Traveling, Cooking, Reading, and Trains

A Gentleman in Moscow

Author: Amor Towles
Published: 2016
Type: Fiction
Finished: September 10, 2020

Rating: ★★★★★

Image From Amazon

How much do I love this novel?  When I scanned the first page to get the dates right, I ended up reading half of the first chapter before I realized what I was doing. 

On the first day of Summer 1922, Count  Alexander Ilyich Rostov was taken from his suite at the Hotel Metropol in downtown Moscow to a tribunal at the Kremlin. He was found guilty of being a man of leisure, an Aristocrat who had “succumbed irrevocably to the corruptions of his class – and now poses a threat…” It is only because of a poem he wrote after the failed Russian revolution in 1905 that he is not executed. Instead he is banished back to the Metropol.  However, If he ever sets foot outside the hotel he will be shot. He is forcibly moved from his elegant suite to a small room in the attic.

“Having acknowledged that  a man must master his circumstances or otherwise be mastered by them, the Count thought it worth considering how one was most likely to achieve this aim when one had been sentenced to a life of confinement.” [p 28]

This beautiful novel covers his life and the events in Russia for the 30+ years from 1922 through 1954. Count Rostov does indeed master his circumstances. Along with making friends with many of the employees at the hotel, he builds relationships with three women. The first is the little girl Nina who is staying at the hotel and approaches the Count asking why he cut off his “mustaches”. Unexpectedly, she opens many doors enabling the Count to expand his world. 

This novel succeeds in three ways. First, there is an underlying tension that ripples through the book. In addition to the problems in Russia which affect his life, Alexander Rostov is beset by the “Bishop” an inept man who is promoted from being a terrible waiter at the elegant Boyarsky dining room to more advanced  positions due to his Communist Party connections.  Those interactions, and others with Party members, become more problematic as the  story progresses. Confinement is a constant problem:

Parting with the cat on the fifth floor, the Count trudged up the steps of the belfry in woeful acknowledgment that the celebration of his [first anniversary of confinement] had been a fiasco. Having set out to gamely etch his mark on the wall, the wall had etched its mark on him.” [p 124]

Nevertheless, the Count is resilient and continues to work toward mastering his circumstances and masters each difficulty that he encounters. 

Second we get an inside view of communist Russia. As a child I remember hearing stories of the problems in Russia stemming from the collectivization of the farms and the famine that resulted.

“‘Do you know that back in ’30, when they announced the mandatory collectivization of farming, half our peasants slaughtered their own livestock rather than give them up to the cooperatives? Fourteen million head of cattle left to the buzzards and flies.’

‘How can we understand this, [Alexander]? What is it about a nation that would foster a willingness in its people to destroy their own artworks, ravabe their own cities, and kill their own progeny without compunction?'” [p 290]

This theme of Russia looking inward rather than outward as America does is revisited throughout the novel. It is noteworthy that Rostov was exiled within Russia rather than exiled. In fact other people in the story are banished within Russia, able to go anywhere but the six largest cities or outside the country. 

Finally, the narrative is beautifully written and matches the Count’s rich life. In this passage Rostov, with a friend who has also experienced setbacks,  reflects on the life of those who have fallen from privilege.

“Or, like the Count and Anna, one may  simply join the Confederacy of the Humbled. Like the Freemasons, the Confederacy of the Humbled is a close-knit brotherhood whose members travel with no outward markings, but who know each other at a glance. For having fallen suddenly from grace, those in the Confederacy share a certain perspective. Knowing beauty, influence, fame, and privilege to be borrowed rather than bestowed, they are not easily impressed. They are not quick to envy or take offense. They certainly do not scour the papers in search of their own names. They remain committed to living among their peers, but they greet adulation with caution, ambition with sympathy, and condescension with an inward smile.” [p 196]

And upon meeting an old friend who has stolen back in town to see the count we have this beautiful vision of the vastness of Russia.

“Mishka shrugged.
‘I arrived this morning from Yavas by train. I’ll be returning to Yavas later tonight.’’
‘Yavas… where is that?’
‘Somewhere between where the wheat is grown and the bread is eaten.'” [p 288]

Many of the details throughout the novel come up again toward the end. Not only do those events and objects set a scene in their chapters, they come together at the end of the story.

When my yoga friend Jan recommended this book to me she said it is especially relevant in this time of COVID:  the Count’s confinement echoes our social distancing. Like the Count we must constantly strive to make the most of the cards we are dealt. Interestingly, I read this in a week when our air turned hazardous from the smoke of wildfires that kept us inside the house. I read the bulk of the novel on an evening when our power went out. Thankfully I had my fully charged Kindle to keep me company in the dark.

Read this book. It’s not just my opinion; it was picked as the best book of the year by NPR, The Washington Post and more.

