Sunday, September 14, 2014

Weekly Update: September 14

Is it really mid-month? September has been crazy-busy. That laid back summer weekday pace is behind us and weekends fill up so fast. First, we had an amazing Labor Day with all of our daughters home. Last weekend  was our annual Girl's Outing - an overnight with my mother and all three of my sisters in honor of Mom's birthday. And today, we are off on a day trip to visit Twin A . That should mean a wonderful brunch somewhere in Rhinebeck, NY.

On the reading front:

I finished An American Tragedy  by Theodore Dreiser yesterday! Just under 900 pages and I almost hated to see it end! Published in 1925, it's based on an actual murder which occurred in the Adirondack Mountains of NY in the early 20th century. A couple hundred pages (at least) could easily have been cut, but it was still a great read. I'm glad the Classics Club Spin dealt me this title.

I'm 33% done with A Murder is Announced  by Agatha Christie, but didn't pick it up at all last week while I was focused on  An American Tragedy. It's on my kindle, so that means it will be my bedtime reading this week.

R.I.P. IX - I finally got around to signing up, and will participate in the group read of The Haunting of Hill House by Shirley Jackson hosted by The Estella Society. I borrowed the book from my library and started it yesterday. Terri sent some very helpful advice - do not read before bed! This is going to be fun.

On the blog recently:
Review - We Are Not Ourselves by Matthew Thomas
Review -  Beyond the Pasta: Recipes, Language & Life with an Italian Family by Mark Leslie
Review - The Thoughts and Happenings of Wilfred Price Purveyor of Superior Funerals by Wendy Jones
Cookbook Review - Weber's Real Grilling
Top Ten Tuesday: Underrated Classics

In the kitchen:
Fall arrived with a vengeance this week. Last Friday, we flirted with 90 degrees and two days ago we never hit 60.  Comfort food was definitely in order, so I broke out slow cooker and tried  a Crock Pot Potato Soup... it definitely hit the spot!

Mostly football right now, but I'm excited about a few upcoming series. First, The Roosevelts: An Intimate History  filmed by Ken Burns hits PBS tonight. Season 2 of The Paradise  begins on Masterpiece September 28. Season 1 is available on Netflix Instant now if you need to catch up or would like a refresher.

Finally, have you heard that Olive Kitteridge, based on the novel by Elizabeth Strout, will be an HBO miniseries? That one is coming in November. We've never paid for HBO... perhaps the time has come.

This should all make the wait for Downton Abbey  a little more bearable. And college basketball isn't very far away, either!

This post will link to It's Monday, What Are You Reading? hosted by Sheila at Book Journey.

Saturday, September 13, 2014

R.I.P. IX: Better Late...

R.I.P. IX - It's that time again, and I'm late to the party. This is the ninth edition of Readers Imbibing in Peril, a favorite of bloggers everywhere. Our host, Carl of Stainless Steel Droppings, invites us to read:

Dark Fantasy.

The event runs through October 31, and the rules couldn't be simpler:
1. Have fun reading (and watching).
2. Share that fun with others.

Carl is offering several levels of participation.

I've chosen Peril the Second - read two books of any length that you believe fit within the R.I.P. categories. My plan is to read A Murder is Announced  by Agatha Christie and another book still to be determined.

I will also participate in Peril of the Group Read. Andi and Heather of The Estella Society are hosting a readalong of The Haunting of Hill House  by Shirley Jackson which will run from September 1 to October 1. I just picked up a copy from the library yesterday and can't wait to get started. All the details are here.

Have you chosen your peril?

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

Top Ten Tuesday: Underrated Classics

Top Ten Tuesday is a weekly feature hosted by The Broke and the Bookish. This week's topic is underrated books or authors in a particular genre. Most of you know I can't pass up an opportunity to talk about classics, so here is my list of ten underrated classics. These are all books I have enjoyed and think should be read more widely.

An American Tragedy by Theodore Dreiser
This is my current read and, while it may be overly long, it's very good. I've already added Sister Carrie  to my "must read" list.

Why is Anne the lesser Bronte? She was way ahead of her time with this novel.

Revolutionary Road by Richard Yates
This is Yates' most popular novel. His books tend to be depressing, but he is an amazing writer. 

The Forsyte Saga by John Galsworthy
I read this book nearly a decade ago during a week-long snowstorm - a very memorable experience. The miniseries is excellent, too.

Independent People by Halldor Laxness
This saga from the Nobel Prize-winning Icelandic author is a "huge, skaldic treat filled with satire, humor, pathos, cold weather and sheep."

