Sweet & Smokey Roasted Tomatillo Salsa

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We have finally had a much-needed, relaxing weekend here.  With my company’s weekend classes starting next Saturday, I know it is probably our last ‘official’ (that is Saturday-Sunday) weekend off, but I’d even be happy with a few more instances of Sunday-Monday or Monday-Tuesday freedom–some kind of weekend-type spread, wherever it might occur during the week. Again, working in the arts and entertainment industries keep M and I on strange schedules.  But M actually had both Saturday and Sunday off, and, aside from a brief Saturday morning shift, I was free as well.  After sleeping in (to a glorious 8:30 AM…oh, adulthood) M spent Saturday on a day-long bachelor party for his friend–go-carts, skeet shooting, bars, steaks, and beer pong with the boys.  Punc and I headed over to visit my mother and let Punc get some energy out by playing with my mom’s dogs.  I didn’t do much beyond chat with my mother (and visit her baby turtles–head over to my Instagram to see them! –>), but it was lovely to simply sit and do nothing for a while. I did go through my great-grandmother’s recipe box for ideas for a new project of mine.  I will hopefully have more news on that soon!

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Today, after another lie-in, M and I walked Punc and I actually climbed back into bed after my shower for another nap–guess I needed a bit more catch-up for my sleep bank!  M and I went to an oyster roast with his coworkers and I came home with a bag full of apples from our friend’s parents’ farm.  They’d pushed a full milk crate onto him and his roommates, but I was happy to take a pound or two off their hands!  I will probably bake a few into something sweet, but I think most are destined to become apple butter…which will then probably find its way into a baked good. Now, I’ve banished myself upstairs while M watches the Breaking Bad finale.  I’m lagging in season two, simply for lack of time.  Usually, he will wait and watch it online on his iPad after I’ve gone to bed, but I figured the end should be on a real television.

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M and I are going down to North Carolina this week for the wedding.  I am stocking up on NookBooks and hoping M will have as brilliant of a find as our last road trip’s The Bone Season for our audiobook.  We’ll be gone from Thursday to Sunday.  While he has a host of wedding party duties, I’m hoping I can get some serious relaxation in before we hit the race of Fall: Fall/Winter = holidays and Holidays = a lot of work in all of our jobs.  Hopefully I can squeeze in another post before we go and maybe I’ll find something inspiring over the weekend!

Today, I have a delectable recipe for Tomatillo Salsa that has been waiting quite patiently for some time.  My recipes are stacking up–pumpkin smoothies, several variations of the softest peasant bread imaginable, and even some veggie-packed muffins are waiting for their turn on this blog.  This salsa is perfect: though I am desperately clinging to tomatoes as summer comes to a close, I’ve been seeing tomatillos everywhere, still going strong.  Roasting brings out the natural sweetness of all of the vegetables, and can help prevent the watery taste that can sometimes come with tomatillos.  If you are looking for something a bit different to top your chips, give this salsa a try!

 

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Sweet & Smokey Roasted Tomatillo Salsa

Serves: 8-10* | Prep time: 15 min. | Cook time: 30 min

  • 1 pint tomatillos (about 5-6 large, or 10-15 small or medium)
  • 1 small green bell pepper
  • 1 large poblano pepper
  • 1 large sweet yellow onion
  • 4-8 garlic cloves, peeled (to taste–I used 7)
  • 1-2 jalapeño peppers** (optional)
  • 1/2 c. packed cilantro
  • 1 lime, juiced
  • 1 tsp. sugar
  • 2 tsp. good olive oil
  • salt & black pepper

Preheat the oven to 425 degrees F.  Shuck the tomatillos by firmly grasping the stem and twisting.  The stem and papery skin should be easily removed.  Roughly chop tomatillos, all peppers (de-vein and de-seed jalapeños for less heat, leave some or all veins and seeds in for more heat), and onion.  Mix vegetables and garlic and spread in single layer over a parchment paper-lined, lightly oiled baking sheet.  Sprinkle lightly with salt.  Roast for 30 minutes, until vegetables are soft.  Allow to cool for 10 minutes.  Add roasted vegetables to a blender or food processor with cilantro, lime juice, sugar, olive oil, and additional salt and pepper.  Pulse to desired consistency.  If necessary, stir in more salt and pepper with a spoon, so as not to further liquify.  Chill at least 30 minutes before serving, or store tightly sealed in refrigerator for up to a week.

