The Brief History of the Dead
by Kevin Brockmeier
Quickie Synopsis: In the city of the dead, life for the recently departed continues much as, well, life for the living. Restaurants are visited, jobs are attended to, new loves and old become reacquainted. The real plus side is that there's no need to worry about such trivial human concerns like eating well or exercising since you're already dead. And you suddenly have all the time you ever desired to stroll in the park or catch up on your reading. The city of the dead is a kind of holding area--you have definitely died, but you haven't quite yet left earth. There are still people down there who remember you and hold on to you. Until all the people you know have also died, you will stay in the city. And when the last person who remembers you dies, you disappear from the city, and none of the deceased residents knows where you disappear to.
On Earth, it is a time of war, of terrorism, of environmental collapse. Large groups of people appear and disappear suddenly in the city--gradually it is realized that no one left on Earth to remember the dead. As the population of the city slowly stabilizes again, a connection is discovered among the remaining residents: they all know or are somehow connected to a woman named Laura Byrd. And on Earth, Laura Byrd is struggling for survival. She is trapped in Antarctica, alone, running out of supplies, and unaware that she may very well be the last human on Earth.
In The Brief History of the Dead, Kevin Brockmeier explores two classic philosophical questions: "What happens after we die?" and "What if you were the last person left on earth?" Each question follows its own thread, but the narratives weave through each other with a musical grace until the two are finally twined into a single inevitable piece. Neither story is quite strong enough to stand on its own, but when combined, they represent a moving and powerful whole.
Some of the most impressive writing in this novel comes in the character of Laura Byrd. Laura is an unlikely heroine for this novel. She is a mid-level employee at the Coca Cola Corporation and has been sent by her employer to Antarctica as part of a publicity campaign. She is billed as the team's wildlife expert, but she herself readily admits that her expertise in that area is rather lacking. Alone in the arctic desert and cut off from any other humans, she doesn't possess a great deal of survival knowledge, and endures mainly by virtue of fancy space-age equipment and her own tenacity to live. She is quirky and immensely lovable, reacting to situations in much the same way we might imagine ourselves reacting if we suddenly realized that we were trapped in an arctic science station while an epidemic was killing off the rest of humanity. Most significantly, we see Laura grow and develop as she reacts to new situations and new realizations about the reality of her situation. Brockmeier has created Laura's character to perfection.
And in stark contrast to Laura Byrd's high-action adventure, the segments of the novel that take place in the city of the dead have a dreamy, reflective quality. The newly dead are rediscovering what they loved about living and realizing that they have been given a second go-around at pursuing their dreams. Brockmeier meditates on what connects us to each other, crafting mini-stories that profile different residents of the city who are both close to and only loosely connected to Laura Byrd. While the movement and story of the city of the dead isn't as plot-driven or presented in the same sharp detail as Laura's story, the city is the necessary backdrop that gives Laura's story added substance and consequence.
Still, there were some aspects of this book that left me severely wanting. Take the title: The Brief History of the Dead. What did Brockmeier intend by calling this book a 'history'? Because it's not; it's really more of a "Brief Story of What's Happening to the Dead." Or "The City of the Dead: A Guidebook." One of the whole points of Brockmeier's version of the afterlife is that it's relatively timeless. There are days and nights, there are tomorrows and yesterdays, people come and leave the city, the weather fluctuates--but there prevailing understanding is that time is suspended. The inhabitants of the city are waiting. Nothing ever really happens in the city of the dead--no revolutions or political shenanigans, there are no famines or environmental disasters, no major inventions or leaps of humankind. In short, nothing happens to MAKE history. I toyed with the idea that the author is being ironic and is trying to emphasis the lack of history in the book by including it in the title. But really, I think he got lazy. I think he thought of a great title for a book a long time before writing it and clung to that title even as the book he was writing changed and grew to the point where the title was no longer the right fit. (P.S. Any grammar geeks out there want to have a go at discussing the significance and merit of calling this "THE history" as opposed to "A history"?!...Or perhaps I should say "AN history"....)
