Thursday, September 29, 2016

Do Some Good

At Greater Good you can help out with just a click of the mouse.  Just click on the button on the top of the page to give to the cause mentioned there.  (As I write this it is trying to raise money to build a school for children in Senegal.)  Then make sure to click on the tabs for the other causes as well.  They will each have their own button for you to push.

If you want to give even more there are plenty of ways you can donate money directly or you can just shop.  Choose the site for the cause you would like to help and shop to your heart's content.  A portion of the money you spend will go to help out the cause you have chosen.

And if you need a new pair of shoes or a new coat make sure to check out the get one, give one section.  With your purchase of one of the selected items they will donate one to someone in need.

Sunday, September 25, 2016

Soon I Will Be Invincible Review

Soon I Will Be Invincible by Austin Grossman

(from the book jacket)
Doctor Impossible – evil genius, diabolical scientist, wannabe world dominator – languishes in a federal detention facility.  He’s lost his freedom, his girlfriend, and his hidden island fortress.

Over the years he’s tried to take over the world in every way imaginable: doomsday devices of all varieties (nuclear, thermonuclear, nanotechnological) and mass mind-control.  He’s traveled backward in time to change history, forward in time to escape it.  He’s commanded robot armies, insect armies, and dinosaur armies.  Fungus army.  Army of fish.  Of rodents.  Alien invasions.  All failures.  But not this time.  This time it’s going to be different…

Fatale is a rookie superhero on her first day with the Champions, the world’s most famous superteam.  She’s a patchwork woman of skin and chrome, a gleaming technological marvel built to be the next generation of warfare.  Filling the void left by a slain former member, Fatale joins a team struggling with a damaged past, having to come together in the face of unthinkable evil.

Superheroes and supervillians.  I think this is very much a niche book.  If you aren’t already into the comic book thing than this is not for you.  The chapters switch back and forth between Doctor Impossible, the supervillian, and Fatale, the new member of the world’s greatest superhero team.  I like the change in perspective because it gives the story a well-rounded feel.  You get to see the story from both sides.  Unfortunately a lot of the characters are just not personable and failed to engender either my sympathy or concern and sometimes they couldn't even get my interest.  Especially the superheroes.  So I found myself more interested in the chapters about Doctor Impossible and looking forward to them while I was reading the others.  So instead of understanding both sides and having that wonderful conflict where you want both sides to win I was completely on Doctor Impossible’s side.  I did like that this is not an origin story.  The characters all have a long past and are established in the world that Grossman has created.  You get a sense of that history but the story is about what their lives are like after years of dealing with and living in the fight.  It’s a little uneven and some of the characters are annoying at times but it’s fun and exciting with world domination, super powers, epic battles, complicated gizmos and all that great comic book stuff.

Saturday, September 24, 2016

D.C. eats - Birch and Barley

I went on a trip to Washington D.C. recently and Birch and Barley was just down the street from my hotel. For some reason it caught my eye and I decided to go there for dinner one night. I think this place might be too hip, or trendy (?) for me. I don't know the right word. But it is lots of wood and brick and glass globe oil lamps on the walls and clear plastic chairs. And it is very dark. Not just dim, but it's hard to see what I'm eating dark. But maybe I just felt a little uncomfortable because I got there right when they opened and there was no one else there. Which was a surprise to me. Because when I went to Open Table to make a reservation and tried to get a table at 6:00 I was told that I could only get a table at 5:30 as nothing else was available. So I expected it to be, if not full, at least busy. And I don't like really crowded restaurants. But I don't like to be the only one in a place either. I guess there is just no pleasing me. Other people did start to come in a little later which did make me feel less self-conscience. 

I was seated and handed quite a few menus. They have a huge beer list. I like beer but I don't know all that much about it to be honest. So I was happy to see that they had the beer broken out by taste (fruity, hops, malty) to give me some place to start.  The complimentary bread included a pretzel bread that came with a mustard spread. It was good (if you like pretzels) and I thought it was a nice touch to go with the beer heavy menu.

My waiter explained all the menus for me and recommended the nettle garganelli (which I figured out was some sort of pasta which I had never heard of) which came in two sizes so it could be either an appetizer or an entree. I would have never ordered anything with nettle in the name on my own. It just sounds like something I wouldn't want to put in my mouth. But I did end up getting it as an appetizer. It was good. The corn was a nice fresh sweet taste that helped temper the onion so it didn't overpower the dish and the pasta was cooked al dente so it still had a good bite to it which I enjoyed. The only problem is I'm still not sure what nettle taste like. With all the flavors in the dish I didn't know which was the nettle. So I don't know if I like nettle but the dish was still good so it can’t be too bad.

For my entrée I got the pork ribs with gochujang and green apple-daikon slaw. They were pretty good. Fall off the bone tender. The gochujang had a nice spicy kick and the cool, creamy slaw was a nice counter point to that. I found the plate a little small so it was a little tricky pulling the meat off the bone without pushing things off onto the table. But I managed and enjoyed them.

For dessert I couldn’t pass up the funnel cake. It was good. I mean, it was sugary deep fried dough, how could it not be. But it wasn’t anything special and felt like something I could get at the fair. The staff was friendly enough and my waiter was happy to help me work through the beer menu. Altogether I was left with a neutral reaction to the experience. There was nothing that I was particularly disappointed about but there was also nothing that would pull me back.

Weekend Cooking is sponsered by Beth Fish Reads. Be sure to visit the other posts. You can find them on the Linky here.