*As a dip.  If using to cover enchiladas, etc this should spread over 4-6 servings.  Makes about 2 1/2 cups.

**I did not include any jalapeños in the photos above–the salsa was incredibly mild, allowing the roasted sweetness and smoke to shine through.  The jalapeños are used to directly influence your preferred heat level.


Autumn Expectations and Butternut Squash Gnocchi

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We had the first glimmers of autumn here in the past few day: a gentle crispness in the mornings when we take Punc out for her walk and cool breezes throughout the days.  I, of course, pounced on this brief respite from the heat and took my cue to start thinking of all of the stereotypical fall plans.  Pumpkin-everything, baking apples nine different ways, sweaters, and cool days and long, darkening evenings.  Yes, I harbor a deep love for fall, for all of the stereotypical reasons.  As mentioned, with my primary job working with children, our schedule revolves around theirs.  We can segment the year into Fall, Spring, and Summer.  Naturally, the oncoming of September each year has developed into a transition-type period in my life, and the hints of a season change only strengthens that feeling.  After a long, hot summer, I am longing for the blustery, cool weather.  This year especially, I find myself earnestly awaiting the season’s shift.  Fall feels fresh; encouraging cozy clothes and the promise of fires in the hearth.  As much as I have dreamy musings of wanderlust (long walks, new places, all colored with autumn leaves); I find myself craving stillness even more.  I want stretches of quiet, allowing for reflection and reading.  I want a quilt, a cup of tea, and a new book to keep me company as the day creeps from afternoon to night.  I fully plan on getting what I want–I’m drafting up quite a list of books waiting to be read, and I’m compiling simple or long-and-slow cooked recipes for dinner, to simplify my evenings after work.  Less stress, more rest–that is my plan for the coming few months.

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I have been putting more effort into socializing as well.  Living with my significant other and a roommate fulfills my basic need for conversation and camaraderie, but I do miss spending time with other girls, and the friends that have been close to me for years.  It is so easy to get stuck in the rut of a daily routine: See roommates at home, see coworkers at work, come home, dinner, tv, bed, repeat.   With my strange arts schedule keeping me working on weekends, meeting up with people with more “routine” schedules is all the more challenging.  I am trying harder to keep connections as more friends are getting engaged, getting married, having babies, and moving across the country.  Everyone is busy, but the initiative to see one another has to start somewhere.  I am putting more effort into taking that initiative.  (Plus, then I have an excuse to go to brunch/coffee/dinner–why didn’t I start reaching out earlier?)

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I also feel like I haven’t really been listening lately.  Not in a “can you repeat that” sense, but I have noticed myself interrupting more, and pushing to express my opinion.  I am giving the people around me only half of my attention as I think about my own response–before they are even finished speaking.  So there is another goal for this season: give all of my attention and listen fully to another’s story, anecdote, complaint, idea, sentence until it is complete.

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This recipe for butternut squash gnocchi fits with all of my goals and with my seasonal obsessions:  squash is one of my quintessential ‘fall flavors’ and these gnocchi make a filling, comforting dish.  Plus, the preparation of the dough is a simple, meditative task that, while somewhat time consuming, allows for mindless relaxation or a long conversation with whomever you can lure into the kitchen.  I’ll pour M a drink and force him to sit with me!

