Daily Archives: January 3, 2012

And I’m plunging into the Vintage Mysteries Challenge

My #4 reading challenge signup – the Vintage Mystery Reading Challenge.

There are a lot of themes, and I’m tackling most of them!

Vintage Themes:

1. Colorful Crime: 8 books with colors in the title
The Chinese Gold Murders (Van Gulik); A Study in Scarlet (Doyle); The Man in the Brown Suit (Christie); Gray Mask (Wentworth); Miss Silver Intervenes (Wentworth); The Problem of the Green Capsule (Carr); The Ivory Dagger (Wentworth); The Case of the Restless Redhead (Gardner)

2. Murder by the Numbers: 8 books with a number in the title
Nine – and Death Makes Ten (Carr); Champagne for One (Stout); Mr. Zero (Wentworth); The Clock Strikes Twelve (Wentworth); The Case of the One-Eyed Witness (Gardner); The Nine Wrong Answers (Carr); Thirteen at Dinner (Christie); The Three Coffins (Carr)

3. Occupational Hazards: 8 books with a “detective” who is not a P.I.; Police Officer; Official Investigator (Nurse Keate, Father Brown, Miss Marple, etc.)
4. Perilous Policemen: 8 books with a policeman as the primary investigator
5. Lethal Locations: 8 books that are all about place (for instance: country houses, hospitals, schools or even particular cities/countries)
6. Dangerous Beasts: 8 books with an animal in the title (The Bat; The Canary Murder Case; etc.)
The Hound of the Baskervilles (Doyle); Fer-de-Lance (Stout); The Case of the Howling Dog (Gardner); The Case of the Caretaker’s Cat (Gardner); The Case of the Lame Canary (Gardner); The Peacock Feather Murders (Carr); The Five Red Herrings (Sayers); The Maltese Falcon (Hammett)

7. Deadly Decades: 8 books, one from each time period plus one of your choice (Pre-1900s; 1900-09; 1910-19; 1920-1929; 1930-1939; 1940-1949; 1950-59)
8. Golden Age Girls: 8 books by female authors OR 8 books with female detectives
Have His Carcase (Sayers); Unnatural Death (Sayers); The Unpleasantness at the Bellona Club (Sayers); Dead or Alive (Wentworth); Rolling Stone (Wentworth); She Came Back (Wentworth); The Blind Side (Wentworth); Through the Wall (Wentworth); Holiday for Murder (Christie); Death Comes As the End (Christie)
9. Cherchez le Homme: 8 books by male authors OR 8 books with male detectives
In the Best Families (Stout); The Black Mountain (Stout); Murder Must Advertise (Sayers, Lord Peter Wimsey); Double for Death (Stout); The Case of the Counterfeit Eye (Gardner); The D.A. Takes a Chance (Gardner); The Blind Barber (Carr); The Crooked Hinge (Carr)
(It’s no big surprise, alas, that both men and women wrote about male detectives, but only women wrote about female detectives. The only, honorable, exception was Rex Stout, who wrote at least one book starring Dol Bonner – but I need that one for my Miscellany.)
10. Murderous Miscellany: Choose your own theme. Get creative–surprise us! The only stipulation is that the theme cannot be reading books by a single author.
Okay – how about A Year of Death? The following were all published in 1937: The Burning Court (Carr); Poirot Loses a Client (Christie); The Case Is Closed (Wentworth); The Case of the Dangerous Dowager (Gardner); The Red Box (Stout, Nero Wolfe); The Hand in the Glove (Stout, Dol Bonner); Cards on the Table (Christie); Busman’s Honeymoon (Sayers)

Ouch. I do have a lot of golden age mysteries handy, don’t I? It’s true that these authors were prolific – they were turning out stories that in some ways are more like episodes of TV shows like NCIS or Bones or CSI than like what we expect from books today. But I have to admit that I’ve spent a lot of time and money and shelf space on books that may not quite deserve it.

Maybe I should include Sayers’ Strong Poison, with its ringing Christmas dinner defense of mysteries, to cheer myself up.

Okay, I’m signed up for the Back to the Classics Challenge

Reading challenge #1, with categories, and my first thoughts about what to read:

  • Any 19th Century Classic – 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea, because my mom gave me a copy several years ago and I haven’t read it.
  • Any 20th Century Classic
    – Ulysses, because Finnegan’s Wake is too over the top to consider.
  • Reread a classic of your choice – Emma, because I haven’t read any Austen lately.
  • A Classic Play – The Frogs, because classic comedy should be funny even 2400 years later, right?
  • Classic Mystery/Horror/Crime Fiction – The Moonstone, because they say it’s one of the first real mysteries. And I bought a copy a while ago; another TBR.
  • Classic Romance – Jane Eyre, because you never need a reason to re-read Jane.
  • Read a Classic that has been translated from its original language to your language  To clarify, if your native language is NOT English, you may read any classic originally written in English that has been translated into your native language. – War and Peace, because it’s huge and strange.
  • Classic Award Winner  To clarify, the book should be a classic which has won any established literary award.
  • Read a Classic set in a Country that you (realistically speaking) will not visit during your lifetime  To Clarify, this does not have to be a country that you hope to visit either.  Countries that no longer exist or have never existed count. – The Pillow Book of Sei Shonagon, because she’s such a stylish bitchy gossip that she makes you care about thousand year old scandals.