The Code of the Woosters

Author: P.G. Wodehouse
Published: 1938
Type: Fiction
Finished: September 4, 2020

Rating: ★★★★★

Image from Amazon

This is my favorite of the Jeeves and Wooster stories. In most (all?) of the Jeeves and Woosters novels Bertie is accused of stealing something; and, because of his code,  he usually ends up betrothed to a woman he has no desire to marry. In this story, Wodehouse doubles down on these themes; he is accused of stealing two things – a silver cow creamer and a policeman’s helmet. He also gets in deep water trying to help two separate couples. You can imagine how convoluted the plot gets, but Wodehouse is a master and keeps it all straight and strews about endings at the finish.

Bertram has two antagonists in these events: Sir Watkyn Bassett, CBE, who years before fined our hero 5 pounds for stealing a policeman’s helmet on Boat Race Night. The other is Roderick Spode, a would-be dictator of England.

“It was as if Nature had intended to make a gorilla, and had changed its mind at the last moment.

But it wasn’t merely the sheer expanse of the bird that impressed. Close to, what you noticed more was his face, which was square and powerful and slightly moustached towards the centre. His gaze was keen and piercing. I don’t know if you have ever seen those pictures in the papers of Dictators with tilted chins and blazing eyes, inflaming the populace with fiery words on the occasion of the opening of a new skittle alley, but that was what he reminded me of.” [p 13]

Written in 1938, that mustache brings Hitler to mind. Wodehouse’s treatment of the brute – including his followers known as the “Black Shorts” which is a send up of the Black Shirts – is a fantastic satire of the rising dictator. 

But the intertwining plot lines are really just the backdrop for Wodehouse’s charming prose. In this interchange with Jeeves, Bertie has laid out some troublesome facts:

“Jeeves does not often smile, but now a distinct simper had begun to wreathe his lips.
‘A laughable misunderstanding, sir.’
‘Laughable, Jeeves?’
He saw that his mirth had been ill-timed. He reassembled the features, ironing out the smile.
‘I beg your pardon, sir. I should have said “disturbing”‘.” [p 32]

And here he is going to a dreaded meeting with Madeline Bassett to whom he will – of course – become engaged because of the Wooster code:

“She was standing by the barometer, which, if it had had an ouynce of sense in its head, would have been pointing to ‘Stormy’ instead of ‘Set Fair.’ [p 45]

There are a number of expressions I have taken for my own:

 “I want to know what the devil you mean by keeping coming into my private apartment, taking up space which I require for other purposes.” [p 124]

As ever, Bertie is chivalrous and describing the actions of Augustus Finknottle he notes that Gussie “was more to be pitied than censured.” [p 184] I’ve actually tried to take this to heart in my real life conflicts. As Bertie says, ‘to understand, is to pardon’ – though Bertie uses the French.

With all the worrisome events in our world: COVID-19, raging fires displacing tens of thousands of people in the west, the political climate, and more. This novel is just the medicine for putting a smile on your face.

Cook Date: September 6, 2020

Back at the end of June I blogged about a problem with my kabob rack when I cooked some pork skewers; the Weber elevations rack I love doesn’t fit on my Mak 2 Star grill. So, I bought a the Steven Raichlen SR8816 Stainless Steel Kabob Rack. This was my first time using it; let’s see how things went.

But first, I love this backlit picture of our maple tree seeds.

Maple tree seeds

We’ve made the same style pork skewers a few times now and wanted to try something different. I read the ingredients of possible recipes out loud to Carla; “that’s the one!” she said. The marinade included soy sauce and oyster sauce. Not only did it sound good, we had almost a full bottle of oyster sauce in the fridge.

Pork skewer marinade ingredients

Measure, grind, and press.

Marinade for pork skewers

That’s a lot of garlic – 2 Tablespoons. Whisk it all together.

Pork skewer marinade

I had two pork loins that weighed in at just under two pounds. Normally, I cube my pork into ½ to 1-inch pieces. This recipe calls for much larger pieces. I divided each pork loin in half; those bits in half; then those bits in half yielding 8 2-inch skewers. Interesting.

2-inch pork cubes ready for marinade

Pork and marinade went into a 1 gallon zip lock back. After mushing things together, it all went into the fridge for about 6 hours.

Time to start on the dipping sauce. Like the marinade it had a small but strong set of ingredients.

Pork skewer dipping sauce ingredients

 One-half cup of lime juice and ¼ cup fish sauce.


Pork skewer dipping sauce

That turned out to be way too much fish sauce – on top of the fact that the Red Boat brand is pretty strong to begin with.

Later in the afternoon, my youngest grandson helped me skewer the vegetables.

Vegetable and Fruit skewer ingredients

Be aware that if you have help from a 4-year old not only do you need to be careful with the skewers – I started them and he slid them into place – you have to be patient. We did a lot of teeny-meeny-miney-mo to determine what piece of vegetable/fruit to put on next. But it was definitely time well spent.

