Reading: A Visit From the Goon Squad by Jennifer Egan

A Visit from the Goon Squad
by Jennifer Egan

Rating ★★★


Finished: March 3, 2018


My review and rating – as for all my reports – reflects how I react to the book and should not be seen some sort of objective score. I did not love this book but it won the Pulitzer Prize in 2011 – so obviously the experts see it differently from me.

When I first picked out a couple of Jennifer Egan’s novels to read I decided to start with Manhattan Beach because the structure of this one sounded daunting – if flashes back and forth from past to present to future focusing on different characters of a loosely bound group. Additionally the point of view switches between first, second, and third person. So, you have to be on your mental toes while reading – I wasn’t.

The two main characters are Bernie – a music producer and Sasha – his one time assistant. The books starts with Sasha then jumps to other people who know her or Bernie. It is like a set of short stories rather than a novel – except the chapters all revolve around the two main characters and couldn’t stand on their own. In other words – exactly like a book of short stories except they aren’t.

When one of the characters – who earlier tried to commit suicide – is high he points to the central point of the book:

“…and the question is, which one is really ‘you’, the one saying and doing whatever it is, or the one watching?” [Loc 2718]

As we work our way through the story, that is our job: which version of this person is the “real” version. But of course we change through our lives and we are the accumulation of all our history.

We read a couple of direct references to the goon squad; I’ll leave it to you to read so I won’t spoil it here.

This book really never grabbed me; as a result I’d put it aside for a few days and when I picked it up again the next chapter was in a different time with different characters and a different point of view. As a result I had to keep going back to remind myself who is/was who. My advice is dive in and swim through it quickly. That way it will likely hang together more may resonate better. The stories and characters themselves are interesting and the writing saves this from being a two star book – for me. The story about La Doll – Dolly’s – fall, comeback, and retreat is especially good.

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Corned Beef and Cabbage

It was St Patrick’s Day – so of course we wore green and ate corned beef and cabbage; even though he wasn’t a canonized saint and we aren’t Catholic. But hey – tradition.

We were at our post-coffee yoga hangout Friday talking about our upcoming weekend on when I got the urge for corned beef and cabbage – I had put zero thought into it before Friday morning. I was telling the story about how I ended up with four pressure cookers, so of course I wanted a pressure cooker recipe. Mike Vrobel is my go-to for this kind of thing, so I jumped on his Dad Cooks Dinner blog. Sure enough – here was a recipe.  Mike has experimented with lots of methods and I was delighted to be the beneficiary of his hard work.

It couldn’t be much simpler. Corned beef, cabbage, carrots, an onion, and a stalk of celery.

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Cut the corned beef into four pieces; quarter the onion and the celery stock. Put those in the pressure cooker, cover with water and cook under high pressure.

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Once that was started I cut up some carrots and cabbage.

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Carla and her sister Linda went to visit their newest grand nephew – Remy. Since they were hanging out for the day Linda stayed for dinner and we invited John and Karen over. This recipe is so easy for company. While the beef is cooking there is plenty of time to drink a bit and eat some hors d’oeuvres.

20170317 St Patricks Day Corned Beef and Cabbage ILCE-7RM3 FE 24-240mm F3.5-6.3 OSS HWT00385

“Hey we are celebrating the Irish – don’t we have some Irish whiskey”.

“I’m glad you asked!”

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Can you believe that cocktail glass? We got a set as a wedding gift back in 1976 – and I think we still have most of them.

Glass of whiskey and some time on my hands while the beef cooks – might as well take some random pictures.

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The reflection of a pendant light in our island countertop.

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Oh, I hear the pressure cooker timer. Time to get to work. Quick release the pressure, toss in the carrots and  cabbage and cook another five minutes under high pressure. Quick release again, slice the brisket pieces and put it all on a platter.

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Dinner is served

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This is a great meal – especially considering the small amount of effort that went into it. You don’t have to wait until next March to enjoy this dish. Go for it now! Check out Dad Cooks Dinner to get the detailed recipe.

John and Karen brought dessert; another friend couple has been raving about a great ice cream store – Handles Ice Cream – in Sherwood. Apparently they are a big deal in Ohio and Pennsylvania. They have one store in Oregon – lucky us. The ice cream is so delicious! I may get kicked out of the Portland Hipster Club but I like it better than the local Salt and Straw. Our guests picked up a pint of brownie batter ice cream. If you are having brownie batter ice cream you might as well add a brownie!
20170317 St Patricks Day Corned Beef and Cabbage ILCE-7RM3 FE 24-240mm F3.5-6.3 OSS HWT00403



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Hood Canal and Port Townsend

March 10-12, 2018

Be prepared – there are a LOT of pictures in this post. We got lucky with the weather and I couldn’t stop clicking the shutter.

