Thursday, June 25, 2015

Recently-tried recipes (with short reviews!)

The constant dinner-making is more fun when I try new things. Here are a few I've tried lately:

-Southwestern Eggrolls: I liked this one - made it more than once - but the was a tiny bit too hard (too crispy?) on the outside, I think because it was baked rather than fried. Probably an okay trade-off for the calories. Still absolutely delicious.

-Fish Taco Bowls - simple, but good.

-Fruit Dip - this was really, really good. Not that you need an excuse to eat fresh fruit, but if you did, this would serve the purpose nicely.

-The Lazy Cheese and Egg Bread Bowl - this was so good!  I want to eat this every day.

-Garlic Butter Shrimp Pasta - needed more garlic (and, weirdly, less butter).

-Red Lentil Soup  - good and basic. Not amazing, but just normal, real food.

-Zuppa Toscana - not nearly as good as I hoped it would be. But the broth was yummy.

Have you found any good new recipes lately?

Peace of Christ to you,
Jessica Snell

Tuesday, June 23, 2015

Book Notes: "Lunar Activity", by Elizabeth Moon

"Lunar Activity", by Elizabeth Moon, was a book I picked up at a used book store. I thought it'd make a good distraction during some upcoming plane flights.

It did.

Elizabeth Moon is an old favorite.  And so stumbling across some of her short fiction was a real treat.

This was a funny collection, because many of the stories were written about 20 years ago, and so in some cases, real technology has leap-frogged Moon's authorly imagination. But that almost makes it better: it's fun to see how and why history progressed differently (and how the same).

The short story about embryology was especially interesting; I didn't like where it went, but I did appreciate that she took the ethics of it seriously.

As always, Moon's work is compulsively readable, and even though I was running on very little sleep, her fiction kept me awake through all my connecting flights (which was what I wanted).

I also picked up her book "Phases", which had some of the same stories, but also some new ones. I'm not through it yet, but I'm enjoying it just as much.

Good stuff. Old stuff, but still good stuff.

Peace of Christ to you,
Jessica Snell

(This post contains Amazon affiliate links. If you buy anything through those links, I get a very small percentage of the purchase price.)

Saturday, June 20, 2015

Weekly Links

My weekly round-up of interesting reading from around the web:

"A Sonnet Is Not a Martini: the Art of the Narrative Turn":
The problem, in a nutshell, is that our minds habituate too quickly to mere escalation. We adjust too readily to the simple addition of orcs. Plenty of films seem not to realize this, relying on faster car chases and more elaborate fight scenes to keep us engaged. Far more effective is a narrative turn.

"Open Letter to a Trapped Wife":
Abigail dealt with her blockhead husband with all wisdom, and everything consequently came to a head. She was submissive to him, up to a point, and went completely around him in another sense. In this way she was very much like her future husband David, who honored the Lord’s anointed, refusing to take Saul’s life when he had the opportunity, while at the same not cooperating with Saul at all. David honored Saul as his anointed king, even while disobeying him. David did not turn himself in. Abigail did the same kind of thing. She honored her husband as her husband, but also did what was necessary to save her household. This was not simply a discrete, stand-alone action, but was rather a step in the story that helped bring everything to a head.
"20 Years":
More than a decade ago, I wrote “Marriage is work. It never stops being work. It never should.” I stand by that observation. Krissy and I were in love the day we were married and are in love now, twenty years later. But that love is not a default state of being. It is a choice we make every day, and work follows that choice. Work is the proof of that choice. Love is the result of that work. Love gives us another day together, and the opportunity to make that choice once more.
"Prepping for an Author Visit? Read This!": for my fellow authors. Good stuff.

