Wednesday, September 19, 2012

On Going Places

Let's talk going places.

I think I got into the habit early. My dad left home twice a day to deliver his eggs and if I could talk him in to taking me along, it was a glorious reprieve from chores and boredom.

When I got married, my husband would suit up for a trip to the hardware store and Wal-Mart. I was always ready to ride along. (My fascination with the hardware store died pretty early, though I'm still up for a Wal-Mart run or two).

On today's Finished Book Pile we have stories of people going places. Mack in Ron Carlson's Signal heads out on a camping trip in the Wyoming mountains.

Upon his father's death, Mack inherited his family's Wyoming ranch. Before long, the ranch was in trouble. It threatens to slip right out of his hands unless he can come up with a few thousand dollars. Mack turns to shady dealings hoping to raise the money that will fix his troubles.

In fact, there's more to this camping trip than admiring nature. Mack is up to something suspicious out there in the wilderness. He brings his ex-wife along; I don't know why, unless it's to provide a damsel-in-distress element. But they hike deep into the range lands, turn a corner and -- uh-oh! -- run into the downside of shady dealings.

Next up, we have The Flying Troutmans by Miriam Toews, a story that unfolds over a road trip from Manitoba (?) to Twenty-Nine Palms, California.

The blurb on the jacket promised a story of almost unbearable quirkiness, but I liked the characters right away. The narrator is a slacker girl returning from Paris to care for her sister's children. The waiflike sister has been in and out of mental hospitals her entire life.

So Miss Slacker, the niece and the nephew set out on a road trip to find the childrens' father.

By the time my bookmark moved to the meaty middle of the book, some of that quirkiness wore on my nerves. The purple-haired niece is almost a cartoon, witty beyond what any 11-year-old could sustain, never mind her strange upbringing. And the slacker girl--bless her heart for all the times she's come to her sister's aid--is too slackardly to finish many of her sentences. The author tries to paint a portrait of two children in pain, but for many, many miles of their road trip, the quirks clutter the picture.

In the end, however, I was glad I stuck with it.

Plenty of language cow patties.

Last up, we have a story that goes nowhere. Bloodroot by Amy Greene is set in Appalachia. Normally, I'm all over books about Appalachia. It's one of my favorite road-trip destinations and, if I can't get there in person, a juicy book about mountain people will hold me over.

The story never gets off the ground until about a hundred pages in and even then, every character, every scene feels contrived. That the book garnered gushing reviews leaves me baffled. I gave up on it just this afternoon, and petted my new kitten instead.

As for your recipe, you can try STIR-FRY CHICKEN FAJITAS:

5 TB vegetable oil
1/4 cup lime juice
1/2 tsp. ground cumin
1/8 tsp. cayenne
1 lb. skinless, boneless chicken breasts, cut into thin strips
1 large red bell pepper, cut into thin strips
1 large yellow bell pepper, cut into thin strips
1 large green pepper, cut into thin strips
1 onion, thinly sliced
1 garlic clove, minced
1/4 tsp. pepper

1. In a glass dish, mix together 2 TB oil, the lime juice, cumin and cayenne. Add chicken and toss to coat completely with marinade. Marinate chicken in refrigerator 1 to 2 hours for extra flavor, it time allows.
2. In a wok or skillet, heat 1 TB oil until very hot. Add chicken with marinade and stir-fry over high heat until chicken is white throughout, 3 to 5 minutes. Remove to a plate.
3. Add remaining 2 TB oil to wok and heat until very hot. Add peppers, onion, and garlic; stir-fry until crisp-tender, 3 to 5 minutes. Return chicken to wok and season with pepper. Toss until heated through, about 1 minute. Serves 6 @ 235 cals/serving, not counting the tortillas, cheese, sour cream, and other stuff you'll probably add to this.

From 365 Easy One-Dish Meals by Natalie Haughton.

This dish qualifies as going-places food because I prepared it for the crowd at a family reunion a decade or so ago. And family reunions are most certainly a road trip for our household. In fact, they are too much road trip. We have ditched the car for the plane. I weep for those book characters above who trudged their way from Manitoba to California, in a sick and coughing van to boot, covering scenery that makes me grateful for jet planes, despite what a hassle flying has turned out to be.

And now I leave you. I'm off to check tomorrow's weather. May it not ruin the little Cincinnati road trip I've got all planned out, complete with pizza and ice cream, Pandora on the car stereo and walks in hilly neighborhoods.