Book review: Into the Beautiful North

There are almost no men in the small Mexican town of Tres Camerones. They have all left to pursue dreams of wealth and a better life in the U.S.: the “beautiful north” of the title. But when the bandidos move into town, the women of Tres Camerones realize something must be done and so nineteen year old waitress Nayeli, inspired by a screening of The Magnificent Seven, sets off with three friends on a journey to el norte to bring seven Mexican men back to Tres Camerones. Interwoven with this tale is Nayeli’s personal story: her father was one of the men who left his family in order to find work in ‘Los Yunaites’ and she is determined to find him, basing her search on a treasured post-card he sent her from Kankakee, Illinois.

Luis Alberto Urrea brings Tres Camerones to life with his prose: the Mexican sun, the dust swirling from the wind and the colorful food. Into the Beautiful North is a skilfully written novel, blending social issues such as immigration and undocumented migrant workers with a mix of vibrant characters, humor and suspense. Whatever you think about illegal immigration, the novel gives a different and much more humanizing perspective than the harsh views we often hear. It is a thought-provoking, moving novel which is well worth your time.

Into the Beautiful North at www.luisurrea.com

Photo challenge day 1: Resolution

Happy New Year!

I have chosen to take part in a 31-day photo challenge which I discovered via the blog, Fourtuitous.com. Starting off 2013 with a photo every day sounds like a fun idea to me!

Day 1: Resolution.

My resolution for 2013 is to get outside and go places. I want to spend more time outside, exploring the world, and less time sitting behind the steering wheel of my car.

Resolution: to get outside and go places

Resolution: to get outside and go places

I used the photo-editing website, picfull.com, to have some fun with applying filters to my photo.

Blog challenge #11: Canada

Flag of Canada

Long time, no blog. Sorry for the absence. My life is currently very busy and very stressful. But this afternoon, I took a little respite to do one of my favorite things: baking. And blogging about baking. Achieving two of my favorite things in one afternoon? Way to go!

When I think of Canadian food, I think of maple syrup. After all, the maple leaf is the iconic symbol on Canada’s flag and according to this maple syrup industry facts sheet on the website of the Ontario Ministry for Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs (linked here), Canada is the largest producer of maple syrup in the world.

Maple Syrup Season by Charles Rondeau

You are in for a treat with the following recipe: Maple Crisp Pie. Doesn’t just the name make your mouth water? Anything with maple syrup is appealing to me…I could drink that nectar straight out the bottle. The combination of apple, cinnamon and maple syrup in this recipe is heavenly. I served it with plain yogurt and it was delicious!

Recipe source: Food Network Canada (link for Maple Crisp Pie at Food Network Canada. Recipe courtesy of Anna Olson)

Maple Crisp Pie

Ingredients
Dough

2 cups all purpose flour
2 tablespoons oats
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 cup unsalted butter, cut into pieces and chilled
2 tablespoons sour cream
2 tablespoons maple syrup
Filling
5 Mutsu (Crispin) or Granny Smith apples
4 tablespoons maple syrup
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1 tablespoon butter
1 egg, mixed with 2 tbsp cold water, for brushing

To Assemble

Directions
Dough

Preheat oven to 350 F.
Combine flour, oats, baking powder and salt in a bowl. Cut in butter the texture of coarse meal. Stir sour cream and maple syrup and add to dough, mixing until it just comes together. Chill dough for 15 minutes.
Filling
Peel and slice apples. Toss with maple syrup and cinnamon.
On a lightly floured surface, roll out dough to 1/4-inch thick. Slide dough onto a parchment-lined baking sheet. Place apples and all the syrup into the center of the pastry. Dot with butter.
To Assemble
Fold crust over apples in 5 folds, leaving some of the filling visible. Brush with egg wash and bake for 30-40 minutes, until crust is brown and filling is bubbling.