The Home-Maker by Dorothy Canfield Fisher
Do not miss this Persephone classic!

The Cairo Trilogy by  Naguib Mahfouz 
These three novels (Palace Walk, Palace of Desire, Sugar Street) by the Nobel Prize-winning author tell the story of a Muslim family in Cairo during Britain’s occupation of Egypt in the early decades of the twentieth century.

Therese Raquin by Emile Zola
My introduction to Zola, "Therese Raquin  is a clinically observed, sinister tale of adultery and murder among the lower classes in nineteenth-century Parisian society." I loved it!

Crossing to Safety by Wallace Stegner
Angle of Repose receives more attention, but Crossing to Safety  is my favorite.

Stoner by John Williams
A truly beautiful novel. "John Williams’s luminous and deeply moving novel is a work of quiet perfection. William Stoner emerges from it not only as an archetypal American, but as an unlikely existential hero, standing, like a figure in a painting by Edward Hopper, in stark relief against an unforgiving world."

Have you read any of these books? Which classics do you think are underrated?
Visit The Broke and the Bookish for more Top Ten Tuesday posts.

Friday, September 5, 2014

Cook It Up: Weber's Real Grilling

Summers are short in central New York, so we take advantage of every moment - boating on the lake, relaxing on the patio, grilling, and eating outdoors. That made choosing an August project for Trish's Cook It Up! cookbook challenge a cinch. Weber's Real Grilling has been on my shelf for years. I bought it to go with a Father's Day grill so long ago that the grill is history. The cookbook, however, remains on the shelf, woefully underutilized.

Now it's decision time. Should I keep it or donate it to the library book sale? The first think I did was look through the book for comments on recipes we've already tried. I found just two:

  • Halibut with Grill-Roasted Lemon and Caper Dressing - very good! try with swordfish, too
  • Bottle o' Beer Chicken Thighs - pretty good

I would have sworn there were others. Since I almost always make some sort of notation, perhaps they weren't worth a comment?

Anyway, the book is printed on very high-quality paper and each recipe is accompanied by a color photograph. There is an introduction to grilling, tips on choosing a grill, and a discussion of basic techniques and handy tools. Chapters include starters, red meat, pork, poultry, fish, veggies and sides, and even desserts. Each chapter offers additional information specific to the category - for example, cuts of meat, what to look for in purchasing beef, how to tell if its done, etc. There are even post-it flags in the back so you can mark your favorite recipes.

Armed with my own supply of post-it flags, I marked nearly 20 recipes to try. In the end, one fish, one red meat, and one chicken recipe made the cut.

Halibut a la Tunisia

Halibut is one of my favorite types of fish. This recipe calls for making a paste of lemon juice, extra virgin olive oil, paprika, coriander, cumin, garlic, kosher salt and pepper. It is spread on the fish, refrigerated for an hour or so, and then grilled. The recipe was okay, but there are so many tastier ways to prepare halibut I doubt I will make it again.

New York Steaks with Corn and Avocado Salsa

We used a filet and a strip steak, and rubbed them with the mixture of chile powder, paprika, garlic, kosher salt, oregano, and pepper as directed. After the steaks were grilled, they were topped with the corn and avocado salsa, made according to the recipe. The result...meh. I prefer the spice mixture my husband has perfected over the years, and the salsa wasn't that great either.

Tandoori Chicken Kebobs

After seeing The Hundred Foot Journey, we were craving Indian food and this marinade of plain yogurt, fresh ginger, and several spices including turmeric and cumin sounded perfect. It was good, but not great. I wouldn't make it again.

My final verdict:
Three mediocre recipes. There are still several more I want to try but, given the track record, I think this one goes to the library. Besides, I need to make room for Ina Garten's new cookbook!

Weekend Cooking, hosted at Beth Fish Reads, is open to anyone who has any kind of food-related post to share: Book (novel, nonfiction) reviews, cookbook reviews, movie reviews, recipes, random thoughts, gadgets, quotations, photographs. If your post is even vaguely foodie, feel free to grab the button and link up anytime over the weekend. You do not have to post on the weekend. Please link to your specific post, not your blog's home page.

Thursday, September 4, 2014

The Thoughts and Happenings of Wilfred Price Purveyor of Superior Funerals by Wendy Jones

The Thoughts and Happenings of Wilfred Price Purveyor of Superior Funerals
by Wendy Jones
Europa, 2014
(originally published in 2012)
273 pages
source: ebook from library

Summary (from goodreads):
Under the heady influence of a springtime picnic and vague notions of obligation, young undertaker Wilfred Price blurts out a marriage proposal to a woman he barely knows. Much to his consternation, she says yes. As Wilfred attempts to extricate himself from the situation, his betrothed’s overbearing father presents further complications. And when Wilfred meets another woman he does wish to marry, a comedy of manners ensues. Set in rural Wales during the 1920s, Wendy Jones’s charming first novel is a deceptive, subtly humorous entrance to the mores and social conventions of a world gone by.

