March 30, 2016

Salmon Baked in Parchment Paper

Salmon baked in parchment paper is one of those easy to put together dishes, resulting in a flavorful, extremely moist and tender meat.  By pleating the edges and sealing the fish inside, you can guarantee that fish will cook in its own juices. And when you cut open the parchment ... the lemony-herb aroma is simply heavenly!



1 lb thick salmon fillet
1 garlic clove, sliced thinly
1 lemon cut into thin slices
1/2 cup chopped fresh dill
1 pat of butter, halved
olive oil
large piece of parchment paper

1. Preheat the oven to 400 degrees.
2.  Take the parchment paper and fold in half. Place on a baking sheet. Brush both halves with olive oil.
3. On the right-hand side, place half the lemon slices and half the chopped dill roughly in the same surface area where you are going to place the salmon fillet (next to the middle crease).
4. Season the skin of the salmon fillet with salt and pepper and place skin side down on the lemon slices and dill, next to the middle crease.
5. Season with salt and pepper the top side of the salmon fillet. Place thin slices of garlic, then the chopped dill, to be followed by the rest of the lemon slices. 
6. Top with the two pieces of butter.
7. Fold the parchment paper over the fillet so all the edges meet together. Starting with the bottom, right-hand edge, start pleating the edges, one on top of the other with sharp folds, until all open sides have been folded airtight.
8. Bake in 400 degrees for 25 minutes or until the parchment puffs up and turns brown. The salmon should be tender and flaky.

March 28, 2016

Book Review: Smoke Gets in Your Eyes and Other Lessons from the Crematory by Caitlin Doughty

Source: Vine

Most people want to avoid thinking about death, but Caitlin Doughty―a twenty-something with a degree in medieval history and a flair for the macabre―took a job at a crematory, turning morbid curiosity into her life’s work. Thrown into a profession of gallows humor and vivid characters (both living and very dead), Caitlin learned to navigate the secretive culture of those who care for the deceased.

Smoke Gets in Your Eyes tells an unusual coming-of-age story full of bizarre encounters and unforgettable scenes. Caring for dead bodies of every color, shape, and affliction, Caitlin soon becomes an intrepid explorer in the world of the dead. She describes how she swept ashes from the machines (and sometimes onto her clothes) and reveals the strange history of cremation and undertaking, marveling at bizarre and wonderful funeral practices from different cultures.

Her eye-opening, candid, and often hilarious story is like going on a journey with your bravest friend to the cemetery at midnight. She demystifies death, leading us behind the black curtain of her unique profession. And she answers questions you didn’t know you had: Can you catch a disease from a corpse? How many dead bodies can you fit in a Dodge van? What exactly does a flaming skull look like?

Honest and heartfelt, self-deprecating and ironic, Caitlin's engaging style makes this otherwise taboo topic both approachable and engrossing. Now a licensed mortician with an alternative funeral practice, Caitlin argues that our fear of dying warps our culture and society, and she calls for better ways of dealing with death (and our dead).

If you liked Stiff by Mary Roach (one of the author's sources), you have to read Smoke Gets in Your Eyes.

From the macabre, the disgusting, the beautiful, and the spiritual, this book runs the gamut of its unusual subject matter. Unusual to me when I first started reading it, but by the final page I had come to agree with the author that death should not be unusual or hidden or mysterious. If she just wrote about her (mis)adventures in the crematorium, Doughty would still have had an anecdotal and engrossing book. However, by weaving in some personal history, as well as history of death and death rituals and philosophical thoughts on the ideal way to handle death, Doughty gave me so much more to think about. After all, one's own mortality is a fact of life.

One delightful surprise was that Doughty's crematorium adventures were in the San Francisco Bay Area, my home locale, so I was happy to recognize many of the places she mentioned.

March 25, 2016

Siem Reap

While, the main attraction for tourists traveling to Siem Reap is to visit the temples of Angkor Wat, the town itself offers worthwhile diversions when not templing. 

Although much quieter and less crowded than Phnom Penh, Siem Reap still has a lively night scene in the blocks surrounding Pub Street and Night Market.

According to my driver, most of the buildings are less than 10 years old. The town has grown, along with the tourist trade, with a frenzy of brand new hotels and restaurants. Even the main highway which leads to Phnom Penh is less than a decade new.  I spoke with an Irish expat who grumbled that even in the four years he had been coming to Cambodia, he has seen so much change that he barely recognizes the country that he had fallen in love with. Yet, he admits, it is a price to pay for progress.

March 23, 2016

Chocolate con Churros (ala Chocolateria San Gines)

Reminiscing about Chocolateria San Gines in Madrid inspired a ravenous craving for that thick hot chocolate and light-as-air churros.  