Have a wonderful weekend! Do you have any baking suggestions you think I should try (with or without maple syrup)? Leave a comment and let me know. :)

Blog challenge roundup: the first 10 recipes

I apologize for the lack of activity on the blog for the past month. My weekly post schedule has slipped out the window but I’ve been busy, not to mention the fact that I spent two weeks of July hobbling around in pain, before having surgery on August 1st. Ideas for blog posts haven’t been flowing freely and I haven’t cooked anything exciting in the past month. But I intend to return from my hiatus this week so be sure to look out for frequent posts again and some more delicious recipes!

Recipes from around the world. Picture source: Map Of The World by Jiri Hodan

In the meantime, here is a roundup of the first ten recipes I have cooked as part of the blog challenge I set myself back in February. You can read about that in this post: I’m setting myself a challenge.

Recipe 1: Irish soda bread

For blog challenge recipe 2, Middle Eastern cuisine gave me one of my favorites: hummus

Recipe number 3. A trip to South America: Honduras

Blog challenge 4. I have a special fondness for Greek food and I was delighted by how these Greek koulourakia turned out. I have made this recipe many times since blogging about it and it gives delicious results every time! Greek koulourakia

Blog challenge 5. Nettle soup: this is an easy, money-saving recipe and, despite what you might think, tastes very good! European nettle soup

Blog challenge 6. A simple but yummy Indian curry: Indian curry

Blog challenge 7. Ah, this is possibly my favorite recipe so far from the ones I have cooked for my blog challenge: Valencia orange cake

Blog challenge 8. I threw a load of ingredients together for this and the combination worked very well: Italian-style pasta sauce

Blog challenge 9. A hearty dessert: Traditional English pudding

And finally, blog challenge recipe 10! These are too bad for anyone’s waistline but they are amazing! Blog challenge recipe 10 celebrated the Fourth of July by baking some American brownies.

I hope you will join me as I embark on the next ten recipes! These are the remaining countries and I have recipes to find and make for all of them: Canada, Australia, Mexico, the Philippines, Russia, Portugal, Singapore, New Zealand, South Africa, United Arab Emirates, Yemen, Malaysia, Taiwan, China, Czech Republic, Belgium, Brazil, Turkey, Japan, Austria, Serbia, Costa Rica, Norway, Georgia, Belarus, Romania, Slovakia, Nigeria, Egypt, South Korea and Myanmar.

Quite a challenge!

Blog challenge recipe #10: American brownies

As you all know, yesterday was the Fourth of July — Independence Day — and so it seemed appropriate for #10 of my blog challenge recipes to have a U.S. theme.

US flag. Source: Wikipedia

Brownies were invented in the US; for the history of the brownie, check out ‘The History of the Brownie at The Nibble. I always thought cheesecake originated from the US too but I read that it was actually first invented in Ancient Greece. However, I think cheesecake recipes have changed just a bit in the 2500 years since Ancient Greece! If you want to read more about the invention and history of cheesecake, this page at What’s Cooking America is very informative.

New York cheesecake is a classic US specialty and it is my favorite type of cheesecake. Deliciously creamy with a hint of vanilla is how I like mine. I also love brownies. A good chocolate brownie should have a fudgy texture, firm yet scrumptiously gooey inside. Combining brownies and cheesecake in one recipe sounds too good to be true. But you can never have too much of a good thing, right?

Cheesecake Swirled Brownies
(recipe source: this page at Frugal Feeding. All credit for this recipe belongs to Frugal Feeding)

Makes 10-16

Ingredients:

• 100g salted butter

• 40g cocoa powder, as dark as possible

• 50g dark chocolate

• 2 medium eggs

• 225g light muscovado sugar

• 50g self-raising flour

• 200g cream cheese

• 1 egg yolk

Method:

1. Pre-heat the oven to 180C and grease a suitable baking tray. Melt the butter gently in a pan on the stove, to this whisk in the cocoa powder. Once added, combine this with the chocolate in small chunks until it has all melted together. In a mixing bowl, while the chocolate is melting, whisk together the eggs and sugar using a hand mixer.

