Saturday, February 26, 2011

Pathfinder, A Review

My roommate and I realized we were near our local Borders and decided to stop in.  We managed to catch the first day of the closing sale. Know how Barnes and Noble and Amazon have those handy ebook readers? Yeah, Borders fell behind on that trend and now they have to close 200 stores nationwide. Our local store happens to be one of those stores, we had no idea it was closing until we decided to stop in. I hadn't been intending to buy anything, but with a storewide sale of 20 to 30% with a fully stocked store how can you resist? I ended up making several selections (What can I say, I'm a bookworm), then came The Line. A one hour line to purchase books that winds through table after table of books, by the time we got in line it went halfway across the store. I did well for the first thirty-five minutes, and then I found Pathfinder and picked it up (hey, it was shiny and I recognized the author name). Every book I have read by Orson Scott Card has been well-told, thought provoking, with likable, relatable characters, and a unique plot. I have especially enjoyed the few fantasy books that he has done. When you read the back of Pathfinder, it reads like a fantasy plot (it's not), so I picked it up and bought it. It took me three days to read, it would have been shorter, but I've been busy with a midterm on the horizon and a paper due.

Pathfinder by Orson Scott Card is rated young adult; this book is no such thing. I'm a junior in college in the sciences with a large vocabulary, and yet I still struggled with parts of the book.  My grounding in evolutionary biology and genetics (read intensive foundations course) was adequate.  College level calc based physics I and II as well as calculus I and II do not nearly cut it. My friends use me as a walking dictionary, and there were words that I do not know and have never seen before.  It would be great if this book did get a teenager into any one of these subjects, but in all honesty I think that they were presented at an inaccessible level for a person with no background in these topics. Just because the protagonist is a teenager does not automatically make the book young adult.

In my experience Orson Scott Card is a wonderful author who really makes me think about society and how humans interact with one another as well as machines. His hallmark book Ender's Game does this wonderfully and everyone should read Ender's Game at least once.  This book was a shoddier version of Ender's Game.  The story was not as deep, the characters as enthralling, nor the danger as compelling.  Part of this is the sheer confusion generated by skipping back and forth between the story of Rigg, the pathfinder, and the story of a spaceship pilot Ram Odin.  Rigg seems to live in a medieval era world with little technology while Ram is piloting a spaceship with only robots for company.  At first there seems to be little connection between the two.  By the end the connection is resolved, but I am saddened by the fact that at the end of the book there is a note from the author explaining the plot. It's like telling a joke, if you have to explain it it isn't funny.  If you have to explain your plot, you didn't write clearly enough.  Ender's only power was his intellect and skill, but in this book everyone gets a super special magical power, only the powers are overly explained through genetics and physics and aren't actually very magical.  The way the story goes Rigg's power is supposed to be the most important, but I have a hard time actually feeling that it is the most important (probably because Rigg acts very coldly and calculatingly throughout the story which makes him, as a protagonist, hard to relate to). Umbo, Rigg's bumbling sidekick, seems to have a much more useful power, or if not entirely useful, at least very interesting (this may just be because Umbo is much more the 'normal kid' and therefore easier to relate to).

This is, unfortunately, the worst book I have ever read by Orson Scott Card. But let me clarify, Orson Scott Card is one of the best sci-fi/fantasy authors out there.  The only author that has compelled me to think more than him is Ursula K. LeGuin. His worst book is still a very good, entertaining book, I just expect more thought-provoking work from him. He did hint that there is to be a sequel to this series, so possibly my dissatisfaction stems from the fact that the story is incomplete and I am still confused.  I will keep reading, and hopefully as the series takes more twists and turn the plot will get better.

Monday, February 21, 2011

Bean and Cheese Burritos

Today was a snow day, no school, no work. All in all a perfect day to catch up on my laundry and replenish my frozen burrito stash.  I'll be honest, I really like those 50 cent burritos you can buy in ten packs at the grocery store, but I know they're not so good  for me. Last summer I decided to try and make my own frozen burritos and found that the ones at the grocery store can't hold a candle to home cooking. I've been making my own tortillas for several years now and haven't bought tortillas in a long time.  If you want to try your own burritos but don't feel ambitious enough for tortillas, I'm sure that store bought ones work too.

First off, the filing:
I wanted to make quite a few burritos because I don't get a chance to do this very often, so I used two cans of black beans. To actually make this as a meal one is probably sufficient, unless you are eating with teenage boys or something.
so, filling ingredients:
black beans
1 can of diced tomatoes with green chilies
approximately 2 cups of corn
about two tablespoons of Penzey's salsa seasoning (can be replaced with real salsa, though quantities would differ and you should really just season to your taste)
about 3 tablespoons of lime juice, but that was because I was using mine up. If you're not a fan of lime you can reduce it, or skip it altogether.

Shredded cheddar cheese ( I tend to shred as I go so I don't have too much or too little)

My personal favorite burrito flavor is bean and cheese, but if your's is something else don't hesitate to change or add to the filling.

So, dump everything but the cheese into a pot and let it simmer for about an hour to let the flavors really mix together.

