Monday, January 31, 2011

Dessert Options

After making a batch of horrendously unhealthy Special K bars (not part of the Special K diet plan!) and having hypoglycemic attacks in the middle of the night, I decided I needed an alternative dessert on the healthier side. I found a can of pumpkin in my pantry, cobbled together a few recipes (including a diabetic one), and then just added some of my own stuff to create a pumpkin pie that turned out to be light, creamy, moist, and flavorful. Little Ben is wild for it. Every night he asks for pumpkin pie and gets a slice. Honestly, I consider it a vegetable, and it's the only way I can get any citrus into him. Now if I could just find a way to make myself forget there are choco-PB bars in the house as well....

My Pumpkin Pie

Make a basic 9-inch pie crust and put it in the pie plate. I actually made one out of wheat flour, which is fine, but I'll go back to white flour next time because I prefer its texture.

15 oz can of pumpkin
1/3 c granulated sugar
2 Tbsp real maple syrup
1.5 tsp pumpkin pie spice (or a mixture of cinnamon, nutmeg, cloves, and ginger)
2 beaten eggs (I reserved about a tsp of this for brushing on the crust's edge.)
1 tsp vanilla
1/2 c skim milk
zest of one tangerine or orange
1/4 c tangerine or orange juice

Mix it all together well and pour it into the pie crust. Bake at 400 degrees for 10 minutes and then reduce heat to 350 until center is set (45 minutes to an hour).

Heyer Mysteries

I have read so many Heyer mysteries since my last post that I've lost count, but I'm going to get it together and make a list right here. I have developed a pretty serious addiction (akin to my weaknesses for Afrin or these damn things), and I'd start reading another one right away if I had one at home. I don't, and I'm enjoying the first few chapters of Terry Pratchett's Bromeliad Trilogy, but I'm experiencing Heyer mystery withdrawal (which no amount of tea seems to assuage).

I seem to have read these in pretty much the right order, going through the three Hannasyde stories and continuing on to the Hemingway stories. Hemingway is Hannasyde's subordinate in the early ones and later becomes a superbly enjoyable Chief Investigator with charm, pointed wit, and a stellar memory. (I told Ickie I enjoy it as much as in Foyle's War when the investigator bluntly informs a suspect that he knows he's lying to him.) Also, some of the romantic plots will be given away if you don't read in the order below.

Why Shoot a Butler?
Footsteps in the Dark (Funny, but ended up being my least favorite of all of these, and not really a typical mystery, in my opinion.)
Death in the Stocks (The sibling suspects in this book have some of the most hilarious dialogue I've ever read. I laughed out loud multiple times.)
Behold, Here's Poison (My favorite character in this one, Randall, is described perfectly as an "amiable snake." I need more Randall. Next to Hemingway, he's probably my favorite character in Heyer's novels thus far, and that is saying A LOT.)
They Found Him Dead (The pacing here is a bit iffy, but Hemingway starts to really show his stuff, and we're introduced to Terrible Timothy, who is just adorable.)
Duplicate Death (Terrible Timothy and his half brother return, and Hemingway is now the Chief Inspector. The characters were a bit less flamboyant, but it is still a diverting read. I found it very funny when Hemingway's subordinate annoys him by slipping into Gaelic.)
No Wind of Blame (The explanation of the murder wasn't altogether convincing, but the melodramatic scenes of Mrs. Carter and her daughter are an absolute scream.)
Detection Unlimited (Just finished this last night. I often guess who the murderer is in Heyer's mysteries, but I was clueless here until the end, and I appreciate that. There are many hilarious moments, and Hemingway is in rare form. I love that several older ladies agree that it is so nice that a murder occurred so the young people have something to entertain them while they are staying in the country. That just goes to show you how lighthearted a murder mystery can be.)

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Mysteries of One Kind, and Another

I've been reading lots of Georgette Heyer books these days. Never heard of her? She's a mid-20th-century British author, and although she's mostly famous for her Regency romances, she wrote excellent mystery novels as well. I read Black Sheep, a romance, first, which was a good bit of fun: Think Jane Austen that has a modernized mindset and is more lighthearted comedy than social satire. Then I read Why Shoot A Butler?, which I absolutely loved. It's a good enough plot (I never have a clue who the guilty party is, so I'm not an expert), but the sarcastic protagonist, witty dialog, and memorable characters are what really makes it worthwhile. It reminds me of Wodehouse, especially the clever butler and the Bingo Little facsimile. I've never been big on mysteries. I've read a couple by Agatha Christie and Dorothy Sayers, and I can't understand why Heyer isn't more famous. I've requested several more from our library and am currently enjoying Footsteps in the Dark, a comedy of errors/mystery set in an old country house in England, of course!

Since it's Advent, I also read Connie Willis's Miracle and Other Christmas Stories. While it's not her strongest work, I really enjoyed all of the short stories, including stories about a choir member sheltering a homeless man and his pregnant wife in the church nursery, an unpleasant man trapped in a busy toy store at Christmastime, and an interesting new role for the Christmas Carol ghosts. The very short story Pony (the name says it all) cracked me up. However, I think Willis's introduction was most resonant for me. I told Chris afterwards that it was better than any Midnight Mass homilies I've heard. She's just talking about why she likes Miracle on 34th Street and A Christmas Carol, but her comments get to the heart of the matter.

"Christmas is supposed to be based on selflessness and innocence, but until the very end of Miracle on 34th Street, virtually no one except Kris Kringle exhibits these qualities....But in spite of this (actually, in a delicious irony, because of it) and with only very faint glimmerings of humanity from the principals, and in spite of how hopeless it all seems, the miracle of Christmas occurs, right on schedule. Just as it does every year."

