Book Cookin Thursday #6: Katniss’ Favorite Lamb Stew with Dried Plums

 

I love food and am a total believer in foods’ power over mood and circumstance. When something bad (or good, or neutral, or nothing at all ) happens, I’m all over it with the appropriate menu. Food can make anything better. Even facing certain death in a kill-or-be-killed arena where you are being sent to atone for crimes committed by your ancestors. Apparently.

“What’s impressed you most since you arrived here?” I rack my brain for something that made me happy here. Be honest, I think. Be honest. “The lamb stew,” I get out. Caesar laughs, and vaguely I realize some of the audience has joined in. “The one with the dried plums?” asks Caesar. I nod. “Oh, I eat it by the bucketful.”

And, so this week for Book Cookin’ Thursday, We will be making Lamb Stew with Dried Plums from Suzanne Collins’ The Hunger Games.
..or rather, the “No-Hunger Games”, if this stew works out!

* pauses for laughs*

Anyone?

Fine, all puns aside, the recipe I used is from the website notquitenigella.com , and you can find and follow it along here. She has some great pictures of every step in the recipe, and modifications for pressure cookers and stove top methods.

Let’s Cook! May the odds be ever in our favor.

Serves 4

  • 1 kilo, 1 inch diced lamb neck (also called scotch fillet-you can also use lamb fillet, diced leg or shoulder).
  • 2 teaspoons salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon black pepper
  • 1/4 cup plain or all-purpose flour
  • 1-2 tablespoons oil
  • 2 cloves garlic, sliced
  • 2 onions, sliced
  • 2 cups beef or lamb stock
  • 2 large carrots, cut into chunks
  • 500g/1 pound small chat potatoes roughly the same size
  • 1/4 cup pitted prunes (am I the only one who didn’t know that prunes are dried plums?)
  • 1/4 cup Turkish dried apricots (Ah yes, the finest turkish dried apricots that the No Name brand makes…)
  • 1 sprig fresh rosemary
  • 1 sprig fresh lemon thyme (or use thyme and add some lemon zest)
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 1 cup ginger beer
  • Salt if needed
  • Serve with: wild rice, regular rice or Paddy’s potato scones

Step 1 – On a shallow plate, mix the flour, salt and pepper and dredge the lamb pieces shaking off any excess.

Step 1a– Regret leaving the prep work for this recipe until after work, especially when “after work” is midnight. Lousy evening shift. 😦

Step 2 – Heat your cast iron pot or a frying pan on medium to high heat and brown the lamb pieces in the oil in three or four batches. Then add the garlic and onion and stir until the onions become translucent.

Step 3- If using a slow cooker: Add the stock, sugar, carrots, potatoes, prunes, apricots, rosemary, lemon thyme, bay leaves and ginger beer to the lamb and onion mix. Cook on low for 6-8 hours. Taste to see whether salt is needed
Okay, I’m pretty tired, but I did not see sugar ANYWHERE in the ingredients list. What kind of sugar? How much sugar? I am adding no sugar, and I  do NOT appreciate deception when I’m trying my best to be good and follow the recipe.

Step 4– Clean up after yourself, because if memory serves, J HATES it when he goes to bed after cleaning practically the whole house only to then waking up to an unholy mess his wife made after work. It’s like his least favorite thing, aside from K-Os and people who don’t stand up during the national anthem.

Step 5- Watch an episode of Nashville, eat a handful of Ritz crackers and a Cheesestring and fall asleep

Step 6- Cook, add some salt and LOTS of pepper when you realize you added a bottle of ginger beer instead of a cup and therefore the stew is very sweet.

 
Verdict: Sweetness aside, this was actually pretty tasty. Make sure that you only add a cup of ginger beer and then I would actually recommend this. I’ve never prepared lamb before, because I didn’t know how, but this was easy, healthy, filling and yummy! Would I choose it as my last meal before entering the arena? No, but I would make it again! Success!

 

Plight of a Bookworm #6: The Book Hangover

If you’ve been there, you know how this goes. It’s 2am. You’ve been reading this wonderful book for hours, ever since your 11pm “I’ll just read a few pages before I go to sleep” claim. It was a lie then, and you knew it. And just as you knew you would, you keep on reading, long, long into the night.

You have to be up in 6 hours to go to work/ school/ raise children.

“Just until the end of this chapter.”

Eyes sore, head heavy, arms weak

“I can’t stop now, I need to see what happens!”

Your husband/ wife/ girlfriend/boyfriend/cat is snoring peacefully beside you, after all this time accustomed to being forced to sleep with a reading lamp on.

“I’m almost done the book, I might as well keep going”

Flash forward to the next day: You’re tired. You’ve got a headache and red, dry eyes. Maybe the thought of starting another book makes you a little nauseous. Sitting in a dim, quiet room, wolfing down that greasy lumberjack breakfast, moaning about how you’ll “Never do that again”?