Tuesday, September 6, 2016

I Am No One Review

I Am No One by Patrick Flanery

(from the back of the book)
After a decade living in England, Jeremy O’Keefe returns to New York, where he has been hired as a professor of German history at New York University. Though comfortable in his new life, and happy to be near his daughter once again, Jeremy continues to feel the quiet pangs of loneliness.  Walking through the city at night, he feels as though he could disappear and no one would even notice.

But soon, Jeremy’s life begins taking strange turns: boxes containing records of his online activity are delivered to his apartment, a young man seems to be following him, and his elderly mother receives anonymous phone calls slandering her son.  Why, he wonders, would anyone want to watch him so closely, and, even more upsetting, why would they alert him to the fact he was being watched?

As Jeremy takes stock of the entanglements that marked his years abroad, he wonders if he has unwittingly committed a crime so serious that he might soon be faced with his own denaturalization.  Moving toward a shattering reassessment of what it means to be free in a time of ever more intrusive surveillance, Jeremy is forced to ask himself whether he is “no one,” as he believes, or a traitor not just to his country but to everyone around him.

Flanery does a good job of creating an unsettling feeling.  You feel uneasy as you watch Jeremy start to examine his life.  All the people in his life start to have uncertain intentions.  Everything from his past starts to take on new significance.  He even starts to question his own sanity.  And it makes you think about how much privacy you have and if you have to act like you are being watched all the time, even if you are “no one.”  And it examines how something unexpected can make you question everything, even things you were completely sure of before.  Unfortunately I didn’t like Flanery’s style of writing.  He would go off on tangents that had nothing to do with the story.  Jeremy received a package that was about the same size as a cosmetics case his mother once had and he goes on for a paragraph about this case that has nothing to do with anything.  I can understand Jeremy, as the narrator, getting distracted by memories, but it happened a lot and they went on too long.  Then he would analyze simple things, like someone using his first name, or a look his daughter gave him, to death.  Again, some of it would be fine, but it is so much and mostly unrelated.  And Flanery tends to use really long sentences.  One page was a single sentence.  And I find, with sentences that long, it is easy to lose track of what is being said and to forget where it started.  So I liked the idea of this book more than I liked the way it was delivered.  It did hold my interest and keep me reading but since I wasn’t a fan of the way it was written I don’t see myself reading any Patrick Flanery in the future.

Friday, September 2, 2016

Friday 56 (Sept. 2)

The Friday 56 is hosted by Freda's Voice

*Grab a book, any book.
*Turn to page 56 or 56% in your eReader
(If you have to improvise, that's ok.)
*Find any sentence, (or few, just don't spoil it)
*Post it.
*Add your (url) post in the Linky here. Add the post url, not your blog url.
*It's that simple.

My book this week is Dead Mountain: The Untold True Story of the Dyatlov Pass Incident by Donnie Eichar.  Nine experienced hikers go into the Ural mountains and never return.  Their bodies are found miles from the tent without shoes and sufficient clothes for the below freezing temperatures.  Why they would have fled the tent in this way remained a mystery for fifty years.

We stole glances at each other, registering our growing discomfort and both wondering at what point we could just stand up and leave.

Awwwwkward.  It must have been really hard to solve a mystery when you don't speak the language.  Especially when your translator is late.

Saturday, August 27, 2016

Dine Out Week Boston Visit #3

 For my third and final Dine Out Week restaurant I went to Commonwealth Restaurant and Market.  And I found out that when you enter the address for the restaurant into Mapquest, Mapquest will tell you it can't find any such place.  And as someone who is terrible with directions and is always getting lost that is a little disturbing.  But I did manage to find the place.  At first glance it seems very long and to have a lot of doors.  So I picked one and walked into what must have been the market part in the name.  I didn't explore but it did seem to have a lot of wine.

There is a lot of wide open space, which I like because I often feel crowded in restaurants and I felt I had a lot of room here.  And there were a lot of windows so there was a lot of light.  The whole place was sort of rustic.  There were pallets on the walls, exposed rafters, wood plank tables.  But I didn't feel like I was in a barn or in a craft project.  Is there such a thing as modern rustic?  That's the feel I got.

 The complimentary bread was more a biscuit than a bread.  (That is not a complaint, just an observation.)  And came in a cute little pot.  For an appetizer I got the grilled octopus with white bean hummus.  It was good.  But it was a little more charred than I prefer.  I know people like it and actually try to achieve it but it is not my favorite flavor.  But the thicker end of the tentacle, where there was more meat, was nice and tender.

For the entree I got the flanken short ribs.  I had never heard of that before so I Googled it.  It has to do with the way they are cut.  I think.  Anyway, it turns out they look more like a chop of some kind than a rib of any sort.  Once again there was a little more char than I would have liked but it still tasted great.  And sometimes you would get that perfect bite with the fat that melts in your mouth and makes everything taste wonderful.

Dessert was salted caramel creme brulee.  Which combines two of my favorite things in the world, caramel and creme brulee.  It came with a dark chocolate ganache that was like having a delicious truffle on top of your creme brulee.  It was simply delightful.

My waiter was friendly (and cute, not that that matters of course.) He explained the menu and made suggestions (subtle ones, not pushy ones) all of which I would have found helpful if I hadn't gone in knowing exactly what I wanted already.  He also made me feel like he found it a pleasure to serve me.  I always like when a restaurant makes me feel like they are glad I came by.  And he did.  He even shook my hand on my way out like I had done him a personal favor by eating there.

