Month: June 2012

Garlic Scapes on Instagram

Garlic Scapes from my little plot. I only grew garlic this year as an experiment. I planted eight plants, but a squirrel took four of the bulbs and one died probably because of the spearmint (which you can see in the background).

I picked the scapes a bit late because most people recommend that you harvest them before they loop like I have. Oh well, they still tasted great!

This recipe is a good template for pesto in general. I used my frozen basil from last year because I didn’t have enough scapes, but it worked out really well. I just heated it lightly in a dry pan to melt some of the ice.

Garlic Scape Pesto
Adapted from Serious Eats


1/4 cup pine nuts or walnuts
3/4 cup coarsely chopped garlic scapes*
Juice and zest of 1/2 lemon
1/2 teaspoon salt
A few generous grinds of black pepper
1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil
1/4 cup grated Parmigiano Reggiano cheese
*Or use half scapes and half herbs such as basil, dill and chervil

1. In a small, dry pan set over very low heat, lightly toast the pine nuts, stirring or tossing occasionally until just beginning to brown, about 2-3 minutes. Remove from the heat and let cool for a few minutes.

2. Combine the scapes, pine nuts, lemon juice and zest, salt, and pepper in the bowl of a food processor fitted with the blade attachment. Pulse about 20 times, until fairly well combined. Pour in the olive oil slowly through the feed tube while the motor is running. When the oil is incorporated, transfer the pesto to a bowl and stir in the grated cheese. If you plan to freeze the pesto, wait to add the cheese until after you’ve defrosted it.

Paris Cardigan

Even though I started Girasole before this, I wanted to participate in a Veera KAL in the Sweater Odyssey group on Ravelry. I have wanted to make this ever since I saw it on Veera’s projects, but I did not know it would be so big and use so much yarn. I ran out of yarn so the sleeves are shorter and tighter, but more notably, the right panel is over 4″ shorter than the front. It works out in that two of the front panels would be hot. I just throw the left over the right and can pin it with a shawl or kilt pin.

Paris Cardigan

I am not crazy about this cardigan. It disappointed me especially when I liked it so much, but I must say the colour of the cardigan is lovely! It is baby alpaca that I got on sale for this project too.

Paris Cardigan

Paris, started May 25th 2012, Bound off June 25th 2012. Ravelry Project Page
Pattern: Paris by Veera Välimäki Ravelry Pattern Page
Yarn: Inca Gold Baby Alpaca by Susan Andrew Collection – 6 balls – 1200yards/1100m.
Needles: #4/3.5mm long circular
Modifications: I did the sleeves before finishing the right front. I decreased two stitches the sleeves every five rows to make them around 50 sts (I can’t remember). Sleeves were knit to 9″ in total. Did not sew pockets.
Tools/Notions: N/A
Cost of Project: Yarn was on sale, cost around $34.
Would I knit it again? No.

On BTT this week:

Who taught you to read?

I can’t remember the exact teacher. Also, English is not my first language. When I did begin to learn English, a number of elementary teachers probably contributed. I had to take an ESL course though and for a long time, I took that class and post-ESL course with a woman named Mrs. Ritzel (I can’t remember if that is how to spell her name). We did a lot of reading in that class, and she really helped with my love of vocabulary and diction.

It has been awhile since I did a survey meme. I really like them. I’ve been seen this one going around. Feel free to suggest more questions.

Do you snack while you read? If so, favourite reading snack:

I don’t really eat while reading. I like to concentrate on food when I am eating it and same with books. I find it a bit distracting if I do them together. I can only do it in small doses and with something small like grapes.

What is your favourite drink while reading?

Water or tea. Those are just my standard drinks for everything!

Do you tend to mark your books as you read, or does the idea of writing in books horrify you?

It does horrify me a bit. I find it distracting. It bothers me too when I get a library book or buy a used book where people have highlighted. I once got a library book wherein someone highlighted the grammar and spelling errors in the book and even made a comment about how badly edited it was. While that may be true, do you really need to mark so much in a public good?