Skewer them up an stash in the fridge until ready to cook.

Vegetable skewers ready for the grill

In the picture above you can see the new rack; but the skewers are my old ¼-inch Weber skewers. The new skewers were much too wide; as wide of most of the cherry tomatoes from Carla’s garden.

Then I started some coconut Jasmine rice – this is SO good:

  • 1 full cup (not rice cooker cup) of Jasmine rice, thoroughly rinsed
  • ½ can full fat coconut milk
  • ¾ cup water
  • 1 teaspoon unsweetened coconut flakes
  • ½ teaspoon kosher salt
  • ½ teaspoon granulated sugar [Optional; I don’t use it]

Mix it all together and cook in the rice cooker.

Later I fired up the grill and skewered the pork

Meat and vegetable skewers with dipping sauce in the bowl on the left.

These are the skewers that came with the new kabob rack. They definitely worked well with these large hunks of pork but you can see how much wider they are than the Weber skewers. The dipping sauce is on the bowl to the right. Can I say I love that roasting pan? I bought it a few year ago, but I’ve never actually cooked anything in it because I don’t want it to get all discolored.

Everything couldn’t go on the grill at the same time so the veggies go first.

Vegetable skewers on the kabob rack on the grill.

Then the meat.

Pork skewers on the grill

The V-shape rack design is supposed to make it easy to rotate the skewers in increments – that was the main reason I got this set up. Unfortunately, if your skewers are not perfectly balanced, they tend to flip back to the other side when you adjust. .You can see how the skewer on the far right rotated back after I tried to turn them. Not good.

These cooked in about 6 minutes with a flip at 3 minutes. But don’t cook to time! I used my Thermapen to make sure it was the right temp. The metal skewers help cook the meat from the inside.

Dinner was served,

Pork skewers with vegetables and Jasmine coconut rice

This will easily feed 4 people (we’ll have leftovers tonight). Each serving is 1 skewer of meat (about ¼ pound) and 1½ skewers of vegetables.

Rating: ★★★

There are some valuable takeaways but overall this is not ready for prime time. I like using the larger cubes of pork; the 2-inch cubes hold up against overcooking and drying out the meat. The marinade was nice but not complex enough; it laced a touch of brightness. The original recipe calls for including some chopped cilantro; maybe that would have made the difference. The dipping sauce was a no go; way, way too strong. The lime and fish sauce promised a nice taste but there is way, WAY too much fish sauce. I think 1 tablespoon could have done the job.

The kabob rack was a disappointment because some of the skewers were unbalanced and would not successfully flip to the other side of the “V”. I have my eye on another system that promises the ability to lock the skewers into position as they rotate.

Ozma of Oz

Author: L Frank Baum
Published: 1907
Type: Fiction
Finished: August 25, 2020


Image from Amazon

When COVID hit last spring we went into strict quarantine – the biggest impact was not seeing our son and his family after they moved here from Chicago last summer. As we wind our way toward a new school year it was apparent we needed to step up our game. Talking with the kids we all did a strict 2-week quarantine – groceries on line, and such. We found a list of the  risks of various activities rated from 1 to 10 with 1 being almost no risk, to 10 being a big risk. We all agreed that if we stick to activities of risk level 5 and below we can go back to a physically closer family. It’s been great! We continue to monitor and will step back if needed.

At the end of that 2-week quarantine we all went to a house on the Oregon Coast for a few days. During that time  Carla read Ozma of Oz – a follow up journey for Dorothy – to our older grandson. I listened in to part of it and read a few chapters with him. I had to finish the story for myself; it’s a very fast read: 2 short evenings. I was struck that this is another hero story that fits well into Joseph Campbell’s structure of Myths. I spell Myth with the capital “M” to distinguish it from our common usage as a synonym for “lie”.

In The Hero With A Thousand Faces,  Campbell describes a universal “monomyth” that is the structure of legends and Myths around the world. In a sentence, that monomyth tells a story where 

“A hero ventures forth from the world of common day into a region of supernatural wonder: fabulous forces are there encountered and a decisive victory is won: the hero comes back from this mysterious adventure with the power to bestow boons on his fellow man.”
[The Hero with a Thousand Faces. Princeton University Press 1949 p 29].

Here is a public domain image of the hero’s journey that I picked up from Wikipedia:

Once aware of the structure, it is surprising how often this monomyth crops up. I’ve written before how both The Wonderful Wizard of Oz and A Christmas Carol are excellent examples of the hero journey. In the first case, Dorothy is ushered into a supernatural land with the help of Glinda the Good Witch. She goes through many adventures and trials finally facing death and killing the wicked witch of the west and unmasking the Wizard. She shares her bounty with her boon companions: a brain for the Scarecrow, a heart for the Tin Woodsman, and courage for the Cowardly Lion. The Good Witch then helps Dorothy return (gift of the goddess).