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Gluten-Free Butternut Squash Gnocchi

Adapted from: Iowa Girl Eats

Serves: 6|Prep time: 60-90 minutes|Cook time: 5-10 minutes

  • 2-2.5 lb butternut squash
  • 1 c. brown rice flour (or white rice flour)*
  • 3 Tbsp. buckwheat flour (or millet, oat, teff, or a heaping measure of quinoa flour)*
  • 1/4 c. + 1 Tbsp tapioca starch*
  • Up to 1/2 c. additional flour (2 Tbsp. tapioca starch + 6 Tbsp. brown rice flour or more of the mix)
  • Additional flour for coating the rolling surface
  • 1 egg
  • 1/4 c. parmesan cheese
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1/4 tsp pepper, ground
  • 1/2 tsp. garlic powder
  • 1/4 tsp sage, ground, optional
  • 1/4 tsp cayenne pepper, optional

*Or use 1 1/2 c. total of your preferred GF flour mix–a low starch mix is preferred–my combo here is around 20% starch.

Preheat oven to 400 degrees F.  Line baking sheet with foil and coat lightly with oil.  Pierce the squash several times with the tines of a fork or the point of a sharp knife.  Split the squash in half.  Remove the seeds and discard, or save for roasting.  Roast the squash, cut side down, for one hour.  Remove the squash from oven, let cool for 10 minutes, then scoop out the flesh.  Mash well, then spread on a plate or cookie sheet to cool completely.

In a large bowl, mix the cooled, mashed squash with the egg and parmesan cheese.  Whisk together all spices and flours in a small bowl.  Add 1 1/2 cups of flour mix to the wet mixture, stir and knead until a smooth, uniform dough forms.  If too wet, add up to 1/4 c. additional flour, in small increments, kneading in between, until dough is smooth and slightly tacky to the touch.  The dough should pull away from the bowl.  Refrigerate dough for 10-15 minutes.

Flour your work surface and your hands well.  Split cooled dough into large segments.  Take each segment and roll into a long rope on a well-floured surface.  The rope should be 1/2 inch- 1 inch in diameter.  Cut rope into 1-inch segments, coat lightly in flour.  You can either leave the segments unshaped and rustic, or roll them into the traditional gnocchi shape over a fork or gnocchi paddle.

To Serve Immediately: Boil a pot of salted water on the stove.  Drop the gnocchi in one-by-one in small batches, stirring once after 30 seconds to prevent from sticking to the bottom of the pot.  Cook over medium heat for 2-3 minutes, until gnocchi floats at the surface.  Ladle out the pasta, into a saucepan with 1 Tbsp of butter+1/8 tsp. ground sage (per serving of gnocchi).  Cook for an additional 2-3 minutes, stirring gently, until gnocchi is lightly browned.  Serve with grated parmesan or crumbled goat’s cheese, or feta and balsamic vinegar.  I’ve also made it with sliced sausage, onions, and wilted greens as ‘add-ins’ that can be added to the gnocchi in the saucepan.  This gnocchi would be delicious with a variety of sauces.

To Freeze and Cook Later: Before placing kneaded dough in fridge, knead in an addition 2-4 Tbsp of flour mixture*.  Place in fridge for 10-15 minutes. Flour your work surface and your hands well.  Split cooled dough into large segments.  Take each segment and roll into a long rope on a well-floured surface.  The rope should be 1/2 inch- 1 inch in diameter.  Cut rope into 1-inch segments, coat lightly in flour.  You can either leave the segments unshaped and rustic, or roll them into the traditional gnocchi shape over a fork or gnocchi paddle.  Place formed gnocchi on a cookie sheet and freeze flat overnight.  In the morning, transfer to a freezer-proof bag.  Cook from frozen–do not thaw.


A Review of “The Bone Season” and a Discussion of Writing, Publishing, New Authors, and Plot

For the regular readers that came for a new recipe, I apologize. I came to write about Butternut Squash Gnocchi. Instead, I’ve written about a new novel. I can’t help it. I am a reader to my core, and the delicious lure of new stories and the discussion and ideas that they spark is too wonderful to ignore. Normal routine will soon return, but I see more reading (and more book reviews) in my future. **For those of you who have not quite finished the book–I’ve done my best to keep this review fairly spoiler-free.

