Category Archives: Books

4 Ingredients — episode 3

Ah, wondering why I’ve tried another recipe so soon after the last one? I know, it’s out of character but hubby’s away. And while hubby’s away, this wife must cook.

Well, okay, not really — he did leave two meals for me in the freezer. And I admit to ordering in pizza last night. But tonight, those chicken breasts sitting in the fridge gave me the guilts. As in, “if you don’t cook me tonight, you’re throwing good money into the garbage!”

So, don’t get too excited now … I’ve got another (wait for it), yes, CHICKEN recipe for you again! One day I may venture out of the chicken section of my 4 Ingredients cookbook. In fact, after tonight, that day may just come sooner than expected.

Here’s the recipe, exactly how it appears in the book …

Cranberry & Orange Chicken
Serves 4.       Y.u.m.m.y!
4 chicken breasts
1 pkt French onion soup
3/4 cup cranberry sauce
3/4 cup orange juice

I didn’t have the onion soup or the cranberry sauce, so I picked them up this afternoon. I almost decided to cancel the whole exercise when I realized that every package of French onion soup in the grocery store listed MSG on its ingredients. I also heard my husband’s voice in my head saying, “never trust a recipe that lists soup as an ingredient!” But I didn’t listen.

Silly me. Cause it was Y.u.c.k.y! And I think it was all because of the darn onion soup. I ended up scraping off all the topping before serving it up. We did eat it, but only because it didn’t have a speck of the actual recipe left on it.

I may just need to venture farther out than 4 Ingredients to become a half decent cook (and I do have some great suggested learning sources now thanks to the commenters on episode 2!). The promise of cooking with only four ingredients is so compelling though that I think I’ll give at least a meat recipe a shot.

There’s no scoring for this one because we didn’t even eat it. (And Lynn, I’m purposely not listing the instructions this time. I don’t want you to bother!)

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4 Ingredients — episode 2

It’s okay, you’re forgiven for thinking that I’d given up (again!) on the idea of teaching myself how to not suck at cooking.

My first post on this topic sparked comments from readers that reassured me that I am not the only female lacking in such talent. Instead of mocking me, these lovely folks were sympathetic and encouraging.

This propped me back up because despite it being an age of so-called gender equality, people do tend to go on and on about just how lucky I am that my husband cooks for the family. I wonder if my husband’s male friends go on and on about how lucky he is to have a woman that does the dishes every night? 

While my husband has been working his way through the complicated recipes in the latest Food & Drink magazine (and people wonder why I can’t keep weight off), I have worked my way through the 4 Ingredients cookbook.

Okay, so not really. But I did do one more recipe. Sure, it was another chicken recipe, but it was a recipe. And no, it didn’t work out like it was supposed to, but it was edible.

Here’s the recipe I picked:

Chicken with Lemon & Honey
1.  1 chicken, cut into pieces
2.  2 lemons, quartered
3.  2 tbs. honey
4.  2 springs of rosemary

And here’s how it went:

First of all, I didn’t have a whole chicken. This is just too much for a squeamish, former vegetarian. Instead, I used boneless, skinless chicken breasts that magically grow in plastic packages at the supermarket. (I was nervous about this switch but checked with hubby and he assured me the recipe would still work.)

Then the next hiccup was a lack of rosemary springs. So I just pretended that they were not a part of the recipe and went about my business.

The result was a fresh tasting chicken that the whole family deemed enjoyable. My husband did remark on the lack of rosemary, saying he’d been thinking about the delicious combination of it with lemon. I explained I didn’t that we didn’t have any. He explained we had some growing on our deck. Who knew.

The ratings: Hubby gave it an 9/10, Stella gave it an 8/10, and I gave it an 8/10. It’s easy and the mild taste goes down well with the younger set.

The cookbook I’m using for these posts was written by two Australian women. It’s readily available in Australian and in the U.K. since it’s been a huge hit. And here’s why: (1) All recipes have 4 or fewer ingredients, (2) All can be measured in terms of cup, tablespoon and teaspoon, (3) The methodology is explained on average using 4 sentences, and (4) All recipes use ingredients mostly found in your pantry or fridge already. If you’re one of my Canadian or American readers, fear not, you too can get a copy! Here is a link it on Amazon.ca and here is one for Amazon.com

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4 Ingredients

The only thing that Julie from the movie Julie and Julia and I share is a name. I have never lived in New York City (although I certainly would if opportunity afforded it), I am not a newly wed (we’re clocking 13 years over in this corner), and perhaps most critically, I do not enjoy cooking.

