

But the main social thread for Brooke’s story is her sexuality. She is a pregnant bi-sexual who is jilted by her same-sex partner. She has decisions to make. Her partner’s parents are minor characters important to the plot.

From an economic standpoint, Brooke is self-sufficient. But, the reading of the will displaces her. Brooke’s wages will not allow her to remain in the Back Bay (very old money) area of Boston. So added to her relationship crisis is a need to find a new place to live.

In her late thirties, Brook is considerably older than Shelley and Nick. Her compassionate nature ties her to Shelley and by extension to Nick. More mature than the younger siblings, the reader is witness to Brooke’s struggle for self-actualization as Baby of the Family unfolds.

Baby of Family #3

Shelley Whitby is the protagonist of the story. She is the connection between new and old. At just twenty-three she is not handling life very well. Her mother is mentally ill; her father long out of the picture. Shelley is lost. And very messed up.

But her character tugs at the heart. Upon hearing of Roger’s death and disinheritance, she drops out of a prestigious liberal arts school late in her senior year. She was already failing.

Shelley runs home to an empty New York City abode. Her mother is absent, whereabouts unknown. She immediately looks for a job she is qualified for. Her choices are prostitution or as an assistant to a blind architect/author. She lands the job with Yousef Kamal, the author, but she justly suspects her surname played a role in her hiring.

Shelley’s story is intriguing and heartbreaking. And also a bit sickening. Her relationship with the Kamal family gives great credence to the #MeToo movement. Maura Roosevelt excels in tying current social issues into the lives of her characters.

Baby of the Family

A year younger than Shelley, adopted son Nick Whitby is the baby of the family. His connection to the rest of the Whitby offspring is tenuous at best. He is an angry young man. He sees his mother’s marriage and his subsequent adoption as the actions that destroyed his happy childhood. Thus it is easy to understand his anti-capitalist beliefs and actions.

Nick is involved with a group that lands a terrorist label. After an incident literally blows up, he runs to Shelley knowing she will hide him. She does. But she withholds the information of their father’s death.

Social and Economic Issues

The author tackles key issues. Family dysfunction is first and foremost. Income inequality plays a significant role as do a host of sexual issues including fidelity. Other social issues include the value of a liberal arts education, work ethic (or lack thereof), alcoholism and mental illness.

But above all, Baby of the Family is about familial love. Roosevelt shows how extended families can still share this type of love. The dynamics between Brooke, Shelley and Nick ring true. Sibling bonds are every bit as important as those of parent and child.

Maura Roosevelt

Throughout the novel, the author posits the question “Are you one of THOSE Whitby’s?” As a Roosevelt related to “Those” Roosevelt’s she has a basis of knowledge on how succeeding generations are impacted by wealth or success. Her learned insights are apparent in The Baby of the Family. Thus, her background lends authenticity to the story. America is a country of both upward and downward mobility.

But it is the character development that drives the reader forward. One is easily caught up in the individual lives of the Whitby siblings. The dysfunctional family dynamic is always present. Yet the main characters endure.

This novel is long and complex. The perfect book for college literature classes and book clubs. Busy readers may want to opt for the audio version. Baby of the Family is a tremendous first for Maura Roosevelt. Hopefully the first of many.

Kitchen Remodel

Tile back splash
The new back splash

There are times when you want to update part of the home without making major changes. This was the case with the kitchen remodel I recently completed. The minor changes included wall paper and back splash. I also added a chair rail in the breakfast nook. The end result is a space that feels brand new.

The replaced wall paper dates from the turn of the century. I love it. The back drop of fruits gives a homey feel. But the best part is a wall paper border with an irregular edge. This adds a touch of class.

However, the kids have flown the coop. So, creating a vibe of comfort, reliability and permanence for the kids to come home to after school is no longer a need. Instead, we want to signal our ongoing vitality with a 21st Century vibe.

Out with the Old

I highly recommend utilizing the tips in Painting Secrets if you need to take down old wallpaper. Otherwise, stripping the old wallpaper is an arduous task. Not fun at all.

Removing the old tile back splash was another story. Quite a few of the tiles came down intact. One was a bit pesky and there was damage to the dry wall beneath. I made an effort to carefully remove the tile. But I can see how one could release some pent-up energy by smashing down the tiles.

