Wednesday, November 30, 2016

My Favorite Reads of 2016

I will have read over 70 books before this year comes to an end.  I thought I would list my top ten reads, but when I went back over the list, I settled on the top five.  Not that I didn't enjoy many of the books, just that they were not outstanding and not worth giving a big 'thumbs up'.  So, with no reviews on my part, but links to online reviewers, here are my top five:

1.  Selling Russia's Treasures:  The Soviet Trade in Nationalized Art, 1917-1938
I was disappointed when I visited the Hermitage in St. Petersburg, Russia.  Where was all the great art?  The buildings were incredible, but not the art experience.  When I came home, I happened to read the 2006 book The Madonnas of Leningrad.  That led me to trying tofind out more about the selling of Russian art.  And that search led me to this book.  I borrowed it from the Michigan library service.  It was so fascinating, that I ended up purchasing the book for my collection.  It is fascinating reading and the pictures are superb.  I now want to go back the the National Gallery and see the pictures that once hung in the Hermitage and elsewhere in Russia.  I've already been fortunate enough to see several of the Faberge eggs held in American collections.

2.  Stealing the Mystic Lamb by Noah Charney
Stealing, selling?  What's the difference if it is not yours?  This is another book about art.  Earlier this year I was in Ghent, Belgium.  I was there for one purpose: to see the Ghent Altarpiece in St. Bavo's Cathedral.  Since no photography was allowed, I am using the pic from Wikipedia:

Lamgods open

The story of the stealing, recovery, re-stealing, re-recovery, etc. is just fascinating.  What was more fascinating was the story of how art has been stolen in war for centuries, a story which we are all too familiar with, where even now great works of art are being destroyed in war.

These last three selections are works of fiction by three of my favorite authors.

3.  The Black Widow by Daniel Silva
 If you have never read Daniel Silva, I highly recommend you start at the beginning of his Gabriel Allon series, the stories of an Israeli Mossad agent.  I've heard that Silva may be coming here for a visit next year and I sure hope I am around to see him.

4.  The Wrong Side of Goodbye by Michael Connelly
This is the latest in the Harry Bosch series.  I like Harry almost as much as I like Gabriel.  I am not overly fond of his half-brother, Mickey Haller aka the Lincoln Lawyer, but Mickey helps out in this book.  I love how Connelly has two separate stories going on at the same time and wraps up both of them by the end of the book.  Connelly was here for a visit a few years ago.  Alas, I was out of town.

5.  Home by Harlan Coben
My son introduced me to Harlan Coben years ago with the novel Tell No One (2001).  I was hooked.  I have since read all of his books.  'Home' brings back Myron Bolitar.   Not my favorite kind of 'detective', but he gets the job done and there is always great humor.  It also has some first person narrative by his friend Will and at first I was confused since we have never seen anything from his viewpoint before.  A good read with a  surprise ending (well, I didn't see it coming).

Did you read any outstanding books this year?  Happy reading.

Monday, November 28, 2016

Cyber Monday

It is no big secret that I am not a shopper.  Every week I receive coupons in the mail and online. Most of them end up in the trash.  $5 off.  $10 off.  Free Shipping.  Buy one get one free.  I could go on and on.  The problem is, you have to spend money to save a few dollars, and unless I really need something I am not about to just 'shop'.  And if I do need it, it is just easier to pay the price at the current rate.  At least for me.

Today is 'Cyber Monday'.  I've been getting emails since last week.  Today I was bombarded with them.  I heard on the radio this morning that retailers are expecting a banner year for holiday shopping.  I admit to having done a bit of it myself.  But I never know what to buy, so checks will again be written.  I am not sure if I will even bother to read the emails I have in the inbox.

I admit that I did take advantage of one offer.  I ordered a new Kindle Fire for myself from Amazon.  I 'decommissioned' the first Kindle I had (I can't believe how heavy it is).  The one I am currently using will be loaded just with Charlie's apps.  Mostly about dinosaurs and trains.  He loves doing the puzzles and even tries to do the spelling apps, though I am never sure if he actually knows how to spell the words or was just lucky.

I do know some folks who feel they must use every coupon because they are saving money.  I've seen stories on TV of women who go 'coupon crazy'.  And I had a friend whose husband would stock up on anything and everything if it was on sale.  When he retired and started doing the grocery shopping, it was a real nightmare.

So how about you?  Black Friday shopper?  Shop local shopper?  Cyber Monday shopper?  Or just all around 'I got a coupon or it's on sale shopper?  Or are you like me and only shop when you actually need to buy something?