2. Add the egg mixture to the chocolate in the saucepan and mix thoroughly. Gently fold in the flour and pour the brownie batter into the lined baking tray.

3. Beat together the cream cheese and egg yolk. Dot this mixture around the brownie mixture and swirl in with a thin knife. Bake for 25 minutes and not a moment longer, they need to have a hard shell on the outside and be very gooey on the inside.

Swirly brownie mixture

4. Leave the brownies to cool a little before turning them out. Pop them in the freezer for a little while before chopping.

The finished goods! Delicious, velvety and very, very moreish.

I’m setting myself a challenge

Specifically, I am setting myself a blog challenge.

Some of my frequent readers might have noticed that I put a little flag counter widget on the blog a couple of months ago. I like seeing which continents and countries my readers come from. So far, I’ve had visitors from 28 different countries.

And I have decided that I’m going to cook a dish from each one of those countries and share the recipe with you here. My goal is to cook one per week so it will take me a few months to complete this challenge. I hope you will come along for the ride!

Now, which country shall I choose first?

Reasons why I want to move to Maine…

Maybe the title of this post should really be ‘reasons why I want to visit Maine’. It is a state which I have never visited but it has caught my imagination and I have a dream of living in Maine….oh yes, The Pine Tree State is where my mind wanders when I should be doing other things, like paperwork and chores.

The natural beauty and scenery of Maine is spectacular. The landscape varies, from mountains to rocky cliffs to wilderness to beaches. And 281 miles of the Appalachian trail; the northern terminus of the trail is Katahdin – the highest mountain in the state of Maine. The mountain was named by the Penobscot Indians and its name means ‘The Greatest Mountain’. (This information sourced from Wikipedia Mount Katahdin page)

There are thirty-two state parks in Maine and one of these is Acadia National Park:

Acadia Park, Maine (public domain image)

Public domain image: A Look Through The Trees by Shari Weinsheimer.

Maine is bordered by the Atlantic Ocean and water is a prominent feature in the landscape of the state – shipbuilding was an important part of the state’s economy in centuries past. There are many pretty harbors scattered around the coast as well as the iconic lighthouses which a lot of people associate with Maine.

Camden Harbor, Maine (image copyright Back Road Journal)


Photo © Karen at Back Road Journal.

I love the traditional white clapboard houses with windows looking out on the ocean.

Old clapboard house (public domain image)

Public domain image: Old House by David Wagner

And the beautiful lakes:

Long Lake, Maine - image copyright Back Road Journal


Photo © Karen at Back Road Journal.

Maine is also home to lots of wildlife and native species. Moose is the state animal:

A female moose (public domain image)

Public domain image: Female Moose by Charles Rondeau.

As well as moose, Maine is the residence of cuter animals

Chipmunk (image copyright Back Road Journal)


Photo © Karen at Back Road Journal.

And the state bird is the pretty songbird, the Black-capped chickadee.

Maine's state bird: Black-capped Chickadee (public domain image)

Public domain image from: Black-Capped Chickadee by John Witherspoon.

Chipmunks and chickadees, black bear, beaver, coyotes, lynx, seals, puffins, whitetail deer, moose…Maine is filled with nature and beauty.

The state is diverse and that appeals to me. There are quaint little towns which have a quintessentially New England flavor and then there are state parks which are rugged, wild and perfect for hiking.

“In Maine
we are glad to be part of a land
that remains so beautiful under its green skin
of woods and open fields, that is glitteringly
bordered by thousands of miles
of breaking waves, and that is lovely,
too, with an unbroken tradition
of concerns, with the kind, enduring grace
of its neighborliness.”

(excerpt from a poem called Neighborliness by Kate Barnes. Source: Poets of Maine.

It is a very special place and I long to visit. In the mean time, I will dream.

With thanks to Karen from the wonderful blog, Back Road Journal, for giving me permission to use her photographs of Maine in this post.