My thoughts:
Spring, 1924 
“It was because of a yellow dress. She was wearing a yellow dress and her arms were bare. It was slightly tart, the colour of lemon curd. He couldn’t remember seeing a dress in that shade before. It was pleated silk and sleeveless, with a low waistband and a square neck that was slightly too low, perhaps only by half an inch.  Wilfred wondered how she got the dress on. Maybe there were hooks and eyes hidden on the side, under her arm. Ladies dresses sometimes had those. Women hooked and encased themselves in their dresses but there was always a way out."  
My blogging friends deserve total credit for leading me to this book. I caught my first glimpse of the gorgeous cover on Audrey's blog, and added it to my wish list after reading her review. Just days later, Diane seconded her high opinion. Being a Europa edition only added to its appeal.

Set in Wales, the novel offers a look at customs and societal norms surrounding courtship and marriage in the 1920's. I was expecting nothing but sweetness (judging from the cover and description), but a surprisingly dark twist added both depth and interest to the novel.

As for Wilfred himself, he seemed hapless, spinelessness, and at times, drove me crazy. There were moments when I wanted to shake him. However, his character does seem to grow and, as the novel progresses, there are signs of an emerging backbone.

Overall, this book was a very pleasant surprise for me. My mother read it, too, but she was put off by the somewhat open ending (she likes her novels a little more neatly packaged, I think). Further investigation turned up a sequel, The World is a Wedding. It does not appear to be readily available in the US, but I'd sure like to find a copy.

According to the Europa website, The Thoughts and Happenings of Wilfred Price Purveyor of Superior Funerals has been optioned for a mini-series by the company that produces Downton Abbey for the BBC and PBS. I can't wait.

My rating:

Tuesday, September 2, 2014

Tuesday Intro: A Murder is Announced

Between 7:30 and 8:30 every morning except Sundays, Johnnie Butt made the round of the village of Chipping Cleghorn on his bicycle, whistling vociferously through his teeth, and alighting at each hours or cottage to shove through the letterbox such morning papers as had been ordered by the occupants of the house in question from Mr. Totman, stationer, of the High Street. Thus, at Colonel and Mrs. Easterbrook's he delivered The Times and the Daily Graphic; at Mrs. Swettenham's he left The Times and the Daily Worker; at Miss Hinchcliffe and Miss Murgatroyd's he left the Daily Telegraph and the New Chronicle; at Miss Blacklock's he left the Telegraph, The Times and the Daily Mail
At all these houses, and indeed at practically every house in Chipping Cleghorn, he delivered every Friday a copy of the North Benham News and Chipping Cleghorn Gazette, known locally simply as "the Gazette."
A Murder is Announced
by Agatha Christie

This opening doesn't give much of a plot hint, but I appreciate how Agatha Christie sets the scene and lists the players. As the opening continues, we get more of a sense of the tiny village and its quirky inhabitants.

I started A Murder is Announced over the weekend to kick off Carl's R.I.P. IX event. Christie is also on my Classics Club list, and Katherine can be very persuasive, too. Here's the goodreads summary:
The villagers of Chipping Cleghorn, including Jane Marple, are agog with curiosity over an advertisement in the local gazette which read: 'A murder is announced and will take place on Friday October 29th, at Little Paddocks at 6:30 p.m.' Unable to resist the mysterious invitation, a crowd begins to gather at Little Paddocks at the ppointed time when, without warning, the lights go out ...
Would you keep reading? Are you an Agatha Christie fan?

Every Tuesday, Diane at Bibliophile by the Sea posts the opening paragraph (sometime two) of a book she decided to read based on the opening. Feel free to grab the banner and play along.