Friday, November 25, 2016

The Great Turkey Roast

There was a letter to the editor yesterday in the local paper from some guy ranting about the treatment of turkeys and why we should not eat them.  He said he was having a tofurky and that is what we all should be eating.  Well, bully and la-di-dah for him.    Don't come to my house looking for special foods.

Anyway, years ago I made a buttermilk-brined turkey.  I had often soaked my chicken in buttermilk before roasting and I thought the turkey idea sounded great.  And it was.  The recipe was from Williams-Sonoma and that was how I first made it, using their store brine.  Over the years I have dry-brined and wet-brined with various recipes, but my family still likes this buttermilk brine the best.  So, this year I used the basic recipe with my own tweaks and we enjoyed a great turkey dinner, if rather exhausting for the cook, lol.  I added the cheesecloth vest for the breast and it turned out really well.  Here is a pic of the bird and the recipe (not great, but there was so much steam and I had to shoot the pic before the carver got his hands on the bird) .

Turkey Brine (ingredients stolen from Martha Stewart.  No, do not steal the ingredients, just steal the recipe.  If you are not like me and do not have a pantry full of these seeds, just buy the brine mix at Williams-Sonoma and use 1 1/2 cups of it.  Or just used coarse salt and forget the seasonings.)

1 1/2 cups coarse salt
6 bay leaves
2 tablespoons whole coriander seeds
1 tablespoon dried juniper berries
2 tablespoons whole black peppercorns
1 tablespoon fennel seeds
1 teaspoon black or brown mustard seeds
Dissolve above in 2 quarts cold water, heat to a simmer and then cool.  When cool, mix with one gallon buttermilk.
Turkey prep:  The brine is enough for up to a 15 pound turkey.  You pretty much want the turkey submerged in the brine.  You will also need a brining bad or an extra-large Ziploc bag to hold the brine and the turkey.  You also need room in the refrigerator, or, if you have a large cooler you can keep below 40 degrees for 24-36 hours, you can use that.  
Buy a fresh 12-15 pound turkey (I prefer fresh Amish which are readily available around here) or a frozen turkey - not Kosher or already treated - and have it rinsed and ready to brine.  You can use the neck and giblets for gravy making or you can toss them out.  Just remember to remove them from the bird.  My Dad's sister never lived down her first turkey attempt when she left everything in the bird.  We heard about it every year.

Now, I highly suggest a helper to get this together, but since I do not have one, I am fortunate that I can lift a 15 pound bird and 12 pounds of liquid at the same time.  You need to put the bird in the brining bag, pour in the buttermilk brine, squeeze the air out of the bag, and seal it up tight.  Place it in a large container in the fridge (I set mine in the bottom meat drawer) or in your cooler.  Leave it for 24-36 hours.

At the end of your brining time, remove the bird and throw out the brine.  Rinse the bird thoroughly and dry with paper towels - the turkey shower.  Place the turkey on a rack in a roasting pan and let sit on the counter for one hour.  You want the turkey skin to dry out.  As for food safety, my bird only reached 44 degrees in temp before going in the oven.

Place your oven rack near the bottom of the oven.  If you have a pizza stone, I highly recommend that you put it on the rack.  It will transfer heat to the bottom of your pan very efficiently.  Preheat your oven to 400 degrees.

Add roughly chopped carrots, onion, celery, parsley to the open cavities of the bird.  Be sure the legs are trussed.  

Soak a piece of cheesecloth, four layers, roughly a 12" x 8" piece, in six tablespoons of melted butter.  Lay it over the breast meat.

Place the turkey in the oven and roast for 30 minutes.  Decrease the oven temperature to 325 degrees and continue roasting for 3 - 3 1/2 hours until the turkey has a temperature of  170 degrees in the thickest part of the thigh.  My oven has a probe feature, but you can also purchase remote probes that work outside the oven.  Just be sure to insert the probe into the thickest part of the thigh away from bone before you put the bird in the oven.  If you have neither, start checking the temperature of the bird after 2 1/2 hours of total cooking.  DO NOT rely on the pop-up timer that came with the bird unless you enjoy dry turkey. Remember, every time you open that oven door, heat escapes, which is probably why some bloggers complain that it took forever for their turkey to cook. 

When your turkey is done, remove it from the oven, remove the cheesecloth, cover with aluminum foil and let rest for at least 30 minutes before carving.  

And this pic is for the guy who complained about eating turkey:
Some of them just get to roam free.

Any questions?