A Goodreads Q&A with Lois McMaster Bujold:
"How high is up?" is one of those dangerous questions that each writer must answer for themselves. Setting goals unrealistically high guarantees frustration, too low risks not challenging oneself to do as well as one otherwise might. (As a rule of thumb, it is also better to focus on what you can do, and not on other people's non-controllable responses. "Finish a book" is controllable, "sell a book" less so, "become a bestseller or win an award" still less so. Unhappy is the writer who boards this train wrong way round.)
"The Preach Moment":
And so here's what's wrong with Andy Stanley, and everybody else really, because I know you're longing for my summation of three minutes of TV preaching. Here it is, ready? I Can't Do It. I can't do the work you're telling me to do. I can't be welcoming enough. I can't be happy enough. I can't be positive enough. I can't be good enough. I can't be sinless enough. I can't pray enough. I can't rest enough. I can't do it. I'll just repeat that, as if I were actually saying this to Andy Stanley, I Can't Do It. And you telling me to work harder actually just makes me angry and slightly hating of God. Stop piling work on me. I can't do it.

Wednesday, June 17, 2015

Pantry Meals for Those Nights (you know the ones I mean)

Even though I regularly menu-plan for our household, there are weeks when I, well, don't.

Maybe I'm sick, maybe work is overwhelming . . . whatever it is, there are weeks when I don't quite get to planning the menu.

Or, more often, there are nights when the planned menu item just sounds like too much work.

So, in order to keep us from either doing takeout (too expensive) or starving (too stupid), I have a few go-to "pantry meals", or meals that I can make easily with items I always keep in my pantry (and/or freezer).

Less expensive than takeout, healthier than fast-food, here are my go-to pantry meals:

1) Pasta Salad. Trader Joe's dried ravioli + canned chicken + oil and rice vinegar and spices (mostly Mexican oregano - so good!) and chopped olives and canned tomatoes. Easy-peasy.

2) Quesadillas (and variations). Tortillas + cheese. If you want to get fancy, throw in leftover veggies and meat. Add spices. Yum!

3) Nachos (and variations). Tortilla chips + cheese. This is basically quesadillas for a crowd. Again: add meat, veggies, and spices. Serve with sour cream and salsa.

4) Whole wheat pasta + fro. veg. + canned chicken + alfredo sauce.  Boil some water (add salt to it first, and maybe some dried onion, parsley, and garlic).  Add frozen veggies and bring back to a boil. Add pasta and cook according to package directions. Drain. Then add alfredo sauce and chicken. Easy, fast, pretty healthy. Cost of all ingredients should be under $10, which is pretty good for a family of six!

5) Rice + fro. veg. + curry sauce + cashews.  This is pretty similar to the recipe above: cook the veggies with the rice. (Heat water to a boil - enough to cook the rice - then add veggies. Bring back to a boil. Add rice and cook according to package directions).  Heat chicken with curry sauce (I recommend the Thai Green Curry sauce from Trader Joe's - or their yellow curry or red curry sauces. Mmmm).  Serve w/ rice & veg, sprinkle with salted cashews

6) Egg burritos.  Cook eggs. Put cooked eggs in tortillas w/ cheese. Toast those up in your frying pan. Salt and pepper. Add some salsa and maybe some sour cream. Yum, yum, yum.

7) Popcorn. Serve w/ cheese slices and apples. This is an old family tradition for Sunday nights, so the mother doesn't have to cook. I admit, I don't use it that often, but it's not a bad fall-back. Not at all.

I've noticed I say "yum" a lot in this entry. And that's the thing: pantry meals have to taste good, or you wouldn't bother to make them.

So, what are your family's favorite pantry meals?

Peace of Christ to you,
Jessica Snell

Friday, June 12, 2015

Knitted Finished Object: Anniversary Scarf

My husband bought me the yarn I used in this scarf on an anniversary trip. We were at the beach, and, moreover, at a beautiful yarn shop on the beach . . . and he bought me this lovely skein of Malabrigo.

It sat in my stash for a few years. To my shame.

But eventually I found the perfect pattern for it: a scarf with just a simple bit of lace. Not so complicated a pattern that the lovely color changes in the yarn were overwhelmed.