The regular menu is a la cart so all the sides are ordered separately.  Which I feels lends itself better to being shared.  And I do think it would be a great place for groups.  I just don't think that on a non dine out week time I would go alone.  I'll have to find someone to drag there with me.  Or several someones.  Because going back is not an unpleasant thought.

Weekend Cooking is sponsored by Beth Fish Reads.  Be sure to visit the other posts.  You can find them on the Linky here.

Dine Out Week Boston Visit #2

So, I added another restaurant to my Dine Out Week plans. I was in the mood for Mexican so I picked Sol Azteca as a mid week Dine Out Week treat. Once again I was hooked by the dessert. Flan was on
the menu and I can't pass up flan. But I tried not to get my hopes too high because my first Dine Out Week restaurant changed the menu on me. But I had no need to worry. When I got there the menu was the same one as I had seen on the website. With one delightful change. A beverage was included in the price. And on the list of beverages to choose from was anything on the house margarita list. Score! So I got the Midori Margarita. It was very green and very sweet. I liked it a lot but it is not what I would order if I was in the mood for a margarita. It was much more a Midori cocktail than anything else. And of course you get complimentary chips and salsa. And I tucked into those right away. They are good and you will be tempted to fill up on chips and salsa. But don't. You will be sorry later. Trust me.

The appetizer I got was the quesadillitas. Which I had never heard of before. But they sounded delicious. And they were. They were little deep fried corn pockets filled with goodness. There were three of them, one filled with cheese, one filled with ground beef and one filled with chicken. I think the chicken was my favorite but it is kind of hard to choose. For my entree I got the combo especial. It came with rice, beans, cabbage, a chile relleno stuffed with ground beef and a chicken tortilla casserole with cilantro sauce. The rice, beans and cabbage were all good. The cabbage came in what I think was a vinegar based dressing. Sort of a coleslaw but not creamy, more sharp with a bit of a bite. The chile relleno was ok. It says you get a choice of beef or cheese for the filling. I forgot to mention and he did not ask and I got beef. I would have chosen beef anyway but if you want cheese make sure you mention it. It was in a tomato based sauce and between the tomatoes and pepper and ground beef it tasted Italian to me. Like it was a pasta sauce without the pasta. It was ok but it was not my favorite. I had never seen anything like the casserole. It was chunks of chicken and pieces of tortilla mixed together in a bright green sauce. Then it was covered in melted cheese and sour cream. Now, you won't hear this from me very often because I love cheese, but I don't even think it needed the cheese. That cilantro sauce was awesome. When it became clear that I wasn't going to be able to finish the food on my plate (because it was a lot of food) I stopped eating everything else so I was sure I had room to finish that. I left some of everything else on my plate to save room for the dessert. I got the vanilla flan. (They also have coffee.) It was a really dense custard sitting in a pool of caramel sauce. It was smooth and creamy and sweet. The caramel sauce had a slight bitter taste like it was just short of burnt but it was nice against the sweetness of the flan.

The restaurant has several rooms and outdoor seating as well. It's bright and has lots of colorful decorations on the walls. The staff was polite and helpful. On the way out I needed to stop in the ladies' room. I was going to ask where it was but then saw a door with a sign on it that said restrooms. So I went through the door and walked into another dining room. I don't think it was open yet since there was no one around. I was able to find the restroom with out any problems but I did feel like I was wandering around someplace I wasn't supposed to be. All in all it was a nice night and I left stuffed and happy.


Friday, August 26, 2016

The Friday 56 (August 26th)

The Friday 56 is hosted by Freda's Voice

*Grab a book, any book.
*Turn to page 56 or 56% in your eReader
(If you have to improvise, that's ok.)
*Find any sentence, (or few, just don't spoil it)
*Post it.
*Add your (url) post in the Linky here. Add the post url, not your blog url.
*It's that simple.

My book this week is The Apprentice: My Life in the Kitchen by Jacques Pepin.  I think you can guess what the book is about from the title.  

He took one look at the consomme, then at me, then at the consomme, and his face got redder and redder.  Without a word, he grabbed the nearest weapon to hand, a ladle, and advanced toward me.

Note to self, do not whisk the consomme.  

Saturday, August 20, 2016

Dine Out Week Boston (Summer) Visit #1

I always look forward to Restaurant Week (yes, I know they call it Dine Out Week now but it will always be Restaurant Week to me) and start looking at menus as soon as the list is put online.  I would like to go to 20 restaurants but for both monetary and health (read weight) reasons I try to limit myself to two.  Okay, so maybe I add one and slip in an extra lunch somewhere.  But that's it.  So I read all the menus (if there are no menus posted it is very rare I will go there, I want to know what I'm getting) and start picking favorites.  This time around Ma Maison stuck out for some reason.  Well, let's face it.  It was the creme caramel they had for dessert. The dessert is always very important to my decision.  So I made my reservation and made sure I knew how to get there.  And then I looked forward to it all week.

It was rather unassuming on the outside but I did like the cute little snail logo on the window.  It is warm and inviting inside and I was greeted warmly at the door.  I was seated in the window where I could watch the people walking by in the street.  I was the only one there when I arrived at 6:30 but by seven it started to fill up.  It isn't big, you can see the whole place from the front door, but the seating doesn't feel crowded.

