Saturday, March 31, 2012

Clarissa - March Progress Notes

Terri and I are co-hosting a yearlong group read of Clarissa by Samuel Richardson. She is collecting links to March update posts here.

March is drawing to a close. In an ideal world, I'd have finished letter 72 last evening and written a profound post full of  deep thoughts, keen observations, insightful quotes, and a little speculation.

In the real world, a busy month combined with a sharp increase in letters finds me playing catchup. No matter how fast I read, I'm still a week behind. But that's OK, because this is a low stress project and the letter dates were supposed to provide "loose structure".  I suspect that for the next several months the dates will become less important and I'll read as time permits. It'll all work out in the end. Besides, Clarissa was more enjoyable when I read a letter or two every few days.

At Letter 46 (or Volume II, letter II in my e-reader edition) dated 3/22, I feel it's getting repetitive. Clarissa keeps rehashing the situation and her counter proposals to anyone who will read her letters. We, of course, must read them all, along with the responses. No wonder this novel is 1500 pages long!

Anyhow, Clarissa remains confined to her room, her loyal servant has been fired, and the entire family is united in forcing her marriage to Mr. Solmes, which is now scheduled to take place within a couple of weeks. Clarissa has promised that she will not marry Lovelace, or anyone else, if she can be free to refuse Solmes. Her family will have none of this.

We have finally heard from Lovelace, and I don't like him much. I suspect he may be more interested in the 'thrill of the chase' or obtaining something forbidden than in Clarissa herself. Are there any likable characters in this novel? At this point, my answer is no. I have to guard against judging from a 21st century perspective, but am thankful I wasn't a young woman in the 18th century.

Bottom line: Clarissa is getting a little repetitive, but I'm still enjoying the story.

If you feel ready to charge ahead and complete the novel, Allie, Jillian, and Adam are hosting a read-along in April. More information can be found here. Good luck to the brave participants. I think it might just kill me to read all of Clarissa in a single month!

Friday, March 30, 2012

Trespass by Rose Tremain (audio)

By Rose Tremain
Narrated by Juliet Stevenson
9 hours, 51 minutes

Publisher's Summary:
An electrifying novel about disputed territory, sibling love, and devastating revenge.

In a silent valley in southern France stands an isolated stone farmhouse, the Mas Lunel. Aramon, the owner, is so haunted by his violent past that he's become incapable of all meaningful action, letting his hunting dogs starve and his land go to ruin.
Meanwhile, his sister, Audrun, alone in her modern bungalow within sight of the Mas Lunel, dreams of exacting retribution for the unspoken betrayals that have blighted her life. Into this closed world comes Anthony Verey, a wealthy but disillusioned antiques dealer from London. When he sets his sights on the Mas, frightening and unstoppable consequences are set in motion.

My thoughts:
I've been meaning to read Rose Tremain for ages and am glad I finally made time to listen to Trespass. The story drew me in right away, but for a long time the opening scene didn't quite fit with what followed. It jumped from a young schoolgirl on a picnic, to a fading antiques dealer in London, to a simmering family feud in the south of France. Each story is fascinating in itself, but all the more rewarding when they converge for a most satisfactory conclusion. This novel kept me motivated to walk on the treadmill a little longer each time I listened.

A note on the audio:
Juliet Stevenson is an outstanding narrator and her British accent is perfect for this novel. Although she has fifty different credits to her name at, this my first experience listening to her. It won't be my last - I've downloaded her narration of North and South by Elizabeth Gaskell.

My rating:

Jen at Devourer of Books collects audiobook reviews every Friday for her Sound Bytes feature. Stop by and read her review, then click over to see what others have posted. Feel free to link up your own audiobook review, too.

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

The Odds by Stewart O'Nan

"You couldn't relive your life, skipping the awful parts, without losing what made it worthwhile. You had to accept it as a whole--like the world, or the person you loved."

Art and Marion Fowler, on the eve their thirtieth wedding anniversary, are out of options. Their lives are crumbling around them; bankruptcy and divorce seem inevitable. In a desperate last-ditch effort, they cash everything in, stuff the money into a duffel, and board a bus to Niagara Falls for a Valentine's Day weekend get-away. Can they win big at the casino, pay off their debts, and somehow salvage the marriage?