How do you keep your place while reading a book? Bookmark? Dog-ears? Laying the book flat open?

Bookmarks! I usually get my bookmarks at the library or book store so nothing special. My best friend is an artist and made me a set as well. I also have a couple as gifts. I don’t dog ear or lay my books flat because I want books to last.

Fiction, non-fiction, or both?

I like both, but I probably only read 10-15% nonfiction (less than a quarter of total reading) every year. I wish I read more nonfiction, but I have a lot of novels and I read them faster for more quick gratification. Nonfiction books I enjoy are histories, crafting, travel, cookbooks, memoirs and a wide range of topics.

Are you a person who tends to read to the end of a chapter, or can you stop anywhere?

I try to stop at the end of chapters, but most times, I just stop anywhere.

Are you the type of person to throw a book across the room or on the floor if the author irritates you?

No, since I read a lot of library books and even if I own them, someone else could read and enjoy it one day. I do remember a couple books that made me want to do this. One was Mists of Avalon by Marion Zimmer Bradley. I have tried finishing that book TWICE, but I couldn’t do it.
I know she has a lot of fans, but the writing really grated on me as it was very redundant. Another book was Wuthering Heights by Emily Bronte. I know many people who love this book, and it’s not the most awful thing in the world, but I couldn’t stand any of the characters. I wanted to throw Cathy across the room more than anything.

If you come across an unfamiliar word, do you stop and look it up right away?

Not always. I try to do it as much as I can, but it does interrupt the flow of reading. I do like the Kindle because of this reason since it has the built in dictionary.

What are you currently reading?

As of this writing, I’m in between books, but the next one will probably be another Georgette Heyer or a book for the Classics Club.

What is the last book you bought?

I bought 28 books this month! You can see that in the Used Books Haul post from last week.

Do you have a favourite time/place to read?

I just read on a chair by a desk usually. I have a workstation wherever I am so that includes me a chair, a desk, and my laptop where I often log my thoughts on books for the reviews.

Do you prefer series books or stand alones?

Most books are stand alones. I like series too. I actually have a tendency to want to finish the series or read the sequel if I found the first book ok. I don’t need to love a book to read the rest of the series though it helps. There are times when I read a book, liked it and looked into the sequel and decided not to read the rest. For example I loved Pearl S. Buck’s The Good Earth, but I won’t read the sequel because it won’t have any of the characters I like in it. I grow attached to the characters so most of the reason I continue reading a series is to find out what happened to them.

Is there a specific book or author you find yourself recommending over and over?

Not particularly because most of my friends aren’t bookworms like me. Even when they read regularly, I only recommend a book based on what they want and like which is different from each person.

How do you organize your books? (by genre, title, author’s last name, etc.)

I don’t have a lot of storage space for books. I actually had to clear out some of my read books when I bought the new ones this month. Most of my books are fiction, but for the nonfiction books such as my knitting books and my cookbooks, I store by themselves. So first by genre, but generally, I don’t have a system. I also store the fiction in likelihood of when I will read them.

That’s it for the quiz, but one a couple of other notes on my reading habits:

Since 2001, I have kept a monthly log of every book I’ve read. You can check that out here. I just like keeping lists. It is also very handy to remind me what I have read and how many books I read over the years.

I read books in as few readings as possible. I like to immerse myself into books. This is why I will often finish a standard novel (say less than 400 pages?) in a day (where I don’t work or have many other obligations). You can tell by my reviews for this year since I am starting to note when I start and finish a book. Similarly, I do not have more than one book on the go. Some books should and need to be spread out, but I like to finish books relatively quick after I start them. I am also a fairly fast reader especially of fiction so this works out. It feels like I am on a journey with the characters and the plot of the book so I want to see how that journey evolves.

The Tiger's Wife by Téa Obreht

While this novel’s protagonist is a young Doctor in the post-conflict Balkans, most of the book is not exactly about her so much as it is about her grandfather.