We went up to Port Townsend, Washington with our neighbors/friends for a long weekend. We had tickets for the annual She Tells Sea Tales story telling event [more on that later in the post]. For those readers who are not familiar with the beautiful Pacific Northwest, here is a snapshot of the trip.

Screen Shot 2018-03-17 at 4.01.31 PM

Our first stop was on Hood Canal near Belfair where one couple has a place. It took us almost an hour to get out of the Portland Metropolitan area and across the Interstate Bridge and into Washington. No worries; we had some drinks and snacks when we arrived to take off the traveling edge; then a great dinner as we looked over the water.

The next morning started out foggy.

20170310 Hood Canal and Port Townsend ILCE-7RM3 FE 24-240mm F3.5-6.3 OSS HWT00105but eventually broken into a beautiful clear day – WOW – we were treated to the rare spectacle of  beautiful late-winter/early-spring weather. I continued to click pictures as the fog started to clear and the Olympic Mountain Range just started peaking out above the fog.

20170310 Hood Canal and Port Townsend ILCE-7RM3 FE 24-240mm F3.5-6.3 OSS HWT00149

I kept dashing away from the breakfast table as the fog lifted. At one point an immature eagle was swooping down trying to pick off a duck for breakfast. But the ducks were aware and quickly dunked themselves in the water as the eagle made its pass. As the eagle swooped up for another round the ducks paddled quickly to get under the neighbor’s dock.

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Dock on Hood Canal

I enjoyed the reflection of the dock and wanted to zoom in on the birds gathered near the ramp.

As the morning waxed the view just got better.

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Before long I put away the camera and we hopped into cars for the drive to Port Townsend; we headed south out of Belfair to catch US 101 to travel up the west side of the canal. We enjoyed the scenic drive all the way up.

We checked into a suite at the quaint Bishop Victorian Hotel. John is so photogenic, I just had to take a picture. Notice we are wearing fleece. I said it was beautiful; not warm – when the breeze picked up it got a tad chilly.

20170310 Hood Canal and Port Townsend ILCE-7RM3 FE 24-240mm F3.5-6.3 OSS HWT00192

Port Townsend was just as beautiful – with more chances to view the Olympic Mountain Range from the deck of a shore-side restaurant.

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20170310 Hood Canal and Port Townsend ILCE-7RM3 FE 24-240mm F3.5-6.3 OSS HWT00197

After lunch we walked up to a little spit at the tip of the peninsula that I’m guessing is covered with water during high tide.

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And a dainty little feather – too bad I didn’t pull that chunk of red kelp out of the way.

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As the name implies, this is a port town so there were lots of boats – docked and sailing

I'm a sucker for water reflections

I’m a sucker for water reflections

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We went back to our room to freshen up before dinner and the night’s entertainment.

The focal point of the weekend was an annual benefit for the Girls Boat Project.

I  don’t know that it’s the official motto, but the prevailing theme is “strong girls become strong women.”  The maritime industry – like others – is a male dominated affair. Our friend Kelly has a history of making it in this mans’ world. She has skippered ships in South America headed down to Antartica as well as the Gulf of Alaska and the Bering Sea. She now teaches high school and runs the Girls’ Boat Project which provides young women with the skills and confidence to flourish in the local industry. Each spring in the She Tells Sea Tales, women with experience working in the industry stand up to tell their stories. If you are familiar with the NPR program The Moth, you’ll have an idea of this event.

The stories are gripping and thrilling. A couple of years ago a woman was telling her tale of  sailing a small boat between islands in the Philippines when  the motor went out in high seas. I remember thinking “I hope she survives!” Duh, she was there telling the story.

Among the stories this year was told by Carol who works in the shipyards that build the large ferry boats. When she started as a welder out of school, she was one of two women in a workforce of 750. Now she is the superintendent of a ferry-building project. Kaci recounted her experience sailing solo – in a sailboat meant to be run by a crew – from Thailand to Malaysia, outrunning pirates along the way. Cait rowed — ROWED! — across the Atlantic by herself. These are strong women and great role models for the girls of the area. Kelly is doing great work up there.

