I’ve been reading the biographies of two men who are pure geniuses. In the past, my non-fiction reading was usually limited to cookbooks and how-to guides, but lately I find myself drawn more and more to true stories about real people’s lives. As a matter of fact, both of these books were recommended to me by my husband, who read them first (and who is also a genius in my opinion). So I guess I have him to thank for my newfound love of biographies.
by Kevin Mitnick
I just finished listening to this fascinating audiobook. As the subtitle says, it’s the tale of Mitnick’s “adventures as the world’s most wanted hacker.” (Whenever I hear the word hacker, that brilliant Weird Al song, “It’s All About the Pentiums,” starts playing in my head: “What’cha wanna do? Wanna be hackers? Code crackers? Slackers, wasting time with all the chatroom yackers, nine to five chillin’ at Hewlett-Packard!” But I digress.)
Without question, Mitnick possesses uncanny problem-solving and social engineering skills. His story is almost unbelievable, describing one expertly executed exploit after another. What amazes me most is that, after being chased by the FBI and spending time in prison for his crimes, he now has a successful career in security consulting, i.e., companies now pay him to hack into their systems to reveal their weaknesses. Who would have thought! It sounds like the perfect job for him.
Now I can’t wait to read The Art of Deception, his first book in which he basically tells people how to avoid falling for scams like the ones he pulled off.
by Walter Isaacson
I’m still working my way through this tome. Actually, I’m reading the Kindle edition (on my iPhone, of course), so it’s not as physically heavy as the 656-page hardcover edition. One might find the sheer length intimidating, but let me assure you that the text itself is very readable and engaging, almost like reading a novel, except the characters and events are all real.
Our home and daily life is literally pervaded by Apple devices (iPhones, iPads, computers, and an Apple TV), so make no mistake, we hold Steve Jobs in high regard around here. With all due respect to Jobs’ memory, my husband and I both marvelled at some of the crazy things he did in his lifetime. Although it certainly didn’t make him an easy person to live or work with, it was probably because of, not in spite of, that craziness, or should I say intense perfectionism, that he was able to accomplish all he did.
Next, I’m thinking perhaps I should read his Apple cofounder’s biography, iWoz. (Steve Wozniak, by the way, wrote the forward for Kevin Mitnick’s book.)
Just because it’s too cold to grill outside (plus our propane tank is empty and we won’t refill it until next spring) doesn’t mean we can’t enjoy dishes like this one, with flavours that remind us of warmer climates. The chicken is marinaded in a lime and curry mixture, then broiled and served with a creamy Thai peanut sauce, which gets its kick from sriracha.
Traditionally, the chicken pieces are threaded onto skewers for grilling. I decided to do without them this time for convenience’s sake.
Oven Broiled Chicken Satay with Creamy Thai Peanut Sauce
3 tbsp. lime juice
1 tsp. curry powder
2 tsp. honey
1/2 tsp. ground coriander
1/2 tsp. ground cumin
1/8 tsp. salt
2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
1 lb. boneless, skinless chicken breasts, cut into 1-inch cubes
Crushed peanuts (optional)
2/3 cup vanilla yogurt
1/4 cup creamy peanut butter
1/4 cup coconut milk
1 tbsp. soy sauce
1/2 tsp. sriracha hot pepper sauce
Mix lime juice, curry powder, honey, coriander, cumin, salt, and garlic in a resealable plastic bag or shallow dish with a lid. Add chicken and stir to coat with lime juice mixture. Cover and refrigerate 2 hours, stirring occasionally.
Whisk together peanut sauce ingredients in a small saucepan. Warm on low heat while you broil the chicken.
Set oven control to broil. Line a baking sheet with aluminum foil and spray with cooking spray. Spread chicken pieces in a single layer on the prepared baking sheet, and brush generously with the marinade. Discard any remaining marinade. Broil about 3 inches from heat for 10-20 minutes, turning every 5 minutes, until chicken is no longer pink in centre. Serve chicken with peanut sauce, additional sriracha, and crushed peanuts if desired. Goes well with noodles or rice.
Canadians are giving thanks this weekend. In honour of the occasion, I ceremoniously picked the first ripe pumpkin from my garden and cooked it like I always do. Time to dig out Mom’s old pumpkin pie recipe and roast some pumpkin seeds!
Mom’s Pumpkin Pie
Pastry for 9″ pie
1 cup milk
1 cup pumpkin puree
(preferably fresh, but canned will do)
1/2 cup sugar
1 heaping tbsp. flour
1/4 tsp. cinnamon
1/4 tsp. nutmeg
1/4 tsp. cloves
Additional nutmeg for garnish
Whipped cream (optional)
Combine all ingredients in blender and process until smooth. Pour into pie crust and sprinkle with additional nutmeg. Bake at 350 F for 1 hour. Cool completely and serve with whipped cream if desired.
Sweet and Salty Pumpkin Seeds
1 cup raw pumpkin seeds (about what you get from 1 small pie pumpkin)
1 tbsp. butter or margarine, melted
1/4 tsp. salt
1/2 tbsp. Worcestershire sauce
1/2 tbsp. brown sugar
1 drop hot pepper sauce (more if you like it spicier)
Preheat oven to 300 F. Line a baking sheet with aluminum foil.