In A Christmas Carol, Scrooge is introduced to the supernatural world by the ghost of his old friend Marley. He has three adventures with the ghosts of Christmases Past, Present, and Future. Facing his grave he is reborn and returns to the real world where he shares his bounty with the Cratchet family, and many charities.

In Ozma of Oz, a storm takes Dorothy to the land of Ev, which borders Oz, accompanied by a talking chicken. She has adventures and challenges first with the Wheelers, then later with the Nome King from underground. She has a supernatural challenge to free the royal family of Ev who have been turned into Bric-a-Brac by the Nome King. She defeats the him and restores the Queen of Ev to her throne then returns back home.

The hero journey can be sublime: Christ is tempted by the devil for 40 days and night. He is murdered by crucifixion, but is reborn and shares God’s forgiveness to all of mankind. 

The hero journey can be ridiculous: In Hot Tub Time Machine, a group of friends is transported to a supernatural world – the past – with the help of the repair man, played by Chevy Chase. Lou is the main character who must struggle through challenges. After the victorious struggle he stays behind and creates a fabulously wealthy world for his boon companions in the present.

If you are interested in a binge watching of Myth, try The Power of Myth, a 6 episode discussion between Joseph Campbel and Bill Moyers that explores the mythic structure that is behind cultures around the world. Here is a short clip where Joseph Campbell talks about the Mythic structures in Star Wars. 

It was released on PBS in 1988 and is available – for $1.99 on Amazon Prime, or if you don’t mind hunting a bit you can find the episodes on Youtube.com. I remember this series being very popular when it was released.

As for Ozma of Oz, it’s a fun book. Our six year old grandson was entranced by it. If you read it, be sure to get an illustrated version as those pictures are enchanting. 

Wanda Hickey’s Night of Golden Memories and Other Disasters

Author: Jean Shepherd
Published: 1971
Type: Fiction
Finished: August 19, 2020

Rating: ★★★

Image from Amazon

They are all here: Ralph (though here he is the unnamed narrator), his brother Randy, the Old Man, his mom, his friends Schwartz and Flick, and the arch enemies Skut Farkas and Grover Dill. These are the characters in Jean Shepherd’s book and movie “A Christmas Story”. 

If you love “A  Christmas Story” – and really, who doesn;t – you’ll enjoy this group of stories from the fictional Hohman, Indiana, which seems to be based on Hammond, Indiana – a city on the Lake Michigan shore just east of Chicago. We see it in all seasons, including winter:

“We never really had a white Christmas in northern Indiana, since the snow came down already gray from the steel mills, but it was a nice thought. Once in a while we had a fall of rust-colored snow, and that could be kindo of pretty once you got used to it.” [p 192]

And summer:

“He stared out his window at the seared corn stalks across the road, watching the corn borers destroy what was left of the crops after the locusts had finished their work. 

We sat a safe distance next to the cornfield, in the shade of an elm tree suffering from oak blight.” [pp 139, 140]

It is a little harder for me to place this in time – likely because the protagonist/narrator seems to be  from my dad’s generation. Jean Shepherd himself was born in the early 1920’s which would make the protagonist 18 or 19 when World War II broke out. He does mention going into the army after graduation, but other than that there is no mention of worldly problems like ration cards. And why would there be in a comedy?

Jean Shepherd is a master storyteller. After a quick introduction, he goes step through step of an event, attending a fair, his first date (with a rich girl), his spinning top competition, or  his Junior prom. In the prom story – the book’s namesake – we see him getting the invitation, talking to friends about it, getting fitted for his tux, who he wants to ask to the dance, who and why he asks who he does, his ritual of cleaning and dressing – with its attendant problems, picking up his date, the dance itself, and the dinner after. And it is all very funny. 

My friends who have read Jean Shepherd books tell me they laughed out loud reading it. I chuckled once or twice, but not the guffaws I have when reading Jeeves and Wooster. But there are funny descriptions. Here the narrator is talking about his uncomfortable tux which he wore to the prom:

“Do you know what happens to a maroon-wool carnation on a white-serge lapel in heavy June downpour in the Midwest, where it rains not water but carbolic acid from the steel-mill fallout? I had a dark, wide, spreading maroon stripe that went all the way down to the bottom of my white coat. My French cuffs were covered with grease from fighting the [convertible] top, and I had cracked a thumbnail, which was beginning to throb.” [p 341]

So, it is funny, but I was more taken by his beautiful story telling, layering detail upon detail adding tension along the way. I read in Wikipedia that Jean Shepherd was a radio host for different stations and would tell these stories on the air. I’ve listened to some on YouTube and he is great orally as well. But, if you want to keep that innocent vision of the narrator of the stories in this book, don’t read the personal details in the Wikipedia article. 

