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.

Thursday, August 28, 2014

We Are Not Ourselves by Matthew Thomas

We Are Not Ourselves
by Matthew Thomas
Simon & Schuster, 2014
640 pages
source: Netgalley (via publisher for review consideration)

Summary (from goodreads):

Born in 1941, Eileen Tumulty is raised by her Irish immigrant parents in Woodside, Queens, in an apartment where the mood swings between heartbreak and hilarity, depending on whether guests are over and how much alcohol has been consumed.

When Eileen meets Ed Leary, a scientist whose bearing is nothing like those of the men she grew up with, she thinks she’s found the perfect partner to deliver her to the cosmopolitan world she longs to inhabit. They marry, and Eileen quickly discovers Ed doesn’t aspire to the same, ever bigger, stakes in the American Dream.

Eileen encourages her husband to want more: a better job, better friends, a better house, but as years pass it becomes clear that his growing reluctance is part of a deeper psychological shift. An inescapable darkness enters their lives, and Eileen and Ed and their son Connell try desperately to hold together a semblance of the reality they have known, and to preserve, against long odds, an idea they have cherished of the future.

Through the Learys, novelist Matthew Thomas charts the story of the American Century, particularly the promise of domestic bliss and economic prosperity that captured hearts and minds after WWII. The result is a riveting and affecting work of art; one that reminds us that life is more than a tally of victories and defeats, that we live to love and be loved, and that we should tell each other so before the moment slips away.

Epic in scope, heroic in character, masterful in prose, We Are Not Ourselves heralds the arrival of a major new talent in contemporary fiction.

My thoughts:

We Are Not Ourselves is a beautifully written, profoundly real, and emotionally devastating novel. I finished the book weeks ago, yet it continues to weigh heavily on my mind.

This is the debut novel everyone is talking about. It has been described as everything from a family saga to the new Great American Novel. Since its focus is on a single family unit, I wouldn't necessarily call it a saga, but it definitely has all the characteristics of  a great American novel.

We Are Not Ourselves  begins with an Irish immigrant couple in Queens and their only child, Eileen. She takes center stage early on. What follows is basically her story - her yearnings, struggles and strivings for a better life, her pursuit of the American Dream, and the obstacles she encounters along the way.

Eileen pins her hopes on scientist Ed Leary. They marry and have a son, Connell (named for the author of the novel Mrs. Bridge, which Eileen encounters during pregnancy). Eileen pushes her family onward and upward, but it's obvious Ed does not share her aspirations. He takes comfort in routine and resists change.

As Ed enters his fifties, he becomes withdrawn, easily confused, and even more adamant in his insistence on maintaing the status quo. Eileen is painfully slow in figuring out what's happening to her husband, but most readers will certainly guess the true nature of Ed's problem. Once it is spelled out and his illness is labeled, the novel becomes sadder and increasingly difficult to read... especially for the reader who has experienced similar life events.

In the second half of the novel, the family comes to terms with Ed's illness and attempts to move forward. Connell, who had been in the background, begins to play a larger role. None of the characters are especially likable, but they all ring true. Small human dramas play out in their everyday lives. It is interesting that the author chose to keep Ed's own story and experiences out of the narrative.

Also of note, I took great delight in the author's vocabulary and word choice. I will certainly read whatever Matthew Thomas writes next.

Bottom line:  I was totally consumed by We Are Not Ourselves and do not remember the last time a book had such a profound emotional impact on me.

My rating:

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Tuesday Intro -- Why I Read: The Serious Pleasure of Books

Prologue: WHY I READ
It's not a question I can completely answer. There are abundant reasons, some of them worse than others and many of them mutually contradictory. To pass the time. To savor the existence of time. To escape from myself into someone else's world. To find myself in someone else's words. To exercise my critical capacities. To flee from the need for rational explanations. 
And even the obvious reasons may not be the real ones. My motives remain obscure to me because reading is, to a certain extent, a compulsion. As with all compulsions, its sources prefer to stay hidden.
Why I Read: The Serious Pleasure of Books
by Wendy Lesser

