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29 March 2017
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28 March 2017
you survive as leader of a South Central LA gang? What if you avoided
the limelight because, like Lola, you've learned it can be rough if
you're woman in power . . . especially in the drug world.
Lola stands across the craggy square of backyard she shares with Garcia. He mans the grill, rusted tongs and Corona with lime in hand, making the center of a cluster of men, their biceps bare and beaded with sweat, Crenshaw Six tattoos evident in their standard uniform of wife-beaters and torn cargo pants. If Lola were alone with Garcia, she would take her turn over the smoking meat, too, but as afternoon transforms Huntington Park from light to shadow, Lola stays away from the heat. Her place now is at the center of a cluster of women, their necks craning toward any high-pitched squeak that might be gossip, each one standing with a single hip cocked, as if at any second someone might place a sleeping child there for comfort.—Lola by Melissa Scrivner Love (Crown, 2017, p. 1 [uncorrected proof])
- Setting: modern times; Los Angeles, elsewhere in the US Southwest
- Circumstances: When Lola's gang, the Crenshaw Six, is given the chance to take over the territory of a rival dealer, they jump at the opportunity, even though they have to put up a guarantee. Thus Lola's life is on the line, under the guise as girlfriend to Garcia, the presumed man in charge. All they have to do is intercept a drop-off and their boss, the drug lord, will make them rich. The gang, however, runs into trouble, and Lola must find a way to save herself and her crew from death by assassination.
- Genre: contemporary thriller, mystery, crime fiction
- Themes: women's roles, Latino Americans, the drug culture, revenge
- Why I want to read Lola: I'm not normally drawn to books set in the drug culture, but I'm curious about Lola, who rose from a very bad childhood to a position of power in a world that doesn't generally respect women. She's been called ruthless, smart, and a survivor and has been compared to Lisbeth Salander (but isn't every tough female character these days?) mixed with a touch of Walter White.
- What reviewers have said: Most reviews describe the novel as action packed and mentioned that Lola was vividly portrayed. A couple of readers commented on the number of characters and the difficulty keeping them straight. Some thought the plot didn't hold up, but others are looking forward to a second book about Lola. Generally, however, the reviews have been more positive than negative.
- About the author: Melissa Scrivner Lover, daughter of a police officer and a court reporter, is a television screenwriter for crime shows, including CSI: Miami. This is her first novel.
25 March 2017
Spring is in the air around here and my cooking mojo is out of wack. It doesn't feel quite like stew weather, but we're not into light salad time either. I've made pizza, pasta dishes, and risotto, which are all easy and act like good season spanners.
I don't have any new recipes to share this week but I did learn three good hacks that I'd like to share. They were new to me in the last couple of weeks, and they're going in my permanent bag of kitchen tricks. The first one comes from a recent issue of Eating Well, the second from a random web search to see if my crazy idea was even possible, and the third was from the Budget Bytes website (I reviewed the cookbook here).
Note: The first and third photos come from the sites mentioned. The middle photo is mine.
One-Pot Pasta Dishes
Who doesn't like pasta night? Perhaps the person who has to wash all the pots and pans. This month Eating Well provides readers with a formula for one-pot pasta dishes. I'm all for cooking pasta, protein, veggies, and seasonings in a single pot for a quick weeknight dinner and easy cleanup. I tried the lamb and spinach dish, and the technique worked very well. But, of course, I didn't follow directions exactly.
The method is great, except for one point. Boiled meat just doesn't have the same flavor as browned meat. So I decided to saute my ground lamb in the pot and then deglaze the pan with a little wine. After that, I followed the recipe, except I added additional seasonings to give it a stronger Mideast flavor profile. In addition, I stirred in the feta cheese at the end instead of passing it at the table.
The point, however, is not the specific recipe, it's the method. I loved getting a hearty pasta meal on the table in short order and using only one pot. If you like to follow recipes, check out Eating Well; they published four or five one-pot pasta recipes this month. I will be trying this with other meats or beans in the future.