Cook Date: August 20, 2020

As promised! A recipe that has no tofu; that’s right, it’s real steak, beef skirt steak, not tofu “steak”. I’ve cooked skirt steak – a relatively cheap cut of meat – a few times over the past couple of years. I usually marinate it in a chili paste. Carla wanted something different: teriyaki. I could have gone out to buy a bottle or teriyaki sauce but that’s not how I roll. I looked at some recipes to make it from scratch with an eye to modifying it later for my taste. I settled on this Else Bauer’s recipe on Simply Recipes.

Teriyaki sauce ingredients.

I love that little cup of saki! I’ve used saki in marinades before and have a brand I’m happy with, but when I asked the wine expert at our New Seasons store, he pointed to this little cup. How could I resist? It is screaming for a place in the picture.

The recipe actually calls for flank steak, but I like skirt steak for this type of cooking. This is one skirt steak, cut in two. There was a bit of silver skin on the underside which I trimmed away. Notice the grain on this cut of meat; it runs crosswise; this will be important when it comes to carving it. Carve it wrong and you will have a long day at the office trying to chew this.

Shred the ginger and measure out the other 4 ingredients:

Teriyakin marinade ingredients ready for whisking together.

Skirt steak requires some sort of marinade or paste to help tenderize it; the acid in the rice wine and teriyaki will do a great job of that. The soy sauce adds umami, sugar for sweetness and the ginger for freshness. Put the meat in a 1 gallon sealable plastic bag, pour in the whisked together marinade and stash in the refrigerator. The recipe calls for 1 to 48 hours. I think this needs a minimum of 4 hours, but I think 48 hours might make it mushy.

Squish the contents of the bag and flip the bag every hour (optional) to make sure the marinade gets everywhere. An hour before grilling, take the meat out of the marinade and reserve the marinade.

Skirt steak fresh from its teriyaki sauce marinade

Fire up the grill as hot as it can get; skirt steak requires a short burst of high temperature cooking. While the grill is heating up, pour the reserved marinade in a small pan, bring to a boil and simmer on the stove for 10 minutes. Now, don’t EVER do that with chicken. But beef is okay – the simmering will take care of anything nasty that might, but likely is not, lurking.

Cook on the grill over direct high heat for 4-5 minutes per side. Brush some of the reserved, simmered marinade on.

Teriyaki steak on the grill

Let’s zoom in.

Teriyaki steak ready to come off the grill

The two pictures above are a little misleading. The picture was taken just after I switched positions. The more heavily charred piece of steak in the front was actually on the anodized aluminum searing grate on the back half of the grill. It obviously gets much hotter that the standard stainless steel grate.

Remove to a platter to rest. This gives a better look at the difference between the grates. The upper steak also shows the heat difference on my grill from side to side. The right side of my grill is much cooler than the left. That relatively uncharred but perfectly cooked steak on the upper left was upside down on the lower right during most of the cook.

If you already know how to carve skirt steak, go to the next paragraph. That grain of fibers running across the width of the steak can result in some very tough eating. The trick is to carve across the grain. To do that, cut the long pieces cross wise leaving rectangles 3 to 4 inches long. Then turn the sections and cut across the grain. You’ll have some very tender steak.

While the grill was heating up I threw on some corn on the cob halves wrapped in foil – my favorite way to cook corn this summer. I left it on too long as the grill came up to temp. The backside was a bit burned; but still tasty. The rice was left over from some other meals earlier in the week. And Carla sautéd some squash from her garden. If you click on the picture for a closer look – especially the piece on the right – you can see how cutting the steak across the grain results in a tender piece of meat.

Beef, it’s what’s for dinner.

Rating: ★★★

This recipe has promise, but it was a little heavy on the sake. It might have been the brand – a small taste was like white lightning. But I think I’ll cut the amount down a bit, maybe a little more soy sauce and either more sugar or add a bit of honey for more sweetness.

Now, I do have an update on a better way to brown tofu – oops sorry I used that word – but that will be for a later post.

Cook Date: August 18, 2020

No, I’m not finished with tofu recipe postings. But let’s be honest, tofu is bland, so very bland. When I mention a tofu recipe to someone I’m likely to get the response: “Ugh! I hate tofu.” I understand, you can’t find a more bland food, there is no taste and no real texture. So, why have I been cooking tofu recipes this summer? We started because it’s a nice change of pace from a heavy meat based diet. But we’ve stuck with it because of the amazing sauces. IT’S ALL ABOUT THE SAUCE.