Stewart O'Nan is quickly becoming one of my favorite authors and his latest novel, The Odds, reminds me why: He understands people. He knows how we think, what makes us tick, and why we do what we do. Art and Marion are an unremarkable, but not especially likable, couple. As O'Nan deftly weaves their story, the reader comes to understand how they arrived at the breaking point. The weekend unfolds and their drama plays out against the backdrop of Niagara Falls - the cheesy tourist traps, rip-off elevator rides, the Maid of the Mist, a Heart concert, and finally the hotel casino. In spite of myself, I gradually began rooting for them to beat the odds.

Although this is not a cheery novel, there are a few things I especially enjoyed:

  • Heart concert scene - I laughed out loud (in recognition) at the middle-aged rockers
  • Niagara Falls - I've been there a few times and O'Nan nails the atmosphere
  • Chapter headings citing various odds - Odds of vomiting on vacation: 1 in 6, Odds of a U.S. citizen filing for bankruptcy: 1 in 17, Odds of winning an olympic gold medal: 1 in 4,500,000

After reading three O'Nan novels in quick succession last fall, I couldn't resist pre-ordering The Odds, something I've never done before. His latest effort certainly did not disappoint, but I enjoyed both Emily, Alone and Last Night at the Lobster more.

My rating:

Monday, March 26, 2012

A Poem for Monday

"A Prayer in Spring"  by Robert Frost

Oh, give us pleasure in the flowers today;
And give us not to think so far away
As the uncertain harvest; keep us here
All simply in the springing of the year.

Oh, give us pleasure in the orchard white,
Like nothing else by day, like ghosts by night;
And make us happy in the happy bees,
The swarm dilating round the perfect trees.

And make us happy in the darting bird
That suddenly above the bees is heard,
The meteor that thrusts in with needle bill,
And off a blossom in mid air stands still.

For this is love and nothing else is love,
The which it is reserved for God above
To sanctify to what far ends He will,
But which it only needs that we fulfill.

From today's Writer's Almanac:

It's the birthday of Robert Frost (1874) (books by this author). Born in San Francisco, he moved to Massachusetts when he was 11. He struggled a long time to become a successful poet. His style was out of fashion almost from the beginning — he was interested in the traditional forms of rhyme and meter, while his contemporaries such as Ezra Pound, William Carlos Williams, and T. S. Eliot were writing in modern free verse.

His early years were often rough. His father was a heavy drinker and died of tuberculosis when Frost was twelve years old, leaving the family impoverished. He had to drop out of college during his first year to work, and tried unsuccessfully to publish poetry. Frost was seriously depressed; at one point he followed a trail into the Dismal Swamp and considered drowning himself. He walked all night through the swamp, but something made him decide to head back home. He worked as teacher for a few years, but he never enjoyed it. Then, in 1900, he and his wife, Elinor, lost their first child. He fell into despair. That year, Frost tried his hand at raising poultry on 30-acre farm after his grandfather took pity on him and bought him a farm in Derry, New Hampshire, in hopes that it would give him a steady income. The experience shaped his poetic voice and provided inspiration for his most popular later poems, but he was a terrible farmer. In a letter to a friend, Frost wrote, "The only thing we had was time and seclusion."

He was 39 when he published his first collection of poems, A Boy's Will (1913), and it was a major success.

Sunday, March 25, 2012

TSS: Spring Break,Take Two

Good morning and Happy Sunday. It's been another quiet week at Lakeside Musing, this time for Daughter #1's spring break. Although she had work to do on her honors thesis, we still managed to spend a lot of time together. The weather has been perfect, too, seeming more like summer than spring. Daffodils and hyacinths are in bloom, along with forsythia and magnolias. The lawn is greening up and starting to grow. If this keeps up, it could be the first time we've ever mowed the lawn in March! My nephew's confirmation was Thursday evening and, of course, March Madness is HUGE around here. Orange tears were shed last night as Syracuse's season came to a end, losing to Ohio St. in the Elite 8.

Reading has been almost as slow as blogging this week. I'm two thirds of the way through A Visit From the Goon Squad by Jennifer Egan. It's engaging and creative, but demanding all the listening skills I've acquired over the past ten years. This is one non-linear narrative, folks! The PowerPoint presentation is just two chapters away. I'm very curious to see how it will work on audio, but think I'll probably turn to the print edition for that section.