Close up of tile demolitionMore Tiles Knocked OutPlastic scraper taking off dried adhesive.Back splash dry wall with coat of KILZDrop Cloth underneath tileView of wall paper between cabinets and countertopFruit border with straight edgeWall paper and curtains with trailing fruit designOpen Doorway Bordered by Wall Paper

Prepping for the New

Preparation is essential for success in a kitchen remodel. Surface repairs were the first element involved. While I could fill in nail holes, I had a contractor repair the damage to the drywall above the stove. He also relocated wiring for a vent that vented to nowhere. A new LED light bar replaced the vent.

Then, I used a wall paper primer over most of the wall space. Sealer was applied atop the drywall repairs. These added steps add time to the project since a drying and curing time is essential.

Other preps included assembling the needed tools for the job. In addition to a wall paper brush and a wall paper roller, an Exacta knife with a blade pre-scored to make snapping the dulled end off easier is essential. The use of multiple rulers including a yard stick and plastic rulers greatly help with measurement.

The plastic rulers are 2 feet long and six inches wide. Their original use along with the cutting mats is for quilting. I found both types excellent for doubling as tools for wall paper.

Finally, I picked out un-pasted wall paper. So wall paper paste was a must. I used some re-cycled heavy-duty plastic to book the wall paper. Un-pasted wallpaper is quite different from pre-pasted in prep and handling. There are pros and cons to both.

Tile Preps

The tile back splash and chair rail utilized the above rulers. Also needed were levels, tile adhesive and a wet tile saw. The old adage measure twice and cut once applies for all tile applications. It would have also helped to have multiple sets of hands since the tile application was on a vertical surface. Most important of all is a drop cloth to catch all the shards.

Since I was tiling alone, extra time was spent holding the tile in place until the tile adhesive had begun to set. This would be very tough for a beginner. As it was, a few choice words escaped while working on the back splash. Thankfully no one was around to hear.

Pattern Choices

The tile choice takes precedence over the wallpaper. Tile has permanency. It is harder to replace. I chose an Italian tile for the back splash. Décor Prism Mix is made by Fiordo Industrie Ceramiche and sold through Panaria as part of their Genesis collection. The measurements are metric. The size in the kitchen back splash is 20 x 20 cm. (This converts to just under 8 inch square.)

The tiles remind me of quilt patterns and are very neutral in color. But I did not like the online examples where they butted up against one another. So my design resembles a sampler quilt.

I separated the various designs of the Décor Prism Mix with sashes of Gemstone Cool Listello Tile (519 A) by Florida Tile. Then with just one sheet of Florida Tile Silver Aspen Art Bliss Mosaic I connected the sashes. The entire back splash is framed by Questech Jolly Wrought Iron Egg, a pencil thin edging.

Chair Rail

The chair rail also utilizes the Questech tile. It serves as a lower and upper edging to Koala Grey Basket Weave Matte Glass Tile. This tile also comes in sheets. But I divided the tile into thirds for a railing. Acrylic paint covered the cuts in the tile.

Two different wall papers adjoin the chair rail. Below the tile edging is a textured wall paper by York. The Tuck Stripe Unpasted High Performance Wall paper is scrubbable. I bought the paper in two colors, Black/Grey for the lower half of the breakfast room and Beige for the kitchen.

The second wall paper in the breakfast room is made by Wallquest. They have an ecochic line which is environmentally friendly. The paper does have a large repeat. I ended up rotating back and forth between two rolls to avoid waste. I did have to piece one very small area. The piecing went well-I can’t even tell! This paper is also un-pasted and needed booking.

Booking wall paper is easier than instructions sound. The booking allows the paste to set-up enough to stick to the wall. There are some great online videos found by searching the term wall paper booking.

Kitchen Remodel Time Table

The time table for the kitchen remodel was about a month. I needed to make a visit to Florida during the renovation. This extended the actual loss of use. Fortunately we have a dining room in addition to the breakfast area so we could enjoy all our meals there.
Overall time was also extended by a one man workforce.

I love working on projects. Perhaps it is the satisfaction of completion that drives me. Unending tasks such as dishes and laundry are not fun. But designing an updated interior is. Unbeknownst to me while picking out tile is the resurgence of the Americana look represented by the back splash. Either that, or like many things in life, the style becomes noticeable once you have adopted it. I hope you enjoy the slide shows.

