Friday, September 30, 2011


Book Review

Room by Emma Donoghue.

A friend told me about Room. I hadn't heard of it. An extremely brief synopsis indicated that this would be a depressing book.

It is.

It is also an astonishing book. It got under my skin.

I wanted to keep reading, but I didn't want to read it when my kids were milling about. It is too depressing to read and look up and see and think about my own kids.

So I read when they weren't in the vicinity. But I kept reading. I didn't want to stop.


Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Gluten-Free French Onion Soup

All Soups are Suspect

When trying to eat exclusively gluten-free, all soups become suspect.

Many don't need any gluten, but when ordering at a restaurant, you can never be sure what they have done to their soups.

French Onion Soup is tricky. It doesn't seem like it should contain any gluten, except for the obvious bread floated on top. But, in fact, many recipes do include some flour to thicken the soup.

This is done all the time to soups. I don't trust any soups anymore, unless they come with a complete and explicit label or I make it myself.

And I really believe that anything with a "complete and explicit label" will never be as good as something I make myself. Flavor is lost in the processing. And all that time needed to do the labeling? Freshness is long gone by the time a label is attached.

In the case of French Onion Soup, that pesky toast/baugette/bread ruins my chances of ever ordering French Onion Soup at a restaurant. Sure, I could try ordering it without the bread (risky risky risky --- and I don't like taking risks in restaurants), but without bread to float, I can't have the toasted gruyere cheese on top! The toasted gruyere really is the key to the deliciousness of this soup.

I just have to make it myself. And it is so worth it. No can of gluten-free soup can compare to the flavor of home-cooked gluten-free soup. (This is probably true of glutenated soups too, but that's not what this blog is about.)

Gluten-Free French Onion Soup

Sunday, September 25, 2011

Sweet Thursday

Book Review

Sweet Thursday by John Steinbeck.

This was serendipity at work.  I had nothing to do with it.  I wish I had.

While visiting the library, my husband picked up two John Steinbeck novels, Tortilla Flat and Sweet Thursday.  I had read Tortilla Flat, but I hadn't even heard of Sweet Thursday.

And I think of myself as a fan of John Steinbeck.

I'm only fooling myself, apparently. It seems that true fans of Steinbeck's know that this is the sequel to Cannery Row.

I didn't even know there was a sequel to Cannery Row.

Well, now I do and now I've read it.

Can I delude myself into thinking I'm a true Steinbeck fan again?

Sweet Thursday

Wednesday, September 21, 2011


Book Review

Frankenstein by Mary Shelley.

This is the classic. I've never had much interest in reading it, but then I sort of stumbled upon the idea of reading it. By accident.

I was browsing the large print section at the library, and a book caught my eye. I picked up "The Casework of Victor Frankenstein". It sounded familiar, but didn't register right away and I didn't immediately investigate. When it came time to start reading it, it was sounding very familiar to what I knew generally of the original Frankenstein story.

Then I looked up the book on the internet. It turns out that this author has a habit of rewriting classic stories. I had no interest in reading a rewritten classic! I certainly want to read the original before I decide whether or not to read a rewritten version. And then a friend said the original was good.

That was it.  I stopped reading "The Casework" I requested the original. I almost never stop reading a book without intending to finish it. This time, that is exactly what I did. I started reading the original.

Then at my daughter's Back to School Night, I learned what she will be reading this year. Guess what? She'll be reading Frankenstein soon! She'll also be reading Romeo and Juliet and The Odyssey.

I've read other books that have been her assigned reading; The Cay, Antigone, Watership Down, and others. I've already read Romeo and Juliet, but the The Odyssey has been on my list a very long time. Now I'm pumping it up on the list, so that I'll be reading it before or while she reads it.


Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Gluten-Free Quiche Lorraine

The Irene Chronicles - Part 3

And now... the conclusion....

We had power. We had water. Whew!

We found out that our daughter's school was going to be open for the delayed first day of school on Wednesday. Our son's school was still closed, due to lack of power. We made plans to have him ready to go to school, in case power was restored in time.

