Saturday, May 31, 2014

This Week In the Kitchen

Every now and then it starts to feel like I'm in a cooking rut. That's when I get the urge to try all sorts of new recipes... and over the past two weeks I've tried quite a few. Most have been good, a couple have bombed, but here are three that stood out.

The other morning I was reading blogs and happened to stumbled upon a recipe for Avocado Cup Salads over at Smitten Kitchen. They looked so pretty and since I had most of the ingredients on hand, I couldn't resist. Besides Twin A, also an avocado fan, had the day off and this looked like a perfect lunch.

I made the Avocado Cup Salad with Black Bean Confetti and was very happy with the way it turned out. If I'd had a red or orange bell pepper, they would have been even more colorful. I added seedless cucumber instead of onions and topped it off with cilantro freshly picked from my new herb garden. The post at Smitten Kitchen also included a recipe for Avocado Cup Salads with Cucumbers, Radishes and Ginger-Miso Dressing. I'll try that soon.

We're back on the mussels kick. You might remember the Weekend Cooking post I wrote last fall about mussels. I'd never cooked them at home and was surprised at how quick and easy they were to prepare. This time I tried Ina Garten's recipe for Mussels in White Wine and it was heavenly! A loaf of crusty bread and some steamed broccoli made this a delicious meal. I followed the recipe exactly as written and would not change a thing. She suggests soaking the mussels in a flour/water mixture for a half hour, or until they disgorge any sand. I did that, but couldn't tell whether it made a difference or not.

Finally, we love fish on the grill and I'm always looking for new marinades or rubs. I tried a recipe for Grilled Fish Steaks from after buying fresh swordfish without a definite recipe in mind. It's used ingredients I always have on hand and tasted great, too. This would work any variety of firm white fish... next time I'll use halibut.

Have you tried any new recipes lately?

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.

Friday, May 30, 2014

The Light Between Oceans by M.L. Stedman

The Light Between Oceans
by M.L. Stedman
Scribner, 2013 paperback
362 pages
source: purchased

Summary (from goodreads):
After four harrowing years on the Western Front, Tom Sherbourne returns to Australia and takes a job as the lighthouse keeper on Janus Rock, nearly half a day’s journey from the coast. To this isolated island, where the supply boat comes once a season and shore leaves are granted every other year at best, Tom brings a young, bold, and loving wife, Isabel. Years later, after two miscarriages and one stillbirth, the grieving Isabel hears a baby’s cries on the wind. A boat has washed up onshore carrying a dead man and a living baby.

Tom, whose records as a lighthouse keeper are meticulous and whose moral principles have withstood a horrific war, wants to report the man and infant immediately. But Isabel has taken the tiny baby to her breast. Against Tom’s judgment, they claim her as their own and name her Lucy. When she is two, Tom and Isabel return to the mainland and are reminded that there are other people in the world. Their choice has devastated one of them.

M. L. Stedman’s mesmerizing, beautifully written novel seduces us into accommodating Isabel’s decision to keep this “gift from God.” And we are swept into a story about extraordinarily compelling characters seeking to find their North Star in a world where there is no right answer, where justice for one person is another’s tragic loss.

The Light Between Oceans is exquisite and unforgettable, a deeply moving novel

My thoughts:
The Light Between Oceans  had been on my wish list for quite some time, so I was very glad when my book club decided to read it. Unfortunately the meeting was help when we were in Florida, but by all accounts the discussion was far-reaching and lively and the book was universally loved. (Note to self: look for a library book club if I'm in Florida next winter)

I liked this book from the opening paragraph. Initially, it was the writing that stood out. The physical description of the lighthouse was fascinating and in my mind I could see the stark beauty of the landscape. Next I became impressed with the characters - so human as they struggled to make difficult decisions that would eventually impact many lives. Finally, and this took a little longer, I got involved with the story. The pace is quite slow at first, perhaps a little too slow, and although that's usually of minor importance to me, it is my one criticism of this novel.

A growing sense of dread and unease was palpable as the story unfolded. Decisions were made, and guilt  began to eat away at Tom... reminiscent of scenes from Therese Raquin by Emile Zola. Yet I could also relate to Isabel in a very personal manner. Her sorrows were my sorrows.  Relationships become strained as more people get caught up in the web of deceit. I loved this book!