Tile back splashBreakfast table

Racing to the Table Book Review

Cook book page with recipes
Page with Kentucky Hot Brown Recipes
Cook Book Pages
Cook Book Pages

Cookbooks are well used in my home. I like to look through them to get ideas for everyday dining as well as special occasions. One book I use a lot this time of year is Margaret Guthrie’s Racing to the Table: A Culinary Tour of Sporting America. The book covers recipes across the country tied to various race tracks. But there is much more to this book.

Race History

Woven among the recipes are a plethora of pictures. Each helps illustrate the horses, cities and sites surrounding the multiple race tracks highlighted in the book. For example, photos of horses exercising in the Pacific complement the recipes and stories of Del Mar Race Track in California. A photo of the blanket of roses is included in the chapter on Kentucky recipes.

Most of the text centers on the recipes and their origins. But a brief history of how the Kentucky Derby and the Kentucky Oaks began can be found as well. Other snippets of racing lore make this more than just a cookbook. However, I really like the recipes.

Favorite Racing to the Table Recipes

Guthrie did an outstanding job compiling signature recipes from the various race tracks. She includes both a traditional and modern take on the Kentucky Hot Brown. I have tried them both. In this same section of Kentucky favorites you will find a recipe for Burgoo. This regional dish is a must try.

The Louisiana dishes have a definite New Orleans flair as Fairgrounds race track is based there. If you like gumbo, shrimp or crayfish this section is for you. The desserts are mostly fig-based which is a fruit often spotted in that part of the country. The recipes from the New York section contain several winners from Saratoga Springs. Two of the savory recipes come from a restaurant in Saratoga Springs only open six weeks a year. My bet is some of the herbs are bought at the Saratoga Springs Farmers Market.

Cook Book Value

I realize many people only use online sources for their recipes. But I find great value in cookbooks. I love perusing through books such as Racing to the Table. They have a permanent place in my home. Racing to the Table by Margaret Guthrie is an odds on favorite and my pick of the day.

 

April 2019 Wrap-Up

Cabbage planted among garlic plants.
Cabbage inter-planted with garlic.

Typing with one hand is quite slow. But when you jam a finger, it becomes necessary. Thus, my writing has slowed down a bit. But I did want to catch everyone up on April 2019 events.

April is one of the nicest months on the high plains. Mosquitoes and flies are few and far apiece. The afternoons are sunny and warm. But the evenings can be crisp. Furthermore, these last few nights the temperatures have dipped into the 30’s (Fahrenheit) which is a bit colder than I like for this time of year.

My quilting is on hold until the right hand recovers. The lower temperatures mean the time to garden full-out isn’t quite ready except for a few cool weather crops. I did plant some cabbage among the garlic. Perhaps the pungent smell will deter the flea beetles this year. I do not plan to expand the garden any this year. Instead, I want to compare year one and year two to see if the inputs and outputs are similar.

Reading

Fortunately, I can turn pages with my left hand. Recent books include The Last, and Baby of the Family. The former I thought was a murder mystery, but I think I misjudged the genre. The latter is a first novel and is quite good.

I am also catching up on some of the magazines and periodicals that cross my path. Finally, I am discovering new blogs and websites. Thank you readers for the suggestions that you have sent my way. I love the online community even though I doubt I will meet many face-to-face.

Peaceful Patio

Most of all, April 2019 was spent on my back patio. I know it is not very adventurous. Nor does it make for a fascinating blog post. But the time spent reading and relaxing gives me great satisfaction and a sense of peace. Sometimes I am alone, other times I am joined by my husband and Sophie the cat.

Whether you’re in the city, a suburb, or live in a rural location, take the time to enjoy the surroundings. The changing of the seasons is inspirational. Spring and its promise of life is uplifting. Those of you in the Northern Hemisphere, get out and enjoy it!

Planning a Kentucky Derby Party

The first Saturday in May is less than two weeks away. So, it’s time to plan a Kentucky Derby party. I have hosted a few over the years. They have ranged from large co-ed parties to root on a horse belonging to the family of one of the guys attending  college down the hill to suburban bar-b-ques where the kids all played outside until race time.

This year we plan to host a small gathering. The new patio still lacks furniture so we need to limit numbers. But I am sure the event will be fun. We just need the proper preparations.