After the event we headed back to the hotel for a good night’s sleep – well good for our friends in the other room of the suite. Our room was FRIGID. Carla and I ended up wearing almost everything we brought. But it was fun regardless.

Jay and Mary Ann headed out early the next day while we poked along later with Elaine, John, and Karen. John and Karen told us about a nice McMeniman’s pub in Centralia, Washington where the BNSF west coast mainline runs just across the parking lot. Okay, I’ve GOT to go there. So we stopped for a late lunch.

I tried to be polite while eating before dashing off trackside.

20170311 Hood Canal and Port Townsend ILCE-7RM3 FE 24-240mm F3.5-6.3 OSS HWT00309

John, Karen, and Elaine headed home after lunch while Carla roamed the streets and I went looking for trains. It was a slowish day, but finally I got a northbound grain train.

20170311 Hood Canal and Port Townsend ILCE-7RM3 FE 24-240mm F3.5-6.3 OSS HWT00334-Edit

Light is everything in photography. With the sun position, I was hoping for a south bound. In the picture above the sun was just at one o’clock. I had to do some work in LightRoom to adjust the highlights and shadows. To show the difference the light makes I took a picture of the train rolling with the sun directly behind me. So much better, amiright?

20170311 Hood Canal and Port Townsend ILCE-7RM3 FE 24-240mm F3.5-6.3 OSS HWT00345

It was a great weekend with a great group of friends. If you have a chance to catch the She Tells Sea Tales next year, I highly recommend it.


Posted in Foliage and Landscape, Fun, Photography, Trains, Travel, Wildlife | Leave a comment

Late Winter Sunset

It appears as though winter may be loosening its grip; we enjoyed a sunny somewhat warm day. As we were eating dinner we were transfixed by the light on the trees in the green space behind our house. The sun was going down behind us and the trees just lit up in gold with a deep blue sky behind. Of course I grabbed my camera.

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As the sun set the light changed.

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Portrait mode



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Finally only the tall fir trees across the green space were lit.

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Swedish Meatballs

Way, way back in the 1970s I worked as a teacher at the Idaho State Correctional Center (aka Idaho State Prison). One thing I learned – and I learned much more from the inmates than they ever learned from me – was there is a distinction between an excuse and a reason. This month’s cooking posts have been revisits of dishes I’ve served in the past couple of years. I’m not sure if this is an excuse or a reason but I think February is a good month for comfort food and what is more comfortable than food you know is delicious. This week we had my oldest son and his wife over for dinner – I’ve wanted them to taste these Swedish Meatballs since I made them in December 2015.

I use an Alton Brown recipe here supplemented by one from Serious Eats.

Lots of goodness here – we use a combination of ground beef and ground pork.

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I read an article in the Washington Post – where they unveil a new series called Voraciously this weekend – that says cooking goes faster if you prep the next step while the current step is underway. That’s not my style; when I’ve tried it I’ve missed stuff. I like to get the vast majority of items portioned out ahead of time. If I have a dish – such as chili – where there is a looong simmer time, I’ll portion out the later steps while the simmer is going on. Now you don’t have to go to the extremes I do in putting every little thing in its own dish; but hey, I want my pictures to be clear (excuse or reason?)

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That liquid in the small yellow bowl is clarified butter – yum. I melted some butter in the microwave and watched it separate into levels; the solids go to the bottom and some foam on the top – we don’t want those. We carefully pour the golden liquid butter from the middle layer. I made plenty extra in case I make popcorn later in the week; drizzling some melted clarified butter on the top is oh so good.

Before we really get started, heat the oven to 200° F – we’ll keep the meatballs warm in there later. You might also start a large pot of water on the stove so it will be ready to boil the noodles when we want it.

Once the pre-steps are done, soak pieces of white bread in the milk; next, sweat the finely diced onions in 1 Tablespoon of clarified butter until they soften; then add almost everything into the bowl of a stand mixer – we are still using Carla’s mom’s from the 1960s – and mix with the paddle for a minute. We don’t add the stock, the cream, or the flour – that’s for the gravy.

The most time consuming step is portioning out 1 ounce meatballs. I use a #40 scoop leveled off with the meat mixture. I put a piece of wax paper on a scale and start weighing out my portions. Once I get a feel, I’ll occasionally test weigh a meatball. I end up with meatballs between 7/8 ==> 1 1/8 oz.