On Tuesday, I made the decision to read nothing but Clarissa until I was up to date with the March letters. Unfortunately, the letters seem to be growing longer and more numerous, and I feel like I'm treading water. My monthly update is coming up later this week, so for now I'll just say it's becoming a little repetitive.

My goal for the next few days is to write some posts/reviews so the blog doesn't get too quiet for another week.... Twin A begins her spring break on Thursday! Today we have my nephew's confirmation party, then I'll either get to work on those reviews or read Clarissa. What are you up to today?

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Tuesday Intro: A Visit From the Goon Squad

It began in the usual way, in the bathroom of the Lassimo Hotel. Sasha was adjusting her yellow eye shadow in the mirror when she noticed a bag on the floor beside the sink that must have belonged to the woman whose peeing she could faintly hear through the vaultlike door of a toilet stall. Inside the rim of the bag, barely visible, was a wallet made of pale green leather. It was easy for Sasha  to recognize, looking back, that the peeing woman's blind trust had provoked her: We live in a city where people will steal the hair off your head if you give them half a chance, but you leave your stuff lying in plain sight and expect it tot be waiting for you when you come back? It made her want to teach the woman a lesson. But this wish only camouflaged the deeper feeling Sasha always had: that fat, tender wallet, offering itself to her hand -it seemed so dull, so life-as-usual to just leave it there rather than seize the moment, take the leap, fly the coop, throw caution to the wind, live dangerously ("I get it," Coz, her therapist, said), and take the fucking thing.
A Visit From the Goon Squad
by Jennifer Egan

I've decided to try a combination read/listen strategy with our next book club selection. Reactions to A Visit From the Goon Squad  have been mixed among my blogging friends, but Sandy's audio review made me curious. With several hours of driving scheduled last weekend, I decided to begin by listening. The book jumps around in time and its focus keeps shifting between several different characters, yet I find myself fully invested - very surprising!

Every Tuesday, Diane at Bibliophile by the Sea posts the opening paragraph (sometime two) of a book she decided to read based on the opening paragraph(s). Feel free to grab the banner and play along.

Sunday, March 18, 2012

Author Birthday: John Updike

From today's Writer's Almanac:

John Updike (books by this author) was born in Reading, Pennsylvania, on this day in 1932. He wrote more than 20 novels, and more than 20 short-story collections, but he's best known for his series of four "Rabbit" novels: books about an average middle-class guy, Rabbit Angstrom, who has a boring job and marital troubles. The "Rabbit" books won many awards, including two Pulitzer Prizes. 
Updike had started sending his stories, poems, and cartoons to The New Yorker when he was in high school. When he was a senior at Harvard, they finally accepted some of his work and even offered him a job; he moved to New York City after he graduated, but soon realized he didn't like living there, so he and his wife moved to Ipswich, Massachusetts, a little town outside Boston. He took a little one-room office on East Main Street, above a restaurant and between a lawyer and a beautician. He looked out over the parking lot of the Ipswich Cooperative Bank and hammered away on a manual typewriter. After his death of lung cancer in 2009, many of his neighbors remembered him as a down-to-earth fellow, a participant in several civic organizations, a guy in corduroy trousers who played regular poker with the boys. Others were less forgiving, recalling how he mined the town and its people for material for his explicit 1968 novel Couples.
John Updike said in the New York Times Book Review: "I'm willing to show good taste, if I can, in somebody else's living room, but our reading life is too short for a writer to be in any way polite. Since his words enter into another's brain in silence and intimacy, he should be as honest and explicit as we are with ourselves."
Updike's novels, stories, and essays have met with varying degrees of my approval over the years. My introduction to his work came in late high school with a short story or two, but it was many years later, in 1997, that I became a fan. With our youngest children off to nursery school, the play group moms decided to become a book club. We chose In the Beauty of the Lilies as an early selection and I was hooked. The sentences, the vocabulary, the was one of my favorite books that year and remains my favorite Updike novel. I was less enthusiastic about Couples and The Witches of Eastwick. Around that time, I also began to enjoy Updike's contributions to the The New Yorker. I featured his story "When Everyone was Pregnant" here three years ago. His "Rabbit" novels have been on my 'to read' list for years.

Have you read John Updike?