I just don’t understand how people love to cook. It’s sort of how I just can’t understand how people love to go running. It’s not that I wouldn’t want to be able to cook and run, it’s just that I find myself facing a lot of failure when I do so. I have tried to acquire both skills and countless occasions.

And I will continue to try. Unlike the ‘movie Julie’, I don’t find cooking to be a way of releasing stress after work. Instead, I find it to be a stress-inducer. This stress is beyond the fact that, for a parent, cooking dinner is often just another chore on a very long list.

For me, cooking = failure, even public ridicule. I’m not even kidding — my parents love to tell a tale of how when my mom asked me to put spaghetti sauce in the pot, I took the sauce and dumped in the wrong pot. Yep, I dumped it in the boiling water. Hardy, har, har.

But, like I said, I’m going to keep trying at this cooking thing. I know I’ll never be a Julia Child, but at least I could pitch-in on this often tedious family chore.

My first step? It’s a cookbook called 4 Ingredients. Hey! Don’t laugh — it’s the number one cookbook in Australia. I picked it up while I was living in Sydney last year and hadn’t really even touched it except for a salad recipe that I used on a girlfriends’ getaway to hide my utter incompetence in the kitchen.

The whole premise of the book is that all its recipes involve only four ingredients, and they’re not weird ingredients that you’d have to hunt down at a specialty food store.

Tonight, I looked in the fridge and we had chicken breasts. Alrighty then … I looked into the “chicken” section of 4 Ingredients and found some possibilities. “Hon,” I said,  “if you want to take Stella to Jiu Jitsu, I’ll do dinner tonight.”

There was a long pause. Then he said, “uh, okay, sure.”

I picked a recipe called “Curry Mayonnaise Chicken.” (By “curry,” they’re referring to British curry, as opposed to Indian curry. It’s not spicy; it’s perfect family fare.) I thought hubby would like this, being Australian and having tastes that veer towards the other side of the pond.

This is it:
1.  6 chicken legs
2.  1/3 cup mayonnaise
3.  3 tsp. curry powder
4.  2 slices wholemeal bread, grated into breadcrumbs
Combine mayonnaise and curry, coat legs with the mixture. Roll in breadcrumbs and bake in a 180 C for 45 minutes or until tender.

Everything was going smoothly until I realized that the timer for the chicken was just about to beep and I hadn’t even starting boiling the potatoes (potatoes and salad were my side dishes). I opened the oven to see how well-done the chicken was. It looked kind of pink.

“Hmmm,” I thought, ” poisoning the family will sure go down in the family ridicule books.” Not good. So I checked the recipe again. It was 180 Celsius notFahrenheit! I was cooking on Fahrenheit, so Mr. Chicken needed a lot more time.

Long story short — no one got poisoned, family was suitably impressed, and hubby has now declared a “Mommy cooks one night a week” event.

So, did they actually like the meal?

Hubby gave it an 8/10. Stella gave it a 9/10. I gave it a 6/10 (I’m not a huge curry fan).

Edited to add: This post is now cross-posted on Blissfully Domestic, in the Blissful Delish section. You can see it here.

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This Audition may be a flop

I can’t say I would have normally picked this off the shelf, but a friend offered me a nice fresh hardcopy version of Barbara Walters’ memoir. Surely, I thought, it would have some tasty bits. How could it not, with such a career?

Walters initially thought of titling her book Sister, since her only sister Jacqueline “was unwittingly the strongest influence in my life.” It’s a tale that many siblings relate to, at least if the virtual shelves of Amazon.com are any indication (search “the normal one” if you’re interested in this subject).

Unlike today, where kinder labels are arguably rife, Jacqueline’s label was “mentally retarded.” I’m not yet half-way through the book yet, but so far, this element in Walters’ life is proving to be the most compelling, so perhaps she really should have called the book Sister.