After reading about this book over at Jill's new blog, I picked up a copy at the library yesterday afternoon. Like many readers, I have a weakness for books about books and reading and I have high hopes for this one. The goodreads summary sounds encouraging:
“Wendy Lesser’s extraordinary alertness, intelligence, and curiosity have made her one of America’s most significant cultural critics,” writes Stephen Greenblatt. In Why I Read, Lesser draws on a lifetime of pleasure reading and decades of editing one of the most distinguished literary magazines in the country, The Threepenny Review, to describe her love of literature. As Lesser writes in her prologue, “Reading can result in boredom or transcendence, rage or enthusiasm, depression or hilarity, empathy or contempt, depending on who you are and what the book is and how your life is shaping up at the moment you encounter it.” 
Here the reader will discover a definition of literature that is as broad as it is broad-minded. In addition to novels and stories, Lesser explores plays, poems, and essays along with mysteries, science fiction, and memoirs. As she examines these works from such perspectives as “Character and Plot,” “Novelty,” “Grandeur and Intimacy,” and “Authority,” Why I Read  sparks an overwhelming desire to put aside quotidian tasks in favor of reading. Lesser’s passion for this pursuit resonates on every page, whether she is discussing the book as a physical object or a particular work’s influence. “Reading literature is a way of reaching back to something bigger and older and different,” she writes. “It can give you the feeling that you belong to the past as well as the present, and it can help you realize that your present will someday be someone else’s past. This may be disheartening, but it can also be strangely consoling at times.” 
A book in the spirit of E. M. Forster’s Aspects of the Novel  and Elizabeth Hardwick’s A View of My Own, Why I Read  is iconoclastic, conversational, and full of insight. It will delight those who are already avid readers as well as neophytes in search of sheer literary fun.
I think I'm going to  enjoy this one. What do you think? Would you keep reading?

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.

Sunday, August 24, 2014

Weekly Update: 8/24/14

Good morning and welcome to another weekly wrap-up post. This has been one long week - bad weather, Twin B not feeling well, last minute changes and frustrating cancellations, and most of Friday spent with a killer headache. I'm actually glad to see this week end!

I had to look a little harder for my #100HappyDays, but found them in little furry friends, a good book, and a quiet Friday evening with my husband. I'm trying to share photos daily on Instagram. Saturday was day 60! Search for lakesidemusing if you'd like to follow along.

Read last week// I finished Beyond the Pasta; Recipes, Language and Life with an Italian Family  by Mark Leslie. The combination of travel diary and cookbook is almost always a hit with me. My plan is to have a review ready for Saturday's Weekend Cooking post.

Currently reading//  I'm making good progress with An American Tragedy by Theodore Dreiser. It's nearly 900 pages (a fact that's easy to overlook with an ebook) and I've finished the first third. The read/listen combination is working well, and relatively short chapters make me more likely to pick it up even if I have only ten minutes to spare. The story is very good, too!

Starting soon//  I got into a nice routine last week reading An American Tragedy at odd moments during the day and Beyond the Pasta in the evening. A less demanding book is perfect for before bed, so I'm considering adding an Agatha Christie to the mix (Katherine has tempted me!) or possibly Big Little LiesI'm at the top of the library hold list for Liane Moriarty's latest and am hoping to get it sometime this week. Both books look good...

On the blog//
Tuesday Intro: Beyond the Pasta by Mark Leslie
Review: The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry  by Gabrielle Zevin
Review: The Ship of Brides  by Jojo Moyes
Weekend Cooking: Grilled Peaches with Rosemary & Balsamic Vinegar

In the kitchen//  Besides the grilled peaches mentioned above, I tried another recipe from Weber's Real Grilling for Trish's Cook It Up cookbook challenge - Tandoori Ckicken Kebobs. I'll post my review of the cookbook on September 6. We also had Indonesian Grilled Swordfish this week, courtesy of Ina Garten.

Looking ahead// Our house will fill up again for Labor Day weekend. Twin A returns from Paris on Wednesday (I'm hoping Icelandic volcanic ash does not become an issue), then she and Daughter #1 will take the train up from NYC on Thursday.  After a quick unpack, repack, and a lot of laundry, Twin A returns to college on Saturday. Daughter #1 is with us until Monday.

Today// The sun is finally shining again. I'm going to get out there and enjoy it! Happy Sunday... I'll catch up with you later this evening.

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

Saturday, August 23, 2014

Grilled Peaches with Rosemary & Balsamic Vinegar

It's peach season! The freshest and most delicious peaches around here come from Pennsylvania and this week Wegmans has them displayed front and center. Walk through the door and there they are - you can practically smell them before you're inside! Naturally, I bought a few and began to contemplate a simple dessert.