Saturday, March 17, 2012

Weekend Cooking: Historic Pubs of Dublin

Want to add a little authenticity to your St. Patrick's Day celebration? Consider touring the Historic Pubs of Dublin with author Frank McCourt. Settle in with a pint and this one hour 2008 PBS Home Video production (available on Netflix Instant) becomes a virtual pub crawl.
Dublin is a great place to quench your thirst for history, beautiful sights, warm and wonderful people, and, of course, a good pint! Join Frank McCourt, Pulitzer Prize winning author of Angela's Ashes as he tells the story of Dublin through its most historic pubs, dating back hundreds of years. In addition to the legendary drinking establishments, viewers will learn more about must-see attractions, the city's beautiful parks, and more! (from amazon)
The tour begins at The Brazen Head. Dating back to 1198, it is officially Ireland's oldest pub and literally depicts the country's history on its walls. McCourt, ever the teacher, doesn't pass up the opportunity for a brief lesson.

Mulligan's is a pub for the serious drinker. They say "real men stand while drinking", and all furniture was banished in the early 20th century. It has since been restored, but there is still no food is served at Mulligan's. A bar tender offers instruction of how to pull the perfect pint. A pint, of course, means Guinness - "part of life fabric in Dublin".

At Neary's, extended brass arms hold lanterns to welcome guests,

and The Long Hall (which served only men until 1951) boasts one of the longest bars in Dublin.

Although the focus is on pubs (too many to mention here), McCourt's tour also stops at Dublin Castle, Trinity College,  Dublin Writer's Museum, the Old Jameson Distillery, and the Guinness Storehouse. Legend has it that in Dublin, you're never more than twenty paces from a pub!

Weekend Cooking, hosted at Beth Fish Reads, is open to anyone who has a food-related post to share: Book (novel, nonfiction) reviews, cookbook reviews, movie reviews, recipes, random thoughts, gadgets, fabulous quotations, photographs. If your post is even vaguely foodie, feel free to grab the button and link up over the weekend.

Friday, March 16, 2012

Book Club Meeting: State of Wonder

It has been months since I listened to State of Wonder by Ann Patchett, and last week I finally had a chance to discuss it with my book club. The note I scrawled to myself after finishing said, "Great story, beautiful language, and engaging narrator. It doesn't get much better - 4.5/5 stars." The finer plot details had started to fade, but I remembered enough to actively participate in the discussion.

We met at the local coffee shop, which is the equivalent of our community's living room. Normally, we rotate hostess duties and move to a public space during the winter when snowbanks can make parking a challenge. Obviously, that hasn't been a concern this year, but we stuck to our routine anyway.

In case you're interested, here's a brief plot description (from amazon):
Dr. Marina Singh, a research scientist with a Minnesota pharmaceutical company, is sent to Brazil to track down her former mentor, Dr. Annick Swenson, who seems to have all but disappeared in the Amazon while working on what is destined to be an extremely valuable new drug, the development of which has already cost the company a fortune. Nothing about Marina's assignment is easy: not only does no one know where Dr. Swenson is, but the last person who was sent to find her, Marina's research partner Anders Eckman, died before he could complete his mission. Plagued by trepidation, Marina embarks on an odyssey into the insect-infested jungle in hopes of finding her former mentor as well as answers to several troubling questions about her friend's death, the state of her company's future, and her own past.
Seven of us gathered at 10AM, grabbed a coffee, and sat down to share our thoughts. Six had finished the book and one abandoned it after just ten pages.

We began by discussing the basic believability of the plot. Several of us have worked in healthcare, research, or the pharmaceutical industry and found the basic tenets plausible enough. Many elements, however, did seem far-fetched and one member felt like she was watching a movie as she read. We all agreed the book would make a great movie!

We spent a good deal of time discussing the impact of research on the native population and vegetation, and research ethics in general. We also talked about Marina's relationship with her boss/lover (Why did she keep referring to him as "Mr. Fox"?) and with Dr. Swenson. The title of the book puzzled us. Why State of Wonder? Who really experienced a state of wonder? We never did reach a consensus on that point.

Most of us have read several of Patchett's novels and a few proclaimed this to be there favorite. One member had only read Bel Canto (which she didn't like) and was pleasantly surprised by State of Wonder. I have read all of Patchett's books and still list The Magician's Assistant as my favorite, but consider State of Wonder to be one of her best.