I love how it turned out.  It's going to grace a lot of outfits in the years to come, I predict, and every time I wear it I can remember a lovely trip to the beach with the man of my heart.

Peace of Christ to you,
Jessica Snell

Tuesday, June 9, 2015

Review of "Pride and Prejudice: the Musical"

Adam and I are lucky to live in a city that has a good local theatre. A few years ago, we got to go see a production of a musical of "Daddy Long Legs" (my favorite epistolatory novel).

This year, we got to go see the primiere of a musical of "Pride and Prejudice".

The novel "Pride and Prejudice" is justly famous. It's beloved, and it's no wonder. The picture it presents not just of romance, but of family life and of friendship, is unparalleled.

I was so excited to go see it in musical form.

And mostly? I was not disappointed.

This was a really fun play. It started with a clever framing device: Jane Austen talking with her sister as she works on developing the novel we now know as "Pride and Prejudice". It's a novel she first wrote as a very young woman, and after having success with "Sense and Sensibility" she reworked it into a proper book.

Austen watching and interacting with her characters is a conceit that plays out well on stage.

So in the musical, Austen and her sister are the narrators of the story, and Elizabeth and Darcy and the rest come in as the characters they're imagining.  Occasionally, it goes meta, and Elizabeth and Austen argue together, and it's pretty funny.

Some of it works, and some of it doesn't. I kind of hated how the musical had Austen framing the novel as a matter of believing in love or not. That's not what "Pride and Prejudice" is about. 

Everyone in the novel believes in love. The problem is that some of them are wrong about what love is.

The most interesting part of the novel is the balance between reason and passion. Wickham and Lydia?  All passion.  Collins and Charlotte?  All reason.

Darcy and Elizabeth? They manage to be reason and passion, both together, all at once, nothing separate.

It's wonderful. THAT is love.

So, I kind of hated how the play had Austen characterize the book's theme: as a choice to believe in love. That's not the point of the novel. Not at all.

BUT, that said, there was still so much to love about the musical.

For instance? There was Mr. Collins' solo.

Oh my goodness. It brought down the house. It was HILARIOUS.

The refrain was:
 "Let us all now thank the Lord/
For Lady Catherine DeBourgh."

And I started cracking up the instant he's sung the first musical phrase, because I recognized the progression: it was exactly the notes we use to sing the Psalms in our church.

And it only got better from there. I was gasping for breath before the end, I was laughing so hard.

And so was the rest of the audience.

Mr. Collins leading the reluctant Bennett family along in his psalm of praise to his patroness? The clear indication that he'd forsaken the service of his Lord for the service of his patroness? 

I don't know if I've ever seen a better parody. It was AMAZING.

And they did other really clever things, especially in the stage craft. 

For instance: they had Austen's sister arguing Charlotte's part. She insists that it make sense for a woman to marry for position and security, and why wouldn't you do that yourself, Jane? and why can't you understand why this is attractive? and even as she's arguing it, Austen's sister walks into the scene in progress and becomes Charlotte, accepting Collins' proposal of marriage.

It's very well-done. I loved it.

Sometimes it seems like musicals I love never make it.  

But I really hope this one does.

Peace of Christ to you,
Jessica Snell

Saturday, June 6, 2015

Weekly Links: Game of Thrones, the Trinity, and Macbeth!

"Why Is that Woman Naked?: Sources of Objectification in the Game of Thrones":
Martin’s real women problem has much deeper roots. For most of the female characters in Game of Thrones, their value resides, without question, in their sexuality. 

"'Game of Thrones' and Its Caricature of Faith":
As a novel, the problem with Martin’s reductionist criticism of religion is not that it’s silly (although it certainly is). The problem is that his characters, taken as a whole, become a bit unrealistic, lacking a facet that was pretty common for many people in the Middle Ages, namely: religious beliefs that were both genuine and not reducible to violent fundamentalism.