Book clubs will have a field day discussing these characters, their motivation, choices, and ramifications.

M.L. Stedman is definitely an author to watch.

Some Favorite Quotes:
There are times when the ocean is not the ocean - not blue, not even water, but some violent explosion of energy and danger: ferocity on a scale only Gods can summon. It hurls itself at the island, sending spray right over the top of the lighthouse, biting pieces off the cliff. And the sound is a roaring of a beast whose anger knows no limits. Those are the nights the light is needed most.  (page 71) 
The isolation spins its mysterious cocoon, focusing the mind on one place, one time, one rhythm - the turning of the light. The island knows no other human voices, no other footprints. On the Offshore Lights, you can live any story you want to tell yourself, and no one will say you're wrong: not the seagulls, not the prisms, not the wind.  (page 110) 
There had never been any guarantee that conception would lead to a live birth, or that birth would lead to a life of any great length. Nature allowed only the fit and the lucky to share this paradise-in-the-making. Look inside the cover of any family Bible and you'd see the facts. The graveyards,too, told the story of babies whose voices, because of a snakebite or a fever or a fall from a wagon, had finally succumbed to their mothers' beseeching to "hush, hush little one." The surviving children got used to the new way of setting the table with one place fewer, just as they grew accustomed to squishing along the bench when another sibling arrived. Like the wheat fields where more grain is sown than can ripen, God seemed to sprinkle extra children about, and harvest them according to some indecipherable, divine calendar.  (page 18)
Bottom line:
The Light Between Oceans  is a book you can really sink your teeth into... a must read for book clubs.

My rating:

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

We Were Liars by E. Lockhart

We Were Liars
by E. Lockhart
Delacorte Press, 2014
240 pages
source: library copy
Welcome to the beautiful Sinclair family.
No one is a criminal.
No one is an addict.
No one is a failure.
The Sinclairs are athletic, tall, and handsome. We are old-money Democrats. Our smiles are wide, our chins square, and our tennis serves aggressive.
It doesn't matter if divorce shreds the muscles of our hearts so that they will hardly beat without a struggle. It doesn't matter if trust-fund money is running out; if credit card bills go unpaid on the kitchen counter. It doesn't matter if there's a cluster of pill bottles on the bedside table.
It doesn't matter if one of us is desperately, desperately in love.
And so begins what's being touted as the must-read book this summer. I'm not much of a YA reader, but this one ticks all the boxes - a summer house (actually a family compound on a private island near Martha's Vineyard), multiple generations, old money, a little dysfunction, and some sort of accident. The family tree and island map are added bonuses.

We Were Liars is a very quick read. I read it in two sittings, but could have easily read it in an afternoon.

I won't say much more about the plot...even the goodreads summary is a little vague:
A beautiful and distinguished family.
A private island.
A brilliant, damaged girl; a passionate, political boy.
A group of four friends—the Liars—whose friendship turns destructive.
A revolution. An accident. A secret.
Lies upon lies.
True love.
The truth. 
 We Were Liars is a modern, sophisticated suspense novel from National Book Award finalist and Printz Award honoree E. Lockhart. 
Read it. And if anyone asks you how it ends, just LIE.
The writing in this novel, so fresh and snappy, will appeal to readers outside the YA community.

Bottom Line:
Don't miss We Were Liars. Pick a lazy, summer day and read it straight through.

My rating:

Monday, May 26, 2014

Monday Update: Memorial Day

It's Memorial Day Weekend here in the US, the unofficial beginning of summer. There's nothing like a three day weekend to jumpstart the season.

Reading:  I finished TWO books this week. The Interestings by Meg Wolitzer, a read/listen combination which I loved, and The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath, my classics spin book which was just okay.

Yesterday I started We Were Liars by E. Lockhart and will finish later today... perfect holiday weekend reading.

Up next is Empty Mansions: The Mysterious Life of Huguette Clark and the Spending of a Great American Fortune by Bill Dedman and Paul Clark Newell, Jr. for book club.