Saturday, August 30, 2014

Beyond the Pasta by Mark Leslie

Beyond the Pasta; Recipes, Language & Life with an Italian Family
by Mark Donovan Leslie
Gemelli Press LLC, 2010
352 pages
source: borrowed from the library

Summary (from goodreads):

Several years ago, on a break between theatrical gigs in Alabama, Mark traveled to Italy and fell in love with the people, food and culture. Armed with just enough courage, minimal Italian language skills, and a certain proficiency in the kitchen, he enrolled in a full-immersion cooking and language program. He would travel to Viterbo, Italy and live with an Italian family. His teachers were beyond his wildest dreams-he learned to cook from the grandmother, or Nonna, of the family, who prepared every meal in a bustling, busy household, as women in her family have done for generations. Her daughter, Alessandra, taught him the language with patience and precision. Besides culinary secrets and prepositions, they opened their lives to him, and made him a real part of their extensive family. Though the book contains authentic, delicious family recipes Nonna shared with Mark, Beyond the Pasta delves into food memoir subject matter not found in a typical cookbook. It was the day-to-day shopping with Nonna, exploring the countryside and le gelaterie, where he truly developed his language skills, and a new, more joyful and uniquely Italian way of looking at the world.

My thoughts:

There's nothing better than a good foodie memoir, except maybe one combined with travel and recipes. And if it happens to involve Italy, all the better.

In Beyond the Pasta, Mark Leslie was looking for a different kind of Italian vacation experience, and found it with the Stefani family. It took the form of a total immersion language and cooking course. Mark stayed with the family for a month, cooking with Nonna (the grandmother) and learning Italian from her daughter, Allessandra. He participated in nearly every aspect of family life - daily trips to the market and food preparation with Nonna, afternoon language lessons, family dinners, and frequent postprandial strolls... invariably involving gelato. Mark also spent several days in Rome and attended social events with the family.

The book is set up in a journal format, with every day a separate chapter. Of course food (planning, shopping, preparation, and eating) plays the most prominent role. Each day/chapter concludes with a recipe or two. The easy, conversational tone makes this memoir immensely readable.

 I enjoyed reading about Mark's trips to the market and detailed scenes from the kitchen... although less description of proper squid cleaning technique would have been fine with me! I cheered his increasing language proficiency, and especially appreciated discussion of the culture, and general philosophy surrounding food and eating - la dolce vita.

Growing up with my very own Italian grandmother, this book made me nostalgic for childhood days spent in her kitchen. Nearly all the recipes are familiar and I look forward to trying several:
  • Pasta e Fagioli alla Veneta (Venetian Pasta and Beans)
  • Minestra di Patate, Piselli e Tubettini (Potato, Pea and Pasta Soup)
  • Cuppa, Cuppa, Cuppa (Yogurt Cake)
I suppose I must mention a couple of downsides, too.  First, the author does not use the oxford comma. I always do and never imagined its absence would bug me so much, but it really did - starting with the title, in fact. Second, the photography could have been better. Granted, pictures aren't the main attraction, but the black and white photos weren't very clear. I also would have appreciated pictures of the food.

Favorite Passages:
With Italian, you always pronounce all of the letters in the word. The only silent letter is "h"; otherwise, each and every letter gets pronounced. For example, ciao - hello and goodbye - is pronounced "chee-ah-ow." It is starting to feel that the way to succeed in speaking Italian is to chew on the words. Every syllable, every bite!  p.25 
The cutlets - le cotolette - were not prepared until after we had finished eating the pasta... I am learning the importance of this type of preparation. First, the food always come sot the table hot and perfectly prepared. Second, it gives you some time between courses to digest your food, drink some wine and feel as if you have eaten a lot when actually, because the portions are smaller, you have eaten less than you would sitting at an American table.  p. 102 
La dolce vita celebrates the fact that life is not only about a paycheck ... Life is about savoring the sunset, taking a rejuvenating nap in the middle go the day, pausing to appreciate the beauty of a rose on the side of the road, having your children's laughter fill your soul - letting those moments inspire your life. That might be more of a romantic perception than the exact truth of the situation, but it is certainly the truth I have come to witness, embrace and appreciate while living in Viterbo.   p.170 
For me, the "Sweet Life" is going into the kitchen, preparing food and serving it to the people I love and cherish. La Dolce Vita is found in those moments of life around a table where stories are told - old memories are relived and new memories are given life. It is where food ultimately unites us through the juxtaposition of laughter, tears, joy, sorrow, happiness, pain, and ecstasy.  p. 311
Bottom line: A very enjoyable read - probably the next best thing to a trip to Viterbo.

My rating:

Weekend Cooking, hosted at Beth Fish Reads, is open to anyone who has any kind of food-related post to share: Book (novel, nonfiction) reviews, cookbook reviews, movie reviews, recipes, random thoughts, gadgets, quotations, photographs. If your post is even vaguely foodie, feel free to grab the button and link up anytime over the weekend. You do not have to post on the weekend. Please link to your specific post, not your blog's home page.


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