I’ve been looking for a nice peanut sauce for the past month or so. I’m not sure why, I don’t order dishes with peanut sauce at Thai restaurants. One recipe had a nice set of ingredients, but the pictures showed a heavy sauce coating everything like melted peanut butter. I wanted something thinner. I tried a recipe that calls for dipping the tofu pieces into the sauce before baking. I made that recipe; and while it had promise, a lot of sauce dripped off the tofu cubes and onto the sheet pan where it burned. The resulting dish was okay, but the burnt smell in the kitchen put me off.

Then I found this dish for spicy peanut tofu bowls from PinchOfYum. The sauce ingredients looked good and as a bonus, it calls for roasting broccoli and red bell peppers to complete a full dinner in a bowl. Because I haven’t changed anything in the recipe, I haven’t linked to my own recipe; go to Lindsay’s site (linked above) if you are interested. Let’s get started.

Spicy Peanut Bowl Ingredients

We use two pounds of tofu here so we could have leftovers. In order to get any texture at all from roasted tofu you have to get out a lot of water. So I started 2 hours before cooking by wrapping the tofu blocks in paper towels and pressing under heavy weights – think cast iron skillet. I swapped out the paper towels a few times.

First I started the rice; the recipe simply says “cook the rice.” I riffed from the Yellow Bliss Road recipe I’ve been using all summer: 1 cup of jasmine rice, rinsed, ½ can of coconut milk, ¾ cup of water and ½ teaspoon of kosher salt. By the way, ½ can of coconut milk is ½ cup + ⅓ cup. Since I usually cook rice at least weekly, when I open a can I save half in a sealed jar for the next time. Don’t let is sit too long in the fridge before using. I didn’t add sugar or shredded coconut as the Yellow Bliss Road recipe calls for.

Then I measured and chopped to set up my mis en place.

Spicy Peanut Bowl ingredients almost ready to cook. (I need to cube the tofu)

With the oven fired up to 425°, I lined two sheet pans with parchment paper, tossed the vegetables in olive oil and salt, then gently tossed the cubed tofu in corn starch.

Tofu, bell pepper slices, and broccoli crowns ready for the oven.

Oops, I forgot that the recipe calls for drizzling olive oil and sprinkling salt on the tofu. I did that after I took the picture. I’ll talk more about that later.

Once all that is in the oven, it’s time to turn our attention to the no-cook sauce. Peanut butter, soy sauce, toasted sesame oil, rice vinegar, chili paste, a bit of sugar, a knob of peeled ginger and a clove of garlic go in the food processor. Thankfully I could use the small one so cleanup wouldn’t be a chore.

Spicy Peanut Sauce ingredients

Start the carnival ricde to mix it all together.

Spicy peanut sauce

My sauce was a bit thicker and darker than Lindsay’s – I think because I used chili paste with garlic we have rather than sambal oelek she uses. Her chili sauce is more the consistency of sriracha sauce; mine was a thick paste – as you can see in the second picture. Regardless, I dipped a spoon in for a taste and was thrilled with the result – SO MANY FLAVORS layered together.

After flipping the tofu, everything was ready to come out of the oven.

Roasted Tofu Cubes

If you look closely you can see how the olive oil pooled up in places in the pan after I drizzled. I haven’t done that before. But it did help brown the tofu to give it a bit more tooth – a little crunch helps offset the blandness. I’m cooking another tofu dish tonight and plan to gently toss the tofu with just a tad of olive oil and kosher salt in a bowl before turning out on the sheet pan. I’ll let you know how it goes.

The vegetables were also ready. I was mildly disappointed that the bell peppers didn’t brown much. Maybe next time I’ll give them a head start. Roasting vegetables is the primary way we have cooked them for a few years now. Due to the maillard reaction – which causes the browning – vegetables cooked this way are much tastier than steamed.

Roasted Vegetables for tofu bowls

Let eat. Spoon some rice in the bowl top with vegetables, then tofu; finally, drizzle some peanut sauce on top.

Spicy Peanut Tofu bowls – it’s what’s for dinner.

This dish is amazing. We went back and poured on more of the sauce; it’s just so complex and tasty. My virtual hat is off to Lindsay at Pinch of Yum. The sauce should last a few days in the fridge.

Rating: ★★★★

Not only is this “okay” for company, I’ll be proud to serve this to folks – unless they run screaming when they hear tofu. Give it a try.

And now, a sneak preview of my next cooking post – with beef to prove I haven’t gone vegan.

Special ingredient for my next cooking post

Right Ho, Jeeves

Author: P.G. Wodehouse
Published: 1934 (Now public domain)
Type: Fiction
Finished: August 5, 2020

Rating: ★★★★

Image from Amazon

Wodehouse’s second full length Jeeves and Wooster novel is a better entry to the series than the first – Thank You, Jeeves – due to the first novel having racially contentious characterizations. As most (all?) of the novels, this one opens with Jeeves looking askance at a sartorial choice of Bertie’s; this time a white mess jacket he brought home with him from his vacation in France.