Listening: Nothing... but wondering if I should make Empty Mansions  a read/listen combo or just start something new on audio today.

Watching: I walked outside this week, but did sneak in an episode of Orange is the New Black on a rainy day.

In the kitchen: A couple of new seafood recipes (Weekend Cooking post to follow), a roasted cauliflower salad, and chicken barbecue.

Later today I'll be planting a small herb garden in an old wooden wine crate.

In other news: I bought a fitbit one last week and love it...such a great motivational tool. I've surprised myself by averaging 13,000 steps, but have learned that without my daily walk or treadmill time it's awfully hard to meet that 10,000 step goal.

This post is linked to It's Monday! What are you Reading? hosted by Sheila at Book Journey.

Thursday, May 22, 2014

The Summer Without Men by Siri Hustvedt

The Summer Without Men 
by Siri Hustvedt
Picador, 2011
225 pages
source: purchased ebook

Summary (from Publishers Weekly):
A theatrically manic poet turns heartbreak into an intellectual endeavor in Hustvedt's intellectually spry latest (after The Sorrows of an American). Fresh out of the hospital at age 55 following a breakdown brought on by her husband's departure for a young colleague referred to as "The Pause," award-winning poet and Columbia professor Mia Fredricksen flees Brooklyn to spend the summer in her Minnesota hometown. There she is in the company of her mother and four other feisty old ladies, the young mother next door, and the seven hormone-addled pubescent girls enrolled in her poetry class at the local arts guild. Mia sorts out her agony as only a scorned woman with a Ph.D. in comparative literature can—by pouring it through a sieve of poets, philosophers, and critical theorists. At times these references eclipse the presence of the narrator herself, but even this absence becomes the basis for philosophical rumination, as Mia corresponds online with the anonymous—and at times abusive—Mr. Nobody. Though initially trapped in a claustrophobic cerebral solitude, Mia opens up, and, in so doing, lets in some much needed air to a constricted narrative, so that instead of being another novel of a woman on the brink, this becomes an adroit take on love, men and women, and girls and women.

Quick thoughts:
This novel started out very strong, rambled a bit in the middle (albeit intelligently),  and ultimately ended up a satisfying read.

On the plus side:
* the plot
* the characters, women of all ages and stages of life
* the writing, so smart and engaging

A couple of minuses:
*rambling philosophical asides
* lack of chapter breaks

I loved the beginning of this novel (see my intro post) and even though it seemed to lose steam in the middle, Hustvedt's writing kept me reading. I know I'll be reading more of her work.

My rating:

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

The Costumes of Downton Abbey: Upstairs

On Saturday I wrote about visiting the Costumes of Downton Abbey exhibit at Winterthur and included photos featuring "downstairs" uniforms. As promised, here are a few costumes worn by the folks upstairs.

These photos were taken with my phone and I obviously have no talent for photography, but if you're a Downton fan, they're sure to bring back happy memories.

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Tuesday Intro: Black Lake by Johanna Lane

When they were little, the door to what was to have been the house's ballroom remained locked. They would stand at the threshold, rattling the handle, first the girl, then the boy, turning it left and right, feeling a split second of give, a moment of hope that this time it might open, but it never did. Their father said that the key was lost, that the room was never finished, that no one had been up there since the house was built. But that was a lie.
Black Lake
by Johanna Lane

That kind of opening always piques my interest. So many questions form in my mind and I can hardly wait to see what the next paragraph will reveal. The first section of this novel, AUTUMN, is ten pages long and beautifully written. I'm ready to move on to part two, THE SPRING BEFORE, where each of the characters will be given the opportunity to tell their story.

Publisher's Summary:
A debut novel about a family losing grip of its legacy: a majestic house on the cliffs of Ireland.  
The Campbells have lived happily at Dulough--an idyllic, rambling estate isolated on the Irish seaside--for generations. But upkeep has drained the family coffers, and so John Campbell must be bold: to keep Dulough, he will open its doors to the public as a museum. He and his wife, daughter, and son will move from the luxury of the big house to a dank, small caretaker's cottage. The upheaval strains the already tenuous threads that bind the family and, when a tragic accident befalls them, long-simmering resentments and unanswered yearnings surface. 
As each character is given a turn to speak, their voices tell a complicated, fascinating story about what happens when the upstairs becomes the downstairs, and what legacy is left when family secrets are revealed.
What do you think of that opening? Would you continue reading? I know I can't wait to get back to this debut novel (just released May 20th). Thank you Little, Brown and Company for sending me a review copy.