And let's talk about the city of the dead. This is an interesting idea: a city (just the one) like a cosmic waiting room where the dead go after their bodies have died but they are still half-alive in the memories of the people they knew on earth. It makes sense that these recently departed still have attachments to their earthly selves--their jobs, their hobbies, the idea that they need to eat, and so on. This idea inevitably led to some obvious holes in the conceptualization of the city--holes that I at first took to be intriguing intellectual puzzles, but with which I became increasingly frustrated as either they remained unresolved or they were resolved in a way that only let to more puzzles.
For instance, take the concept of money. At first I thought that there was no money in the city and everything operated on the Utopian ideal of plenty-for-all. But toward the middle of the book, there is a scene where a woman throws coins at another resident of the city because she thought he was begging. Aha! Money after all! But then: why? Why is there money? Where does it come from? What does it represent--is there a ghostly Fort Knox somewhere? How do people get it? Are there banks?
And where does the 'stuff' come from? Who makes the coins and where does the metal come from? Where do things like paper come from--paper to print the newspapers and book all the dead are reading? Where does the food come from? Are there fields being harvested somewhere in the land of the dead, somewhere off-screen? Or does food appear by magic in the larders of the restaurants and kitchens of the city? Maybe when the living back on earth think about food, food also appears in the land of the dead--spirit food! And do the dead actually need to eat anyway, or is it just force of habit?
At one point, one of the characters notices that the trash hasn't been picked up yet, which immediately made me wonder, "Who is choosing to spend their afterlife as a trash collector?" Maybe the dead don't get a choice. Maybe they automatically just do what they were doing when they died--whether they were a child or a retired person or a stockbroker. Maybe the whole technical operation of the city relies on the fact that people of all ages die and therefore the city of the dead has enough diversity to sustain all its functions.
The further I got into the book, the more these kinds of questions bugged me and distracted me from the story. I'll grant you that Brockmeier MAY have left these kinds of details intentionally ambiguous in an attempt to draw attention to the fact that we in the land of the living don't always have a good idea of where our goods come from and we often treat them as if they appeared by magic. That's possible. But I think not.
But just as with my suspicion with the title, my gut feeling is that Brockmeier got lazy. I don't think that Brockmeier knew the answers to these ambiguities and inconsistencies any more than the reader does. As any writer worth his or her salt knows, the writer needs to know every last detail of their story down to the color of Timmy's shoelaces and how many stoplights Mr. Jones passes on his way to work. If the author is completely conscious of the world and characters he or she is describing, the necessary details will naturally float to the top and the reader will be able to fill in the rest of the blanks on his or her own. These small details of shoelaces and stoplights may never make it into the final story; but it's the fact that the author has them firmly in mind as he or she is writing that deepens the story the same way a dash of secret spice will deepen the flavor of chili and make it a better stew without anyone being the wiser. Brockmeier clearly knew Laura Byrd's character inside and out, so why didn't he apply the same level of craft to the city of the dead?
Intended or otherwise, The History of the Dead only manages a superficial, if highly entertaining, look into some of humankind's deepest questions. It's this lack of depth that ultimately keeps an otherwise well-written and well-conceived book solidly in the camp of whimsical science fiction and prevents it from becoming anything more than an interesting philosophical jaunt.
Final Recommendation: Worth the read
Good Read For When You're: Waiting at the airport, on vacation, or sick on the couch looking for good distraction.
Good Choice For: Science fiction fans, precocious teenagers, and philosophy majors thinking of switching to creative writing. Oh, and book groups. This is a bone fide book group read if I ever read one.
