Saturday, January 28, 2012

The Accidental Kidnapping

Girl, Stolen 
by April Henry
Henry Holt & Company (2010)
224 pages
ISBN:  0805090053
Grades 7-10

Seeing a Cadillac Escalade running with the keys in the ignition, Griffin impulsively hops in and drives away.  What he doesn't see is the teenage girl in the back seat under a blanket.  The girl, Cheyenne, has pneumonia and is waiting in the car for her stepmother to come back from the pharmacy with her prescription medicine.  Oh, and Cheyenne is blind.

When he realizes he hasn't simply stolen a car, Griffin doesn't know what to do, so he heads home to his abusive father and his two creepy cronies.  Author April Henry conceived the idea for this novel from a real-life story of a blind girl caught in a car jacking.  In the real story the carjacker lets the girl out, abandons the vehicle, and is never found.  In the fictional story, Cheyenne's carjacker is a teenage boy, and his father a petty criminal, who, upon learning that Cheyenne's father is the CEO of Nike, turns the carjacking into a kidnapping.

What Griffin realizes is that his father has no intention of letting Cheyenne go when he gets the ransom.  Griffin treats Cheyenne with kindness, but is not sure how, or if, he can ensure her ultimate survival.  Cheyenne doesn't know if she can trust Griffin, but either way she's not going to let herself be killed without a fight.  Cheyenne is a gutsy, smart survivalist, who is vastly underestimated by her kidnappers.  Even more enthralling than the plot is the relationship that develops between the two teenagers, and I found myself rooting not just for Cheyenne but for Griffin as well.

To order this book from Amazon, click on this link:  Girl, Stolen.

Sunday, January 22, 2012

Chinese Cooking in the Year of the Dragon

Since posting my defense of chop suey last Chinese's New Year, I've been eating more Hunan and Szechuan Chinese food.  Oh, I still love Cantonese food and even made chow mein again for dinner a couple of nights ago.  (Remember the difference between chop suey and chow mein is the starch in the dish, chop suey being served over rice and chow mein over crunchy rice noodles).  But this past year I've sampled a lot of Chinese fried chicken dishes--and even one fried shrimp dish.  I've eaten general tso's chicken, empress chicken, orange chicken, and for Christmas a delicious orange fried shrimp.  (Chinese carryout has been an annual Christmas tradition for us for the last three or four years.  I love it--no cooking and no dishes.)

My favorite local Chinese restaurant, China Dynasty, is about a mile from my home.  Though it's been there since 1999 and I'd even eaten there for lunch once, I've only just discovered how good it is.  But, alas, as much as I like eating there, it's just not in the budget to do so very often.  So I learned how to make orange chicken at home.  The recipe I follow is adapted from America's Test Kitchen.  It's not a difficult recipe, but it's labor intensive for about half an hour.  It's worth the effort:  The results are as good as any takeout meal.  Serve the chicken over brown or sticky rice with a side of broccoli.  Incidentally, I think this might work very well with shrimp, too, something I'm going to try very soon.

Orange Chicken (Four servings)

1 1/2 pounds chicken breasts (cut into nuggets)

Marinade and sauce
3/4 cup chicken broth
3/4 cup orange juice
1/2 tsp. Penzeys orange peel*
6 Tbsp. distilled white vinegar
1/4 cup soy sauce
1/2 cup packed brown sugar
3/4 tsp. Penzeys minced garlic*
1 Tbps. fresh grated ginger
1/4 tsp. Penzeys black and red pepper*
1 Tbsp. plus 2 tsp. cornstarch
2 Tbsp. cold water

Coating and frying oil
3 large egg whites
1 cup cornstarch
1/2 tsp. baking soda
1/4 tsp. Penzeys black and red pepper*
peanut oil

Put the chicken nuggets into a gallon-size ziplock bag and set aside.  In a saucepan combine the broth, juice, peel, vinegar, soy sauce, brown sugar, garlic, ginger, and 1/4 tsp. pepper.  Whisk until the brown sugar is completely dissolved.  Pour 3/4 cup of this sauce over the chicken in the bag and make sure that all the pieces are covered in the marinade; press out the air and seal.  Refrigerate for half an hour to an hour, but no longer.

Bring the remaining sauce to a boil over high heat.  In a small bowl whisk together 1 tbsp. plus 2 tsp. cornstarch and the cold water; whisk this into the sauce.  Simmer, stirring occasionally, until thick and translucent, about one minute.  Set aside.

In a pie plate beat the egg whites with a fork until frothy.  In another pie plate mix together the cup of cornstarch, the baking soda, and 1/4 tsp. pepper.  Place half the nuggets into the egg whites, turning to coat, then thoroughly coat with the cornstarch mixture.  Place the dredged chicken nuggets on a plate, and repeat the process with the second half of the nuggets.

Pour 1/2 inch of peanut oil into an 11-12" frying pan. Heat until a drop of water sizzles in the oil.  Add half of the nuggets.  Fry until golden, turning each nugget with tongs once halfway through the cooking.  Transfer to a baking sheet and keep warm in a 200-degree oven.  Add more oil to the pan if needed and let it get hot again.  Repeat with the rest of the chicken nuggets.