Everything was going great until I was handed the menu.  The Dine Out menu they gave me was not the one that I saw online.  They didn't have the asparagus salad appetizer I had planned on so I got the fried clams.  They did have the entree I planned on so I was able to get the Beef Tenderloin Strogonoff with Beets Pasta.  But the real tragedy was that creme caramel was not on the menu.  The only dessert choice was peach cobbler cake with vanilla ice cream.

I got a cocktail to start.  They have a section on the menu with French
cocktails, all of which have champagne as the first ingredient.  And I figured, when in a French restaurant...  So I got one.  It was delicious.  Then they brought out some bread.  Which was good as well.  But since I really like bread and always enjoy complimentary bread I'm probably not the best judge.

The fried clam appetizer came with a Dijon mustard creme brulee.  Which sounded odd and slightly worrying to me and when it came out it looked like a creme brulee served in a clam shell.  The batter on the clams was nice and light and crisp.  And the Dijon went with them very nicely.  And it was a very big portion for an appetizer.

The strogonoff entree was a beautiful plate of food.  The red beet pasta was very striking.  And it tasted good too.  When it came out the ladies sitting next to me both noticed and asked what I was having.  One of them decided to change her dinner choice after seeing and smelling mine.  I think she made the right choice.

Then it was time for dessert.  It is a very sad thing how disappointed I was not to be eating creme caramel.  But once again the food looked and tasted good but I probably would have enjoyed it a lot more if I was not expecting something else.  Still, half way through the dessert I was wishing I had left a little on my plate the previous two courses because I just couldn't finish the whole thing.

The service was good.  Everyone was friendly and polite.  My water glass was always full.  I didn't feel hushed or forgotten. They made me feel like they were happy I had come in.  It is a place I would go back to.  And maybe someday I'll be brave enough to go there and get the Friday special of frog legs.

Friday, August 19, 2016

The Friday 56

The Friday 56 is hosted by Freda's Voice

*Grab a book, any book.
*Turn to page 56 or 56% in your eReader
(If you have to improvise, that's ok.)
*Find any sentence, (or few, just don't spoil it)
*Post it.
*Add your (url) post in the Linky here. Add the post url, not your blog url.
*It's that simple.

The book this week is The Invoice by Jonas Karlsson.  One day a man comes home from his part time job at the video shop to find an invoice for an absurd amount of money.  He calls customer service and finds out that the bill is for everything he has ever experienced in his entire life.  

With some reluctance, I had to admit that I was actually pretty happy with my life.  I didn't really have anything to complain about.

Which makes him a lucky man.  Of course it also makes his bill that much higher.  So it's kind of a bittersweet thing. 

Saturday, August 13, 2016

The Tide Watchers Review

The Tide Watchers by Lisa Chaplin

(from the back of the book)

Though the daughter of an English baronet, Lisbeth has defied convention by eloping to France with her new husband. But when he breaks her heart by abandoning her, she has nowhere to turn and must work in the local tavern. Her only hope for the future is to be reunited with her young son, who is being raised by her mother-in-law.

A seasoned spy known by his operatives as Tidewatcher, Duncan apprenticed under Lisbeth’s father and pledged to watch over his mentor’s only daughter while he searches the Channel region for evidence that Bonaparte has built a fleet to invade Britain. But unpredictable Lisbeth challenges his lifelong habit of distance.

Eccentric, brilliant American inventor Robert Fulton is working on David Bushnell’s “turtle” – the first fully submersible ship – when he creates brand new torpedo technology, which he plans to sell to the French navy. But when his relationship with Bonaparte sours, he accepts Tidewatcher’s help to relocate to the French side of the Channel but refuses to share his invention. With an entire army encamped in the region, blocking off all access, Tidewatcher must get that submersible, along with someone who knows how to use it, to uncover Bonaparte’s great secret.

When Lisbeth is asked to pose as a housekeeper to charm Fulton so she can learn to use the submersible before the invasion fleet sails, she will be forced to sacrifice herself for her country – but is she willing to sacrifice her heart when she’s already lost it to another?

This one is tough to review. The whole premise of the story is very interesting. I usually like historical fiction. The characters were not one dimensional and you actually had to think about whether they were even good people and doing the right things or not. And I like when everything is not black and white. There is a lot of action and suspense. And a story about the first submarine is just cool. But I didn’t really like the book. I didn’t like the main characters as people and found them uninteresting as characters. I didn’t care what happened to them. And the plot, that should have been extremely compelling, was strangely not. Despite all the good components it was never hard to put down and I was never very eager to pick it back up. And the abrupt ending was less of an ending than a ‘tune in next week’ cliffhanger. To write this review I had to skim through the book again because soon after I finished reading it I had forgotten it completely.

Saturday, July 30, 2016

Review of a Mini Frozen Key Lime Pie Recipe

Mini Frozen Key Lime Pies

I like lime and lemon desserts and cheesecake and since the weather has been in the 90s I didn’t want to turn on my oven. So this recipe looked perfect. I found it on Epicurious. If you want to try it go here. And you should try it.
I will admit that if there is a lazy way to do something, I will pick the lazy way. And I hate washing my food processor. So to make the crust I bought graham cracker crumbs already in crumb form, melted the butter in the microwave and just mixed it with a fork in a bowl.

For this recipe I used actual key limes. My local grocery store doesn’t often have them so I have never used them before. They are small. Which caused me to over buy key limes. I only used eight and bought about four times that many. I will have to make more lime desserts.

Since they are small I also found that they are a pain to juice and zest. My big clumsy hands had trouble holding on to the slippery little things while trying to zest them with a microplane without zesting my fingers.