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.

Monday, May 19, 2014

Current Reading: A Monday Update

It was a very busy weekend around here and I never got around to writing a Sunday Salon post, but I am reading a couple of books worthy of an update post. I'm linking up to Sheila's It's Monday! What Are You Reading? meme for the first time.

The Interestings by Meg Wolitzer

Just past the half-way mark, I'm certain this will be one of my favorite books of the year. I'm both reading and listening... total immersion! Why have I never read Meg Wolitzer before?

The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath

This is my latest Classics Club Spin book. I picked it up for a preview on Friday and ended up reading the first 50 pages. I read at least that much on Saturday, too, and will certainly finish ahead of the July 7 deadline. I've been meaning to read this book for years (decades?) and am grateful for the extra push.

What are you reading this week?

Saturday, May 17, 2014

The Costumes of Downton Abbey: Downstairs

When planning the route of our recent road trip, I lobbied hard to make a pass through Wilmington, DE.  Winterthur, the former estate of Henry Francis DuPont in the Brandywine Valley and now a renowned museum and garden, is hosting the Costumes of Downton Abbey exhibit until January 4, 2015. All Downton fans within striking distance will want to make this pilgrimage.

If you decide to visit, I would suggest purchasing general admission tickets ahead of time (they were already sold out for the weekend following our visit). The Costume exhibit is included, but timed tickets are being utilized for crowd control and you will be asked to register for a specific two hour window. The earliest slots were full, but we were able to get a late morning entrance time.

These "downstairs" photos seemed deserving of a link to Weekend Cooking. I'll share some "upstairs" scenes for Wordless Wednesday.

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.

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

Classics Club Spin #6

While we were packing up the Florida condo for renovations and driving home, a new Classics Club Spin took place. The rules are the same, only the were changed. Here's how it works:
  • Go to your blog.
  • Pick twenty books that you’ve got left to read from your Classics Club List.
  • Try to challenge yourself: list five you are dreading/hesitant to read, five you can’t WAIT to read, five you are neutral about, and five free choice (favorite author, rereads, ancients — whatever you choose.)
  • Post that list, numbered 1-20, on your blog by next Monday.
  • Monday morning, we’ll announce a number from 1-20. Go to the list of twenty books you posted, and select the book that corresponds to the number we announce.
  • The challenge is to read that book by July 7, even if it’s an icky one you dread reading! (No fair not listing any scary ones!)

I've participated in four of the five previous spins and have read:

  • The Picture of Dorian Gray  by Oscar Wilde
  • Tess of the d'Urbervilles  by Thomas Hardy
  • Cheerful Weather for the Wedding  by Julia Strachey
  • Middlemarch  by George Eliot 

I was a little disappointed not to have heard about this spin in time to post my list, but then realized that I have used  my original list (with minor adjustments) every time. Monday's spin landed on number 1.  The Bell Jar  by Sylvia Plath has occupied that slot for every single spin, and surely would have been there again this time had I actually made a list.

So... I will participate in Classics Spin #6 and read The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath.

Did you spin this time? What will you be reading?

Monday, May 12, 2014

Defending Jacob by William Landay

Defending Jacob
by William Landay
Random House, 2012
431 pages
source: purchased ebook

Summary (from goodreads):
Andy Barber has been an assistant district attorney in his suburban Massachusetts county for more than twenty years. He is respected in his community, tenacious in the courtroom, and happy at home with his wife, Laurie, and son, Jacob. But when a shocking crime shatters their New England town, Andy is blindsided by what happens next: His fourteen-year-old son is charged with the murder of a fellow student.

Every parental instinct Andy has rallies to protect his boy. Jacob insists that he is innocent, and Andy believes him. Andy must. He’s his father. But as damning facts and shocking revelations surface, as a marriage threatens to crumble and the trial intensifies, as the crisis reveals how little a father knows about his son, Andy will face a trial of his own—between loyalty and justice, between truth and allegation, between a past he’s tried to bury and a future he cannot conceive.