“‘Yes, Jeeves?’ I said. ‘Something on your mind, Jeeves?'”

“‘I fear that you inadvertently left Cannes in the possession of a coat belonging to some other gentleman, sir.'” [Loc 148]

Bertie will brook no challenge – so he says – and stares down Jeeves

“Quelling him, as described, with the quiet strength of my personality.” [Loc 212]

Later he sees himself standing up to his Aunt Dahlia with a line that has been in our family for years: 

“She seemed about to speak, but I checked her with a gesture.” [Loc 697]

We know Jeeves will get his way in the end. Again, as part of the Jeeves and Wooster formula, Bertie heads out to a summer estate, this time her Aunt Dahlia’s, to try to help a friend, this time, Augustus Finknottle, in matters of love. Having just spent the summer with Aunt Dahlia, he is puzzled why she telegraphs hime demanding he come immediately to help with a problem of her own.

“She seemed glad to see me. In fact, she actually said she was glad to see me – a statement no other aunt on the list would have committed herself to, the customary reaction of these near and dear ones to the spectacle of Bertram arriving for a visit being a sort of sick horror.” [Loc 620]

Things go from bad to worse and Bertie once again finds himself inadvertently engaged to Madeline Basset – the woman he was helping Augustus to woo. Bertie is nothing if not chivalrous. Here she is talking with Bertram in the garden after a falling out with Augustus:

“‘I can never forget Augustus, but my love for him is dead. I will be your wife.’

Well, one has to be civil. ‘Right ho,’ I said, ‘Thanks Awfully'”[Loc 2743]

Bertie’s plans disrupt the entire household, even causing the French chef Anatole to resign. One of the passages that causes me to laugh out loud occurs with Bertie talking with Dahlia and proposes more help.

“I have alluded earlier to the difficulty of staggering when you’re sitting down, showing that it is a feat of which, I personally, am not capable. Aunt Dahlia, to my amazement, now did it apparently without an effort. She was well wedged into a deep arm-chair, but nevertheless, she staggered like billy-o. A sort of spasm of horror and apprehension contorted her face.” [Locc 1346]

At one point Jeeves volunteers Bertram for an errand on a bicycle – one which Bertie does not want to undertake.  Jeeves tells Mrs Travers (Aunt Dahlia):

“‘Yes, madam, Mr. Wooster would perform the task admirably. He is an expert cyclist. He has often boasted to me of his triumphs on the wheel'” [Loc 2944]

And it wouldn’t be Wodehouse with the hilarious names:

  • Eustace H. Plimsoll, of The Laburnums, Alleyn Road, West Dulwich
  • Barmy Fotheringay-Phipps
  • August Finknottle
  • Reginald Pongo Twisleton

It won’t spoil the story  to know that the mess jacket is gone and Jeeves fixes the myriad problems and saving Bertram from marriage.

I can’t think of a better way to while away 2 summer days. 

Thank You , Jeeves

Author: P.G. Wodehouse
Published: 1934
Type: Fiction
Finished: July 29, 2020

Rating: ★★★★

Image from Amazon

I adore P.G. Wodehouse’s stories, especially the Jeeves and Wooster series. But it is difficult to convey the joy I find in reading his books. Quoting individual snippets that are hilarious in context may sometimes fall flat on their own. In addition, I’ve seen some 1-star reviews on Amazon that show not everyone “gets” it. Let’s be clear, these are comedies; I compare them to “Screwball Comedies” of the Depression. Interestingly enough, Jeeves and Wooster stories come from that same era. So, to get the most enjoyment of P.G.  Wodehouse’s works you need to apply that same “willing suspension of disbelief” that Coleridge said poetry needs.

Bertram “Bertie” Wooster is a rich, bumbling single man and Jeeves is his valet, or as he calls himself, a “Gentleman’s Personal Gentleman.” Jeeves is as wise and unflappable as Bertie is clueless and panicky. In describing him employer to a woman in this story, Jeeves sums him up:

“‘Mr Wooster, miss’ he said, ‘is perhaps mentally somewhat negligible, but he has a heart of gold.” [p 76]

The novels are told in the first person by Bertram as a reminiscence of the latest close call. Bertie is forever getting in trouble by trying to help someone – usually in a matter of love – and requires Jeeves’ help. In this story – P.G. Wodenouse’s first Jeeves and Wooster novel – Bertie is practising his new banjo in his London flat. The other tenants, Mr. Manglehoffer, the Honourable Mrs Tinkler-Moulke, and Lieutenant-Colnel J.J. Bustard, [OMG THE NAMES!] take issue with the racket, causing Bertie to take a country cottage on the grounds of a friend’s manor house. Along the way he runs into Pauline Stoker – a woman to whom he was once mistakenly engaged – to the outrage of her father and Bertie’s friend who is smitten with Pauline and is jealous. The more Bertie tries to help, the deeper into trouble he gets. The other characters have troubles of their own and eventually Jeeves fixes everything.

