Wednesday, January 27, 2016

The Martian


I used to read a lot of science fiction.  I own all of Robert Heinlein's books and have read them all more than once.  I haven't liked any science fiction author as well, until I read The Martian by Andy Weir.  I took it on a recent trip and almost finished the book on the plane.

Astronaut Mark Watney gets stranded on Mars when the mission he is on gets scrubbed for bad weather.  He is hit by a piece of equipment and it punches a hole in his suit.  And his person.  The equipment also damages his bio monitor, so the rest of the crew thought he was dead and took off before their escape vehicle was blown over in the storm, trapping them all.

This takes place in the first chapter and the rest of the book is all about how this brilliant and funny astronaut survives all alone on a planet with no hope for rescue, until the next resupply ship is scheduled.  Mars is a long way away from Earth, so this means years.

I love all the detail in this book.  Granted the science sometimes left me behind.  I will admit to skipping some paragraphs.  This did not lessen my enjoyment in any way.  In fact, Weir's science knowledge and descriptions remind me a good deal of Heinlein.  He also was a scientist and used it for his books.

Weir worked as a programmer for a national laboratory at age fifteen and claims to be a lifelong space nerd.  He brings in such things as the Apollo flights and 70's TV shows to make a very funny and entertaining book.  Even though Mark is all alone, he keeps a log, so you know his thoughts and actions. 

Mark is a botanist and the crew were sent up some real potatoes for the Thanksgiving meal they were supposed to have on Mars.  He uses these and his "night soil" to grow a lot of potatoes.  I love the ingenuity on all the things he did to survive.  I hated that he took two steps forward and then things conspired to send him a step or two back.  There were a lot of nail biting, breath holding moments.

The whole world is aware of his fate and they are all working together to try to save him.

On my trip home, I discovered that the movie was on the list of programming on my flight.  Fabulous.  I watched it and they included all of the major points in the book, without too much in the way of changing things around to fit the shorter format.  Even though I knew how the book ended, I wasn't sure of what they would do with the movie.  But the movie held true to the end.  It even added an epilogue that I really liked that the book didn't have.

So my recommendation is to read the book first, almost always the best thing, and then watch the movie.  And take your kids.  Maybe they will pay more attention in science classes.  It could save their lives!

Wednesday, January 13, 2016

Love A Library

I love libraries.  I have ever since I turned five and was able to get my very own library card.  Now I love them even more because I can go on the Roanoke Library website and order any book I want.  I generally go to the Advanced Search page.  There I can just look at the newest Fiction or Non-Fiction published this year, or late last year.  I can also choose to look for only paperback books or hard covers.  The library lets me know when I have books and I just walk in and pick them up.

This last week I really scored.  I got a bunch of new books that I have had on request for some time.  They all came in at once.  Isn't that always the way?

Check these out!

I haven't really liked the most recent Stephanie Plum books.  It seems like Evanovich was just writing the same book over and over with just different names.  This one took the characters forward a bit and was better than the last few I have read. 

I ALWAYS like Robert Crais.  He writes several different characters and then combines them every once in awhile.  Elvis Cole and Joe Pike frequently share a book.  Both characters are equally appealing and for different reasons, but always because they do whatever it takes for Elvis to save the day in his role as private investigator.  These take place in Los Angeles and I like revisiting places I know, while I go along the exciting ride with these interesting characters.  In this book he brought in three different characters from previous books and that made it fun.  It works just fine as a stand alone novel, if you have never read him.  But I predict if you do, you will go back and read all his novels.  He's that good. 

Every once in a while you have to read some non-fiction.  I prefer novels, but this book sounded interesting.  It tells the story of the pirates along the Barbary Coast.  Some countries paid tribute so that their commercial vessels weren't attacked by pirates.  When the US gained freedom from Britain, we lost the protection from them for our ships and they were boarded, had their cargoes stolen and their crews enslaved.  The fledgling country had a limited amount of money available to pay these pirates and no Navy to protect them.  This book explains how the problem was solved with the Muslim pirates that had no respect for any non Muslim nation and felt they could enslave all captured sailors and torture, kill or hold them for ransom.  They could take tribute money and still take a ship or two.  We also would have had to make deals with, and pay tribute to, many of the groups along the Barbary Coast.

In this book you also understand why the Marine Hymn includes "to the shores of Tripoli".  It was a quick read and you might find you like history presented in this form, rather than the dates/battle form most history books use.

I ALWAYS like David Rosenfelt. He writes a series about an extremely wealthy lawyer, Andy Carpenter, who only works when backed into a corner.  And when he believes his client is innocent.  In addition, he runs a dog rescue and all of the titles involve dogs.  He is funny and interesting.  He also writes stand alone novels, but I prefer the Andy Carpenter ones.

After all, who doesn't like a murder mystery with dogs??  Look at that FACE!

Thursday, January 7, 2016

New Cooktop

When we bought this house it had a Jenn-Air cooktop.  One of the burners would only light with a lighter.  I guess I could have bought a new igniter, but it had so many other problems that I didn't want to fix that and then replace it. 