The following recipes are purported to have been provided by that esteemed establishment - except that the churros served in Madrid or indeed in Spain do not have cinnamon sprinkled on them.  No matter the provenance of the recipes - the results are delightful and (minus the cinnamon) come very, very close to the real thing.  If you do want the cinnamon version of the churros - it's a very simple adjustment.

Chocolate con Churros


8 cups vegetable or olive oil
1 cup water
1/2 cup butter
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 cup all-purpose flour
3 large eggs
1/4 cup sugar + 1 tbsp 
1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon (for Mexican-style churros)

Hot Chocolate:
4 ounces dark chocolate
2 cups milk
1 tablespoon cornstarch
4 tablespoons sugar


1.Heat the oil in a deep frying pan to 360 degrees F.

2. To make the churro dough, heat the water, margarine, and salt to a rolling boil in a 3-quart saucepan. Add the flour and stir vigorously over low heat until mixture forms a ball, approximately 1 minute and remove from heat. Beat eggs until smooth and add to the saucepan while stirring the mixture.

3. Spoon the mixture into a piping bag with a star tip. (I used a smaller tip which resulted in smaller churros that cooked faster.)  Squeeze 4-inch strips of dough into the hot oil. Fry 3 or 4 strips at a time until golden brown, turning once, about 2 minutes on each side. Drain on paper towels. While warm, roll the churros in the sugar. (If making Mexican-style churros, roll them in the cinnamon-sugar mix). Set aside until ready to serve.

4. To prepare the hot chocolate for dipping, place the chocolate and half the milk in a saucepan over very low heat and cook, stirring, until the chocolate has melted. Dissolve the cornstarch in the remaining milk and whisk into the chocolate with the sugar. Cook on low heat, whisking constantly until the chocolate thickens, approximately 5 minutes. Remove and whisk until smooth. Pour chocolate into cups and serve with churros.

March 21, 2016

Book Review: Thorn Jack by Katherine Harbour

Source: Vine

 Combining the sorcery of The Night Circus with the malefic suspense of A Secret History, Thorn Jack is a spectacular, modern retelling of the ancient Scottish ballad, Tam Lin—a beguiling fusion of love, fantasy, and myth that echoes the imaginative artistry of the works of Neil Gaiman, Cassandra Clare, and Melissa Marr.

In the wake of her older sister’s suicide, Finn Sullivan and her father move to a quaint town in upstate New York. Populated with socialites, hippies, and dramatic artists, every corner of this new place holds bright possibilities—and dark enigmas, including the devastatingly attractive Jack Fata, scion of one of the town’s most powerful families.

As she begins to settle in, Finn discovers that beneath its pretty, placid surface, the town and its denizens—especially the Fata family—wield an irresistible charm and dangerous power, a tempting and terrifying blend of good and evil, magic and mystery, that holds dangerous consequences for an innocent and curious girl like Finn.
To free herself and save her beloved Jack, Finn must confront the fearsome Fata family . . . a battle that will lead to shocking secrets about her sister’s death.

Tam Lin happens to be one of my favorite folk tales and I have been lucky to read some wonderful retellings such as Fire and Hemlock and Pamela Dean's eponymous novel, which has a similar academic setting as this one. For some reason, the marketing department decided to throw in "The Night Circus" comparison in the mix, which I think is utter misrepresentation. The similarity is very thin in that both books have magic.

Barbour's writing is engaging and lyrical. Thorn Jack is full of striking or sinister images that jump off the page. The plot is elaborate, full of cool scenes revolving around a series of otherworldly parties/balls thrown by the fey Fatas (perhaps that's The Night Circus popping up?).

Besides the original source material, Harbour infuses the narrative with myriad references to Shakespeare, Celtic Mythology, Keats, and other literary allusions. If you're an English lit nerd, you will probably love picking all of these out. I say probably because I am an English lit major and I found the references to be a bit much at times and slowed the action for me. What I would have liked more of, however, were the intriguing excerpts from Lily Rose's diary. A separate publication of the entire diary would be a fantastic accompaniment to the series.

Another aspect that made me confused was the large cast of characters, many of them so similar as to be duplicative. I suppose they'll show up again in the subsequent books and that's why they were in this one.

Finally, despite the multitude of literary references, I got a strong young adult,Twilight-esque vibe as Finn becomes obsessed with Jack, the mysterious, dangerous boy who's hundreds of years old and tells her repeatedly to stay away from him when he's not popping up pretty much everywhere she goes. I was not convinced of why he falls in love with her (because something's "different" about her from all the other human girls he's been with in the past 2oo years).

I would categorize Thorn Jack as a sophisticated New Adult paranormal fantasy.