First, I need to harvest the mint. Since I have mint growing both in the ground under the water faucets and in pots, this will be doable even with the cooler temperatures. Next, I need to make sure all the other ingredients for Mint Juleps are on hand.

New growth of mint in a pot
Mint returning after winter dormancy

Invitations

Then, I need to create some invitations. The advent of home computers has advantages. Here on the high plains far away from Kentucky, the availability of horse themed invitations is not slim but none. So I can use a program to design my own.

Wording is important. We have some serious horsemen in our part of the country. They will be focused on the television coverage. However, some of my friends will likely never have watched this race. So a balance must be achieved to make it fun for all. I might place a link to my Derby Hat post on the invite to get creative juices flowing but indicate Derby attire is optional. (Our part of the country often allows for black denim jeans at weddings.)

Party Length

An important decision on the length and make-up of the party is also essential. The Kentucky Derby itself is also billed as the fastest two minutes in racing. Thus the actual race is only two minutes long. Naturally, the party needs to be longer.

In our case we will start about an hour and a half ahead of the feature race. We will likely switch between the national coverage and one or more of the horse channels. Again, providing a balance between the serious coverage and the anecdotal, “Fun fact” coverage most of the country sees.

After the race we will most likely grill burgers and brats. But in the past, the end of the race has also signaled the end of the party. One can really tailor the event. I just hope the weather co-operates. Having an inside back-up plan is a good idea.

I have attended parties where a horse name is drawn out of a hat and that is “your” horse to root for. This works well for those who only watch a few races a year. However, two of the individuals on the guest list are very serious about racing, so that may not work. I have also attended parties where prizes were given for the best hat. That is a possibility.

Food Favorites

In addition to the Mint Juleps, certain foods remind me of Kentucky. Kentucky Hot Browns and Derby Pie are at the top of the list. Since leftover turkey usually goes into my Hot Browns, I may settle for Derby Pie. Chocolate, pecans and Kentucky Bourbon are key ingredients.

I have loved watching horse races since I was very young. The first Kentucky Derby I distinctly remember was in 1973. A horse named Secretariat won that year. Last year was also special since I was fortunate enough to see Justify become a Triple Crown winner. I won’t be travelling this year, but I am looking forward to watching the Kentucky Derby from the comfort of home.

Soft Gluten Free Dinner Rolls

Gluten Free Roll split apart to show texture
Great texture inside

Gluten Free Rolls

Although no one in my immediate family is gluten intolerant, a few of the extended family members have a problem digesting wheat. So at family gatherings such as Easter Brunch, I whip up a batch of Soft Gluten Free Dinner Rolls. Now the trick is to keep from eating them all before tomorrow. This recipe is that good!

The base flours for this recipe are white rice flour and almond flour. The hardest ingredient for me to find is xanthan gum. Thyme and basil, the herbs used, give the rolls an earthy flavor. To be honest I don’t know why these gluten-free dinner rolls are so soft. I am just glad they are. I have eaten a few gluten-free hockey pucks in my time. But this recipe always works.

There are a couple of key tips. First of all there are a lot of ingredients. Gather them up before you begin. Then put each aside after adding. Second, the poolish really expands so make sure you use a medium to large bowl for that prep step. Third, freshly grinding the thyme leaves into powder really adds to the taste.

White rice flour atop a liquid yeast mixture.
The poolish just after layering flour on top.

Spillover of poolish mixture
The bowl was not large enough to hold the mixture as yeast expanded. Use medium to large bowl.

Ingredients

2 TBS. dry active yeast
1 TBS. sugar
2 cups almond milk divided with each part warmed to 100-105 degrees
1 ½ cups white rice flour
1 cup almond flour
¾ cup corn starch
1TBS. xanthan gum
1 tsp. salt
1 TBS. baking powder
¼ cup chia seeds
¼ tsp. ground thyme
½ tsp. dried basil
2 large eggs
¼ cup butter melted
1 tsp. honey
1 tsp. apple cider vinegar

 

 

Poolish

A poolish is the secret of bakers. Basically, it gives the yeast time to percolate. In the case of the gluten-free dinner rolls, the poolish has a specific time period; 30 minutes to two hours. I usually wait between 1 ½ to 2 hours.