Oooh, shiny!

Crammed bookcase with books piled on top and on the floor

This is not too many books

I found a new game! Reading challenges. What’s that? You sign up at various web sites to read variously specified groups of books over the coming year. Better than salted peanuts, which are generally oversalted and could stand to be roasted another five minutes….um, where was I, oh, that’s right, reading challenges.

So here’s the modest list of challenges I’m signing up for at this point (more might be added later, depending).

Here it is January 3, and it looks like I’m already getting off track on my resolutions, doesn’t it? Well, no. Remember that one about getting the house organized? One of the big sources of clutter around here is books. We own too many books, probably well over a thousand.* We need to weed out some of them.

But you can’t just discard books without knowing whether they’re worth clinging to like the love of your life and the crown jewels and a cure for cancer all rolled into one! You have to at least try to read them first. So, reading challenges. A perfect (I hope) way to prod myself into reading a broad sampling of the TBRs.

(Warning note: the next couple of posts will be lists of what I intend to read for the Challenges above, because if I’m reading their instructions correctly, some of them want you to post such a list. You’re welcome to take a look, but it may be boring.)

* A thousand books, ha! I went off and did a census – at first I meant to count all the books on the shelves, but there are just too many. So I counted some of the bookcases in the bedrooms and two of the ones in the basement, and extrapolated from there to the other bedroom and basement bookcases, not to mention the ones in the living room and the dining room.

Not counting the piles on the floors and on tables and night stands (and my husband routinely risks his life if the pile on his night stand ever tips over around 2 a.m.) – not counting all those homeless books, we have well over 2000 of the things. Too many to fit in this house.

I still want a Tardis.

Well, THAT was good.

Enchiladas, fresh out of the oven

Green enchiladas. They took over an hour to make, but boy were they worth it.

Yes, of course I’m going to inflict the recipe – loosely based on Rick Bayless – on you. You have been warned.

Green Enchiladas with Pork

  • cooked pork cut into small pieces (or chicken or turkey; for vegetarians, maybe sliced or chopped cooked portobello mushrooms)
  • corn tortillas – about 3 per person
  • about a  pound of fresh tomatillos
  • 2 cloves of garlic
  • 1/4 c chopped onion
  • 1/2 of a hot pepper (see below)
  • about 1/2 c cilantro (optional, but recommended) *
  • large pinch of sugar
  • pinch of salt
  • oil
  • 2 oz colby-jack cheese, grated

You’ll need about a tablespoon and a half of chopped cooked pork per enchilada – three enchiladas per person is a reasonable serving.

Tomatillos just before baking

Raw tomatillos

Pull the papery skins off the tomatillos and wash off their sticky coating. Bake at 450 for about twenty minutes.

Meanwhile, chop the garlic, onion, and hot pepper (I used a Hungarian wax pepper, moderately but not wildly hot. Choose something that fits your heat tolerance.) Wash about a quarter of a bunch of cilantro and discard the wiry stems. (Some people apparently loathe cilantro. If you’re one of them, leave it out. But the dish is much better with it.)

The other sauce ingredients

Cilantro, onion, garlic, pepper (clockwise from upper left)

When the tomatillos (remember the tomatillos? They’re in the oven) turn slightly yellow-green, puree them coarsely in a food processor or blender. Heat a teaspoon of oil, and saute the onion, garlic, and pepper for about five minutes until the onion is translucent and the pepper is slightly softened. Add the tomatillo puree and simmer for about five minutes. Puree the cilantro and add it. Taste the sauce. If it’s too sour for your taste, stir in a large pinch of sugar and a pinch of salt. Mix two or three spoonfuls of sauce into the pork.

Time to make the enchiladas. Have the tortillas, the oil, the pork, and a baking dish all next to your stove. Heat 1/2 tablespoon of oil in a hot skillet and put the first tortilla in the oil. Turn it after a few seconds and heat the other side. Let the oil drain from the tortilla briefly. (This is important to make the tortillas flexible enough to roll. I’ve tried various other approaches, like steaming the tortillas and heating them in the oven after brushing with oil, and the other methods just don’t work very well. Alas.) Now put about a tablespoon and a half of pork on the tortilla, roll it into a cylinder, and put it seam side down in your baking dish.

Keep frying and filling tortillas, adding oil to the pan as needed. (You’ll probably end up adding about a teaspoon of oil per serving of three tortillas. Not fat free, but still only about 40 calories.) When you’re done, pour the sauce over the baking dish, coaxing it to cover the enchiladas evenly. Top with the grated cheese.

Bake for 15 to 20 minutes at 350 degrees. Enjoy yourselves.

* Oh yes, the rest of the bunch of cilantro? If you’re as big a cilantro-and-garlic fan as you should be, try making some moretum – an ancient Roman dip for bread. And while you’re checking out the recipe, take a look at SPQRBlues. You’ll want to move to Herculaneum! (Well, as long as you have a guaranteed way out of town at the critical moment….)