"Remembering the past, truly seeing the present, imagining the consequences of our actions are the ways we actually grow and change. Dickens knew this years before Freud....
...the story touches us because we want to believe people can change. They don't. We've all learned from bitter experience (though probably not as bitter as Dickens's) that the world is full of money-grubbers and curtain-ring stealers, that Scrooge stays Scrooge to the bitter end, and nobody will lift a finger to help Tiny Tim.
But Christmas is about someone who believed, in spite of overwhelming evidence, that humanity is capable of change and worth redeeming. And Dickens's Christmas story is in fact the Christmas Story. And the hardened heart that cracks open at the end of it is our own."

Saturday, November 13, 2010

It All Comes Back to St. Paul's

I've taken a while to post about Connie Willis's two-volume series, Blackout and All Clear, because I'm so full of thoughts on the books, but I can say very little about books' ideas without giving away much of the plot. Suffice it to say, I absolutely love the duo. The past few days I've spent in a state of inspiration and mourning: the conclusion filled me with hope, and yet I'm sorry I am no longer reading it. I actually reread the last couple of pages of the book multiple times because they were so lovely.

Set in the Oxford time-traveling universe, this series follows three historians to England during the Blitz. Daily life in London and Bletchley Park, the evacuation at Dunkirk, and service in an ambulance corps felt particularly realistic. Willis mentions the time she spent interviewing a group of women in England who served in different capacities during World War II, and if I were one of them, I'd be pleased to the point of tears that these books were inspired by their lives. I've read and watched many stories set in England, Europe, and America during WWII, but this is the one that best conveys that extraordinary manner in which ALL of England went to war, and every man, woman, and child did their bit.

Again Willis touches on chaos theory and divine providence, intertwining historical fact, science fiction, and poetry. The relationships amongst the characters are deep and heart-wrenching. The conclusion is close to perfect.

I strongly suggest reading Doomsday Book prior to this series, as it is helpful to already know the characters of Mr. Dunworthy and Colin Templar when Blackout begins, and it's even more important that you read Willis's short story Fire Watch beforehand. There's a reference or two to To Say Nothing of the Dog as well, but it's not essential to have read that one already (although it's enjoyable to see a repetition of the themes from TSNofD, albeit with far more gravity).

Sunday, November 7, 2010


Scott Westerfeld's Behemoth, the second installment in his steampunk trilogy, was just as much fun as Leviathan. Like the first volume, the highlights are the detailed drawings of the fascinating contraptions and beasties. The plot is engrossing, the locations exotic. As with the first volume, I appreciated that the book is a well-rounded story in its own right instead of simply being an episode in a series with a cliffhanger ending. Certainly, there is more story to tell, and I look forward to reading it, but this chapter of the story came together in the end in a satisfying manner.

That said, I have decided that characters aren't Westerfeld's strong point. Although the characters in this story are interesting and elicit an emotional reaction from the reader, the only one with much complexity is Deryn/Dylan, the British girl disguised as a midshipman. Periodically, Deryn's slang is so reminiscent of a cocky, young midshipman from a Hornblower novel that I'd forget she was a teenage girl. Her outer confidence and leadership is nicely contrasted with her inner turmoil and secrets. I wish Westerfeld was able to provide a bit more depth to Alek, the Austrian prince on the run. Perhaps he will succeed in doing so in volume three.

My only other criticism is that for some inexplicable reason, they commissioned someone other than Keith Thompson (who did the brilliant interior illustrations, especially the map of Europe in Leviathan) to create the cover art. The cover art for Leviathan was perfect--a mass of interlocking gears. Who approved this cheesy photo of an aviator on Behemoth's cover? Boo.

Monday, October 25, 2010

Mr. Pratchett

I had a hankering for rereading some of my Terry Pratchett favorites lately, and last week I carried Lords and Ladies into my doctor's office. It turns out, my doctor is also a big fan of Mr. Pratchett's novels. He told me that a fourth book just came out in the Tiffany Aching YA series, titled I Shall Wear Midnight. You can imagine my excitement!

I Shall Wear Midnight was just as enjoyable as the first three Tiffany Aching stories. I appreciate that Mr. Pratchett's style is rather different in writing juvenile literature--the prose is less dense and a bit less witty, although the writing is still intelligent and the jokes, though more obvious, still funny. Mr. Pratchett is so adept at pleasing his audience, albeit pleasing us with deeper humor, ideas, and creativity than the average "formulaic" crowd-pleaser. Midnight contains everything I like in a good book: a smart and resourceful protagonist, secondary characters who grow more complex as we get to know them, a really REALLY scary bad guy ("The Cunning Man"--isn't that wicked sounding?), convincing love interests, a gang-getting-back-together moment, an exciting showdown, and a satisfying conclusion with a cheering crowd (including little blue men drunkenly shouting "CRIVENS!").

My doctor also informed me that Mr. Pratchett was diagnosed with Alzheimer's a few years ago--it's very early onset, as he began showing signs in his late 50s. We mulled over what a tragic loss such a mind as his will be. It's doubly impressive that Midnight was published after his diagnosis. Mr. Pratchett has made the absolute most of his talent with his scads of books (an average of 2 books a year since 1983!!) that are beloved by so many, especially me.

Here is a partly funny, partly sad speech Mr. Pratchett gave about his Alzheimer's in 2008.