For this recipe, make the poolish by combining the yeast, sugar, and one cup of warmed almond milk. Then sprinkle the white rice flour evenly across the liquid. This should form a seal over the yeast base. Then let rest for 30 minutes up to 2 hours. There will be bubbles of the liquid yeast base breaking through the flour layer.

Yeast bubbled through flour
After 1 1/2 hours

Batter

When the poolish is ready, mix the remaining dry ingredients in the stand base of an electric mixer. Pour the poolish, the second cup of warm almond milk, eggs, melted butter, honey, and apple cider vinegar and mix at a very low-speed until the dry ingredients are incorporated. This should be about 30 seconds. Then scrape down the bowl and let stand for 10 minutes.

Turn mixer on high and mix for 3 minutes. The chia seeds should be evenly distributed, flour totally incorporated and the dough consistency will be similar to a quick bread, but not pourable.

Grease muffin pans and an individual 3 x 5 ½ loaf pan. Then using a small cookie scoop, make clover leaf-shaped rolls by placing three level scoops in each muffin slot. Scoop remaining batter in loaf pan. Then place pans in a warm place for 30-45 minutes.

Using cookie scoop to create rolls
Create clover leaf rolls by placing three small scoops into each muffin tin.

Rolls and bread fully risen
After 45 minutes to rise

Preheat oven to 375 degrees Fahrenheit. Bake the rolls for 18 minutes and the loaf pan for 22 minutes. Let cool on a wire rack. Enjoy.

 

 

 

 

Rolls cooling on a rack.
Cooling on a rack

The Bookshop of the Broken Hearted Book Review

The Bookshop of the Broken Hearted

Apparently interest in the Holocaust extends to far away Australia. Setting his tale in rural Australia, Robert Hillman weaves a tale of love between Auschwitz survivor Hannah Babel and sheep farmer Tom Hope. The protagonist, Hope lend his surname to the underlying tone of the story. But not without multiple periods of anguish.

Hannah is not the typical love interest. For starters, she is a dozen or so years older than Tom. Furthermore, she naturally carries tremendous emotional baggage due to her experiences in World War II. Realistically, one can say she is running from her past. She hopes to leave the loss of loved ones behind. But she is struggling to bury the past.

Of course Hillman first created a situation of heartbreak for Tom. Naturally, the past threatens the future. The subplot adds some drama as well as subtle commentary. The reader glimpses the author’s thoughts on religion.

The love story is complemented with everyday description and events of rural Australia during the late sixties. Politics of the time are seen through the character of Hannah. Her character is deep and complex. Hillman is successful in creating reader empathy.

Comparison of Styles

Robert Hillman reminds me of the late author Kent Haruf. Both share stories that cannot be pigeon-holed into a genre. Both are descriptive with their settings. Finally both present subtle messages within their writing.

Hillman is a storyteller. The Bookshop of the Broken Hearted allows the reader to spend a few hours engaged in a heartwarming tale. The writing flows and most of the story is plausible. The flash back passages may bring tears to your eyes.

I bought The Bookshop of the Broken Hearted after seeing it on the To Be Read list of a fellow blogger. I enjoyed reading it and was glad to have a coupon to defray the cost. If you have such a list, I encourage you to add The Bookshop of the Broken Hearted.

Procrastination Strikes Again

Here it is Thursday and my non-Friday post is yet to be written much less published across cyber space. I can only blame myself. I have plenty to write about and really don’t feel like I have writer’s block. Instead, this week I resemble the lady in this You Tube video on Age-Activated Attention Deficit Disorder. Click here to watch.

Long List of Things To-Do

Lettuce among onions in a garden
Five Star Lettuce

My list of projects seems unending. Spring has arrived. On the high plains spring is beautiful but all too short. The flies and the mosquitoes have not hatched so outdoor eating is delightful. We still have a danger of frost through Mother’s Day but cool weather crops can and have been started. Plus the garlic and onion sets planted last fall are maturing.

But there is also plenty of weeding and pruning on the to-do list. Plus our town hosts a clean-up weekend each spring. Volunteers, including students at the local community college, go around every street and remove yard debris, unwanted broken furniture, appliances and other cast-offs. This occurs next week, so that to-do has to be done.