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There are some days that I feel like I will never settle back into “a routine”. I am still trying to shake off the last dregs of our summer’s schedule of on-your-feet, mostly computer screen-less hours. My eyes are stubbornly resisting the adjustment to sitting behind a laptop for several hours a day and my body is retaliating with strained vision, facial tension, and a slow, stiff body. Jaw tension is almost always a problem for me, as I tend to clench my jaw and grind my teeth when I’m stressed. Though nothing is particularly stressful, I think that I’ve started to hold my jaw clenched as I sit at my computer and I’m paying for it with headaches. I am still battling all these ailments with yoga after walking Punc every morning, and will continue to do so as I push through to some state of normalcy. In the meantime, I’m keeping my screens on a low brightness setting and trying to pay close attention to my posture and taking ample breaks.

M and I are also trying to cram in the last of our summer plans, before we are truly bogged down with autumn and the responsibilities and late work hours that it brings. We drove down to North Carolina this weekend, for his nephew’s birthday. It was a lovely, relaxing time and I think the long drive did us especially good. Not so surprising for M, who uses driving as his time to chill out and was missing the road now that his commute has shrunk to the two mile stretch between our house and his venue. I don’t do as well on roadtrips (probably as I am not the one driving), but M loaded up a new audiobook that he ‘thought I might like’. It was a book called The Bone Season by Samantha Shannon. I knew nothing about it when M turned it on–I hadn’t even read a synopsis. But within minutes, we were dragged down into the gritty streets of a dystopian London, with a truly intriguing quirk: a rising spread of clairvoyance throughout the society. We listened to the novel for the entire ride down and most of the way back. When we got home, I went online to purchase the NookBook so that I wouldn’t be bound to M’s Audible account to finish the book. I finished on the third day, having spent much of the previous days at the party and socializing.

Here is the Barnes & Noble Overview:

It is the year 2059. Several major world cities are under the control of a security force called Scion. Paige Mahoney works in the criminal underworld of Scion London, part of a secret cell known as the Seven Seals. The work she does is unusual: scouting for information by breaking into others’ minds. Paige is a dreamwalker, a rare kind of clairvoyant, and in this world, the voyants commit treason simply by breathing.

But when Paige is captured and arrested, she encounters a power more sinister even than Scion. The voyant prison is a separate city—Oxford, erased from the map two centuries ago and now controlled by a powerful, otherworldly race. These creatures, the Rephaim, value the voyants highly—as soldiers in their army.

Paige is assigned to a Rephaite keeper, Warden, who will be in charge of her care and training. He is her master. Her natural enemy. But if she wants to regain her freedom, Paige will have to learn something of his mind and his own mysterious motives.

The Bone Season introduces a compelling heroine—a young woman learning to harness her powers in a world where everything has been taken from her.

This is book one in a seven-part series that I intend on following. I enjoyed The Bone Season: it covered several topics (Victorian London, clairvoyance, and a few religious references) with which I was unfamiliar. That was one of the first things I realized as we listened–how much research formed the basis of the new world that Samantha Shannon created. Of course, that would be pretty key to any dystopian novel, but as I mentioned, since I was fairly unknowledgeable about it, each tiny detail was a very interesting discovery. I loved the world that Shannon created–as though every ingredient was purposely chosen to intrigue me.

I did a little research and found out the the author is 21 years old. Wait…a 90s child is publishing a novel? The first of seven, with talks of a movie, and comparisons to JKR and Suzanne Collins? Not to mention, it had only been released on August 20th. When M said “new”, I guess he truly meant it.