Helpful hint: I use nitrile gloves when rolling the portions into little balls. Doing it with bare hands makes for messy hands and sticky meat everywhere. The nitrile gloves seem to repel the sticky meat bits. I use these gloves for many tasks – most notably handling raw chicken.

Then we fry the meatballs, turning occasionally. I don’t want to give you a time here – we go by temperature not time. I use an instant read thermometer to make sure we don’t have any rare or raw meat bits.

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When they are close to being done have someone cook the noodles. When the meatballs are at temperature, remove them from the pan with a slotted spoon, put them in an oven safe dish and stash in a 200° oven.

Now we get to make the gravy! This gravy makes this dish!

You’ll have way more fat in the frying pan than you need; remove all but 3 Tablespoons then sprinkle in the flour and stir until the roux is getting brown and loses the cooked flour smell. The roux is almost ready in the picture below

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Slowly drizzle in your broth. Recipes I looked at use beef broth. I use 2 cups of homemade chicken stock and 1 cup of beef broth made from Better Than Bullion. If you haven’t made gravy before you may start to worry “this is way too wet”  Don’t you fret, that roux will do its job in pretty quick order. Here the stock is a bit more that halfway to being ready.

20180225 Swedish Meat Balls DSC-RX10M4 24-600mm F2.4-4.0 _HWT0725 Dip a small spoon in, and see if it has a bit of coating on it. Taste and add salt and pepper as desired. If you are using homemade chicken stock, it most likely won’t have nearly as much salt as even low sodium store bought – which is way too salty. I add less than a tablespoon of salt in when I make 3 quarts of stock so I don’t worry about liberally salting the gravy here. Add a bit and taste. You can always had more salt, but can’t take it out.

If you enlisted some help and things are going your way, the butter noodles will be ready – drain them and put in a large serving dish. Add the meatballs on top and cover with that luscious gravy.

Dinner is served. (You’ll have to look closely to see the salad we also had)

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Someone had a birthday this week so we celebrated with the most amazing banana cream pie that my daughter-in-law brought. Can you say food coma?

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Rating: ★★★★ 

Like the mushroom risotto I made last week; this dish almost rates 5 stars. But everything can’t be 5 stars. Four is excellent – totally good for company.

If you’ve clicked through my blog and have had a problem pulling up a linked recipe, please leave a comment on the post to let me know and I’ll fix it. Something happened back in the day to break a lot of those links. I fix them as I find them down but it is a long process. I’m experimenting here with loading the PDF into WordPress and linking from there. Let’s see how that works. You can find my copy of the recipe here.

Swedish Meatballs

Let’s see how that works

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Mushroom Risotto in the Pressure Cooker

We were having company over for dinner last weekend; Carla and I thought, let’s make something easy yet tasty in the pressure cooker. We looked at each other and said “Mushroom Risotto!”  I cooked this and blogged about it in January 2016; just goes to show you: this is great comfort food for cold winter days.  Winter is still hanging on here in Portland – in fact we are getting hammered with snow as I write this.

We had our taste bud set for this then I looked at the recipe. Yeah – it’s a pressure cooker recipe but it isn’t a dump-and-cook pressure cooker recipe. Cooking takes about 45 minutes and the pressure cooking takes up only about 10 minutes of that – counting the time to pressurize the pot. Not to worry; I got everything prepped and was able to visit with our guests as I sautéed  and stirred and added stuff.   I used this recipe from Serious Eats – a great web site.

The prep doesn’t have to be this laborious – I just took my time and decided to take some pictures along the way. First I got everything out

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20170218    Mushroom Risotto FE 24 70mm F4 ZA OSS HWT00056Then I portioned it all out so it would be super simple to put together while visiting (oops – the quart of chicken stock was playing hooky when I took the picture)

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This recipe calls for a pound and a half of fresh mushrooms – trimmed and sliced. That’s a lot of mushrooms – will it fit? Take a look at the first three photos in the sequence below to view how the mushrooms cook down. The Serious Eats recipe says it takes eight minutes to drive the liquid off and brown them. Um, no – it took about 15 minutes. But the transformation is amazing.

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The last photo in the sequence is after the pressure cooking is complete and the cream and cheese have been stirred in.

Dinner was served

20170218 Mushroom Risotto FE 24-70mm F4 ZA OSS HWT00101My camera has a touch screen; sometimes when I put the view finder up to my eye, my nose touches the screen on the upper left hand side and moves the focus point. I think that happened here. That salad is really sharp. Here is a little clearer picture of the risotto by itself.