Curtain To-Do List

The curtains still need to be made for the kitchen and breakfast room. But I have run into a snag. I normally work with cotton fabric. So I am having trouble adjusting to the knit I want to use for the drapes above the window. I like the effect of the soft material hanging from the rod.
Of course, much like the video above, I had to stop on making the drapes and curtains since I needed new rods. Living in such a small town, rods fitting my needs are not available. For those online shoppers reading this, I could not easily order online because the space between the window edge and the corner wall is only an inch and a half.

So the curtains were put off and thus no post on the kitchen redo-yet. Last week’s trip to Florida gave me an opportunity to physically see and measure the finials on new rods. On my way to the airport, a 200 mile drive, I stopped at a big box store and found some hardware that will work.

But, my drill is too big for the space. Now I need to stop and find a small hand-held one. I know I have one somewhere. Plus I need to find the charger. Yes I resemble the above video.

Miscellaneous To-Do List

I procrastinated 24-hours in contacting the powers that be at Miss USA. I want to interview one of their contestants for this blog. But first I need permission. I hope to hear back today. She is a small town girl from around these parts and has made the transition to life in the city. No small feat.

For those of you in the city, imagine growing up in a town so small that THERE ARE NO STOPLIGHTS! Now imagine this young lady competing in the Miss USA pageant. Dreams can come true.

Also on my to-do list is to get things organized enough in hopes of throwing a Kentucky Derby party. It is time to break out the mint julep recipe and find a Derby Hat. Plus, I picked up a horse based novel to read and review.

Easter

As a Christian, I celebrate the religious holiday of Easter. I am writing this on Maundy Thursday. This day commemorates the Last Supper. Since I am an alumnus of Albertus Magnus College, I have fond memories of Easter week. Not only was it a second spring break, but the campus truly rejoiced in the renewal.

This year I will not travel for the Easter feast. A relative in town is the hostess. So I am delighting in the fact I can stay home. My task is simple. Bring the pea salad and the rolls. One of the roll recipes is for soft gluten-free dinner rolls. I will share this on Saturday. If you are interested, the hardest to find ingredient is xanthan gum. The two flours used are rice and almond.

Plethora of Posts

The next month or so will bring a plethora of posts. In addition to writing about the Kentucky Derby party and the Miss USA contest there will be recipes, book reviews and garden tips. Unlike this week, I plan to spread out the information throughout the week. So look for posts on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays at least through June.

My apologies to those of you on my email list who will receive messages three days in a row. I know that can be annoying. But the only time back-to back messages should come out this summer will be the end of the month wrap-ups.

Good luck to all of you with to-do lists. Remember, the word “no” can be used by those of us over the age of two. Happy Easter to all those who celebrate the season.

An Economist Walks Into A Brothel Book Review

Book Cover, Blue background yellow print An Economist Walks Into A Brothel: And Other Unexpected Places To Understand Risk

Allison Schrager caught my attention with the title of her book on financial economics and risk. An Economist Walks Into A Brothel does indeed include an analysis of the legal sex trade in Nevada. The topic is a hook, but the analysis and writing keeps the reader engaged. Schrager uses a variety of industries to explore the multi-faceted topic of financial economics.

Brothel-nomics

Schrager starts her treatise with a discussion of risk. Financial risk is not just in the stock markets but also in everyday business. And everyday life. The exploration of mitigating risk in the sex trade allows the writer to introduce the concept of risk in an industry not many of us are familiar with.

A few basic concepts such as supply and demand are introduced in this section. But most of the focus is on finance, which Schrager states is the science of risk. Thus, from the start, the topic of An Economist Walks Into A Brothel is clear.

Toward the end of this introductory section are Schrager’s five rules of risk. These are as follows:

1. No Risk, No Reward
2. I am irrational and I know it.
3. Get the biggest bang for your risk buck.
4. Be the master of your domain.
5. Uncertainty happens. (Schrager, 14-17)

These five concepts are the heart of the book. They are supported by a gamut of economic theory from behavioral economics to diversification to uncertainty. Key premises to understand how the world works.

Diversity in Examples

The use of the wide variety of industries cited by Schrager in order to illustrate her topic serves multiple purposes. First, the diversity (in addition to the Brothel hook) of industries provides a way to reach out to a wide audience. Second, the varying businesses support the notion that risk is inherent everywhere, not just in the stock market. Third, this approach offers a way for the layman to comprehend economic principles.