If You Liked This Book, You Might Also Like: Eva Moves the Furniture by Margot Livesay
Saturday, December 23, 2006
The Brief History of the Dead
Wednesday, December 13, 2006
Children of the Red King Book 5: Charlie Bone and the Hidden King
by Jenny Nimmo
Quickie Synopsis: On the eve of his 10th birthday, Charlie Bone finds that he can hear the voices of people in photographs. Fearing that he's going insane, Charlie instead discovers that he is one of the magically talented descendants of the Red King, an ancient monarch who had 10 children each endowed with special powers. Charlie is sent to boarding school at the mysterious Bloor's Academy where he meets other children with incredible talents and begins to realize that there is a rift in the descendants of the Red King, some of whom are working for good and others who are hungry for power. In this fifth book, Charlie Bone and his friends venture further into the mystery of the Red King, battle an ancient shadow, and get closer to the truth about Charlie's missing father.
Other books in the Children of the Red King Series:
Book 1: Midnight for Charlie Bone--in which Charlie first discovers his power, begins his adventures at Bloor's Academy, and searches for a missing girl.
Book 2: Charlie Bone and the Time Twister--in which an old relative of Charlie Bone and a nemesis of the Bloors is sent forward through time to Charlie's present day.
Book 3: Charlie Bone and the Invisible Boy--in which Charlie Bone and his friends attempt to find and rescue an invisible boy named Ollie.
Book 4: Charlie Bone and the Castle of Mirrors--in which Charlie and his friends work to save Billy Raven from his sinister adopted family
Ok, you're all thinking it, so let's get it out in the open: This "Children of the Red King" series bears so many similarities to the Harry Potter series by JK Rowling that it's almost laughable. Slightly clueless boy who still somehow becomes the magnetic leader of his group of friends? Check. Magical academy set in a castle-like manor with twisty hallways, lofty ceilings, and portraits of stuff old people? Check. An inevitable battle between good and evil building over the course of several books? Check. And unfortunately, since these books came out after the beginning of the Harry Potter craze, I don't even think it's possible to say Jenny Nimmo wasn't influenced by the Potter books.
But here are the positives and why these books are worth reading: Nimmo's series is geared toward a younger audience who may not be ready for the darker, more complicated Harry Potter books. They would be perfect for an eager second grader all the way on up to a fifth grader. Despite some of the iconic resemblances to the Potter series, Nimmo stands on her own with unique characters, engaging dialogue, and unexpected plot situations. Her books are solidly well-written and vibrant with a spark and creativity that is all Nimmo's own.
Having said this, Book 5: Charlie Bone and the Hidden King was a bit of a disappointment. A lot of the same attributes that really distinguished Nimmo's books in the past ended up falling flat in this latest installment. The dialogue was often stilted and peppered with the kind of bland, characterless phrases that you might find in the first meeting of a Short Fiction 101 class. The characters, who readers have grown to love over the course of the previous four books, appear fickle and one-dimensional. Perhaps in response to criticisms that her plot development has been too predictable in her past books, the storyline in Book 5 takes so many sharp turns and felt so cobbled together that it left me feeling bewildered, confused, and ultimately unsatisfied. Even the long-anticipated unveiling of Charlie's true father wasn't enough to pull this book out of its doldrums.
More than anything else, it felt like Nimmo lost confidence in her vision for the series. Flipping through the front of the book, I see that Nimmo has dedicated the book to the memory of her editor, Miriam Hodgson. I wonder if the death of her editor can partly explain the loss of momentum in this book--or if her editor was the real powerhouse behind the spark and creativity in the series? It's unclear whether or not this is the final book in the series. In many ways I hope it isn't the end of the series. This would be a disappointing and anticlimactic end to what is otherwise a fantastic and imaginative middle-reader series. I have faith that Nimmo can reconnect with her original enthusiasm and desire for this project, and bring series to a more powerful conclusion in another book.
Monday, December 11, 2006
I'm a bread and butter kind of girl. Cooking and eating fancy meals is just dandy for special occasions, but what I'm really interested in is what people eat every day. I like to keep it simple and keep it good. Good food doesn't need to take 10 hours to prepare or call for a million ingredients or use expensive spices in order to be good. You don't even need to be a master chef in order to make it good. You just need to want it to be good.