The heavy cream gets whipped and some goes into the filling but there is some left over to put on top when the cheesecakes are done. Which is lovely, since there is nothing better than fresh whipped cream.

Once you have the filling all mixed up it says to pipe it into the cupcake liners. But, again, I took the lazy man’s way out and just spooned it in. You can fill them almost all the way to the top and have enough to make 12. After you put the crust on they will come right to the top of the liner. I left them in the freezer overnight and ate them straight from the freezer. I was worried that I would have to let them sit for a bit to soften so I could get a fork through them but they never got that hard. So you can just leave them in the freezer until you are ready to eat them and there is no waiting or timing it out so they are soft but not melted.

They are creamy and tart and have a good strong lime flavor. And they are cute too. And since you can keep them in the freezer they can last probably far longer than anyone can wait to eat them. They got rave reviews and I have to admit that I had trouble stopping after eating just one so they are a little dangerous to have around the house. But I'm sure I'll be making these again.

Friday, July 29, 2016

Friday 56 (July 29)

The Friday 56 is hosted by Freda's Voice

*Grab a book, any book.
*Turn to page 56 or 56% in your eReader
(If you have to improvise, that's ok.)
*Find any sentence, (or few, just don't spoil it)
*Post it.
*Add your (url) post in the Linky here. Add the post url, not your blog url.
*It's that simple.

My book is I Am No One by Patrick Flanery. Jeremy returns to the US after living for a sdecade in England and he starts to receive mysterious evidence that he is being watched. He has no idea who would be watching him or why since he is 'no one'.

No, I said to myself sitting before Rachel that Monday afternoon, she was well dressed and neatly groomed, but she was not attractive. Genetics had dealt her a rather poor hand.

Poor girl. I got this book from Library Thing. I need to write a review for it. I haven't done it yet because I'm still trying to figure out what I thought of it.

Tuesday, July 26, 2016

Tuesday With Morrie Movie vs Book

Tuesdays with Morrie by Mitch Albom
Tuesdays with Morrie with Hank Azaria and Jack Lemmon

Both the book and the movie are about a journalist that reconnects with one of his former college professors when he hears that his professor is dying.
Morrie, the professor, shares the insights that he has learned as the disease that will eventually take his life ravishes his body.  And these conversations have a profound impact on his former student, Mitch.

The book and the movie follow very similar lines and there are times when the wording is exactly the same.  But there were differences.  In the book (and I’m assuming, real life) Mitch is married, but for some reason in the movie he isn’t.  In the movie he has a girlfriend and the relationship between them takes up much more of the movie than it does of the book.  In fact there is a lot more in the movie that involves Mitch when he isn’t with Morrie.  Almost the entire book takes place in Morrie’s home, you don’t get to see much of Mitch’s life at all.  I don’t know if they just added things from life to make it more complete or added made up things to make it more dramatic, but you get to see more of his work and home life.

I wasn’t that big of a fan of the book because I thought, despite the very personal nature of the story, that it was reduced to a bunch of pithy sayings.  Which, I admit, mean more coming from someone who has to actually live them, but at times it started to feel like a bunch of clichés strung together and it became trite.  Which is sad because I’m sure Morrie’s life was anything but trite.  And I don’t know how you can tell such a personal, emotional tale and still leave me feeling like I don’t know the people involved.  But that was how the book made me feel.  So it was nice that the movie added more of the people’s lives.  I found it easier to connect to the people because I felt I knew them better.  So I think the movie edges the book out a little for me.  But the movie still has some of the slightly preachy, slightly condescending feel the book had so I wasn’t the biggest fan of the movie either.

Friday, July 22, 2016

Fish and Chips at the Mission Bar and Grille

I was in the area to visit my brand new niece and her mother so I stopped into the Mission Bar and Grille.  First of all, it was dark in there.  I don’t mean warm and cozy or romantically dim.  I mean dark. When I walked in there was no one greeting people at the door, or really any employees in sight.  So I just took a seat at the bar.  It was the Saturday of the 4th of July weekend.  They had a limited menu that day because I think they originally had not planned to be open.  I ended up getting the fish and chips.  They had run out of coleslaw.  I assume it was because it was the holiday weekend and they had not expected to be open.  At least I hope that was why.  I was asked if I would like a side salad instead.  Which was fine.  Coleslaw is not why I get fish and chips.  The batter on the fish was light and nice and crispy.  The fish was nice and flaky and delicious.  The fries were good too, except, as with most fish and chips some were soggy because they had been sitting under the fish.  They have a good selection of beers.  I didn’t try the cocktails but some of the ones on the menu looked good.  I wouldn’t say the service was bad.  I would say it was relaxed.  The bartender was polite enough, but I waited a while for my food, and all of the staff seemed a bit distracted by the soccer game.  They all must be big fans so you might want to go when there are no games on.  The food was good and there was nothing that went so wrong that I would write off the place completely.  I think I might have picked the wrong day to see the place at its best.  I’m not sure I would ever make the trip just to go to the Mission but if I’m in the area I would give it another try.

Saturday, July 16, 2016

Chewy Butterscotch Brownies Recipe Review

Chewy Butterscotch Brownies

I got this recipe from Very Best Baking but you can also sometimes find it on the back of the Nestle Butterscotch Chips bag.  If you want to try it go here.

I make this recipe all the time.  It’s one of my go to desserts because it is easy and delicious.  And I usually have a bag of butterscotch chips in the house. (Is that odd?) 

The recipe starts with a cup of butter.  Which is always a good sign.  