We also found out from a neighbor that the county was giving out Meals Ready to Eat (MREs) and 3 liters of water to every resident without power. The problem is that they had been handed out at an intersection in an area that had power and no one was stopping to pick them up.

Why would you hand out food and water in an area that has power? The people without power don't know it is being handed out and they aren't anywhere near where the distribution is being done.

Well, it didn't matter so much for us anymore. We had power and that was great, but it still made me wonder who was making these decisions about distributing food and water....

Tuesday night we went to bed relieved.

Early Wednesday morning, I got email that The Boy's school was going to be open too. Finally! The kids were finally starting the school year two days late. I wonder if these will come out of our usual "snow days" at the end of the year....

I headed back to work. I had been able to weed through the most important emails Tuesday night, so I knew pretty much what I was facing. No catastrophes, but I needed to get caught up on what happened in those missed meetings.

Several of my friends and colleagues at work still didn't have power, but they had water.

One friend and her family still did not have power or water. I was feeling their pain. I offered to help any way I could. She assured me that they were doing fine, considering.

Another colleague had his basement completely filled with water. His insurance company sent out a repair company who proceeded to pump out the water, and then rip out all the carpeting and all the wet drywall in his basement. And apparently they left one heck of a mess behind. He hadn't heard when they would be back to fix it and but it all back with new materials.

One friend who lives very close to work never lost power or water.

It was interesting driving to and from work Wednesday. Debris was everywhere, except in the road. There were a lot of leaves still in the road, but the branches had been moved to the sides of the streets and into the medians. As I left work, I saw this tree down.

Being as hollow at that, it's not surprising that it finally gave up the ghost. I'm glad it didn't fall on a house or car.

By Wednesday afternoon, I started getting daily emails from the school system announcing that the MREs and water were being handed out through the senior centers at various locations around the county. That's better. Somebody started thinking about better distribution.

Unfortunately, it wasn't until Friday that I realized that some of our nearby friends were still without power and water. One of our family friends live in a more remote area not far from us and they still didn't have power on Friday afternoon. I called them for a separate reason and learned that we could have shared our water, our power, our showers, our phone, our information with them. I wish I had known sooner! If only I had known....

But the mom told us that the fire department had just stopped by their house and delivered MREs and bottled water to them. The fire department was going door to door! Now, that's getting the food and water to where it is needed. Very good. I was relieved to hear this. And the power company was promising to have their power restored by that same night.

In spite of all my angst about getting water, we faired well. We had a nice neighbor that gave us power through an extension cord. Other neighbors gave us pool water. Two fire stations gave us water. And we didn't have a tree come down in our yard. We only lost the top third of one tree and it fell away from the house. Lots of branches and leaves, but nothing serious. No storm surge. No flooding. No leaks.

We were very lucky.

And we are very thankful to those who helped us. The neighbor with a generator and long extension cord. The neighbors with the pool. The fire fighters. I hope we can return the favors some day. And even if I do, these folks are still getting Christmas cookies this year!

Gluten-Free Quiche Lorraine

Monday, September 12, 2011

A Letter of Mary

Book Review

A Letter of Mary by Laurie R. King.

This is the third book in a series that extends the Sherlock Holmes story and character. I originally stumbled upon the ninth or tenth book in the series, and I even started reading it. But I didn't like coming in the middle of the series.

Besides, I liked what I was reading and I might like the early books in the series too. Time to back up and start at the beginning. Which I did.

Just to catch you up, the series starts with Sherlock Holmes retired from private investigations and raising bees. A teenage neighbor girl, Mary Russell, shows promise in observations and analytical thinking and they become friends. As Mary grows up, she spends time with Sherlock and becomes is apprentice. She attends Oxford and becomes his partner. They come to respect each other and each has a fondness for other. After they each witness the other's life in peril in separate circumstances, they realize their attachment for each other. They subsequently "negotiate a marriage," despite the large difference in their ages.