Overall, everyone that finished the book enjoyed it. I liked it slightly more than the others, and think the audio experience may have been responsible.

Next up: A Visit From The Goon Squad by Jennifer Egan. I've been avoiding this book for quite some time and have decided to approach it as a read/listen combination. We'll see how it goes.

Thursday, March 15, 2012

Going, Going...

8 AM Wednesday

4 PM Wednesday

8 AM Thursday

2 PM Thursday


Wednesday, March 14, 2012

"The Empty Family" by Colm Toibin

"I have come back here. I can look out and see the soft sky and the faint line of the horizon and the way the light changes over the sea. It is threatening rain. I can sit on this old high chair that I had shipped from a junk store on Market Street and watch the calmness of the sea against the misting sky."
So begins "The Empty Family", title story in Colm Toibin's latest collection. It's about a homecoming of sorts, but the wistful, contemplative story actually reads more like a letter to an old lover "You must know that I am back here."  After an extended stay in California, the writer has returned to a beloved seaside home in Ireland.  A walk to the strand leads to a chance encounter with his ex's brother and sister-in-law, and an offer to try the telescope they use to watch the sea.
"It came to me that the sea is not a pattern, it is a struggle. Nothing matters against the fact of this. The waves were like people battling out there, full of consciousness and will and destiny and an abiding sense of their own beauty."
I was, as always, struck by the beauty of Toibin's writing and felt myself being carried away by his prose. At this point, the story turned into a meditation on life:
"It [the wave] had an elemental hold; it was something coming towards us as though to save us but it did nothing instead, it withdrew in a shrugging irony, as if to suggest that this is what the world is, and our time in it, all lifted possibility, all complexity and rushing fervour, to end in nothing on a small strand, and go back out to rejoin the empty family from whom we had set out alone with such a brave burst of unknowing energy." 
"And all that I have in the meantime is this house, this light, this freedom, and I will, if I have the courage, spend my time watching the sea, noting its changes and the sounds it makes, studying the horizon, listening to the wind or relishing the calm when there is no wind. I will not fly even in my deepest dreams too close to the sun or too close to the sea. The chance for all of that has passed."
Other stories by this author have had much more in the way of plot but, in this case, the words and language seemed to be enough. I will be curious to see if "The Empty Family" is representative of the entire collection.

Irish Short Story Week, hosted at The Reading Life, runs from March 12-22.

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Tuesday Intro: You Deserve Nothing

24 years old
You live in one place. The next day you live somewhere else. It isn't complicated. You get on a plane. You get off. People are always talking about their home. Their houses. Their neighborhoods. In movies, it's where they came from, where they grew up. The movies are full of that stuff. The street. The block. The diner. Italian movies. Black movies. Jewish movies. Brooklyn or whatever. 
But I never really got that. The streets were never running through my blood. I never loved a house. So, all that nothing-like-home stuff doesn't really register. The way you can be living in one place and then in a few hours you can be living somewhere else, that's what I think about when I think about home. You wake up, do what you do, eat, go to sleep, wake up, eat, Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, Friday, Saturday. The same thing for days, months, years and then, one day, you're no longer there. 
People always say how hard it must be to move from place to place. It isn't.
You Deserve Nothing 
by Alexander Maksik

My iPod is working again, so I was finally able to start another audiobook. You Deserve Nothing is the story of a popular teacher at an International School in Paris who will succumb "to a temptation that will change the course of his life. His fall will render him a criminal in the eyes of some and all too human in the eyes of others." It is told by three narrators, the teacher and two students. Once I began listening, I was hooked within twenty minutes. Now I'm curious to see where the story will go.

Every Tuesday, Diane at Bibliophile by the Sea posts the opening paragraph (sometime two) of a book she decided to read based on the opening paragraph(s). Feel free to grab the banner and play along.

Sunday, March 11, 2012

TSS: Is it Sunday Already?

Good morning. Can it really be Sunday again? Twin B has been on spring break and the week flew by. We spent a lot of time together - shopping, lunch, movies, dog walks (it was in the 60's on Thursday), watching The Big East Basketball Tournament, and yes, even reading. She had two plays assigned over break, while I managed to keep current with Clarissa and read several short stories.