The rest of the ingredients are pretty simple.  And there is nothing tricky about the instructions.  You basically just mix everything together.  The recipe tells you to put half of the butterscotch chips in the batter and then sprinkle the rest on top after they are in the pan.  I did that the first time I made these but I didn’t really see the point so I started to just put them all in the batter and that worked just fine and seemed easier to me. 

I like nuts but I often leave them out for allergy reasons when I plan to take them somewhere or give them out.  They turn out fine without them and without changing anything else.  They are good both ways.  But these can get very sweet and I think the nuts cut the sweetness and tempers it a little.

The batter is really thick.  In fact, spreading it out in the pan might be the hardest part of making them.  

After about 30 minutes in the oven they come out golden brown and buttery.  I get a lot of good feedback about them so they have a wide appeal and it is nice to occasionally have a change from the traditional chocolate chip blondie bars.

Monday, July 11, 2016

Big Splash Review

The Big Splash by Jack D. Ferraiolo

(from the book jacket)
Matt Stevens is as tough as a steak from the school cafeteria.  He’s a seventh-grade private eye, and he just did something he said he’d never do: He accepted a job from Vincent “Vinny Biggs” Biggio, the kid behind every deal made at Franklin Middle School, from black market candy to forged hall passes.
You see, life at the Frank is tough.  Get on the wrong side of Vinny Biggs and you’ll find yourself in the Outs, the least popular “club” in school.  How do you get there?  Water (or any other liquid) strategically splattered below your belt for maximum humiliation.
When Nicole Finnegan, a.k.a. Nikki Fingers, the most feared squirt-gun assassin at the Frank, is put in the Outs, Matt feels partially to blame and is determined to find the trigger kid.  Problem is, Nikki has more enemies than a snitch during a final exam.  Every kid in school is suspect, including Kevin Carling, Matt’s former best friend and current right-hand man to Vinny Biggs.  Matt had better watch his back, and especially his front, as he tackles a case with more twists than a candy addict on a swivel chair.

The Big Splash has a wonderful noir feel.  It has all the pieces; the hard detective, the damsel in distress, the harried newspaper man, the scared sources, the neighborhood bar, the crime boss, the thugs.  All of it.  It has the fun narration by the detective complete with colorful similes like ‘a bully without intimidation was like a new car without a motor: It may look impressive, but it wasn’t going anywhere,’ and ‘they rolled around my brain like billiard balls on a table with no pockets; nothing was sinking in.’ The story is peopled with interesting people.  Most of the transitions from noir to middle school work well; the sugar habits instead of drug ones, the assassins with water instead of bullets.  It has a fun lighthearted feel a lot of the time but it also has a hard edge as you see the kids pounce on someone when they are down and the consequences that humiliation has on their lives.  It’s an interestingly convoluted mystery with lots of clues and suspects and twists right up until the final denouement.  But it isn’t just about the mystery.  It also manages to work in the problems of growing up with friendship and romance and trying to fit in.  The only problem is that sometimes it pushes a little too hard and it goes a bit too far and they don’t sound like kids anymore.  But that can easily be forgiven because you get wrapped up in the feeling of the book.

Sunday, July 3, 2016

Codex 632 Review

(from the back of the book) When Thomas Noronha, a professor of history and expert cryptographer, is called upon to finish an unresolved investigation involving an aged scholar who is mysteriously found dead in his hotel room, his life takes several unexpected and dramatic turns.  As Thomas slowly begins to unravel the cryptograms and enigmas that shroud the old professor’s work, he finds a code that could possibly change the course of historical scholarship.

In his quest to decipher this mysterious code, Thomas travels around the world, from Lisbon to Rio, New York, and Jerusalem.  He quickly immerses himself in the fascinating history of the discovery of the Americas, and the one enigma that no historian has ever been able to solve: the true identity of Christopher Columbus. 

There is a lot of research behind this book and the fact that all of the documents cited in the book are real is very interesting.  You learn a lot about Columbus and many of the inconsistencies in the documents that mention him.  Many of which I knew nothing about going into this book.  It is fascinating.  Up to a point.  But sometimes it got to be a little much.  At one point there are 10 pages of the history professor going over every document pointing out the different names that are used to refer to Columbus.  And for a while the reader is not sure what the point is, so it starts to feel a bit long.  And everyone is a bit infuriating.  They all reveal a little information and then add a ‘but’ on to the end until you want to choke them all.  It covers a lot of ground, and you learn about the Templars and Jewish history and other interesting things along the way to the concluding of the Columbus mystery.  And you do start to feel Noronha’s frustration as he tracks down the clues and searches out the secrets only to have things pulled out of his reach.  But the parts of the story that revolve around his wife and daughter and the student he gets involved with seem out of place and distracting.  And the characters have a sensational way of revealing information that makes you feel jerked around and everyone is winking and smiling and it makes them come out slightly obnoxious and hard to like.

Saturday, July 2, 2016

My Visit to Smith & Wollensky

bread served with a spoon
Once in a while I like to go to a restaurant I can't really afford. This time I decided to go to Smith & Wollensky. It's the kind of place that you pay fifty dollars for a steak and side dishes are extra.

I planned to go on a Sunday evening and assumed it would be busy so I made a reservation. It turns out I didn't need one. I got there at six and there were only a few people there. And during the hour or so that I stayed not many more came in. That was okay with me. I don't really like crowded. The place is warm and inviting. It does have a classy feel to it but I went in jeans and sneakers and a nice top and I was not the most casually dressed person there.