Don't be mistaken. Of the three books that I have read of this series, none of them qualify as romances. They are all mysteries incorporating an interesting, extending twist on an old, favorite sleuth.

Saturday, September 10, 2011

If You Ask Me (Of Course You Won't)

Book Review

If You Ask Me (Of Course You Won't) by Betty White.

This turned out to be a fun, quick little book. It was not on my reading list. I had never seen it before. I had no idea it existed.

But I was desperate. I needed something in large print to read while on the treadmill.

Everyone is familiar with Betty from her publicity of the past year. The Facebook fan page. Saturday Night Live. Super Bowl commercial.

Sure... why not? I've never been a huge fan of Betty's, but I know who she is. And she's funny.

And the book was available.

This is one of several memoirs of Betty's, but it mostly just covers the most recent years. This is good since I wasn't really interested in an deep rehashing of her entire career. She writes in an easy, accessible way. And she's funny.

It's nice to hear that she appreciates her job as an entertainer. She appreciates her fans and even responds to fan mail. And she's funny.

If you are looking for a quick, light-hearted look at her take on her recent career, give it shot. And she's funny!

Don't touch that dial. Coming up next is the conclusion to The Irene Chronicles....

Thursday, September 8, 2011

Gluten-Free S'mores

The Irene Chronicles - Part 2

By Sunday night at bedtime, we noticed that the water I had put in the bathtub had drained out. We had already used some of the tub water for flushing toilets during the day on Sunday. But Sunday night saw the end of that source of water.

I knew our tub leaked, so when I filled it, I had resorted to shoving a plastic bag and wash rag into the drain as best as I could. I even topped them off with a heavy, stoneware bowl, hoping that the weight would keep the bag and rag in place. I tried to plug that drain.

I may have slowed the drainage, but clearly, I didn't stop it. And now the tub was empty. No more designated toilet flushing water.

During the day Monday, I called five or six hardware stores within a reasonable driving distance of our house. None of them had water containers. None of them. Bottled water, yes. No containers.

We had periodically been calling the power company to get updates on our expected return of power. The recording didn't change: Monday, 10:30 PM.

Monday night at 10:30 didn't sound so bad. We wouldn't have to worry about the empty tub if the power came on Monday night at 10:30.

We still had plenty of bottled drinking water. But we still wanted to get more water for everything else. We loaded up the containers we could and decided that a fire station should be able to help us.

We chose our closest fire station. They have a beautiful new building. Our daughter had even had a tour of it as part of a school trip. They didn't quite know what to make of us asking for water. But they showed us into their firehouse kitchen and we filled our containers at their kitchen faucet. It turns out that they didn't have power either and were running on backup generators.

We were very grateful for the water and tried to thank them on our way out, but we barely got any acknowledgment at all. That felt a little weird. But we had more water.

We puttered the rest of the day and fixed another dinner on the camp stove and grill. We called the power company again.  Still Monday, 10:30 PM. I headed to bed hoping they were right.

Tuesday morning arrived. No power.

So much for Monday at 10:30 PM.

Time to call the power company back. Apparently, that 10:30 PM recording was a "glitch" in their system. They didn't expect to restore power for us until Friday or maybe Saturday.


Friday! It was only Tuesday morning! Friday was a long, long way away.

We would have to do something about finding more water. We couldn't wait for Friday.

We needed water. The little bit we had gotten at the fire station wasn't going to be enough.

We needed all kinds of water. Water for the toilets. Water for bathing. Water for cooking. Water for cleaning dishes. Water for drinking.

We needed more containers to hold water. Drinking water containers. Many gallons more.

While my husband had been out cleaning up debris on Monday, some of our neighbors whom we had never met offered their pool water. Pool water for flushing toilets. Great. Now we just needed a way to transport it from their pool, across two street corners, to our house. I didn't want to put pool water into our drinking water containers. But I was willing to put pool water into our large cooler and one small cooler and five-gallon bucket and a three-gallon pail.