Instead, she called the book Audition. It is a reference to Walters’ sense that she always had to be auditioning for social acceptance since her father’s career keep them moving from one place, and school, to another.

I feel like I want to finish this book … see if there are any fascinating tidbits shared about her famous political and celebrity interviewees. But I keep stalling. One reason is purely logistical: I only read in bed and the hard cover is heavy for my now-sore carpal tunnel-ridden hand to hold.

The other reason seems to be a bit of stubborn defiance on my part. As in, “I’m not going to read this book on principle.” And that’s because a section of the prologue keeps poking at me the wrong way. I keep wondering … Did she really write that? Did I misunderstand what she was trying to convey? Did I just not “get” it right?

So, my dear blogosphere friends, I am looking to you to give me the answer.

I don’t want to bias you, so I will just provide you with the section as it appears in the book with no following commentary from me.

Before I end this prologue, let me tell you a story. Back in the sixties, when I was appearing daily on NBC’s Today show, I was living on Seventh Avenue and Fifty-seventh Street. My apartment was across from Carnegie Hall and on the corner of a very street. It was also near several large hotels that catered to businessmen. Perhaps because of this, the corner was the gathering place for some of the most attractive “ladies of the evening.” Each morning at five o’clock I would emerge from my building wearing dark glasses, as I hadn’t yet had my makeup done, and I was usually carrying a garment bag. It seemed obvious to the “ladies” that there was some big “number” I had just left. Now, bear in mind that, even then, I wasn’t a spring chicken. But I would emerge and look at the young ladies, some of whom were still teenagers. “Good morning,” I would say. “”Good morning,” they would answer. And then I would get into this long black limosine with its uniformed driver, and we would glide off into the early morning light. And you know what effect all this had on the ladies?

I gave them hope.

Perhaps this book may do that for you.

Edited to add: As of August 31st, this entry is now cross-posted here in the Blissful Buzz section of Blissfully Domestic.

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A movie about blogging

I’ll be the first to admit, I haven’t been out to the movies much in, say, oh … the last seven years. Yes, coincidentally, since I’ve become a parent. So, I might be wrong here, but the movie Julie & Julia was the first movie that I know of with blogging as a central focus.

Even though I couldn’t care less about Julia Child, and cooking in general for that matter, I was excited to see this movie. And that had everything to do with the blogging.

I first became fascinated with blogs when I was on maternity leave with my daughter in 2002. I had gone from running on a non-stop ride of intellectual stimulation as a full-time senior communications advisor who was also finishing up a Master of Arts thesis (yeah, baby, I collected that piece of paper with a very big belly!) to spending my days with a creature (sure, I grant you, an enormously cute creature) who didn’t speak, much less seem interested in discussing literature. So, during nap times, I turned to the internet.

The internet granted me a way to connect with others. The internet was my best friend.

Well, that’s not exactly true. But it was a friend that could meet an erratic feeding schedule, a friend that could comment and share opinions on being a new mother, and a friend that assured me I wasn’t the only one who was knee-deep in culture shock.

The books at Chapters didn’t tell me the real scoop on this new motherhood thing; they were full of rosey tales or sanctimonious pronouncements. The internet, on the other hand, had a wicked sense of humour. And although it seems to be considered an “inferior” form of blogging these days, the mommy-bloggers were a salvation of sorts.

From there, I started lurking around on all sorts of blogs. I loved reading people’s perspectives. Un-edited perspectives.

On blogs, one finds marital spats, frustrated swearing, blissful swearing, dirt and fairy dust. In short, real life. For someone like me who can’t stop reading, blogs are reality tv — but better.   

And just like reality tv, blogs can get messy. Dooce got fired. Raymi the Minx got undressed. And countless others shut themselves down voluntarily to stop the hate mail.

I expected a movie about blogging to step into some of this mud. Afterall, it was the real life story of Julie Powell, who started up a blog in 2002 when she was a newly wed and still searching out a career path.

Julie & Julia does touch on some key topics, like balancing the blog with your other real-life relationships and the fine line between expressing yourself versus invading the privacy of your loved ones. But it didn’t go deep enough for me. Or real enough. Or just enough — maybe I just wanted more.