It was a quiet week at Lakeside Musing - no reviews posted and no books completed. It's starting to feel like I haven't finished a book in ages! Clarissa, of course, will take the entire year and The Makioka Sisters is a wonderful book, but a very slow read. I did post about my latest trip to the library and will hopefully tackle those pending reviews this week.

Good news -  my ipod works again! It seems the latest version of iTunes somehow required an extra step to sync, but I'm back in business now and listening to You Deserve Nothing by Alexander Maksik. Thanks for all your suggestions.

My book club met on Friday to discuss State of Wonder by Ann Patchett. I liked it more than most, but will save the details for another post. Up next is A Visit From the Goon Squad by Jennifer Egan, a book I have been avoiding. We'll see how it goes...

Today's plans are still up in the air, but we're hoping to see A Separation at the nearby art cinema. It recently won the oscar for best foreign language film and is only playing for a week, so now is the time! I hope you have a good Sunday... did you remember to turn the clocks ahead?

Friday, March 9, 2012

Fun on Friday

In case you needed another reason to love Jane...

(found on BookRiot's facebook page)

Thursday, March 8, 2012

A Trip to the Library

Although I am thoroughly engrossed in The Makioka Sisters and our yearlong group read of Clarissa, that hasn't stopped me from checking a few books out of the local library. For a small town, we're lucky to have such an excellent branch. If what I'm looking for isn't on the shelf, chances are it can be obtained through interlibrary loan. I've also recently become acquainted with Wowbrary, an email service that sends weekly updates on my library's newest acquisitions - books, movies, and music. I can reserve a book before it even hits the shelves!

Here are the books that came home in my library bag this week. Unfortunately, some may be returned unread, but I can always check them out again later.

And Then There Were None 
by Agatha Christie
I'm finally reading my first Agatha Christie novel! March Mystery Madness provided a little extra motivation to get started and, just a few pages in, I have a feeling I'm going to love it.

The Last Brother 
by Nathacha Appanah
Amy said this book could be a companion piece to The Sense of An Ending (one of my 2011 favorites), so I put in an interlibrary loan request. Luckily it's a short novel, just 164 pages, so there's a chance I may get to read it.

Behind the Beautiful Forevers 
by Katherine Boo
This is a nonfiction title I discovered through Wowbrary, and then spied on the New York Times bestseller list last weekend. Subtitled Life, Death, and Hope in a Mumbai Undercity, I may only get a chance to skim through this one and decide whether to check it out again later.

The Gathering 
by Anne Enright
I  loved Enright's writing in her most recent novel, The Forgotten Waltz, so decided to check out some earlier work. This won the Mann Booker Prize in 2007, but I'm afraid I won't have time to read it right now.

Brunetti's Cookbook
recipes by Roberta Pianaro and Culinary Stories by Donna Leon
Carol wrote about this last month for Venice in February  and I wanted to take a closer look. I've gotten into the habit of giving cookbooks a 'test run' from the library before adding to my collection. I'm making swordfish with savoury breadcrumbs (pesce spada al pangrattato saporito) for dinner tomorrow.

Have you been to the library this week?

Sunday, March 4, 2012

The Sunday Salon: Welcome to March

Good morning and Happy March. Turning the calendar to March is always a relief for me. While it's not really spring, the worst of the winter is usually behind us. Another storm or two could still come our way but, judging from the past few months, I'm not betting on it. March means spring break for the college crowd. My three girls all have different weeks off and I'm looking forward to spending time alone with each of them. Of course, March also means college basketball. The Big East Tournament is coming up this week, and then it's on to the big dance - March Madness!

As for my reading, I seem to have more books in progress than normal. Our yearlong group read of Clarissa has picked up again, I'm slowly making progress on The Makioka Sisters, and also started my first Agatha Christie novel. After just a few pages, I think I'm going to love And Then There Were None. It fits in nicely with Christina's March Mystery Madness, too.

On audio, I finished Trespass by Rose Tremain and immediately started having issues with my iPod. I downloaded You Deserve Nothing by Alexander Maksik, but haven't been able to start listening. Hopefully my daughter can figure out what's wrong, because I really need an audiobook to keep me walking!

Also on the blog this week, I posted an alphabetized February Wrap-Up and shared a chicken pot pie crock pot recipe for Weekend Cooking.