Wodehouse is a master of comedy. In addition to the absurd plots, he has the most wonderful touch in the turn of phrase or description of events. The best dialogues are those between Bertie and Jeeves.  I derive joy from reading Wodehouse by putting myself in that time and place and hearing myself reading the passage. Here, Bertie is reacting to a problem.

“‘But, Jeeves, this is frightful.’’

‘Most disturbing, sir.’

If Jeeves has a fault, it is that his demeanour on these occasions too frequently tends to be rather more calm and  unemotional than one could wish. One lodges no protest, as a rule, because he generally has the situation well in hand and loses no time in coming before the Board with one of his ripe solutions. But I have often felt that I could do with a little more leaping about with rolling eyeballs on his part, and I felt it now. At a moment like the present, the adjective ‘disturbing’ seemed to me to miss the facts by about ten parasangs.'” [p 169]

These stories are the perfect antidote today’s doom and gloom.

This book does have one problem when reading it in the 21st century. There is a group of  banjo playing minstrels that figure into the plot and they are referred to using the “N” word. And in order to escape one scrape Bertram has to don black face with shoe polish. I don’t know how wrong this was in 1934 England, but certainly is a problem today. So, you may want to start with another of his novels; maybe “Right Ho, Jeeves” or “The Code of the Woosters.” 

Or you might want a taste of the characters by watching a few episodes of the Jeeves and Wooster comedy series starring the comedy team of Hugh Laurie as Bertie and Stephen Fry as Jeeves. You get a nice view of the characters, but the episodes lack the intricacies of the novels.

Cook date: July 30, 2020

I’ve made this dish many times and blogged about it most of those times; but, for one reason or another I haven’t been able to get good pictures. I was focused on getting my pictures for this cook.

Chicken, rosemary and lemon go together like tuxedos and ball gowns. We have a fall/winter favorite of chicken rosemary stew which includes lemon. Funny I never noticed that until just this past week. We couldn’t get fresh thyme from the grocery store so we settled for using dried but cutting the amount by a third.

Ingredients for Italian Grilled Chicken – so much garlic

Measure, chop, squeeze, zest, and pour…

Italian Chicken Stew mis en place

One quarter cup olive oil, 2 Tablespoons lemon juice and the zest of the lemon, a pinch of red pepper flakes, 2 teaspoons of fresh rosemary leaves – chopped, a teaspoon of dried thyme and a bunch of garlic pushed through a garlic press- I think I used at least 7 cloves.

We use these ingredients in two ways. First we make a beautiful garlic olive oil for a serving sauce with everything but the lemon juice.

Starting the sauce.

Simmer gently for 10 minutes then let cool

Simmering the sauce.

Second, we add separate the solids from the oil. …

Then mix those solids with kosher salt and put under and on the underside of a spatchcocked chicken. Normally, I refrain from including pictures of raw chicken brecause, ew. But you can see how we spread the salted herbs under the skin and over the breast and thigh meat.

Prepared chicken

The chicken goes into the refrigerator for a couple of hours for a dry brine. Then we fire up the grill for indirect cooking at 425°. The chicken goes on the cooler, indirect side skin down with the legs pointed to the direct side so the thighs and legs can cook faster – they are a bit more resilient to high temps. Ideally, you are supposed to wrap 2 brick in aluminum foil to weight down the bird; unfortunately, during last summer’s clean up prior to the kids moving back to town and using our garage for storage for a couple of months, the bricks I use disappeared. Oh well, I have cast iron press I can wrap in foil. It isn’t as heavy as 2 bricks but will do in a pinch.

After 25 minutes we flip the chicken skin side up and continue to cook.

Italian Style Grilled Chicken on the Grill

Let’s get a closer look.

Italian Style Grilled Chicken almost done.

When it’s close to ready we turn it back skin side down – no weight – and put on the direct side to finish browning the chicken.

While the chicken is resting for a few minutes, we whisk the lemon juice and some reserved herbs to finish the sauce.

Italian Grilled Chicken almost ready for dinner.

Carve. The wings never made it to the plate; Carla and I gobbled them up at the counter.

The only difficulty is that the skin is so loosened when applying the rub, it doesn’t stick to the white meat when carving.

I also grilled some corn wrapped in foil and Carla made Couscous. Dinner is served.

Oh, that sauce! So silky, lemony, and garlicky all together. We spooned some over the Couscous as well. I’d put this sauce on almost anything – well not ice cream – probably.

Rating: ★★★★ A solid chicken dish easily good enough for company – when we can have company for dinner again. This was the best version I’ve made in awhile – I don’t know what to attribute it to, but it was great.