Studying a legal brothel in Nevada begins the book. But other industries utilized include but are not limited to retail electronics, horse breeding, big wave surfing, Hollywood and the United States Armed Forces. Kat Cole, one of my favorite CEOs and Gun Runner, one of my favorite race horses also figure into the narrative. Thus, Schrager turns what may be considered a dull topic into an engaging and informative read.

Risk

An Economist Walks into a Brothel is a comprehensive look at risk. While there are some charts and concepts that knowledge of economics serves as an asset, even those without an economic background can gleam Schrager’s points. She is thorough in her knowledge of the topic and her approach is such that the general public will understand the book.

Even if you are not in business, the concepts of risk apply to the many decisions life posits. So I believe you will gain from this book. Since it is a recent release your library may not have a copy yet. But it can be found in bookstores and online.

The initial business analyzed is legalized sex and naturally there are comparisons with the illegal trade. However, the topic is treated in such a way that I feel the book is still appropriate reading for mature teenagers. The focus is on the business and not the types of services provided.

Recommendation

In fact, if I were still teaching at the community college, I would require my business and economic students to read An Economist Walks Into A Brothel. So, consider gifting this book to those who prefer non-fiction as well as anyone interested in finance. In the case of this work by Allison Schrager the risk is worth the reward.

Additionally, for those of you who prefer online, Schrager has a website. You can access it by clicking here. Consider signing up for her newsletter. I did and I look forward to her twice a month posts.

Econogal’s Florida Observations

Often when people meet, a common question is where are you from? For my husband, it is an easy answer. We live about a hundred miles from his birth place and with the exception of his college years and the first years of our marriage he has always lived within an hour or two. On the other hand, I lived in six different places by the time I was 18 and 10 places by the time I married. Thus, my answer varies. Sometimes I say the East Coast, but most often my reply is Florida.

My residency in the Sunshine State was divided between Gainesville and Daytona Beach. One of my fondest memories is of the bus driver detouring through Greek Town during Homecoming week. As a first grader I loved seeing the decorated floats and chanting for the Gators. But just before third grade we moved to Daytona Beach. New memories were made.

Now I live in a land locked state. Fortunately, the open plains remind me of the ocean. The rippling “amber waves of grain” do give me a sense of home. Plus I make frequent trips to Florida. My family lives there.

Birthday Celebration

This week marks the 81st birthday of my Mom. She currently resides in a nursing home in Central Florida. My Dad visits her every day. Unfortunately, her physical and mental condition are such that she needs more care than can be provided at home. On the plus side, she still enjoys leaving the nursing home on occasion to eat out.

Since one of her favorite food groups is Bar-B-Q, we took her to a nearby restaurant specializing in this Southern delicacy. The food was great. Perfect for a birthday celebration. The place quickly filled up. Unfortunately the table behind us turned over during the meal. Unfortunate because a family with an unruly child occupied the table as we were half way through the meal.

Dementia

Dementia in its various forms changes the personality of the individual the disease strikes. In my Mom’s case, we are pretty sure she has Alzheimer’s. Loud noises can be quite confusing. So, the screaming toddler was not ideal.

At first, I felt bad for the mom behind us. She was holding down the table while her husband and older child waited in line. But that changed once he joined her. Neither one could quiet the kid. Nor did they take him outside. (The standard procedure at one time when dining in public was for one parent to take the unhappy child outside until they could behave.) Moreover, they made little attempt. So we cut our dinner short and took the dessert back to the nursing home.

To be honest, my Mom handled the incident better than I did. She was a little snappy at the restaurant, but regained her birthday glow once removed from the situation. A benefit in this case of short-term memory loss. Unfortunately, my mind kept replaying the scene for several hours. I am not a confrontational person, but I sure would like to figure out a nice way of telling someone to take their unhappy child out of a restaurant for the times when this situation occurs. Does anyone have a proven technique or suggested comment?

Handicapped Access

The only other problem with the dinner out was getting out. My mom is wheelchair bound. The restaurant had tables that were placed fairly close together. Not a problem when empty as it was when we arrived, but tough once seats are pulled out. We made it through, but if there was an emergency, like a fire, the process would be a bit scary.