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We had a nice time at dinner – as we always do with this group. We watched the Olympics (I AM SO IN LOVE WITH THE OLYMPICS THIS WINTER) while we ate some apple pie our guests brought.

RATING: ★★★★  Almost a full 5 stars.
My copy of the recipe can be found here.

[Blogging Note. I’ve been trying out Mars Edit for my posts – as you can see here. I was not happy with the results here. For some reason it changed the fonts everywhere so when I made changes on the WordPress web site I ended up with a jumbled mess of fonts and font sizes. I had to go into the HTML editor and remove a bunch of <span style…> tags. Mars Edit may not be a great tool for me]

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Chili Verde for Superbowl

February 4, 2018

I got sick the week before Christmas and have been fighting back for the past 6 or so weeks. As a result the only blog posts I’ve written have been about my reading – which is about all I’ve been up to doing.

But now I’m feeling better so we hosted our annual Super Bowl party with the group of couples we’ve celebrated with for almost 10 years I think. Usually I make my El Cid Chili (spoiler alert: use top sirloin instead of chuck roast) but I thought I’d mix it up this year and do a green chili.

I made this last winter but wasn’t thrilled with it; I experimented later with chicken and loved it; so I brought those adjustments back to this recipe and it turned out pretty darned well if I do say so myself. As a bonus, it’s relatively quick and easy to prepare – as opposed to the El Cid which takes most of the day. This recipe comes from Serious Eats – one of my favorite cooking blogs. I haven’t made my own copy of this recipe for sharing because it would be 90% the same as the original. The takeaway is that this is one of the rare dump-and-cook recipes that really works; no searing the meat ahead of time and no charring the chilis in advance.

We start with the vegetables; anaheim, poblano, jalapeño, and serrano chilis, tomatillos, onion, and garlic. Roughly chop the chilis and onion; husk and quarter the tomatillos, and remove the papery skin from the garlic.

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Then trim the excess fat from four pounds of  pork shoulder and cut into large – 2-inch pieces. If you are feeling fancy, toast some whole cumin seeds and grind with a mortar and pestle;

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otherwise, use pre-ground cumin.

Toss everything in the pressure cooker with the tomatillos and chilis on the bottom; Turn the pressure cooker onto high and listen for the sizzle – stir a few times and the liquid will start to express. Notice there is no added liquid in this recipe – the tomatillos and chilis will give up enough liquid to allow the cooker to come up to pressure.

Add a hefty pinch of salt, the cumin, – and a bit of soy sauce if you are me.

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Closes the lid and cook under high pressure for 30 minutes; followed by a quick pressure release.

At the end of cooking, remove the pieces of pork to a bowl and cutting board; maybe cut or shred some of the larger pieces. Add a bit of cilantro and a tablespoon of fish sauce – it isn’t fishy; it adds umami flavor – and blend the liquid with an immersion blender or in a kitchen blender – be careful it is HOT.

Look how much liquid you have! This is after blending the liquid and re-adding the pork.

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Taste for flavor and add a bit more salt or whatever.

Dish up a bowl and eat up.

[EDIT: Feburary 7, 2018] I removed a picture of the chili in a bowl for serving. The picture just didn’t work. I took a few different photos but none of them did the dish justice. I’ll leave you with the final picture in the pressure cooker (above).


I  removed the seeds from the jalapeños and Serrano so this was very mild. If you like hot, try the method used in El Cid chili. Instead of removing stems and seeds from one of the jalapeños, leave one intact and slice it vertically 3 times from below the stem to the end of the chili; put in the pot and cook. I haven’t tried this but I bet it would definitely bring the heat.

Oh my we had so much good food – as usual. Mark made some tasty/spicy buffalo chicken meatballs; and the nachos you’d swear you’d never eat but that are SO good. Christie made a tangy veggie dip. Herb brought his wings; and Dianne brought home made cookies. This crowd knows how to cook. We missed Norm and Kim – Norm is a professor at the OSU Cascades campus in Bend. He has an 8:00 class on Mondays and it is a bit too far to drive home to after the game. We got to see them at the Christmas dinner and ornament exchange this group has every December.

Bonus: The Philadelphia Eagles hung on to defeat the New England Patriots. For the first time in a few years we were all rooting for one team.

RATING; ★★★★

I think this is a great meal for company.

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