Two years ago, I didn't know how to cook. The Engineer and I subsisted on stir-fries and rice, pasta and jar sauce, and runs to Anna's Taqueria for burritos. Then I started doing WeightWatchers. And I realized that eating well was really boring. No flavor. No feeling of being full. No satisfaction of any kind. I felt that the only choice being offered was between eating what tasted good and being 'ok' with the portly consequences or eating boring food and staying healthy-thin. I felt miserable and trapped and angry.
And that's how cooking became my rebellion. I wanted my food to be good. I wanted it to taste good and be good for me at the same time. I wanted this in a way that I felt in my gut and my heart. I absolutely did not believe that my only choice was between good-tasting food and good-for-you food. So I started to cook.
Two years later, I have a lot more confidence in the kitchen. I try new recipes as I come across them and will reincarnate recipes to my own tastes if I think the original had potential. I know where I can cut corners and use low-fat ingredients, but add a few 'regular' ingredients to bring out a good balance of flavor. And I've loosened up a lot. I'm a recovering perfectionist and it's still hard to try a new ingredient without knowing how it will taste or not feel like a failure if a recipe doesn't turn out brilliantly.
I've also worked on expanding my portfolio of "Tastes That I Like." In a recent interview with Seth Roberts on The Restaurant Guys (Click HERE to download the interview), Roberts mentions that Americans tend more and more to eat foods with the same flavors. Walk into any fast food burger joint in the US and order any burger and I guarantee that it taste pretty much like any other burger you would order anywhere. On top of that, Roberts says that people tend to eat the same basic foods with the same basic flavors over and over again--their daily diets don't change. Although Roberts didn't go into this in his interview, what this tells me is that a lot of people out there are no longer really able to recognize what tastes good; they only recognize what is familiar.
When I first started cooking, I was only able to recognize when I didn't like something that I ate--it was too bland or too over-cooked, etc.--but I couldn't identify what was missing or how to make it better. It took a lot of trial and error in order for to figure out what flavors I liked, how much of a particular flavor was good, and what flavors went together. Chefs and foodies call this 'expanding your palate.' I'm still figuring this out and have gotten more adventurous about trying new combinations of ingredients and spices (Lemon-Anise Muffin recipe coming soon!).
So, bread and butter. When I was in college, my dad sent me a post card that said, "To simplify, you have to say no." That post card has hung next to every desk I've had since and I often think about it when I'm in decision-making situations--whether that situation is what to wear in the morning, how to handle a new project, or what ingredients to add in my soup. Simplify. Keep it simple and keep it good, that's how I roll.
small red or white potatoes (2" - 3" across)--estimate about 2 potatoes per person plus one for the cook--halved and quartered
1 large onion--cut into wedges
1 red pepper--cut into chunks
1 zucchini/eggplant/summer squash--cut into chunks
Salt to taste
Thyme, rosemary and/or oregano to taste
Note: The potatoes should be cooked separately from the other veggies. Not only do they take longer, but other veggies tend to release water as they bake, which prevents the potatoes from crisping. If baking both potatoes and veggies, put the potatoes in the oven 10-20 minutes before the other veggies so both trays will be ready at the same time.
Preheat oven to 425 degrees.
Potatoes: Put the potatoes into a bowl by themselves. Drizzle 1 tablespoon of olive oil over the potatoes. Add 1 teaspoon of sea salt and 1 teaspoon of dried thyme, rosemary, or oregano (or any combination of these herbs equalling about 1 tsp). If using fresh herbs, increase the amount by 1/2 to 1 tsp. Line a baking sheet with aluminum foil, spray with non-stick coating, and spread potatoes over sheet. Bake for 40-50 minutes until browned and crisp, stirring occasionally to prevent the potatoes from sticking.