We drove our containers over to their house, filled them, and drove them back. Wonderful! Flushed toilets, and chased with a bit of chlorine. Terrible for the septic system, great for the toilets. I guess.

You weren't really expecting to see a picture of pool water, were you? I don't have one.

I was relieved to have the toilet water issue solved, at least for the time being. We still needed more drinking and cooking water and we didn't have quite enough containers for our liking. Friday was still a long way off, and we weren't really interested in having to chase down water every day until then. We really wanted more containers and more drinking water to put in them.

I emptied what drinking water we had left in our containers into the pots in the kitchen. We loaded these empty containers and all the other lidded containers we had, plus three for another neighbor into the car and headed out on The Great Water Hunt. Monday we had had success getting water from a fire station. They didn't seem overly thrilled with us, but I figured we might have success again with another fire station. I didn't want to push our luck with trying to go back to the same fire station so soon.

On our way to a different fire station, I spotted our favorite, local health food store. And then it hit me:

Health food. Environmentally conscious. Reusable containers. They might have reusable water containers! Wait! Go back! Let me just run in quickly and see....

They had them. They had a lot of them. In all different sizes. And a water filling station! Bliss! We paid an arm and a leg for two, five-gallon reusable water bottles. We filled them with Reverse Osmosis water. We paid and I didn't care.

We had containers full of pure drinking water! Big containers!

Next we headed to a different fire station. This station was attended by a Firehouse Mom. A talkative, caring, helpful Firehouse Mom. She and the others invited us around the back and helped us to use their hose to fill all the other containers we had.

As the filling of the containers started, the boy and I scoped out the engines. Big, beautiful, red and white and gold fire engines! He never tires of looking at fire engines. When we went back to help with the filling, the boy counted how many gallons we filled at the fire station. About 15 gallons in the large cooler. Two gallons in the small cooler. Two 3-gallon bottles. Eight 1-liter bottles. One 1-gallon milk jug. One 5-gallon paint bucket. Three 4-gallon bottles for our neighbors.

That's about 31 gallons of fire station water for us and 12 gallons for our neighbors. Plus our brand-spankin' new 10 gallons of Reverse Osmosis drinking water in their brand-spankin' new, 5-gallon bottles.

Now we were set. I felt like we wouldn't have to be looking for water again the next day. We might be able to skip a day before going back out for more. And we knew where we were welcome to go back for more water. That fire station is getting cookies at Christmastime! Well, the other one will too, but these guys might get a few more cookies.

I felt a distinct sense of relief. We had water and knew where we could get more without any problems. I could relax a little.

Before heading home, we went into the grocery store for a few necessities. Not bread. Not milk. Not toilet paper.

The fixings to make S'mores. Chocolate. Marshmallows. Graham crackers. Now we were properly set.

The kids had been great throughout all of our efforts to get water and all the uncertainty of finding water. They deserved this. And if nothing else, it was one bit of fun deliciousness that we could enjoy without power. They had earned it!

Once home, we unloaded all the water and had some time to relax before starting dinner. The girl had a bit of summer math to finish up with some help from me. And we chatted in between problems. And then it hit me:

The library has internet! If they have power....

I got so excited at the prospect of reading email! I had missed several meetings at work while out hunting for water. I was a bit curious how things went and what was or was not waiting for me.

We called the library and they had power! We made a plan to go to the library after dinner. We were all thrilled and I even promised that the kids could play computer games the whole time we were there!

I was just kicked to have some way to check email and let the kids have some computer time. I was sorry it hadn't occurred to me sooner. And then I realized that right next door to the library is the community center. And the community center has a gym. And if they have a gym, I'll bet they have a locker room. I'll bet they have showers!

I called the community center and asked how much a one day pass was. Five dollars. Fine. Steep, but we were all so ready for showers, it sounded great!

But then the guy at the center asked, "Does this have something to do with the power being out?"

"Yes, I wanted to find out if you have showers there."

"Well, I didn't want to embarrass you by asking that, but if you don't have power and just want a shower, we will let you in free."