Plans for today include finishing this weekend's Clarissa letters, a long walk, reading more of The Makioka Sisters, and baking a cake to take to dinner. I hope to find something to watch on Netflix Instant this evening... I miss Downton Abbey! How will you spend this first Sunday in March?

Saturday, March 3, 2012

Weekend Cooking: Crock Pot Comfort

Weekend Cooking, hosted at Beth Fish Reads, is open to anyone who has a food-related post to share: Book (novel, nonfiction) reviews, cookbook reviews, movie reviews, recipes, random thoughts, gadgets, fabulous quotations, photographs. If your post is even vaguely foodie, feel free to grab the button and link up over the weekend.

Comfort food. Those two words immediately bring my mother's mashed potatoes to mind, and then maybe the macaroni and cheese served at a New Haven hospital where I used to work. My husband's first thought is always chicken pot pie, but I rarely (okay, never) make my own. The combination of an intriguing crock pot recipe and a cold, snowy, comfort food kind of day inspired me to try.

Make It Fast, Cook It Slow by Stephanie O'Dea has been my favorite crock pot cookbook for the last year, but I've shied away from preparing anything vaguely pastry-related. Trish's recent experimentation was just the encouragement I needed to give this recipe a try.


The Ingredients:


cooking spray
2 uncooked skinless chicken thighs or breast halves, cut in bit-size chunks
1/2 cup chopped carrots
1/2 cup frozen corn
1/2 cup frozen peas
1/2 teaspoon dried marjoram
1/2 teaspoon dried thyme
1/2 teaspoon celery seed
1 teaspoon onion powder
1 (10.75 ounce) can cream-of-something soup
2 tablespoons low-fat milk


2 cups biscuit mix
1/2 tablespoon granulated sugar
8 tablespoons melted butter
3/4 cup milk (2% or lower)

The Directions:

Use a 4 quart slow cooker. Spray the stoneware with cooking spray, and add the chicken. Add the vegetables and seasonings. Stir in the soup and add 2 tablespoons of milk to the can; swish around to get last bits of soup and pour into the crock. Stir well.

In a mixing bowl, make the biscuit topping. The dough will be pretty "play-doughy". Spread the dough on top of the chicken and veggie mixture.

(At this point, I began planning an emergency alternate dinner!)

Cover and cook on low for 6 to 7 hours, or on high for 3 to 4 hours. The potpie is done when the biscuit topping is golden brown, and is hard to the touch in the middle. If you find that your slow cooker seals really well and you have a lot of condensation building up, you can prop open the lid with a wooden spoon or chopstick.

I was shocked this dish turned out so well!

A few notes:

  • I used fat-free cream of chicken soup
  • I misread the recipe and added 1/2 teaspoon instead of 1/2 tablespoon of sugar - it made no difference
  • I cooked it on high for 4 hours, lid propped open with a chopstick for the last 2 hours
  • I used two boneless chicken breast halves
  • I used 1 cup of frozen peas/carrots mixture, plus 1/2 cup of frozen corn

I follow new recipes pretty closely, but the next time (and there will definitely be a next time) I'd add more a little more chicken. I also can't believe this used a whole stick of butter. Any suggestions on how this could be cut down or substituted?

Thursday, March 1, 2012

February was...

Another month of the "winter that wasn't"
Below average snowfall, maybe the least snow ever?
Complaints? Not from me.
Experiencing severe DWS (Downton Withdrawal Syndrome)
Finally saw The Artist
Group read of Clarissa  going strong
Happy 22nd Birthday to Daughter #1
Ian McEwan's The Comfort of Strangers, an uncomfortable read
Just can't decide about Pinterest...
Kicking around ideas for summer travel
Leap Day
Miss Garnet's Angel  by Salley Vickers
Nothing like spending time with an old friend
The Odds by Stewart O'Nan
Planning for Daughter #1's graduation, then her
Quest for a job begins
Running slowly on the treadmill... or am I just walking fast?
Syracuse University Basketball still ranked #2
Trespass by Rose Tremain
Under the weather - sidelined by a sinus infection
Venice in February
When does the NCAA Tournament begin?
eXcitement for March Madness already in the air
You Know When the Men Are Gone by Siobhan Fallon, an outstanding audiobook!
Zelda's paw is almost as good as new

Welcome March... let the Madness begin!


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