The novel does have themes of war and being a physician. The focus of it is the folklore and mythology. I’ve never been to the Balkans, but I read a nonfiction piece a few months ago about it. That piece and this book have such a similar tone. That region evokes a lot of superstition and folkloric style storytelling.

It was inspired by The Jungle Book, there are definite elements of myth and animal storytelling here. I think the novel is very well written. It reminded me of the works of Neil Gaiman. I like this kind of storytelling where there is exploration of old stories, culture, and weaving it into one’s own identity.

The ending of the book left me wanting for more though, and I think she could have elaborated on the meeting that takes place and still been mysterious.

This was an enjoyable and light read which I would recommend to those who enjoy mythic and old fashion storytelling.

Read June 24th 2012

Sunday Salon

Hello, Sunday! I am a bit exhausted because I went on a day trip yesterday, but walked a lot. So I am looking forward to taking it easy with a book today.

I read three books this week: The Mill on the Floss by George Eliot (great), The Grand Sophy by Georgette Heyer (wonderful), and April Lady by Georgetter (meh). You can find the reviews for the first two, but I think I will put the April Lady in a combined Heyer review if only because I am reading so many of her novels now and I don’t have much to say about some of them to warrant one post each.

Today, I am going to try to read The Tiger’s Wife by Tea Orbreht.

There was a heatwave this week so I wanted to read lighter books, but I still want to read more for Classics Club and the Victorian Reading Challenge. I think the next book up for that is the The Portrait of a Lady by Henry James. This will be my first Henry James and I’ve had the novel for a few years now.

In other news, I watched a few movies this week, and I’m eager to finish this cardigan for a knitalong before next weekend. Hopefully I can knit a bit today. I will be starting a new job probably the week after this one so must get as much leisure time in.

Have a good week, everyone!

The Grand Sophy by Georgette Heyer

After being bored with Friday’s Child, I adored this Heyer novel. I think The Grand Sophy is one of my favourite Heyer novels. Sophy is, in modern vocabulary, a badass.

If only there was a sequel to this novel. I adored most of the characters and the ones I didn’t like, I enjoyed when Sophy put them to their place. She is such a fun and over the top character, but great to read. The romance in it is classic antagonism, but very fun as well. There is a lot of chemistry with the main pairing. I only wish we could have seen more from their lives and the reactions of everyone because the ending of the novel is tidy.

Also, there was an abduction in this novel, but it was wonderful and the best one of Heyer’s that I’ve read so far.

All in all, a fun Heyer regency romance with mischief an antics a plenty from one of her best heroines.

Read June 20-21, 2012.

Ricotta Gnocchi

This was my first time making gnocchi and it was delicious! They don’t look neat and tidy, but man, did they taste good. They were also was very easy. I had only 200g of ricotta so I basically multiplied all the ingredients by 80% and used a small egg yolk instead of a standard large. It was seriously rich, but oh so good. I messed up on the browned butter sauce, but it was still good.

Just a reminder about food posts. I do not bake or cook as often as I use to, but I still like it a lot. The blog posts are a way for me to evaluate recipes and techniques for future reference.

Onto the yummy stuff.

Quick Ricotta gnocchi
From Delicious Days.

Ingredients (for 2):

250 g Ricotta
1 egg yolk (M-L)
1/4-1/2 tsp fine sea salt
30 g Parmigiano (or Pecorino), freshly grated
50-75 g all-purpose flour, extra for dusting the dough/board
serve with tomato sauce or any kind of pesto

50g of butter
A few sage leaves (5-6?)

1. Discard any excess liquid that the Ricotta’s packaging may contain, then add Ricotta cheese, egg yolk, salt and freshly grated Parmigiano into a large bowl. Mix well with a wooden or regular spoon. Now add the flour and stir in briefly, just until combined – the dough will still be quite sticky. (Of course you can add more flour at this point, but keep in mind, that the more flour you use, the denser the gnocchi become in the end. And you want them to be as light & fluffy as possible, with a velvet-like texture.)