Crunchy Granola in the Slow Cooker
I love making my own granola (my recipe is here), but I hate spending all that time hovering over the oven, stirring trays of cereal every 10 or 15 minutes for a couple of hours. There had to be an easier way! I originally thought that maybe someone figured out how to make granola in an electric roasting pan, and as I started searching for that solution, I stumbled on the slow cooker idea. Whoa!!!
My life just changed for the better. We were due for a new batch of cereal and I had been delaying because, well, I just didn't want to tie up a Saturday morning in front of the oven. I immediately gave the slow-cooker idea a try and love it. I will never make granola in the oven again.
Here's the easy trick: Mix your granola ingredients in a large bowl (don't add the dried fruit yet). Spray the inside of the slow-cooker crock with cooking spray (I just lightly oiled it). Pour in the granola. Set the slow cooker on high, and (very important) place the lid on an angle so the steam can escape. Now let it cook, stirring every half hour or so, for 2 to 2.5 hours, or until the oats take on color and look toasted. When you think the cereal looks right, pour it back in the mixing bowl or spread it out on baking sheets to cool. It will crisp up as it cools. Once cool, stir in dried fruit, if you're using it.
Yes! Now I can make granola during the day, or even after work, without being glued to the kitchen!
Okay, so I'm probably the last person on earth to discover this trick. We love tacos. Normally, I make the taco filling and leave it on the stove and then set out all the toppings on the table. Taco nights are punctuated by frequent trips to the stovetop to fill more shells. I was wandering around the Budget Bytes website not too long ago and discovered this recipe for baked beef tacos. What? I could have a batch of tacos ready all at once? Who knew?
Like with the lamb recipe, my interest wasn't in reproducing the Budget Bytes dish. Instead I wanted to try the technique. I had chicken tacos on the menu last week and gave oven baking a try. We were sold. We had all the taco goodness right at the table; no more getting up and down.
I'm so happy to have discovered this method. I will be baking tacos, especially if serving a crowd, from now on.
24 March 2017
The 2016 film Jackie starring Natalie Portman and directed by Pablo Larraín has a narrow focus, concentrating on the week or so after President John F. Kennedy (Caspar Phillipson) was assassinated in Dallas on November 22, 1963.
The movie is framed around an interview Jackie Kennedy grants to a nameless jouralist, just days after the funeral when the widow has already moved out of the White House. She tells the reporter what she wants the world to know about her husband, while we see what it was like for her to travel from radiant First Lady to blood-stained widow, to single mother, and to the unknown future.
I'm not sure what stood out for me more: the sets and costuming or Portman's astounding performance. Anyone old enough to remember the Kennedys in the White House and the heart-breaking funeral procession will be amazed at how believably the film captures the details of the era: the hair, the dresses and suits, the everyday objects (phones, TVs, record players), and the general atmosphere.
The White House sets are gorgeous and I loved the way the film shows how Jackie transformed the "people's house" into an icon of history and a beacon of grace, beauty, art, and music.
Jackie does a good job showing what Jackie was up against in those last days in the White House and her determination to create a particular legacy for her husband. It wasn't just her fight to stand up to the men who wanted to control everything and move their energies on to the Johnsons but also her desire to not be protected from the truth while planning the perfect funeral for JFK and the nation.
Portman is absolutely mesmerizing as she works through a wide range of emotions, including a kind of dazed PTSD, periods of frenzied activity, an air of calm research and planning, and the palpable fear and grief over having to tell her children they were fatherless. We clearly see the complexities of Jackie's personality. She wasn't too naive to know her husband for who he really was, yet she was smart enough to craft the image she wanted history to remember.
Natalie Portman's acting alone is enough for you to put Jackie on your watch list, but I'm also recommending the movie for brilliantly capturing a pivotal historic moment in American history. It's also interesting to contrast the Kennedys with the current administration, especially in terms of understanding the importance of the arts.