Other veggies: Combine the other veggies in a separate bowl, drizzle with 1 tablespoon of olive oil and add herbs. Line a second baking sheet with aluminum foil, spray with non-stick coating, and arrange veggies. Bake for about 30 minutes, stirring occasionally, until onions are crisp at the edges and caramelized, and the other veggies are cooked through.
Combine veggies and potatoes, adjust spices to taste, and serve!
WeightWatchers: Small potatoes are about 1 point each. One tablespoon of olive oil is 3 points. If cooking with 8 potatoes and 2 tablespoons of olive oil (total--one tablespoon for each bowl), the total points for the entire mess o' veggies is about 10. In other words, this is a very WeightWatcher's friendly meal or side-dish! I usually combine about 1 cup of roasted veggies (about 1 point) and 3/4 cup of rice (3 points) for a more satisfying meal.
Tuesday, December 05, 2006
Knitting Distraction Numero Uno: The Meathead Hat
While paddling around the Blog-o-pond a few weeks ago, I came across a mention that Portland (Oregon, y'all) fiber artist Larissa Brown was in the process of compiling a knitting book and was looking for volunteers to test-knit some of the patterns. Well, I'm always up for a good old fashioned ho-down so I signed myself on up! Yee-haw!
Right now she's testing her signature piece: the meathead hat. This was a pattern she developed for an art show called Conference in fall of 2005. For this piece, she gathered 100 volunteer knitters from around the world and had them each knit the same hat in the same yarn. She affixed a numbered cattle tag to each hat and pinned them to the art gallery wall in rows. You can read a brief synopsis of the show and see some of the photos on Knitty.com: click HERE. The original invite to test the pattern and some more background on the project is also HERE.
The pattern is very cute and quite simple--one of those great novice knitter patterns that is a snap to make and still looks wicked impressive. The truly novel thing about this pattern is the suggestion to add some sort of embellishment over the ear. In my opinion, knitters tend to follow the pattern that's before them and they don't always realize that they can jazz it up any ol' way they please. I like that this pattern is basic and yet it also encourages you to add your own bit of creativity and personality. It's fun to see what people have come up with--you can check out the pool of pictures HERE. My favorite so far is the meat cleaver!
I'm sworn to secrecy on the pattern itself, but I will tell you that I knit mine with a double strand of Lamb's Pride Bulky "Chocolate Souffle." The leaves are knitted with some scraps of Lamb's Pride Worsted using the pattern for Aspen Leaves from Knitted Embellishments by Nicky Epstein. This was a fun little side project and a nice break from the marathon Engineer Sweater (see below). I've gotten plenty of "Wa...huh?" looks as I've walked around Boston, but s'cool, yo. I can dig it. I'll be very curious to glimpse the other patterns that Larissa has in store. For those interested, she will be having additional volunteer knit-alongs to test out her other projects, and she will post on her blog when the knit-alongs are open. Her blog is http://larissmix.typepad.com/stitch_marker/.
Knitting Distraction Numero Dos: The Engineer's Sweater
Hello, my name is Emma, and I am a knitter who has never knitted a sweater. And I'll tell you why: yarn is not cheap. It's fine for the small projects--your scarves and your fingerless gloves and wombs or what have you--but for the larger ones? Fuggedaboudit. I mean, if I'm going to end up paying $100 or more on the yarn alone to knit myself a sweater, I'm sorry but I'll just go BUY a sweater that I like for that much. I'm a crazy obsessed knitter, no doubt there, but I've got my limits. And then along came KnitPicks.
While knitting the Aid-and-Abet Glove Pattern, I came across an online-only store called KnitPicks and fell in love. At first, I was skeptical--I mean $2.49 for a skein of merino wool? C'mon, where's the catch? (For non-knitters who are still with us at this point in the post, $2.49 is UNHEARD of cheap for merino wool.) I thought surely the yarn must be crap. The colors--deceptively gorgeous on the website--just had to be a fluke. But I asked around my knitting group at work and found one woman who absolutely swore that KnitPicks sold some of the best yarn she'd ever gotten. She said I couldn't go wrong. But if this were true, why aren't all the knitters stashing up at KnitPicks? Is it a secret because knitters who buy there are afraid it will become too popular and the prices will go up? Or is that the yarn just isn't very good? Still hesitant, I ordered several swatches so that I could see the actual colors and feel some bits of the wool.