"Free?!! Embarrassed?!! AWESOME! Thank you, thank you, thank you! How late are you open tonight and what time do you open tomorrow morning?"

That was it! We made plans to eat dinner quickly and go take showers and check email! We were ecstatic! We had a plan. We were all bouncing around with excitement over getting a shower soon.

As we cooked dinner, we got a call from our next door neighbor. They had power.

We did not.

Humpf. That took the wind right out of my sails. We still had a plan, but that pales in comparison to getting power back.

We ate our dinner by candlelight. We cleaned up quickly and started packing our ditty bags and preparing to go to the community center to take showers. And just as we were getting things together...

The power came back on!

Woohooo! Happy dance, happy dance, happy dance! Friday came on Tuesday night! We'll take it!

Of course, we didn't need to go to the community center or the library now. We did need to start plugging things back in. Well, my husband and I did that while the kids ran outside whooping and hollering. They showered a bit later, at home, after burning off some energy outside.

We had just one more thing we needed to do that night. S'mores! We had cause for celebration!

Gluten-Free S'mores

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

The Inheritance

Book Review

The Inheritance by Louisa May Alcott.

This is a brief novel by the author of "Little Women". I remember my mother recommending Little Women to me when I was in middle school. She had read it.

These days, I have have a hard time imaging me recommending Little Women to my own daughter. I see what she reads. I don't know that she would ever get around to cracking the cover, if I could even get her to agree to check it out.

I'm coming to realize that there are some times during one's life that are better for reading certain things. I doubt I have the patience to read Little Women again now.

But I was curious about this book, "The Inheritance". I hadn't heard of it before.

Apparently, it was not widely known to exist at the time I read Little Women. According to the Afterword of my copy, this novel was still unpublished in 1988. Louisa herself identified this as her first novel, written when she was seventeen years old.

The Inheritance

I was more curious about this book than anything else. I didn't expect a great novel. I didn't expect much of anything. 

This is a very short novel. I might even call it a novella.

I was surprised. It turned out to have a few plot twists that were unexpected, but good. This kept me interested.

The characters were quite predictable and a little too perfect. This didn't surprise me. This book is so brief, there couldn't possibly be enough space on the page to fully develop complex characters.

Since I have read all six of Jane Austen's novels, reading The Inheritance was considerably shorter and breezier. But the setting and the class society is very similar. Austen certainly has more depth, but The Inheritance is admirable for what it is. A first novel, written by a teenager. If the setting and characters had been developed more, and with the plot as it is, this could have been nearly comparable to an Austen novel. Not quite, but approaching.

Then again, I remember having a hard time getting through the length of Little Women. Maybe there is a happy middle ground in between.

If you are even a moderate fan of Austen and are looking for quick read, give this a try. I was surprised. You might be too.

Sunday, September 4, 2011

Gluten-Free Hurricane Hamburgers

The Irene Chronicles - Part 1

We saw this one coming. Her name was Irene.

Hurricane Irene.

We watched the hurricane model tracks. We evaluated the model errors. We checked for hourly updates to the models.

We started thinking about preparing.

We watched the models veer to the east of us. We watched the models veer over us. We watched the models veer to east of us again.

We got serious about preparing.

We had batteries. We had two cases of bottled drinking water. We did all the laundry. We had candles. We did all the dishes. We had several, full, 3 gallon containers of water. We got a new, filled bottle of propane for the grill. I filled large pots with water. We had small propane bottles for the camp stove. I filled the bathtub with water.

We are lucky enough to live in a neighborhood surrounded by farmland. We call ourselves semi-rural. This is also known as "WE LOSE POWER EASILY AND WE DON'T GET IT BACK RIGHT WAY".

And we are on a well. If we lose power, we can't pump water to the faucets or water heater.

We are surrounded by trees and the neighborhood and surrounding area is filled with them.  Tall trees. Eighty to a hundred feet tall. Everywhere you look.

