Sacred Music Friday: Es ist ein Ros entsprungen

From a VOCES8 recording session for their album, Equinox.

NPR comes through again

Book ConciergeA few years back National Public Radio came up with an amazing innovation to allow book lovers to browse the best books of the year. Rather than simply present a list of their picks for the year’s best books, it developed NPR’s Book Concierge.

And now they have released their 2017 Book Concierge. Such a delight! NPR compiled what it considered to be the best books of the year and then labeled each book with one or more categories. Categories include things like Staff Picks, Biography & Memoir, Historical Fiction, etc.

What is great is that you can mix and match categories. So, for example, you can select Eye-Opening Reads and Historical Fiction to get the books that are tagged as both. Or you could select Biography & Memoir along with Seriously Great Writing.

It’s a lot of fun and a great way to select the next book you want to read. If you’re a book lover you’ll want to check it out.

creamy skillet chicken cacciatore

Creamy Skillet Chicken CacciatoreThe Recipe Critic seems to have a lot of “creamy” recipes. I recently pulled one of them, her creamy skillet chicken cacciatore, out of my database.

The recipe calls for Italian seasoning, garlic, bell peppers, mushrooms, crushed tomatoes, heavy cream, and broth. The chicken is boneless breasts.

I followed the instructions relatively closely. It’s a simple, straightforward recipe and qualifies as one-skillet if you don’t serve it over pasta as the recipe indicates. I didn’t. It was quite sufficient in and of itself.

an apology

I have to apologize. The blogger in the cartoon below? That’s me. I recognized myself immediately when I first saw the cartoon. That hurt. But I suppose it’s a good thing that I did recognize me.

I’m hoping that I can say that was me. I want to believe that I’m not that way anymore. I was that way, though. Just ask my friend Lynn, with whom I would meet for coffee before Terry and I moved south. Lynn, I apologize. That’s not a good way to treat a friend.

This cartoon comes, by the way, from the TED talk 10 Ways to Have a Better Conversation given by public radio host Celeste Headlee. I highly recommend it. It has had more than nine million views, and there’s a reason for that.

And in my case I trust that reading my blog is not necessary for friends to learn about what is happening in my life.

cartoon: Read My Blog

salvaging a cheap cut of meat

Not long ago our local grocery store had pork butt roast on sale for a really good price. I bought one with the intention that we would use a third of it for Terry’s excellent chili verde and then freeze the rest and use it for pulled pork for my dad’s birthday several days later.

There was a reason that the cut was so cheap. Terry’s chili verde came out tougher than we’ve ever had it. I wasn’t going to use that for Dad’s dinner. I bought a reliable pork tenderloin for that meal and kept the other in the freezer. I then developed a plot to rehabilitate that cheap cut of meat.

carnitasI pulled out a recipe for slow cooker pork carnitas from the kitchn. I rubbed it with the specified seasonings: cumin, ground black pepper, oregano, cinnamon, cayenne, garlic, chipotle, and salt. Normally I would omit the salt, but I used kosher salt to help tenderize the meat. I rubbed the pork with the mixture. I added a can of diced tomatoes as the recipe called for. For the liquid, the recipe called for orange juice, stock, or beer. Instead I used a lot of cooking port: enough to cover the pork. (Yes, I know that on Food Network and PBS they say never to cook with a wine you wouldn’t drink. That’s one of many cooking rules that I break.)

The recipe called for 8 hours on low. I gave it 11 ½ hours.

Success! The meat was flavorful and tender and made for a tasty dinner with our homemade tortillas.

The moral of the story: You get what you pay for, but when you try to be too thrifty sometimes it can be fixed.

Sacred Music Friday: O come, O come, Emmanuel

Sunday is Advent 2

my spice chaos

spice drawerWhen Terry and I remodeled our kitchen in Gilroy our design included a spice rack which I absolutely loved. We stored the bulk spices used to refill the jars in the rack in a cabinet that had a lot of horizontal storage space. I kept the bags neatly lined up on metal racks.

bulk spice bagsHere in Hemet we don’t have a spice rack, but when we moved here my dad very graciously made us dividers so we could keep our spices neatly organized in a kitchen drawer. That works well.