On to the tortillas.  Homemade tortillas are not exactly for the beginner cook.  There's mixing and kneading and rising time and then you actually have to roll them out and cook them. I've taken a lot of flack over the years because I've made some pretty weird tortilla shapes, I've mostly got the rolling process down now, but sometimes the dough just wants to do something weird.
tortilla mix, I like to use the wheat tortilla mix that comes with the fat already mixed into the flour. The only place I've been able to find it is Super Walmart.  If you can't find it, there are recipes online that will tell you how much lard or shortening to cut into your flour.
flour, I've found that when I thin the mix with flour I get a softer, more supple tortilla that rolls out easier. I usually do 2 cups mix to one cup flour and that makes the right amount of tortillas for four to have tacos.
water I add enough water to make a nice dough (see pic) it's usually somewhere between one and two cups
a large frying pan
if you're lucky, a flipper a flipper is a person who will man the spatula and flip the tortillas while you roll the next one out. It is difficult to do both jobs at once, especially the first time.

First you mix the flours and add the water to make dough.

Then you tip the dough out onto a clean surface and knead while adding flour until it is no longer sticky.

Roll the dough into balls, if you're going for tacos a 1 inch diameter is good, but if you want burrito size you want the diameter to be closer to two inches.

Cover the dough balls and let them rise for 15 minutes. Before you begin rolling out begin heating your frying pan.  To cook tortillas correctly your frying pan must be very hot and it should not take more than 15 seconds to cook both side of the tortilla. To roll out the tortillas dip the ball of dough in some flour and flatten it on your work surface.
Using a rolling pin try to roll evenly in all directions. Roll the dough out as much as you can without ripping it.

Move the tortilla to the frying pan and flip it once bubbles begin to form. Do not pop the bubbles, doing so will make holes in your tortilla.
When the tortilla has brown spots on both sides it is done, move it to a covered plate.

Now we can assemble the burritos.

 Bake for 10 minutes at 350 and they're ready to go into your stomach or into the freezer for a handy quick lunch on a busy morning.

Sunday, February 20, 2011

4 Cheese Manicotti/Stuffed shells

I really like to make this recipe on the weekend because it makes a 9x13 pan and a 9x9 pan.  I eat the 9x13 with my three roommates on the weekend and freeze the 9x9 to eat later in the week when two of my roommates are gone for dinner. It's a little putzy to stuff all the shells, but otherwise this is an easy recipe that makes a lot of delicious food.


12oz jumbo shells (you can use manicotti, but I find the shells much easier to work with. You also get more pasta in a box of shells than a box of manicotti.)

1 lb Italian sausage
2 sm chopped onions
12oz can of tomato paste
15oz can tomato sauce
2 tsp basil
2tsp sugar
1 tsp salt
1 tsp pepper
2 cloves garlic

24 oz cottage cheese
2 C shredded mozzarella
1 C shredded cheddar cheese
½ C parmesan
1 egg

1-2 C more mozzarella for topping

Preheat the oven to 350°F. Cook pasta until half done, it should be a bit harder than al dente.  In a large(hopefully deep) skillet brown the sausage. Add onion and garlic,  and cook until onion is tender. Stir in all tomato products and season. Simmer 15 min and turn off.  It should look like this:

Make the cheese filling by combining the cheeses (except for a cup or two of mozzarella) and egg in a separate mixing bowl:

Spread sauce on the bottom of the pan:

Stuff the shells with cheese and arrange on top of the sauce:

 Cover with remainder of sauce and sprinkle with mozzarella:

Cover and bake for 35 minutes. Enjoy!


Cable Crown Hat

I was knitting my first cabled project ever when my roommate sat on me. My knitting was ruined, but in retrospect that's ok.  I really hated the edging on that scarf, and by having to start over I got to redesign the scarf into something I liked much more (will post when scarf is complete). When I showed it to my boyfriend he thought that it was really cool, so I designed him this hat that matches my scarf. Of course I also made myself a hat which is the one pictured.
Cable Crown Hat
Size 8 (US) dpns, size 8 circular if desired
Worsted weight yarn I used about 135 yds

Cast on 24 stitches use 2 dpns to knit the band.
Knit the first row. (This is a set up row)
Row 1: sl 1 k5 (place stitch marker) p12 (place second stitch marker) k6
Row 2: sl 1 k5 k12 k6
Row 3: sl 1 k5 p12 k6
Row 4: sl 1 k5 k12 k6
Row 5: sl 1 k5 p12 k6
Row 6: sl 1 k5 slip 6 stitches onto cable needle and let hang to back k6 and then knit the 6 stitches off the cable needle. Be sure to pull tight at the ends of the cable to avoid holes. K6
Row 7: sl 1 k5 p12 k6
Row 8: sl 1 k5 k12 k6
Row 9: sl 1 k5 p12 k6
Row 10: sl 1 k5 k12 k6
Row 11: sl 1 k5 p12 k6
Row 12: sl 1 k5 k12 k6

Repeat these 12 rows until the band measures desired size, it is best to stop after row 12 because your cables will be spaced evenly. My head is on the smaller side and my band measures 21”, my boyfriend has a more normal head size and his hat band is 23”. Sew the ends of the band together, the seam is least noticeable if you sew the band inside out (by sew I mean use your yarn tail and match up the stitches of your cable. Personally I have a hard time finding the seam on my hat but apparently there is a correct way to do and write this and I will amend this post once my mother, who is a much more experienced knitter emails me).  Pick up the slipped stitches around one edge of the band.  On both the hat sizes I made I picked up 70 stitches. Knit a round, purl a round until the hat measures 5 ¾” for the small size or 61/4” for the large size.  Since 70 is easily divisible by 5, I placed a stitch marker every fourteen stitches on the last round before I began the decrease.  After each marker knit or purl 2 stitches together until there are 5 stitches left. Bind off by running your tail through the last five stitches with a tapestry needle and pulling it to the inside of the hat through the hole in the top; pull tight and tuck in ends.