Everyone was very polite and my waiter, who was also bar tending at the
perfectly cooked
time, was attentive and helpful. I started with an Eastern Hemisphere cocktail. It was light and refreshing and I liked it but it had a flavor I couldn't identify that didn't seem to be in the description. But it could have just been the green tea. Then he brought me some bread which came out in a little pan with a big spoon stuck in it. It was warm and buttery and flavored with rosemary. Luckily not too much rosemary since I am not a huge fan. I got the pea soup to start. It came out in a little tower. The empty bowl on the bottom, a little tureen with the soup in it, then a little dish on top with the croutons. Then he carefully poured my soup into the bowl, using a plate as a shield so there was no chance I would get splashed. Then after asking if I wanted the croutons in my soup, added them for me. It seemed like a big production for a bowl of soup but the care in the service and presentation is all part of the experience so it was fun too.

For my entree I got the filet mignon (10 oz.) and half sides of the creamed spinach and au gratin
half sides
potatoes. It doesn't say anywhere that I could see that you could get half orders of the sides so I'm glad my waiter mentioned it or I would have only gotten one. He asked what I wanted to drink, perhaps a glass of wine? Well, actually, yes. But I know absolutely nothing about wine. So this is where I usually pick something at random from the wine menu and ask for it like I know what I'm talking about. But I didn't have a wine menu any more since it was taken away after I ordered. So I asked for a suggestion instead. And he brought out a bottle and opened it at the table and talked to me about it like I would understand him. Then he let me try it. It tasted like red wine. So I said it was good and he poured me a glass. And I did enjoy it but I couldn't tell you what it was even though he seemed surprised that I had never heard of it. The sides came out in their own little skillets, the cheese on the potatoes still bubbling. Both were good but the star of the meal was obviously the steak. It was cooked perfectly and also seasoned perfectly. No need to add salt or anything. I had not asked for any of the embellishments or other add ons to the steak but I was given some béarnaise sauce to go with it. That was a nice touch.

I couldn’t finish all of that food but, of course, that didn’t stop me from getting dessert. I got
yummy cake
the coconut cake. It isn’t a light and fluffy cake. It is pretty dense. But it is very good. And the whipped cream on the side is delightful. I had a lot of food boxed up to take home and my waiter gave me a whole little loaf of the bread to take with me.

The restroom was clean and they had those thick soft paper towels that
mystery door in restroom
feel like cloth. There was a mystery door opposite the toilet which always makes me uneasy even though logically I know no one is going to open it. But that’s probably just me. And that is a very small thing compared to the rest of dinner. I was very happy with the night and if I can ever afford it again I will go back.
extra bread and great take out containers

Tuesday, June 28, 2016

Britten and Brulightly Review

Britten and Brulightly by Hannah Berry

(from the back of the book)
Private detective Fernandez Britten is an old hand at confirming the dark suspicions of jealous lovers and exposing ugly truths of all varieties.  But, battered by the years of bringing ill tiding, he clings to the hope of revealing, just once, a truth that will do some good in the world.  It is a redemption that has eluded him for a long time.

Then Britten and his unconventional partner, Brulightly, take on the mysterious death of Berni Kudos.  The official verdict is suicide, but Berni’s fiancée is convinced that the reality is more sinister.  Blackmail, revenge, murder: each new revelation stirs up the muddy waters of painful family secrets, and each fresh twist takes the partners further from Britten’s longed-for salvation.  Doing good in the world, he discovers, may have more to do with silence than truth.

A haunting story of love and grief, sharply written and luminously drawn, Britten and Brulightly introduces an extraordinarily accomplished graphic novelist.

From the oversized book, to the graphics, to the story, this graphic novel is a lot of fun.  The soft drawings that use a lot of gray and light shades of washed out colors seem appropriate for the time and add to the sad feeling of the story and depressed attitude of Britten.  A lot of the story is told in journal entries which gives the reader an insight into Britten that lets you get to know him and to care about him.  The only problem with it is that since it is handwriting it sometimes gets difficult to read.  The complicated, slightly convoluted, story keeps you engaged as you try to figure it out and holds your interest as it comes to a conclusion.  The partner adds a unique twist too.  The whole thing has a wonderful noir feel.  Reminiscent of Chandler or Hammett but with great art to go along with it

Sunday, June 26, 2016

Save the Sharks

In honor of Shark Week I have come up with a list of websites that are trying to save sharks.  Visit them to find out how you can help them help the sharks.


Ocean Conservancy

Defenders of Wildlife 

Sea Save

Shark Savers

Bite Back

Shark Trust

Save Our Sharks

Shark Angels

Shark Guardian

Wednesday, June 22, 2016

Help Out Classrooms in Need

Donors Choose is a website that lets you help teachers and students all over the country.  The teachers create classroom projects and ask for funds on Donors Choose.  You can search by area, school or subject.  You can give any amount you like to any project like.

Here are a few that caught my eye.

Ms. Lewis needs Fitdesks so that students can exercise while they study.  You can donate here.

Ms. Lewis also needs Chromebooks to go with her Fitdesks.  You can donate here.

Mr. Maguire needs air conditioners to cool his classroom and make learning easier.  You can donate here.

Mrs. MacIsaac needs a whiteboard and some chairs to help her students learn.  You can donate here.

Ms. Marshall also needs Chromebooks to help her students connect to schools around the world.  You can donate here.

Mr. Cao needs calculus books.  I think you can guess what they are for.  You can donate here.