Remove large chunks of pumpkin flesh from the seeds. Leaving small traces of pumpkin is ok; it adds flavour to the seeds. In a small bowl, combine pumpkin seeds and melted butter. Add remaining ingredients and mix well.
Spread seeds evenly over the foil-lined baking sheet. Bake for 20-25 mins. until crispy. Watch them carefully so the seeds don’t burn. You’ll know they are done when the sugary mixture on the foil turns brown. If it turns black, you’ve baked them too long.
Remove from oven and allow to cool on the baking sheet (if you can resist eating them all when they’re warm and crunchy from the oven). Savour the sweet and salty flavours—the perfect balance. Then say to yourself, “See, this is why you were wise to choose a real pumpkin for your pie this year, instead of that canned nonsense.”
In the unlikely event of leftovers, store roasted completely cooled pumpkin seeds in an airtight container at room temperature for 2-3 days.
Come, Thou Tortoise
by Jessica Grant
Have you ever wondered what goes through your pet’s mind? I know I have. What initially drew me to this book was the fact that it features a tortoise as one of the narrators. Yes, you read that right: A tortoise—as in, the hard-shelled land-dwelling reptile–narrates several chapters of this book.
The other chapters are narrated by Audrey Flowers, or as her Uncle Thoby calls her, Oddly. The nickname suits her well, because odd is exactly what she is. But in a very lovable way.
The story is told with a unique combination of quiet sadness and comic relief—but mostly comic relief. I laughed at Audrey’s adorable quirks, cried for her losses, and was completely blindsided by her final discovery. Perhaps other readers saw it coming, but for me it was totally unexpected. Lest I spoil it for anyone, I will leave my comments at that. If you get to the end of the book you’ll understand.
Three Bags Full
by Leonie Swann
A co-worker recommended this book, and I was immediately intrigued by the notion of a sheep detective story. I’m currently on the fourth chapter. Whenever I tell people that I’m reading a book about a flock of sheep who are trying to solve the mystery of their shepherd’s murder, I usually have to clarify that it is actually not a children’s book. Not that I don’t enjoy a good children’s book every now and then. In fact, it’s probably my love for children’s books, combined with my love for animals, that makes me appreciate whimsical, imaginative stories like this one. I’m looking forward to seeing how it unfolds.
I’ve heard of adding chocolate chips or nuts to banana bread… but blueberries? I had two mushy bananas sitting on my counter and decided I had to do something with them. Since I happened to have a bag of blueberries in my freezer, I threw them in on a whim.
The verdict: I’d definitely make this again. The blueberries add sweetness and moisture to the bread, which smells heavenly while it’s baking. Blueberries, bananas, vanilla, and nutmeg all have pleasing aromas on their own; put them together, and you have a delightful combination.
If your home is air-conditioned and you are able to turn on the oven during the summer, this bread would be a great way to use freshly picked blueberries. Otherwise, you can use frozen blueberries any time of year.
Blueberry Banana Bread
1/2 cup butter or margarine
1 cup white sugar
1 cup mashed ripe bananas (about 2 or 3)
1/2 tsp. vanilla extract
1 3/4 cups all-purpose flour
1 tsp. baking soda
1/2 tsp. baking powder
1/2 tsp. salt
1/2 tsp. nutmeg
1 cup fresh or frozen blueberries
Cream butter and sugar together. Beat in eggs one at a time, beating until smooth. Add banana and vanilla; mix well.
In a separate bowl, stir together flour, baking soda, baking powder, salt, and nutmeg. Add to banana mixture, stirring just to moisten. Fold in blueberries.
Transfer to a greased loaf pan. Bake at 350 F for 1 hour or until toothpick inserted in centre comes out clean. Let stand 10 mins. before removing from pan to cool.
I like this summery salad for several reasons: the crunchy toasted almonds, the juicy sweet mandarin orange segments, the colourful appearance of all the ingredients tossed together. I also love the fact that since it’s so easy to make, it allows me to spend more time relaxing on the deck with the people I care about. It’s the perfect accompaniment to any summer BBQ menu.
Mandarin Orange Salad
3/4 cup slivered almonds
1 package romaine hearts
1 can mandarin oranges, drained
1 bottle Kraft mandarin orange with sesame dressing
Preheat oven to 350 F. Spread almonds in a single layer on a baking sheet. Bake for 5-6 minutes, stirring halfway through baking time. Allow toasted almonds to cool to room temperature.
Wash and dry the romaine; tear into bite-sized pieces. Place in a large serving bowl and top with oranges and toasted almonds. Serve immediately with orange sesame dressing.
Perfect for a rainy Saturday morning! I intend to make some as soon as I’m finished writing this.