It had a downdraft in the middle of the cooktop to grill when you switched out the burners.  This meant all the drawers below had giant holes cut in them and were mostly unusable.  Who would grill in the house?  Only crazy people.  The cleanup alone would be enough to put me off.  That is why outdoor grills were invented!

The worst problem was that the low heat was medium heat on any other cooktop.  This meant soup or rice could scorch on the bottom.  It you turned the burners below low, then the flame would flicker and may go out.  That would be dangerous.  So don't do that.

After eight years of fixing other, more urgent needs, we finally replaced the cooktop.  Naturally the one I wanted was VERY pricey and had a different cutout from the Jenn-Air.  Our granite counters were not installed in one piece with a cutout for the cooktop.  They had put in one piece on one side and another on the other.  The parts under the cooktop were installed as separate pieces.  I imagine this was a cheaper option.

The piece in the front of the cooktop was installed poorly.  It was tipped forward and down so that there was an obvious ridge at each end.

I have wanted to tile behind the cooktop.  And I didn't want to add tile above the granite backsplash, so we decided to remove the granite backsplash and use it to cut the new pieces for the cooktop. 


The guy from Rock Fab in Roanoke came out and warned us that it was unlikely to come off in one piece.  If installed correctly the backsplash would have to be pounded out and the plaster would be damaged and the granite would be in pieces.  So the good news is the original installers did a poor job there, also. 


It came off in two pieces and we had plenty to fix the front and back pieces to install the cooktop.  It looks great and I highly recommend them.

I am still researching tile backsplashes, but in the meantime I have a fabulous cooktop.


It has two burners that are super low.  They cycle on and off automatically, so that you can keep chocolate melted or fondue at the perfect temperature with no scorching or stirring necessary.  It has one burner with high intensity to boil a giant pan of water for pasta.  The burners are star shaped instead of a circle.  This means the heat is more evenly distributed over the bottom of the pan.

I wish I was getting paid to tell you all these fabulous things.  But I'm not. 


Now I have to repair the plaster.  There are two holes where the pry bar popped through the plaster when removing the backsplash.

First I cut a small piece of a wooden shim and tied a string around it.  I maneuvered it behind the hole in the plaster and held it in place with the string.  I filled the hole with spackling compound and let it dry. 


When you are repairing a big hole the compound will shrink as it dries.  I cut the string and smeared some more compound over the hole.  I placed some mesh over the compound and pressed it in with a taping knife.  I added more compound to cover the mesh.


I think the other hole is too big to use the mesh.  I am worried that when the grout is pushed in to the tile, it will be too much for the repair and sink in.  This would be bad.


I bought a hole patch with metal and mesh and fitted it over the hole.  I pressed some compound in to the mesh around the edges.


When everything dries I will sand it smooth and then it can be tiled over.

We went to Home Depot to order new drawer boxes from Thomasville.  (I am going to get DRAWERS!)  I found something to rub into the stainless cooktop to protect it from spills and stains.  It is supposed to act like wax on a car.  I put two coats on.  It doesn't say how often I will need to use it.  Guess I will find out.


But now I am back in the cooking business.  I made SOUP! 

The only problem is now I need to replace the double ovens.  They don't cook evenly and a convection oven will fix that!  They don't match my new stainless cooktop, but a new one will fix that!  The new one I want has a smaller cutout, but I can build a shelf and buy some trim from Thomasville to fix that!  And all for only THOUSANDS OF DOLLARS!  How do I fix that??

Tuesday, January 5, 2016

Eggnog French Toast

My aunt in Ashland, Kentucky sent me a version of this recipe.  She said someone in her Sunday School class gave her this.  She tried it and recommended it.  So I gave it a try.

Her version would have fed a whole family.  I only had three people to feed, so I cut the recipe in half.  If you want to make a 9 X 13 pan of this, just double the recipe.

Eggnog French Toast

1/2 cup brown sugar
1/4 cup butter
1 Tablespoon light corn syrup
1/2 loaf of French or Italian bread
4 eggs
1 cup eggnog


This recipe soaks overnight in the refrigerator, so you have to start the night before.


Whisk the eggs and eggnog and set aside.


Cut the bread into cubes and set aside.


Place the brown sugar, butter and corn syrup in a saucepan and heat over medium heat.  Use part of the rest of the stick of butter to grease a 2 quart baking dish. 


Stir the melting butter into the brown sugar until dissolved.  When it starts to bubble up, remove from the heat and pour into the prepared baking dish.


Place the bread cubes on top of the brown sugar mixture. 


Give the egg mixture another whisk and pour over the bread. 


Cover with foil and refrigerate until morning.

Set the dish on the counter and heat the oven to 350°.  Place the dish in the oven with the foil still on top.  Bake for 35 minutes. Remove the foil.  I used tongs. Increase the heat to 375°.


Bake for about 7 to 8 more minutes, until the top starts to brown.  Remove and let it rest for about 5 minutes.  Serve warm.


When you plate the square of French Toast, the brown sugar goodness oozes out from under the toasty warm, eggnoggy bread.  Make sure to scoop up all you can to serve with each helping.


I served it with Baked Maple Bacon.  No fennel this time as I have two guests that can't have seeds!