You will notice that all of these projects are from Boston Latin Academy.  I'm partial since I went there.  But maybe you went somewhere else and would like to help out your own school.  Or the school your children go to.  Or just love geometry and want to help kids learn.  Go over to and browse around until you find a project that speaks to you.

Saturday, June 18, 2016

Tom Horn Review

Tom Horn

With Steve McQueen

Former army scout, Tom Horn, is hired to hunt down cattle rustlers but ends up on trial for murder.

The film is based on actual events and I think the fact that Tom Horn was a real historical figure makes this movie more interesting then I would have found it otherwise. It is a slow paced western and is not action packed but it is a good story and well written. It probably won’t be a totally unfamiliar story but knowing that it really happened makes it more compelling. And the simple, sometimes almost flat, way that things are presented here, without a lot of dramatics and fanfare, make the characters more believable and easier to imagine having actually existed because it does not play out like a legend or tall tale. Not your average cowboys and Indians western, instead it is an interesting look at real men in the west.

Wednesday, June 15, 2016

Strawberry Lemonade Tart

I got this recipe from the website Go Bold With Butter. With a name like that it has to be good. And this recipe sounded like the perfect thing for summer. Sweet strawberries and tart lemons combined in a bright tasting refreshing tart. And there isn't that much more in there. A few egg yolks and a little sugar.

If you would like to try it you can find it here.

I actually went out and bought a tart pan for this. I have always wanted one and kept saying to myself that I should get one but never got around to it. Now I have one so I have no excuse not to try all those tart recipes I've been putting off.

I like graham cracker crusts because I can do them. Unlike other pie crusts. But I find that sometimes they don't seem to have enough butter or something and even after they are baked they tend to crumble on me if I am not careful. This one, as you would expect of a recipe from a website with a name like Go Bold With Butter, seemed be more buttery than others I have done. And I think it has a lot to do with chilling it so the butter hardens, but it seemed to hold together better. Anyhow, it was nice and buttery and you could taste the buttery goodness in the finished tart.

The filling calls for a pint of strawberries and I was embarrassed to realize I didn't know what a pint of strawberries was. It wouldn't be the same as a pint of milk. That I could have figured out. And my grocery store does not sell them by the pint. I had a 16oz tub of strawberries and didn't know how many I should use. I did some research on the internet and concluded that 12 oz would be a pint. So that's what I used and hoped I was right.

By the way, when you pulverize a pint (or about a pint) of strawberries in your food processor they smell delicious.

The recipe says it will take about 2 lemons to get the 1/2 cup of juice but it took me three. Add the lemon juice, sweetened condensed milk and the rest to the berries and mix. (It looks like there is a lot of seeds in it and I was slightly worried about that but I didn't even notice them in the finished tart.) Then just pour it in the cooled crust and stick it in the oven. It says it will take about 35-40 minutes and when it is done it will be set at the edges and giggle a little in the middle. Well, I cooked it for 35 minutes and nothing was set and it giggled a lot. So back in it went. It seemed like I cooked it a lot more than the recipe said I would have to but finally it seemed ready. Unfortunately it was a rather odd color. The picture is a pretty pale pink. Mine was more a grey sickly pink that was unappetizing. I'm thinking next time I might add food coloring. Just a little. I don't want it bright red, just not grayish.

I cooled it and then put it in the fridge. You are supposed to chill it for at least 4 hours but it was late when I finished so I didn't taste mine until the next day. It was a hit. It is rather tart but I like lemon so that was okay with me. It had lots of flavor and tasted fresh. After a couple of days in the fridge the crust started to get a little soggy because the filling was so wet but it didn't last long enough for it to become a problem.

This one is a keeper. I think I'll be making it again.

Saturday, April 30, 2016

How to Survive a Robot Uprising Review

How to Survive a Robot Uprising by Daniel H. Wilson

(from the back of the book)
How do you spot a robot mimicking a human?
How do you recognize and deactivate a rebel servant robot?
How do you escape a murderous “smart” house, or evade a swarm of marauding robotic flies?
In this essential survival guide, roboticist Daniel H. Wilson teaches worried humans the secrets to quashing a robot mutiny.  From treating laser wounds to fooling face and speech recognition, outwitting robot logic to engaging in hand-to-pincer combat, How to Survive a Robot Uprising covers every possible doomsday scenario facing the newest endangered species: humans.
Based on extensive interviews with prominent scientists working on the cutting edge of the latest robotics technology, and including a thorough overview of current robot prototypes – everything from humanoid walkers to insect, gecko, and snake robots – How to Survive a Robot Uprising is a perfect introduction to contemporary robotics.

There is a surprising amount of real information about robots (and geckos) in this book.  It is a survival guide to a robot rebellion that is written by a real roboticist.  So all of the technical data about robots is real.  He explains what robots are capable of and what they will be capable of in the near future.  And because he knows what he’s talking about all of the techniques for thwarting the upcoming attack ring true as well.  It is written with a sense of humor and I often found myself laughing as Wilson walked me through defeating a robot foe.  I don’t think I’ll be building any EMP bombs to keep on hand any time soon but all of the truth in the book, told by an expert in the field, made the uprising seem completely possible at times.  There were a few spots where Wilson repeated himself a bit but it was nothing that detracted from the book much.  It’s fun, it’s a fast read and you just might learn something.  If you are into robots give it a try.  Or if you are a science fiction fan read it to see how your favorite ‘rebellious robot’ movies hold up against the cold hard facts.