2. Forming these gnocchi is the slightly tricky step, this is the technique that works best for me: Generously flour a board, take a big tablespoon of the dough and scoop it onto the board. It gets dusted with flour (dust your hands generously, too!), before rolling it into a finger-thick roll. Cut it into little pillows (stick the knife’s blade into the flour to prevent it from sticking to the dough). Then place each gnoccho on a floured board or parchment paper lined baking tray. Continue quickly with the next step, otherwise they will get soggy and stick to the paper/board anyway.

3. Meanwhile bring a large pot of water to a boil, add a generous pinch of salt and reduce heat until the water bubbles lightly. Add the gnocchi and stir once, so they don’t stick to the bottom – then let cook until they start floating on top. Depending on their size this may take 2 to 4 minutes. Take out with a skimmer and serve with a sauce or pesto of your choice.

Browned sage butter: Wash and pat dry the fresh sage leaves, then stack and cut them into thin chiffonade. Meanwhile melt the butter in a pan over low to medium heat, add the sage chiffonade and sauté until the sage has become crisp and the butter has gained a golden brown hue and nutty flavor (but don’t let it burn!). Spoon over the gnocchi and add some freshly ground black pepper, grated parmesan.

More notes: I put the gnoccho in the freezer after I made them since I didn’t eat them right away. I am aware you can freeze gnoccho quickly after rolling and cutting them out. I also tried to form them on the fork, but that was too time consuming and uglifying. The pillows are fine by me.

On BTT this week:

Do you have a favorite quote from a book?

I have many favourite quotations! I like books for their prose and poetry. I even have a little book of quotations that I collect. Most of my favourite books and series have a few quotations (Shakespeare, Harry Potter, His Dark Materials, works of Jane Austen, and so on). Here are a couple I have from my booklet at random:

“Sometimes you wake. Sometimes the fall kills you. And sometimes, when you fall, you fly.” — Neil Gaiman, The Sandman series.

“To thine own self be true!” — William Shakespeare, Hamlet.

“Do I contradic myself? Very well then I contradit myself, I am large, I contain multitudes.” — Walt Whitman

“Death destroys a man; the idea of Death saves him.” — E. M. Forster, Howards End.

“I wanted you to see what real courage is, instead of getting the idea that courage us a man with a gun in his hand. It’s when you know you’re licked before you begin but you begin anyway and you see it through no matter what.” — Harper Lee, To Kill a Mockingbird.

This may not be a surprise to anyone, but I like to buy books! I like book fairs, book sales and of course, book stores. I’ve been very good and didn’t go to any book fair or buy any used books in 2011. Though, I did buy three discounted new cookbooks on Boxing Day.

Now that I’m book blogging again, it is even harder to avoid the allure of book sales. I went to two book fairs recently. Honestly, used book sales are great and you can find a lot of books in great condition. Sometimes I find books which I suspect the owners hadn’t even read. It’s a great way to find books I haven’t read but want to try out in the future. I prefer to buy fiction and cookbooks since you can’t ever have enough of either.

Continue reading →

The Mill on the Floss by George Eliot

My first George Eliot novel. There has been one main reason why I haven’t read The Mill on the Floss yet. I saw most of the 1998 film adaptation starring Emily Watson some years ago. That was how I discovered this book; I had heard of Middlemarch, but not of this work until I saw the film. The plot stayed with me because I was perplexed by the ending so much I had to read literary criticism on it afterwards to understand it.

There are elements of tragedy in this novel. This is a coming of age novel at its core. It depicts both Tom and Maggie Tulliver through their childhoods, adolescence and adulthood through tragedy and hardships. The novel was published in 1860, but is set in the 1820s right after the ascension of the Prince Regent to George IV as King. The storytelling, mode and feeling is traditional and rural, but also Victorian in the way the people are changing. There is an unusual narration technique. The narrator is introduced as first person, but they are omniscient and not a character in the story. They act more like a third person narrator, but once in awhile, the author uses an “I” which reminds you that this is someone recounting a story.