The bulk spices are a different story, however. The storage space in our kitchen not otherwise used tends deep rather than horizontal. There’s no good way to store the bulk spices. They are in gallon Ziploc bags and I have to go hunting whenever I need to refill a jar.

Still, that’s a small problem and I love having the variety of spices that we maintain.


more Star Trek than Star Trek

The main character in the comic strip Candorville, Lemont, is an inveterate Star Trek fanatic. He was quoted in the strip as saying that The Orville, a new series on Fox, is more Star Trek than Star Trek: Discovery.

He’s right.

The OrvilleTerry and I began catching up on The Orville via Hulu. It is a sort of Star Trek parody, but at the same time it truly pays tribute to the spirit Star Trek. It was created by Seth McFarlane, apparently a big-time Star Trek fan. The crew of the starship Orville rather closely resembles the crew in Star Trek: Next Generation, while the plots in the two episodes we’ve seen so far have echoes of the original series: distress calls, deception, and a mirror on today’s society.

The twist is that the captain and the first officer are a divorced married couple, which is the source of a lot of entertaining laughs. There is the Union rather than the Federation. Why they have to use shuttles and don’t have transporters I don’t know. The captain has an office rather than a Next Generation ready room.

The Orville is true to the spirit of Star Trek. More true, I believe along with Lemont, than Star Trek: Discovery.

Star Trek: Discovery to date

We are at the midpoint of Star Trek: Discovery. Past it, actually. Episode 9 of 15 was released on 12 November. The series returns in January.

So where are we?

Star Trek DiscoveryThe series is true to the Star Trek ideal of diversity. They are trying to be consistent with the timeline of taking place 10 years before the original series and are working at keep things in context. (Why did Spock, whose parents were also the main character Michael’s guardians, join Star Fleet?) There are references to the original series, such as two episodes involving the scoundrel Harry Mudd.

However, the technology is all out of whack. They have holograms and holodecks, something that didn’t show up until Next Generation. And dark. It’s way too dark for the Gene Roddenberry Star Trek positive vision of the future. But each episode is intense with unexpected plot turns. And, of course, they left us hanging at the end of episode 9.

It’s not your father’s Star Trek. Hell, it’s not my Star Trek. Nonetheless Terry and I will be watching when the series returns in January.

simplifying homemade pizza

I have long been something of a homemade pizza snob: dough and sauce from scratch. But my success this summer with pizza on the grill using Trader Joe’s pizza dough and Cento canned sauce (along with my lessons learned) made me want to bring that experience indoors after the grilling season.

whole pizzaIt has been a learning experience. In my first attempt I quickly discovered that while my own pizza dough worked fine on a pizza pan sprayed with olive oil, Trader Joes’s does not. It sticks. Attempt number two was with TJ’s whole wheat pizza dough. The lesson there is: don’t use it. The consistency is entirely different and it just doesn’t work properly. On attempt number three, back with the regular Trader Joe’s dough, while I hate to go heavy handed with Crisco, it does keep the crust from sticking to the pan. My problem was going overboard with the sauce and toppings.

So, fourth time’s the charm? I guess so. Heavy on the Crisco coating the pan,pizza slices but spraying that with olive oil to assuage my guilt. About four-fifths of the can of pizza sauce. Take it easy on the toppings. Five slices of Provolone. Fifteen minutes at 450 on the bottom rack, perhaps a bit too long and/or a bit too hot. But overall it came out pretty good. I learned to take extra care slicing the pizza, as it’s hard to break through the baked TJ crust. A vegetable knife at the edges helped to create discrete slices.

I certainly have plenty of room to fine tune and improve, but my definition of success with homemade pizza is when I can pick up and eat a slice by hand without having to use a fork. By that definition attempt number four was a success.