For us, it looked like the biggest threats from Hurricane Irene would not be storm surge or flooding, since we are well inland and not close to a large body of water.  Our biggest threats would be the excessive wind and rain. And since we are on a hill and have good drainage around the house, lots of rain worries me less than wind.

Wind is the enemy. Well, sort of.

I don't worry about the roof being blown off. All those trees? They surround our house and keep the winds very low right around the house. All those trees? They tend to come down in wind storms.

The wind itself wasn't likely to get us, but downed trees would. My biggest fear was a tree coming down through the roof.

As Irene approached, the rain started, got heavier, and didn't let up for twelve hours. That is unusual for us. But our drainage proved adequate to the heavy, sustained rain.

And the wind picked up. And stayed up. Steady wind, with heavy doses of gusts.

My son wanted to sleep downstairs.  I had given it some thought and decided that I wanted to sleep upstairs. But since it would make him feel better, I let our son sleep downstairs.  My daughter and I went to bed upstairs, and my husband stayed awake downstairs to listen and watch most of the night.

The wind howled and the rain pelted the house. Branches fell to ground and on the roof.

And I couldn't sleep very well. It was loud upstairs! I finally drifted off to sleep, but only after an hour or two, I woke up startled. More wind, more rain, more howling.

I was spooked.

I wanted to sleep downstairs too.

But I didn't want to leave our daughter sleeping upstairs by herself.  I wanted us all together downstairs.

I went in and woke her and helped her downstairs. Then I had to make up a bed for my husband and I on the floor of the familyroom.

When I was finally able to lie down in the makeshift floor bed, I had peace of mind. And pain of back. The wind was considerably quieter downstairs, but my back started hurting.  Ultimately, I felt better that we were all down there, but I didn't sleep much at all. When I woke, everything hurt.

What's worth more? Peace of mind or my own bed? I'm glad I chose peace of mind.

Somewhere in the middle of the night, I noticed that we had lost power. My husband says it was about 1 AM Sunday morning.

By daylight, the worst of the storm had passed. I asked the kids to wait a bit before going outside to play, since the wind was still blowing some. I didn't want branches to fall on them.

Finally, we went out to survey our place. We faired well. No downed trees, just branches. One tree in the front yard lost the top third of it and, luckily, it fell away from the house. Lots of branches down. Tons and tons of leaves stripped from the trees were everywhere on the ground. The street was covered with green leaves. Everywhere you looked were green leaves. That was the worst of it.

Except the power was out. And we never know how long we will be without power.

Our dear neighbor next door had his generator out that morning and offered to give us some of his excess power, via a very, very long extension cord. Wonderful neighbor! We were able to plug in our refrigerator, so we wouldn't lose all our perishable food! It turned out that there was enough margin still on the generator that we could also power the coffee pot and then later, charge our cell phones. Our neighbor is getting cookies at Christmastime!

The entire area was hit, so I figured we wouldn't have power at least through the day Sunday. And without power to run the microwave, I needed to think about what we would be having for dinner.

It was easy enough to pull out ground beef from the freezer so that it would thaw by evening.

Then we went out walked the neighborhood to see how things fared.  Two doors down and across the street, this neighbor only lost a tree. It could have easily been the house or the car. Look how close it was!

You can't see it from my pictures, but the entire root ball is out of the ground. The downed tree isn't touching the car or the house!  

Can you see all the leaves and branches all over the driveway? It was like that everywhere we looked.

As we walked farther down our wooded street, we came across this tree that was down in another neighbor's front yard.

This one was too far from the house to do any damage.

And then we were walking through the part of the neighborhood that is not wooded. There are a few trees, but not like on our part of the street. Here, in the open side of the neighborhood, the street was clear of debris and there were virtually no leaves on the ground. You couldn't tell there had even been a storm!

We made around our part of the neighborhood and those two downed trees seemed to be the worst of it.  Thankfully.

Of course, we were all without power.  Oh, except those with generators. I'd never properly fallen in love with the sound of a generator before Irene.

When dinnertime arrived, the ground beef was thawed. We would cook the burgers on the grill.