You’ve got a Book Hangover!

Not only are you suffering from lack of sleep and from reading under dim light, but after binge reading a great book, the last thing you want to do is start another right away (unless there’s a sequel of course!) You’re still stuck in that world, still relating to those characters. It would be like suddenly starting a whole new life, it’s almost unthinkable. Just like any other hangover, you’ll want to refrain from any heavy reading, maybe have a nap, read a palate-cleansing magazine or watch some T.V.

But make no mistake, you’ll do it again.

Lessons from a Friend

Recently, my close group of friends lost one of our own. I”ve had the same friends since high school (and the same taste in music, but that’s neither here nor there), and so even though I had lost contact with this person, the loss is real and palpable.
It’s a complicated thing to mourn a loss that isn’t yours to mourn. My friend left behind a wife and daughters, parents and siblings. This loss belongs to them and in no way am I looking to take anything from them by writing this. I am looking only to aknowledge someone whose life had impact on mine. I believe that people are in your life for a predetermined amount of time, and they serve a purpose in your life and the making of your person. I said goodbye to my relationship with this person 5 years ago. However, at 30, you don’t expect the ending of a relationship to be so quickly followed by the ending of a life. I am not here to pretend that my everyday life is changed because this person died, but it is enormously changed because he lived.

A while ago I wrote a post about the life lessons that one leaves behind. I truly believe that a large part of a persons legacy is in the things that they teach others. And although neither that post or this one has anything to do with books, I hope you’ll humour me. This is a partial list of things that I learned from a friend who is tragically no longer with us.

  • Never be afraid to start over.
  • “So bad that it’s good” is the best kind of good.
  • Wring every last drop of fun out of every day.
  • Try not to be the first to leave a party.
  • Sometimes figuring out the details doesn’t need to be done right away.
  • You can (and should) put anything on a sandwich.
  • Laugh, be silly, do impressions and watch cartoons.
  • The best friendships are made when social conventions and personal boundaries are violated.
  • Walking aimlessly is good for your mind.
  • All rules are up for negotiation in one way or another.
  • You don’t need money to be happy.
  • Play music loudly, Eat only the nachos with toppings still attached and Laugh out loud even when you’re alone.

Thank you for all of these, and many more lessons that helped make me who I am. Thank you for always messing up the peanut butter, and for knowing when to be the bad guy.

You will be missed.

Review Time: The 100-Year Old Man who Climbed out the Window and Disappeared

Jonas Jonassons’ sensation “The 100 year old man who climbed out the window and disappeared” is one one of the recent “it-books” to grace every list and on the lap of every subway rider. It has the distinction of being the most sold book in Sweden in 2010 and was made into a movie that did very well in Europe and I would not be surprised if a North American debut was in its future. Before I go into my review, I just want to note that a lot of people did like this book, so feel free to read it, we can still be friends if you do! But what did I think of this book?

I thought it was…meh.

It isn’t for lack of intriguing plot setup. “The 100 year old man” is the story of Allan Karlsson who, in the hours before his 100th birthday party, climbs out the window of his retirement home and sets off with no particular destination in mind. On a whim, he steals a suitcase at the bus depot, later to discover it contains a fortune in drug money. What follows is an adventure involving a number of questionable characters, and elephant and an (understandably) angry drug cartel.

Sounds pretty good so far, right?

This story is then interspersed with the tale of the first 100 years of Karlssons’ life, which is a wild tale, to say the least. Like Forrest Gump before him, Allan Karlsson was a key personage in the background of almost every major political happening. He had a 10 year old Kim Jong Il sit on his lap, he shared meals (and vodka…and national secrets) with the likes of Stalin, De Gaulle and Churchill. He was a close personal friend of Truman. The book is absurdly hilarious, well written technically and full of dry humor with impeccable timing.

Again, sounds like a great book. So whats my damage?

The only thing missing, and perhaps this was lost in its translation, is ANY way of connecting to ANY of the characters. By the end of it, I just didn’t care anymore, because none of the characters seemed to care. I mean, I love dry humor, I really do, but this was unreal. The most absurd things happened to this man, and everyone around him, but he remains a completely unlikable man with the personality of a sponge who ambled through fantastic events. I just couldn’t relate to any of the characters, there was no insight or character development. It was as if someone took the most exciting story and read it in a robot voice; neat at first, then boring, then annoying.

Over and over again, the same plot mechanisms are dragged out set against the background of the past 100 years: Allan meets famous historical figure and agrees to help their political cause because he is offered a hot meal and vodka, then it goes bad and Allan is in trouble but gets out of it because he blows something up.