What did you think?

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Wasted Beauty

Wasted beauty

Like a dog with a bone, I’ve been racing through Eric Bogosian’s three novels and raving about them on this blog. The first one I came across was his most recent, Perforated Heart, while the second one I read was Mall. Sandwiched in between these two, he wrote Wasted Beauty (2005).  

All three novels focus on American culture, and I think it’s safe to say it’s a fairly scathing perspective. Or as Hillary Frey says, “this is the stuff of ugly American living.”

Do you hear a “but” coming? Okay, here it is … But I’m not sure I like all this ugly anymore. I do like “dark.” Dark is delicious. However, I think Wasted Beauty leans more towards “bleak.”

It focuses on two people. Reba, who at the age of 20, is left parent-less, penniless and without hope for the future:

Reba digs out an icy brick from the freezer and runs hot water over the pink and yellow slab of frozen flesh, letting it soften under her thumb. Above her head the rolly-eyed Felix-the-Cat clock swishes his stiff tail, marking time, second by second. The fridge growls just as Frank’s car starts up outside. So that’s that. I will swab the green and dirty-white linoleum tiles, thaw and fry the food, sponge Billy’s [her brother] pubic hairs off the toilet, iron his work shirts. And I will stand behind a counter at the bank all day, just like Mom did. I’ll take my cigarette breaks, a half hour for lunch and all the peppermints I can eat. Maybe someday I’ll grow a few tumors of my own. (p. 6)

A stumbling series of events find her in the big city, and working as a highly successful professional model. Okay, I know you’re thinking, “that sounds like a happy ending.” No, no, I’m afraid we’re heading into very dirty territory here — heroin addiction. An addiction described so well that you can almost feel the heavenly highs, as well as the sickly lows.

Rena’s life ends up intersecting with Rick’s, a doctor going through a major mid-life angst session. He, like Rena, doesn’t hold much hope for the future:

Just get on that old conveyor belt of life, pal, enjoy those golden years and reserve your space in the assisted community (with the attached Alzheimer ward), where you will wander anonymous corridors until you lose your mind completely. Senile and incontinent you will lie in bed day after day after day, a few photos of unrecognizable grandchildren taped to the wall beside you, TV set aflicker, a world spinning on without you. (p. 132) 

I’m 156 pages into Wasted Beauty, and I know I’ll keep on reading until the very last word. I have this gnawing feeling though, one that I didn’t get from the other novels, that all this achingly talented writing (“beauty”) might bring me no where worthwhile (“wasted”).

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MALL

As you might have guessed, I gave up on Edward. He and his little Twilight entourage did nothing for me. I felt bad just dumping him, especially when he was supposed to be so sexy and all. But, hey, c’est la vie. Us middle-aged women don’t have a whole lot of time to waste.

So, I’ve moved on to Eric. As in Eric Bogosian. If you clicked on that link, well, there’s no denying that he’s no pretty boy like Edward. But his mind is deep. And dark. (Plus, there’s always this picture, which is far better.)

Yeah, I did mention dark, didn’t I? Okay, so you’re forewarned. I raved about his most recent book Perforated Heart here. I loved that book so much that I thought I should chase down all his books and gobble them up. He’s well-known for his monologues and plays, but his first novel was MALL, published in 2000.

Mall 
Bits from the inside dust jacket:

An outrageous novel about five suburbanites whose lives intersect in one violent and life-altering night — at the local mall. In this, his first novel, Eric Bogosian delivers a dark, hilarious and biting commentary on an American culture fraught with sex, drugs, violence and congested thinking.

 

Reading this novel was like watching a really well-done suspense film. You want to turn away because you just know something bad is going to happen, but you just have to keep watching to see how it all blows up in the end.

I’m no book reviewer, so I’ll leave you with a summation from John Casey to tempt you into trying out this book:

“MALL is a fast wild ride from Chapter One — big acceleration through all five gears. What makes it a lot more than an action story is the series of swift shrewd psychological sketches of characters who happen to be at the wrong mall at the wrong time. You might think Pulp Fiction and you might think Ben Jonson and you’d be right both times.”

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