Hamburgers, here we come. Hurricane hamburgers!

Gluten-Free Hurricane Hamburgers

Actually, there's nothing much special about these gluten-free hamburgers. They are good and they are gluten-free and we make them often. But for Irene, I broke out the gluten-free hamburger buns.

Buns are special. Gluten-Free buns, that is.

Udi's Gluten-Free Hamburger Buns, to be specific.

In the midst of all the discombobulation, I forgot to take pictures of our Hurricane Hamburgers. So, I'm faking it with pictures from after the fact.

For the hamburgers, I used very lean ground beef.  I like the using this to cut down on the unhealthy animal fat, but it also tends to make a very dry hamburger.  To compensate for the reduced animal fat, I added a tablespoon or two of olive oil (good vegetable fat). This makes a tenderer, juicier burger.

For seasonings, I added some sea salt, seasoned salt, garlic powder, worcestershire sauce, liquid smoke. I think I also added dash of taco seasoning. I was just grabbing things out of the cupboard in a darkened kitchen.

To help bind all of this together, I also added some rolled oats. Oats are controversial in the gluten-free world. They are not always safe for those on gluten-free diets, mostly due to processing. Fortunately, gluten-free oats are now being more available. I have been lucky, in that I haven't had problems with the oats I buy from Trader Joe's. I don't know if I am tolerating a small amount of cross-contamination or if their oat producers are good about limiting cross-contamination. Either way, I'm doing fine eating a small amount of the oats I find at Trader Joe's.  Please be careful and only do what is safe for you.

I mixed the beef, spices, oil and oats together with my hands and made it all into patties. They were then ready for the grill.

Have you ever tried to wash meaty hands with no running water? No fun. I had to have help with the water. I would advocate for never having to wash hands without running water, but that's just not practical. Please, please, wash your hands with soap and water very, very well after handling any meat!

I wish I had taken pictures of the burgers on the grill.

Here's the fake, after the fact picture of cooking burgers in a skillet (not on the grill) in the kitchen (not in the backyard). Sorry about that.

I wish I had taken pictures of my burger on my bun.

Here's a picture of a different Udi's Gluten-free hamburger bun taken after the fact.

Udi's Gluten-free hamburger buns. These are great! They are light and fluffy and whole grain. They taste great. They look great. But they are a little small in diameter. But they make up for it in height. This bun made my burger almost too tall to eat.

If you can find these gluten-free buns, they are worth having for when you want a real burger. Better than gluten-free bread or gluten-free bagels with a burger between them. These buns are good. Give them a try!

The Irene Chronicles - Part 2 is coming soon... but not until after I tell you a bit about what I was reading while the power was out.

Thursday, September 1, 2011

A Study in Scarlet - Graphic Novel

Book Review

A Study in Scarlet - A Sherlock Holmes Graphic Novel by Conan Doyle, Edginton, Culbard.

This past school year, my daughter needed to pick a book from a list of mystery novels, read it and then analyze it. The analysis including characters, plot, and setting. There were a lot of Agatha Christie novels and a few Sherlock Holmes stories on the list.

My daughter knows that I read a lot and she came to me with questions about how to choose a book. She asked if I had read any Agatha Christie books.

Yes, I have. Just one. Murder on the Orient Express.

It irritated the heck out of me!

I am not fluent in any language except English, despite my various attempts at learning German, Spanish, and French at various points. Murder on the Orient Express contains too many French pieces of dialogue, which Ms. Christie does not translate for the reader. Or even rephrase. I don't want to have to have a French dictionary alongside my novel when I'm reading. And this is usually of limited help, since much of colloquial French relies on idioms. I would have to also have a Colloquial French Dictionary on hand.

I really just want to read the story and understand it.

My daughter registered my irritation, saying "Oh... That's the author that bothered you so much!"

Yes. The famous Agatha Christie.

And I so wanted to like that book.

Luckily, I like Sherlock Holmes stories.