I am actually rereading the book now–that was one rather clunky bit regarding my first introduction to The Bone Season: I listened to the audio book first. I am most definitely a visual learner. I am very good with names and guessing at words due to roots and spelling, etc. M, the sound guy, obviously, is an audio learner. And audio books are perfect for the car, yes, but they are far from ideal for me. Personally, I would not recommend the first encounter with The Bone Season to be through the audio book unless you are an audio-type. I live with a British man, but listening to a book by a British author, read by an Irish reader, about an Irish protagonist relocated to England, with a Victorian-esque society that kept the slang of that time period, along with many “world terms” of her original creation…*breath*…made for a jarring listen. As I mentioned, I am rereading the parts that I listened to and I truly have no problem reasoning out the words when I can look at them and reread the spelling, syntax, and other attributes. Samantha Shannon even includes a pronunciation key on her website which does help readers. It is mostly helpful, but listening to the audiobook did give me, as a an American reader, closer pronunciations than written in that post. In most instances, the written pronunciation does not account for the Brits’ softened ‘R’–Paige’s last name “Mahoney” is written to “MAR-nee”, but with the softened “R”, ultimately sounds closer to M-AH (like in “appetite”)-[__]-nee, with a soft breathy non-syllable in between “ah” and “nee” to account for “hon”. (Update: Samantha Shannon commented on my twitter link that she does pronounce “Mahoney” as “MAR-nee”, as listed in her pronunciation guide. The Irish reader used the Irish pronunciation of the surname as I showed here.). Easier to explain in type, another example is the Magdalen House, which is written to be pronounced “MORD-len” and sounds more like “MAUD-len”. Perhaps it is just my American ears (I have a not-so-funny story about how I thought is was DaRlek, as opposed to Dalek for a pitiful week), but while the pros outweigh the cons to actually reading the book on the page first, I would even suggest taking the time to listen to the audiobook on a return read.

It is clear that Samantha Shannon is a young writer–certain expositional elements slowed down the pace and there were occasionally unwieldy scenes. There were even one or two times where I had to stop, sigh, and stare at the page with a “seriously” look, but, in spite of those minor obstacles, I was drawn into loving the characters and being captivated by the world. I recommended it to E and two other friends before I even finished reading. And when I had finished the book, I went to look for interesting tidbits on the internet. Only…there wasn’t really much. Beyond reviews, and the author’s personal blog and twitter, there was one tumblr of the self-proclaimed official artist and a half-complete wiki. I have never been “ahead of the game”, so to speak, with a popular novel and I didn’t really know what to do without the endless posts and pictures from fans. So instead, I looked further into what was there. Samantha started her blog shortly after signing her contract with Bloomsbury in April 2012. The blog is just as intriguing as her novel. She covers every piece of the publishing process that she is allowed to discuss. She is still writing now, but I have gone back and am reading from the beginning. The blog itself, is a great resource for anyone interested in the writing and publishing process. Samantha interviews various crucial members of the publishing process, discusses author ailments, narrates the editing process, and answers questions. She offers a multitude of references to websites and books about writing, editing, and manuscript submission. Best of all, she readily doles out her advice in a friendly, welcoming manner.

In reading Samantha’s blog, as well as several other reviews, I was set to thinking about the publishing industry. From the beginning, any mention of Samantha Shannon or The Bone Season inevitably included a comparison to JKR. As Samantha was quick to point out: she and JKR share similarities in their book deals with Bloomsbury, not with the actual content of the books. Later reviews also discuss how both authors received somewhat mixed reviews (some recycled ideas, but with fresh characters, wonderfully created worlds, etc) while the majority of readers became quite loyal to the books. In reviews, the content of The Bone Season is compared to The Hunger Games and ever so occasionally, in discussion of Shannon’s place among new, unknown authors rising quickly, Stephanie Meyer might be mentioned. The constant comparisons make me want to bang my head against the desk. There will always be comparisons when discussing new novels. In preview-type articles, authors will always name-drop other authors, other series. Those keywords grab reader attention and, before the release, can garner a lot more attention than an article without those famous mentions would. But after the release, especially, the comparisons become more and more frustrating. In this day and age, there will always be another piece of literature, or a movie, or a television show with similar elements to a new story. We have an incredible wealth of all three, and now, with self-publishing, web series, and youtube, it is even easier to get your content, your story out into the public’s eye. But it also makes it impossible to be completely original.