Reheat the sauce over medium heat until simmering, about two minutes.  Add the chicken and gently toss to evenly coat.  Serve pronto.

* I love Penzeys spices, as you no doubt can tell.  If you prefer, you can substitute 1/12 tsp. grated fresh orange zest, 3 garlic cloves, minced, and 1/4 tsp. cayenne pepper for the orange peel, minced garlic, and black and red pepper.  If you can't find a Penzeys store locally, but would like to try their spices, click here to order online.

Monday, January 16, 2012

The Blood of the Children

The Watsons Go to Birmingham--1963
by Christopher Paul Curtis
Laurel Leaf (2000)
224 pages
ISBN:  044022800X

Christopher Paul Richard's 1995 debut novel The Watsons Go to Birmingham--1963 garnered both a Newbery Honor and a Coretta Scott King Honor.  A funny, poignant portrait of the Watson family of Flint, Michigan, the novel opens with the Weird Watsons, as they are known in the neighborhood, huddled under a blanket on the couch to keep warm.  Momma, who is from the warm state of Alabama, glares at Dad, as he is the one who moved her to Michigan, a state she loathingly calls "a giant icebox."

The story's narrator, ten-year-old Kenny, does extremely well in school and tries to please his parents, but his older brother Byron, "officially a teenage juvenile delinquent," is a rebellious boy who taunts his younger brother.  Little sister Joey tries desperately, if unsuccessfully, to keep the peace.  After a series of misdeeds, his "latest fantastic adventures" as Byron calls them, Momma and Dad decide Byron must spend the summer with his strict grandmother down in Birmingham.  The whole family piles into the Brown Bomber, a 1948 dull brown Plymouth, and drives south to Momma's hometown heading straight for one of the darkest, most shocking days in America's history.

The Watsons Go to Birmingham--1963 mixes the fictional story of the Watsons with real life events, making for a gripping introduction to one of the most devastating events of the Civil Rights Movement.  Of this tragic event, Martin Luther King, Jr. said that sometimes life is "as hard as crucible steel."

Incidentally, Christopher Paul Richard's second book, Bud, Not Buddy, received both the 2000 Newbery Medal and the Coretta Scott King Award.  If you enjoy Christopher Paul Richard's books, you might also like The Rock and the River and One Crazy Summer.

To order this book from Amazon, click on The Watsons Go to Birmingham--1963.

Friday, January 6, 2012


That Girl (1966-1971)
Created by Bill Persky and Sam Denoff
Starring Marlo Thomas and Ted Bessell

I rang in the new year watching a That Girl Marathon on Me TV.  Like Family Affair and The Mod Squad, That Girl is a show I haven't seen since the sixties.  (It was another of the television shows my eight-year-old boyfriend and I played.  When we weren't Linc and Julie, we were Donald Hollinger and Ann Marie.)  I hadn't expected the show to be as good as I remembered it to be when I started watching it at the age of seven, but actually it's held up a lot better than most sitcoms of that time.  In fact, it's really quite good.

Created by the same guys who brought us The Dick Van Dyke Show--no wonder it's so good--That Girl, a precursor to The Mary Tyler Moore Show, is a cutting-edge television program about a young actress struggling to make it on her own in New York City.  Incidentally, Jerry Paris (The Dick Van Dyke Show's Jerry Helper) directed the pilot and even appeared in it as a television director.

To support her acting career, Ann Marie works at various menial jobs:  waitress, Santa's helper, clerk at Macy's and the candy counter in a building lobby--where she meets Donald--and even Donald's temporary secretary at Newsview magazine, all the while dressed fabulously in her mod, colorful clothing.  She's beautiful, but she's no bimbo.   She's smart, and she takes no crap from the boyfriend.  She's also wacky, a little clumsy, struggling to make ends meet, basically leading an imperfect life.

Watching the That-Girl-A-Thon, I was surprised by how much of the show I remembered.  Like the episode in which Ann Marie wants to change her name to Ann Brewster, much to the anger of her father, Lou Marie.  And the episode in which Ann takes Donald home to meet the parents.  Along the way they stop for a picnic, where Donald steps on a bee, has an allergic reaction to horseradish, and loses one of his contacts.  But because Ann can't drive a stick, half-blind Donald must drive.  With Ann navigating, Donald drives off the road and get stuck in some mud.  Trying to push the car out of the mud, Donald gets drenched in the gooey stuff.  Meanwhile, back in Brewster, Ann's parents (Lew Parker and Rosemary DeCamp) are worried, and Lou, her father, is convinced that Donald is a bum.  When Ann and Donald finally make it to her parents' home, Donald's appearance convinces Lou that he was right:  Donald is a bum.

To order That Girl DVDs from Amazon, click on one of these links:
That Girl - Season One
That Girl - Season Two
That Girl: Season Three
That Girl Season Four
That Girl: Season Five