The colors were indeed a bit off from the pictures on the website, but that's to be expected since digital colors are notoriously unfaithful depending on your computer. (If you order from KnitPicks, I definitely recommend ordering swatches first--especially if you're doing a big project.) The swatch yarn felt a bit scratchy, but otherwise of good quality (hard to tell how something's going to knit up when all you have is a 2 inch piece of string). I had ordered a couple of skeins of sock yarn along with the swatches and was very impressed by them--the yarn felt soft and the colors were very rich and deep-hued. I was starting to feel better about the cheap yarn and was ready to take a leap of faith. With some mild trepidation, I approached the Engineer on the subject of sweaters.
You know, it took four years of trust-building, proof-gathering, convincing, cajoling, and outright bribery, but the unarguable affordability of the yarn has finally tilted the scales. The Engineer has finally buckled under the pressure and is granting me the singular pleasure of knitting him a sweater for his Christmas present. (You might be asking yourself if taking a leap of faith on both the yarn and the project at the same time was really a wise idea, but I don't like to do anything in halves. There's a proverb about this somewhere, I'm sure.)
We looked at several different patterns and he decided that he liked the Leo pattern from Knitty the best. (A link to the pattern is HERE.) He left it to me to pick the yarn (but I double checked the color with him before ordering all 16 skeins, oh goodness, yes). I decided to go with a deep blue color in the Merino wool. Downside of the merino is that you have to hand wash it, but the upside is that it's very soft and a bit cheaper. FYI, this is not the type of present that I would want to surprise him with or try to keep secret from him--I want him to be happy with the sweater and actually WEAR it, so I knew I wanted him to be weighing in on the pattern, the color, the fit, and all those other crucial details. Since we live together, I also knew there was no way I could knit this in secrecy or have any hope of finishing it before the second coming if I tried to only knit when he wasn't around.
This project isn't so much a distraction as it is the focus of all motor activity any time I sit down on the couch. And since I discovered that the Boston Public Library kindly purchased all the seasons of Star Trek: The Next Generation, Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, and Star Trek: Voyager, I've been spending a lot of time on my couch reliving middle school fantasy worlds and knitting my fingers into knots.
The yarn is knitting up beautifully. I had a moment of panic when all those skeins showed up. Even with the swatch, the color wasn't quite what I'd expected. But now that I've finished the back and half of the front, I'm really liking the color. Neither of these pictures really does the color justice--it's kind of a summer sky right after sunset kind of blue. A bit turquoise, but deeper. The fabric of the sweater is really soft. It's put-your-cheek-against-it-and-coo soft. And the whole time I'm thinking, "I only paid $2.49 a skein!"
A few pattern notes: the sweater is actually NOT fitted--it just looks that way in the picture because I had to drape it over the back of the sofa to get the whole thing in the shot (who knew the Engineer had such a huge back?!). Don't worry--it's properly manly and straight. The red threads on the left-hand side (you can see them if you click on the top picture) are not a part of the pattern. They're little pieces of scrap yarn to count the rows since I inevitably get distracted and forget to write down how many rows I've done. I just thread a little piece of contrasting yarn through a stitch every five rows, and then I'll take them out when the sweater is done. They aren't actually holding any stitches in place.
With KnitPicks, my whole knitting world has opened up. All those patterns I coveted but dismissed because of lack of funds are now back up for grabs. I'm particularly excited by the sock yarn, the fingering weight yarn (for nice lacy sweaters) and the Wool of the Andes yarn (for felting). I've got big plans for 2007, my friends, BIIIIIG plans...