I didn't try reading any Sherlock Holmes stories until a couple of years ago. I was surprised at how much I like them. I was surprised that I had not picked any up before then. I was surprised that I had wasted so much time not reading Sherlock Holmes stories!

I told my daughter that if she was willing to read a Sherlock story that I hadn't yet read, I would read it too and then we could talk about it after we were both done.

She agreed.  She chose A Study in Scarlet, which I hadn't read.

She got it and read it.  I didn't have a copy yet.

I finally got an audio version and started listening to it in the car during my commute.  The first half was easy going.  I enjoyed it.

Then it slowed.  It seemed to start a whole new story.  I couldn't tell if this was actually a second story or what.

I was confused.

Finally, I asked my daughter about it.  Yes, it did seem to be part of the book, but she had lost interest in that section and skimmed it.

There's no skimming an audio book.

I continued to plow forward with it, hoping that it was going to come together and make some sort of sense.  It did.  Finally.

And then I never really got the chance to discuss the story with my daughter.  But I did get the impression that she wasn't overly impressed.

I didn't ask her, but I think it was because of the intervening subplot stuck right in the middle of the book.  And I can agree that it was placed in such an odd way that it detracted from the main plot.  All told, the story was okay, but not as well done as some of the other Sherlock stories.

When I was in the library recently, I was browsing the graphic novel section, looking for a graphic version of The Odyssey.  It wasn't on the shelf, so I ended browsing to see what other classics have been done in graphic format.

Beowulf. The Hobbit. Jane Eyre. War of the Worlds.

I had no idea these classics had been made into graphic novels.

I was excited!  There might be hope yet to get my son interested in the classics through these!

But were they any good?

I had to find out. That's when I spotted A Study in Scarlet. I had read that. Now I could read the graphic version and see how it measured up to the original.

A Study in Scarlet -- A Sherlock Holmes Graphic Novel

As one might expect, the graphic novel version of the story is much briefer.  I did note that all of the relevant pieces of the story were in place and seemed true to the original story.  Unfortunately, the graphic novel author chose to include a few words that are not immediately obvious without the surrounding context.  This wasn't a problem for me, since I had read the original, full text, but it could be a problem if I was expecting my son to get the entire story without the original.

The pictures were done in typical graphic novel style.  The colors were dark and seemed appropriate to a murder mystery.  I found that I started skipping looking at the pictures in the process of reading.  This is not good, since the speakers are not identified with words.  At some point, I needed to back up and reexamine the people portrayed in the pictures to determine who was speaking.  But this only happened once.

I presume it is difficult to make every character obviously distinct, when physical descriptions are given in the original.  I would expect that the physical depictions would try to adhere to the originals somewhat, but this makes distinguishing separate characters a little more challenging in picture format.  When multiple characters are tall, dark, and handsome, for instance, good luck figuring out who is who in the pictures.

I was curious to see the graphical treatment of the distracting subplot. Was it just as oddly placed? Just as long? Well, yes and no. The graphical version was true to the original story, but was refreshingly shorter and seemed to fit a bit better than the original. Maybe that was just because I already knew how it all fit together.

I recommended this briefer treatment to my daughter, hoping that it would spur her to read it and fill in the gaps of her original reading.  At first she agreed to read this version, but then later when I asked again, she brushed it off.  Since my son was also in the room, I asked if he was interested.

"I dunno know...."

I told him a bit more about it and the context and content.  He seemed somewhat interested.  The graphic novel format was a draw for him.

The next day I found him reading it.  A couple of days later, he finished it.

And how did he like it?

"It was okay. The murder was a bit... uh, bad...."

I was actually relieved that he said this. I wasn't quite sure how he would do with the content.  He did fine. And we talked about it further.

I wasn't actually expecting him to like it. But he read it. I would never have expected him to read the full, original text at this age. But the graphic format peaked his curiosity! Hurray!

There's hope yet!

This was a true representation of the original text, as best as I could tell. This encourages me to try other graphic versions of the classics. I do recommend this for anyone who might find it an interesting way to read classic novels.

Give it a look!