Award-winning author William Landay has written the consummate novel of an embattled family in crisis—a suspenseful, character-driven mystery that is also a spellbinding tale of guilt, betrayal, and the terrifying speed at which our lives can spin out of control.

My thoughts:

Uneasy, disquieted, anxious, and more than a little depressed. That's how I felt most of the time I was reading Defending Jacob, yet I could not put the book down. These feelings surely attest to the skill of the author, yet they also remind me why I don't read more psychological thrillers.

As a former DA in the Boston area, Landay is well versed in all aspects of the criminal justice system. He presents an almost too real account of a teenager murdered in a suburban Boston park, and the DA's son is charged with the crime. The ultimate moral dilemma ensues.

The book begs the reader to ask, "What would I have done?" or "How would I react given those circumstances?"

And the ending? Don't even get me started. This is one book I won't forget for a good long time.

Defending Jacob was the latest selection for my book club. They always seem to pull me out of my comfort zone. Unfortunately I was not able to attend the meeting, but this was a popular choice and lead to a pretty lively discussion.

Now it's time for me to get back to literary fiction and classics...

Bottom line:
If you're reading for relaxation, choose a different title.

My rating:

Wednesday, May 7, 2014

Not Quite Wordless Wednesday: On the Road

Late last week, we flew to Florida to pack up before the remodeling project gets underway, and to meet with the contractor one last time. This week we're driving the car home and taking a slow, scenic route up the coast.

St. Augustine, Florida

Charleston, South Carolina

Kitty Hawk, North Carolina

Friday, May 2, 2014

Eat Move Sleep by Tom Rath (audio)

Eat Move Sleep: How Small Choices Lead to Big Changes
by Tom Rath
narrated by Tom Rath
Missionday, 2013
4 hours and 36 minutes
source: purchased (during audible's latest BOGO sale)

Publisher's summary:
From the author of StrengthsFinder 2.0, How Full Is Your Bucket?, Strengths Based Leadership, and Wellbeing comes a beautifully produced audiobook and accompanying online application that will improve your health for years to come. While Tom's bestsellers on strengths and well-being have inspired more than 5 million people in the last decade, Eat Move Sleep reveals his greatest passion and expertise. Quietly managing a serious illness for more than 20 years, Tom has assembled a wide range of information on the impact of eating, moving, and sleeping.

Written and narrated by Tom Rath in his classic conversational style, Eat Move Sleep features the most proven and practical ideas from his research. Eat Move Sleep will help you make good decisions automatic -- in all three of these interconnected areas. With every bite you take, you will make better choices. You will move a lot more than you do today. And you will sleep better than you have in years. More than an audiobook, Eat Move Sleep is a new way to live.

My thoughts:

Our life spans are determined by the sum of our habits, and Tom Rath believes most of us can live to ninety or beyond. The author is not a doctor or medical professional, but rather a researcher and patient determined to share the information he has gathered.

We've all heard it before: You need to make healthy food choices, exercise, and get enough sleep. But when you take that advice to heart and really try to make some changes, the process can seem overwhelming. Where do you begin?

This little book does not offer much new information to anyone already tuned into these topics, but it does offer readers a variety of quick and easy measures to make your overall lifestyle healthier. Set up as a 30 day challenge, the idea is to read a short chapter each day and implement one of the specific challenge ideas presented.

Some challenges are simple (leave serving dishes in the kitchen rather than bringing them to the table), some require a little thinking (each morning, plan ahead to add activity to your daily routine), and others require a bit more effort (aim for 10,000 steps every day or 70,000 per week). This last challenge has convinced me I need a fitbit - if you want to increase activity, it's important to measure how much you move.

Though meant to be read over the course of a month, I listening to the whole book in just a couple of days (while walking). Without a doubt, its primary value is motivation.

You can get more information, view the entire 30 days of challenges, and access other helpful tools at Eat Move Sleep.

A note on audio production:
The author may not be the greatest narrator, but he knows his stuff.

Bottom line:
A great motivational resource that is worth listening to a second time.

My rating:


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