Once is funny, twice is funny, but a whole book of the same with no humanizing element to the main character makes for a book I just couldn’t get into. It was like this book just wouldn’t let me love it, even though I wanted to so bad…

 

Review Time: Crack Town, I mean…Crazy Town by Robyn Doolittle

There’s something really special about reading a book set in a location you’ve been to. You can picture these things happening so much more vividly, and getting into the story has a whole other level to it. Now that I’ve travelled a little bit, I get a nerdy thrill out of reading books set in London or Paris or Rome, and so many good books are! Living in Toronto, I should probably start seeking out books set here, as I hear people talk about local authors all the time (suggestions welcome!).

With that in mind, I was excited to read Robyn Doolittles’ “Crazy Town”. I figured that as well as being a journalistic look at our citys’ mayoral…situation, it would be a really neat look at Toronto politics in general and maybe my neighborhood in particular. You see, I live around the corner from the Ford matriarch and right in the middle of the world outlined in the book. So I got to read about deals being made with gun-runners in the local country style donuts*, and the “Dixon City Bloods”, my friendly neighborhood gang.

*I did always wonder why that donut shop never actually had any donuts…

The book was really good, but reading about North Etobicoke, apparently also called “Little Mogadishu”, didn’t give me the same feeling as reading about museums in Paris or the streets of London…

It made me want to move.

However, I did enjoy the book. For those of you who don’t know, Robyn Doolittle is the Toronto Star reporter who first broke the Rob Ford crack scandal or “Crackgate”, as the media likes to call it. Doolittle is one of only a select few people to have seen the notorious crack-smoking video and has been following the story ever since. This book is not only the story of the scandal that should have finally taken down that wife-beating, heavy-drinking, program-slicing clown**, but she delves into Fords’ entire career and the history of the Ford family in Toronto.

**For those of you about to email me angrily, telling me about how Rob Ford has kept all his promises as mayor and my pinko friends and I need to lay off him: I see your subway digging and tax cuts and raise you reduction of public programs and library hours and personal misuse of publicly-owned services. Oh, and worldwide embarrassment, association with known gun-runners and support of the drug industry. Your move.

If you followed the news closely, this book may not hold any new revelations for you, but Doolittle does take all of the recent happenings and puts it all into context using the Ford family history and little-known facts about Rob in particular. This is very clearly a reporters book; even-handed, thoroughly researched and written very plainly. No flowery prose here, just the facts. Doolittle does speculate on the upcoming mayoral election, explaining how, despite being a disaster of a human being, Ford might actually win re-election (I swear, I’ll move).  If I have one critique of this book, it would be that it seems to be a little hastily put together, with some typos. Not the end of the world and I suppose understandable as these sorts of books need to be released inside of the time frame of their relevance. (And I guess I’m in no position to say anything about other peoples’ typos…)

Overall though, this book was an informative and interesting read. It was a concise re-telling of the Toronto mayoral quagmire, a revealing look at a surprisingly influential family and an unexpectedly interesting insight into municipal politics and journalism at a big-city paper.

A little note for any Toronto readers I might reach with this review: please cast an informed vote this October. And keep in mind that although the personal life of an elected politician is not necessarily a basis on which to cast a vote, everyone comes to work with their personal life in tow. And if that personal life includes getting so drunk that you thought trying crack cocaine with your gun-runner friends wasn’t the worst idea ever, that will impact the Mayors work. The Mayors work impacts your day to day life. Think about it.

 

 

 

Book Swag: Peg and Awl

Sorry about the posting interruption everyone, it’s been a crazy week. Among other things, my husband won a call in radio contest to go to NYC and see a hockey game (For real, people actually win those!!) As well as watching the Leafs win in overtime (yeah!), we had to make a very important stop at the New York Public Library. And friends, I kid you not, it’s everything we all dreamed it would be. The most beautiful reading rooms, marble foyers, and of course the 2 guard lions: Patience and Fortitude. Which are alright names, I guess. Pretty serious names for lions in front of a library. I would have gone with Arthur and Wilson or Dewey and Douglas, something like that.
Questionable lion naming aside, I urge you all, if you visit NYC, stop by the library, just to look around. The architecture alone is worth it.


Also while perusing the Libraries’ gift shop (I like to support libraries…and gift shops), I came across the cutest jewelry line ever, and the subject of todays’ Book Swag: Peg and Awl. Peg and Awl are a husband and wife team from Philadephia (cute!) and they make jewelry and other items using reclaimed materials like leather from old handbags and couches, fabric from 19th century cushions and wood from old houses. They take garbage and make treasures and I can’t even get it together enough to fill my wedding shadow box *sigh*.

They use these recycled goods to make one of a kind items like this adorable book necklace! Seriously adorable…there are actual pages inside!

Check out the Peg and Awl shop for more book swag like this!
Check out the Peg and Awl shop for more book swag like this!

Check out their website or Etsy shop!