If we can remember back our school days, we all learned (I would hope) about the “Basic Plots” somewhere between the grammar quizzes and book reports of our English class. If we boil down and strip away every plot in the entire history of story-telling, there is one key element: conflict. One element, One Basic Plot in all of the stories ever told. If we want to expand on conflict, we can add in recognition of a basic “tone” of the overall story and can then reach Foster-Harris’ The Three Basic Plots: the happy ending (a character sacrifices for the benefit of an other), the unhappy ending (character acts logically ‘right’, does not sacrifice, ultimately fails), and those with with the literary plot (this does not depend on decision, but on fate–think Oedipus Rex, where the ‘event’ has occurred and the character can do nothing to change it, simply fight against the slow fall into tragedy). So now we have expanded to three plots, which, in theory, should be able to encompass every story ever told into one of those three categories. Let’s add more detail and sort the types of conflicts that can happen in all of the stories ever told (these are the plot types I remember studying the most)–according to a librarian (and my English teacher) there are Seven Basic Plots: man v. nature, man v. man, man v. the environment, man v. machines/technology, man v. the supernatural, man v. self, and men v. god/religion. With the few more details to classify, we have more categories, but still have millions of stories in each of the seven categories. We can continue this classifying–adding more distinguishing elements and increasing the number of categories: Ronald Tobias proposes Twenty Basic Plots by again, detailing the conflict (Metamorphosis, Quest, Sacrifice, Forbidden Love, to name a few). Georges Polti expands the categories again into Thirty-Six Basic Plots. (All of this plot information came from this page. More information about all categories and classifications can be found there.) Even if Polti’s is the best system of classification, that still means that there are only thirty-six categories that encompass every single story that has ever been told.

Of course there will be similarities in a new story to countless others that came before it. It is absurd to expect complete originality, and it is this culture of calling for “complete originality” (to be fair, mostly from nay-sayer readers, as opposed to any professionals in the publishing industry) and this propensity of writing off books, television, and movies due to sharing elements with other stories that drives me crazy. What our culture should be looking for in new stories is enough fresh elements–be they completely new or simply spun in a different way–that the new story is interesting. Most of our culture do–that is why we having raging, dedicated fans to every story, and many fans who follow several books/movies/television with equal fervor. I live for intriguing characters, and the surprising, enchanting little details of worlds. I highly appreciate a beautifully woven plot, but with strong characters in an unusual world, I am able to forgive a few stumbles and thorns in a plot line. This is why I am so fond of The Bone Season. The characters have lovely development and the world is beautifully crafted. Samantha is also one of the queens of The Trail of Breadcrumbs, leaving just enough hints to keep her readers hot on the trail. For instance, Samantha Shannon does not tell the main character’s name until page 20. Now, naturally, had I, personally, picked up the book in a store, or even online, I would have read the summary and immediately established that the main character was Paige. But, listening to an audiobook without any knowledge, I was left to a tantalizing wait until I could have a sliver of identification for this character that was telling her story. I’m still waiting for more details on Jaxon Hall and his Seals, on clairvoyants in London, and far more details regarding the Rephaim, Scion, Nick, the world outside Britain, Sheol I, and many, many other people and places that were just introduced in this first novel. I am enjoying wondering just how and when we will find out these details. I am also confident that the author will progress, as all authors do, after cutting her teeth in the publishing process. The tiny snags in exposition and plot that peeked out in The Bone Season, I expect, will be resolved within the following novels.

I would have to admit that Samantha Shannon has a very good hook–I am certainly sold and eagerly awaiting the second novel. I hope that a few more people might approach new media with a slightly more open mind after this post, but at the very least, I feel better for opening this discussion. If you came here for a food recipe, I apologize. I came here to write about soft little pillows of Butternut Squash Gnocchi…instead, I have my first book review (sort of) and a discussion on new authors and stories. Oops! I’ll have that Gnocchi for you as soon as I can!