The KnitPicks website is: http://www.knitpicks.com. Have at it, fellow knitters. All my blessings.
Sunday, December 03, 2006
I know, I know--Thanksgiving is but a distant memory and you're on to bigger and better things by now. Unfortunately, between end-of-production-season frenzy at the Noodle Factory and Blogger being wonky on me, I've fallen a bit behind on my A-game here. Regardless, I'm sure there are some of you who still have a few morsels of dried-out turkey lurking in some forgotten container at the back of your fridge. You've had it on sandwiches. You've made soups. You've re-heated it until it can't be re-heated no more, no more. And now, not only are you sick of it, but your good Midwestern waste-not-want-not roots just won't let you throw away those last few mouthfuls that aren't even enough meat for a whole sandwich. Well, here is one last turkey left-overs resurrection for you to enjoy. If you don't have as much meat left as the recipe recommends, just throw in some veggies to fill it out. (Notes on completely vegetarian versions are at the end of the blog.)
1 c. (4 oz) turkey or chicken breast--shredded or chopped into small chunks
1 jar salsa (~12 oz or so)
1 c. cheese--shredded
1 can black beans--drained and rinsed
1/2 c. non-fat plain yogurt
1 tsp chili powder (to taste)
1/2 tsp cumin (to taste)
1 tsp salt (to taste) 8 6"-flour tortillas
Preheat oven to 400 degrees.
Spread a thin layer of the salsa on the bottom of a 10x6 inch baking dish.
In a medium-sized bowl, mix the turkey, 1/2 cup of the cheese, the yogurt, the beans, and the spices. Taste a bit of the mixture to make sure you like the spices; add more spices if it doesn't have enough taste for you, but remember that you'll be eating this with salsa. Lay the tortillas out on a clean counter top and divide the turkey filling equally between each. You want the mound of filling to be toward the bottom third of each tortilla in a roughly rectangular shape.
Begin rolling up the tortillas. Fold the bottom (smaller) flap over the filling. Tuck in the sides. Roll the tortilla away from you until the filling is completely wrapped. (Chow.com has a great demo on the best way to roll up a tortilla for a burrito-type wrap HERE--it's toward the middle of the article.) Lay the enchilada seam-side down in your baking dish. Repeat for the rest of your enchiladas.
Pour the remaining salsa over the enchiladas, and then top with your remaining 1/2 cup of cheese. Cover with tin foil and bake about 20 minutes. Remove tin foil and bake for another 5 minutes until the cheese is completely melty and a little crispy-looking. Enjoy!
- I found that one jar of salsa wasn't quite enough. I recommend using one whole jar of a chunky salsa (use some in the filling and some on the top), and then about half of a jar of a thinner, sauce-like salsa to make sure you get the moisture to really drench the enchiladas. Alternatively, you could use one jar of salsa and a bit of crushed or pureed tomato.
- Any kind of salsa will do here, and whatever salsa you pick can really change the entire flavor of the dish. I used a roasted garlic salsa from Trader Joe's that was really fabulous.
- If you're a vegetarian or simply don't have any leftover turkey or chicken on hand, you can replace the meat with other veggies. Try any or all of the following: diced onions, tofu crumbles, diced quorn, corn or hominy, zucchini, mushrooms, and peppers. Even cubed and cooked squash would make a good, sweeter version!
- This is a pretty gosh darn healthy meal. If you're looking to make this more waist friendly, you can use a lot of low-fat ingredients and the end result doesn't taste at all low-fat. It really makes a difference to get a good quality salsa that you like and a good reduced-fat cheese like Sargento. I used 96% fat-free tortillas, nonfat yogurt, and a reduced-fat Sargento Mexican cheese mix. If you follow the Weight Watcher's program, the filling is about 2 points per enchilada and the tortillas I used were 1 point each--using my same ingredients, each enchilada comes out to about 3 points each. For dinner, 1 and 1/2 enchiladas really filled me up. Yay, cheese!