From the beginning, Maggie is a girl that everyone except her father thinks must be kept in check. She adulates her brother, and they are close. Tom cares for her deeply and as children, they share the dream of living together happily. But oddly enough, he also thinks that when they live together, he needs to “punish her when she did wrong.” There is this cold, self-righteous aspect about Tom throughout the novel and how it contrasts to Maggie.

Maggie’s insatiable need to be loved and admired is the cause and result of many conflicts in the novel. This is something that the movie couldn’t display really that way and Eliot’s psychological insight gives.Maggie’s not wrong in this, and her love seems altruistic in a way. She really wants others to be happy and not hurt. It is also destructive though because she is very passionate and sensitive.

I liked most of Maggie’s scenes. Eliot is very good at setting the emotional tones of scenes, the awkwardness and the tensions. It’s wholly realistic. Most of the characters in the novel are not wholly good or bad. They have reasons for their actions however the reader may disagree or dislike it.

I got a sense that Eliot really knows her characters, especially Tom. He seems very consistent in the story. He grows up, he learns a few things, but like many people, there is a core person to him. For example, he remains very black and white, proud, and attuned to his own sense of justice. There are times when I or Maggie were annoyed with Tom, but then he would do something to make it right to her and all be in character. Also, many of the characters seem to be perceptive and the narrator describes their observations acutely e.g. Philip observing Stephen and Maggie.

While there is realism in the novel, there is the often occurring juxtaposition of Victorian dramas to put the realistic things with the dramatic. For example, Mr Tulliver’s revenge and feelings about Mr Wakem. Another example is Stephen’s feelings for Maggie and his sense of rejection and passion. They border slightly into the melodramatic in modern terms.

There are lots of moments in this novel where it feels life is slowed down and it’s introspective or reflective, but when it gets dramatic, it really is. The dialogue and insults are very sharp. The confrontational scenes are rather gripping.

While the novel is a coming of age story, I also feel it is very circuitous. Maggie and Tom’s relationship go through the same rhythms over and over until the end of the novel. While I feel both of them have endured and learned a lot from their hardships and tragedies through the novel, what they feel for each other and their own personalities do not really change all that much. It makes the ending understandable because Maggie’s only true love is that for Tom. It’s at least consistent. They come full circle by the end.

I also think the novel does a good job of discussing how romance and love is often a product of one’s own projection. What Maggie feels for Philip, Stephen, and even Tom is based off her own need and psychology. Similarly, these men project onto Maggie. Philip is also needy for affection. Stephen desires passion, rebellion, and romance. Tom sees Maggie as what he isn’t, but he loves Maggie the most in some ways because he knows her best. I think Philip was the most compatible to Maggie, but her affection for him isn’t romantic love.

I am glad to have finally read this book, and while it started off rather slow, I liked it in parts. Eliot is a meticulous writing who knows her characters so I look forward to reading more of her works.

Read June 13-17th 2012.

Sunday Salon

Happy Father’s Day! We had family time yesterday and now my dad wants to take his own day trip. Ha. I do a bit of solo travel too so I guess I take that away from him.

In reading news, I went to a book fair yesterday and got 19 books. I will make a post about all the book fair books I got in the last two weeks for tomorrow or Tuesday.

This week, I finished reading two books: Tess of the Urbervilles by Thomas Hardy and Friday’s Child by Georgette Heyer.

I started The Mill on the FLoss by George Eliot. My first of her works so it’s a long time coming especially with this book, but I’ll tackle that in the review. I will read most of it today which means I will probably finish it by the end of the day.

I could have read more this past week, but it’s been an unusually social and busy week for me. Also, in a weird turn of events, I have taken two jobs in the last week after a long drought without any work. I don’t know how it will affect my reading, but I hope not too much. I like to reserve Sundays for at least one book a week.

Has everyone planned their summer reading? I’ll keep with the classics for this summer I think.