Strawberry Mango Smoothies
5 large fresh or individually frozen strawberries, not thawed (approx. 1 cup)
1 cup fresh or frozen mango chunks, not thawed
1/4 cup plain yogurt (I like to use Astro Balkan Style)
3-4 tbsp. brown sugar
1 tsp. vanilla extract (optional)
Place first 5 ingredients in a blender. Add milk to the 0.5-litre line. Process on the smoothie setting (high), adding more milk if necessary, to desired consistency. Pour into 2 tall glasses and serve.
The Help by Kathryn Stockett
No, this is not a sci-fi novel. And you will have to read the book to find out which character said those words and in what context. (It has nothing to do with aliens.) It happens to be one of my favourite parts of the story, involving one of my favourite characters—a very courageous and intelligent woman. There are, in fact, several courageous, intelligent women in this novel. I think that’s what makes it such a compelling read.
The women in The Help are actually writing a book, a collection of their own personal stories about what it’s like being a southern black woman working for white people in the 1960′s. You’re a free woman, not a slave, but certainly not treated as an equal by your white employers and their friends. You can’t even use the same bathroom as white people.
I was surprised by how much I could identify with the black maids in this story. Like Minny, I take great pleasure in expressing myself through the art of cooking. (After reading about Minny’s famous caramel cake, I was thrilled to find the recipe for her special icing on the author’s website.) Like Aibileen, I love taking care of other people’s children and finding creative ways to teach them. I even used to write my prayers down on paper like she does. (When I read that, I thought it wouldn’t be a bad idea to start doing it again.) They tell their stories with humour and wisdom, and I loved how their voices, with their Mississippi accents, can be heard loud and clear. Aibileen’s voice drew me in from the very first chapter.
I could also identify with some of the white female characters: Miss Skeeter, the writer, and Miss Celia, the… um, young naïve housewife? Let’s be honest—she’s a floozy. But oh Miss Celia, my heart breaks for you! You’ve faced one of the hardest, saddest things a woman could ever face, I think. (Again, you’ll have to read the book to find out what happened to poor Miss Celia.)
This wasn’t one of those books that I left sitting in the pile on my nightstand. No, I lugged this heavy hardcover around with me, reading a few paragraphs, pages, or chapters every chance I got—while waiting in the car for my husband to leave work at the end of the day, while waiting for the teakettle to boil, while eating my soup. And yes, of course, I read some more before falling asleep.
Now that I’m done reading The Help, I miss the voices of those characters. I wonder if the upcoming movie will do them justice. I’m also eager to see whether Stockett will write a second novel (this was her first). It was one of those books that I was almost sorry to finish. But I’m glad I read it.
I love my job!! Yesterday while I was unpacking some boxes of new books for the library, I came across three shiny new recipe books. Talk about perfect timing: they were all slow cooker recipe books! Must be a trend. Anyway, I couldn’t wait to bring them home and devour them.
Slow Cooker Revolution
by the Editors at America’s Test Kitchen
“One test kitchen. 30 slow cookers. 200 amazing recipes.”
That lasagna on the cover sure looks tempting. There are some intriguing recipes inside too, like Loaded Baked Potato Soup, Lamb Vindaloo for you Indian food lovers like me, and even some jam and marmalade recipes. Not to mention some yummy desserts and fondues.
Slow-Cooker Quick Fixes
by the Editors of Southern Living Magazine
“15 minutes, ready to cook”—so the cover of this colourful, eye-appealing volume claims. I love the Slow-Cooker Secrets that are sprinkled throughout the pages—handy little tips like: don’t add dairy products till near the end of the cooking time, or else they will curdle. And did you know that browning ribs in the oven first will help make your sauce thicker? That’s news to me! I’ll have to keep that in mind the next time I make ribs in the slow cooker.
More Make It Fast, Cook It Slow
by Stephanie O’Dea
I enjoyed Stephanie O’Dea’s first slow cooker recipe book, Make It Fast, Cook It Slow. I loved the conversational way she described her recipes and her family’s reactions to them. At work, we have little coloured stickers for the staff to stick on our favourite books, so library patrons will know what we’ve enjoyed reading. Mine are purple and say, “Leanne’s Picks.” Well, let’s just say that Make It Fast, Cook It Slow got a purple sticker on its cover! I’m sure this second volume will deserve one too.
Planning your Easter menu? If you want to serve the traditional ham and scalloped potatoes (I shared my recipe in a previous post), here’s a simple and delicious version. It gets its great flavour from the juicy sweet pineapple chunks and Dijon mustard glaze. Enjoy some quality time with your family while it simmers on your countertop. And feel free to serve it any time of year, not just on Easter.
Slow Cooked Ham With Pineapple
1 ham (approx. 1 kg / 2 lbs.)
1/4 cup packed brown sugar
1 tbsp. honey
1 tbsp. Dijon mustard
1 can pineapple chunks with juice
Grease the inside of the crockpot or spray with nonstick cooking spray. Place ham inside.
Combine brown sugar, honey, and mustard in a small bowl; spread over ham. Add pineapple with juice. Cover and cook on low for 5 to 6 hours. (Ham is done when its internal temperature reaches at least 160 F.) Slice the ham and serve hot with the pineapple and the liquid from the slow cooker as a sauce.