A good tip for arranging tables, whether in a restaurant, setting up for a conference dinner, or even when planning a wedding reception centers around chairs. Pull the chairs out from nestling under the tables. Then walk through the aisles with one arm extended. This creates a space wide enough for wheelchairs, walkers, canes and strollers to get through.

The downside to the business is less seating. But, in the long run the customer service created by the set-up is beneficial. Handicapped access is one of the key things we consider when taking Mom out to eat. We do this often. So those restaurants that make a point of getting in and out less stressful receive repeat business from us.

Since Florida is a magnet for retirees, it is not uncommon to see wheelchairs and walkers. In the city of Mickey Mouse, strollers are also abundant. Businesses definitely need to consider accessibility for all. And not just because of the legal aspect. It is good business too.

Last Woman Standing Book Review

On the surface, Last Woman Standing by Amy Gentry is a novel about the male dominated industry of stand-up comics. But in this case the protagonist and comic is a woman of color. Dana Diaz is the central character of this complex story of fame, success, psychosis, the #MeToo movement and revenge. At the beginning of the story Diaz is on the run from her past. At the end she owns her future. But an amazing tale fills the center.

We meet Diaz onstage at an Austin comedy club. Bombing. Badly. A lone woman’s laughter gets her through the performance. Amanda Dorn introduces herself afterwards. She is a techie who lost her job after filing a sexual harassment suit against a co-worker. As a victim of sexual harassment, Dorn recognizes Diaz as another target of unwanted advances.

Gentry’s plot takes a step toward revenge at this point. The two women engage in payback, with a twist. Each goes after the other’s aggressors. Concurrently, Diaz is achieving success on the stage. Perhaps her accomplishments trigger her consciousness. She begins to regret her actions and tries to cut ties with Dorn.

Austin to L.A.

The re-location of the story from Austin to L.A. mirrors the mental changes in both Diaz and Dorn. Our protagonist becomes more grounded and Dorn more psychotic. At this point in the story, Gentry begins providing twist after twist in the plot.
The revenge extracted by Dorn on behalf of Diaz takes a deadly turn. Moreover, Amanda’s psychosis becomes more evident.

Diaz turns to Jason Murphy, a childhood friend. The two search for a way to combat the control Amanda Dorn has over Diaz. Once again there is a major twist in the plot.

Without giving away too much, a final victim falls to the avengers. But this time someone is held responsible. But is justice served? Read Last Woman Standing to find out. The novel delivers so much more than sheer entertainment.

Many books reflect the current events of society. New York Station reflected the politically influenced 2016 national elections in the United States. I personally think the #MeToo movement served as a catalyst for Amy Gentry’s Last Woman Standing.

Online Cyber Harassment

Sexual harassment has been present for eons. Now the harassment reaches cyber space. Online bullying includes sexting, trolling and stealing personal information from various web sources. These attacks can be every bit as harmful as physical attacks.

Recently, a reader sent me a link with a very valuable article. The website vpnmentor.com published a lengthy, informative article on cyber security aimed specifically at women. The post The Empowering Internet Safety Guide for Women written by Sara Levavi-Eilat provides detailed steps on protecting one’s privacy online.

If I were still teaching at the local community college, I would incorporate this article into the curriculum. The information is comprehensive and very helpful. As an individual who values privacy I cringe at how much information is posted on the various social media sites.

This does not mean one cannot belong to any or utilize the many apps out there. But please use good judgement. The article written by Levavi-Eilat and produced by an all-woman crew will help regain your privacy and offers a way to safeguard against aggressors without resorting to the tactics employed by the key characters in Last Woman Standing.

Sexual Harassment

Contrary to the many jokes heard in stand-up comedy routines, sexual harassment is not a joking matter. The worst case scenario occurs when harassment turns into assault. Protect yourself. Click on and read The Empowering Internet Safety Guide for Women. Then think twice before you upload that next photo onto social media. Women should not need to worry about how our image is used. But the sad truth is we do.

Last Woman Standing is a good vehicle for this message as well as being an entertaining novel. The question posited is who has your back? When it comes to an online presence, each individual can do a great deal to protect themselves. Set limits on your social media apps when possible. Proactive behavior is essential. To steal a line from Sargent Esterhouse on the long-ago T.V. show Hill Street Blues-“Let’s be careful out there.”