"Why I Am Opposed to Gay Marriage": I said earlier this week (on Facebook) that I thought a better name for this (10,000 word!) article might be "Why I Am For Marriage, Full Stop". This is beautiful, and articles on this topic are rarely beautiful. But this one is. Read on for some really good & lovely thought about how creation was set up from the beginning. Much more a positive construction than a negative tearing-down.  Worth the time it takes to read (or even, to re-read).

"Unperplexed About the Atonement": Humble-brag: I get to go to church with this guy (and better yet, with his lovely wife):
Johnson opens the book with the story of a pastor asking him, “which theory of the atonement do you believe in?” Johnson’s response: “All of them!” Something has gone wrong when the question “which theory” somehow becomes the main, or the only, question about atonement. Johnson is concerned to make that question unaskable, to “resist the search for a controlling category” that would cover all theologizing about the atonement. “There are better ways to engage the doctrine,” he says . . .

And, in keeping with the theme of this blog, here's a GREAT sermon for Trinity Sunday (celebrated last week).

And, if you need yet more Trinity goodness (and seriously, we all do), here's some more:

Finally, "Macbeth" is one of the scariest of Shakespeare's plays, and this trailer makes me hope that this movie actually captured the horror of it (i.e., the guy &; his wife are tempted by devils, they GIVE IN, and terrible things happen, and then Macduff comes 'round and wreaks bloody, righteous vengence):

I love it when every movie still looks like a painting.

Have a great weekend!

Peace of Christ to you,
Jessica Snell

Thursday, June 4, 2015

Grown-Up Soda

I read a post over at the Kitchn, called "A Low-Alcohol, Grown-up Soda", and I was intrigued.

So I gave it a try and guess what?  It was pretty good!

It was good enough that I wanted to keep experimenting with it.

Here's why:
-I like having something nice to drink in the evening
-I don't really like soda (too sweet! blergh.)
-I live in Los Angeles, and so it's rare that tea or coffee sound nice in the evening (too hot!)
-I like alcoholic drinks on occasion, but having your regular "nice to drink in the evening" item be alcoholic is bad for so many reasons

So, I started experimenting, and I've come up with something I think is pretty good.

It all hinges on the bitters: bitters are alcoholic, but they're alcoholic like vanilla extract is alcoholic, i.e., the alcohol is used to extract nice, strong flavors from the aromatics, and so you use them very sparingly. Bitters are so strong that they're measured by the "dash". So, unless you're doing something extremely odd, you're using such a small amount in your drink that just adding bitters leaves your drink essentially non-alcoholic.

But they add SO much flavor.  And for someone like me, who likes bitter better than sweet when it comes to drink, they're just perfect for adding that "little something" to your drink.

So. Here's my recipe for "grown-up soda", sans vermouth.
mmm, mango and raspberry!

-juice, your favorite kind (I used a mango blend this time)
-seltzer (i.e, soda water. Go ahead and get a flavored kind, if you like, but I recommend one without sugar or sweetners. The juice makes it sweet enough)
-bitters. I used Angostura, but use whatever you like best.

1. Add 1/4-1/2 cup juice to your glass. (The more juice you add, the sweeter the final product.) Add ice if you want it colder.
dig the Green Dragon glass.
2. Fill the rest of the glass with seltzer.
3. Shake a few dashes of bitters in that glass.
Ooh, look at the pretty bitters!
4. Stir, and then enjoy!

Hope you enjoy the recipe - and please feel free to share! :)

Peace of Christ to you,
Jessica Snell

Tuesday, June 2, 2015

Pentecost: hope & mission

Pentecost is a season of both hope and mission. Jesus has given us the good news of the gospel and the help of the Holy Spirit, and He has promised to finish the work that He has begun. The church rejoices in her ability to participate in this work and remembers all of the blessings she has been given along the way.
 -Kristen Stewart, Let Us Keep the Feast: Pentecost and Ordinary Time

Peace of Christ to you,
Jessica Snell

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