I'm not baking much these days (seems like we all want to lose a pound or two), but a piece of grilled fruit certainly won't derail any diet plan. I'd recently come across a recipe for Grilled Peaches with Rosemary & Balsamic Vinegar on The Framed Table and decided to give it a try last night. Besides, Jill had already clued me in to the fact that it was National Eat a Peach Day.

I cut the peaches in half, removed the pits, placed them on a grill-rack lightly sprayed with Pam, and cooked them for 5 minutes on medium-high heat.

Flip them over and grill for another 4 minutes.

Transfer to a serving dish and sprinkle with fresh rosemary.

Drizzle with high-quality balsamic vinegar and enjoy.

A delicious flavor combination!

Have you every grilled fruit? Do you have a favorite recipe or combination?

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, August 22, 2014

The Ship of Brides by Jojo Moyes

The Ship of Brides
by Jojo Moyes
Penguin Books, 2014
originally published in 2005
496 pages
source: Netgalley (via publisher for review consideration)

Summary (from goodreads):

The year is 1946, and all over the world, young women are crossing the seas in the thousands en route to the men they married in wartime - and an unknown future. In Sydney, Australia, four women join 650 other brides on an extraordinary voyage to England, aboard the HMS Victoria, which also carries not just arms and aircraft but 1,000 naval officers and men. Rules of honour, duty, and separation are strictly enforced, from the aircraft carrier's captain down to the lowliest young stoker. But the men and the brides will find their lives intertwined in ways the Navy could never have imagined.

My thoughts:

Jojo Moyes has done it again! Actually, she did it about ten years ago, but The Ship of Brides  has recently become available to US readers in digital format, with the paperback release scheduled for later this fall.

Since December, I have read four of  Jojo Moyes' novels and am struck by how different they are. Some authors seem to hit upon a formula or theme and rework it again and again, while each of Moyes' novels seems fresh and new. Me Before You  is a contemporary story told from alternating viewpoints, The Girl You Left Behind  features dual story lines, past and present, which ultimately converge, and Honeymoon in Paris is a novella and prequel to The Girl You Left Behind.

The Ship of Brides is basically historical fiction with a present-day beginning and end. After WWII, hundreds of young Australian brides board a navy ship which will carry them to England to be reunited with their new husbands. I love it when some small kernel of history provides fodder for a novel, and the post-war time period is a favorite. The combination of brides, crew, close quarters, and a long journey certainly makes for some interesting reading.

Moyes gives us a wide variety of characters whose dialog and interactions always ring true. However, the number of characters made the beginning of the novel slow-going for me. I read the first several chapters in small, short bursts over the course of nearly a week and initially had a hard time keeping the characters straight. Perhaps that would not have been the case if I'd read the first few chapters in one sitting. That being said, I tore through the last half of The Ship of Brides  in under 24 hours - simply couldn't put it down!

As Jojo Moyes continues to work on new novels, US readers can now wander through her backlist. I, for one, look forward to the journey.

Bottom line: Fans of Jojo Moyes won't want to miss The Ship of Brides.

My rating:

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry by Gabrielle Zevin

The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry
by Gabrielle Zevin
Algonquin Books, 2014
273 pages
source: ebook borrowed from library

Summary (from goodreads):
On the faded Island Books sign hanging over the porch of the Victorian cottage is the motto "No Man Is an Island; Every Book Is a World." A. J. Fikry, the irascible owner, is about to discover just what that truly means.

A. J. Fikry's life is not at all what he expected it to be. His wife has died, his bookstore is experiencing the worst sales in its history, and now his prized possession, a rare collection of Poe poems, has been stolen. Slowly but surely, he is isolating himself from all the people of Alice Island-from Lambiase, the well-intentioned police officer who's always felt kindly toward Fikry; from Ismay, his sister-in-law who is hell-bent on saving him from his dreary self; from Amelia, the lovely and idealistic (if eccentric) Knightley Press sales rep who keeps on taking the ferry over to Alice Island, refusing to be deterred by A.J.'s bad attitude. Even the books in his store have stopped holding pleasure for him. These days, A.J. can only see them as a sign of a world that is changing too rapidly.

And then a mysterious package appears at the bookstore. It's a small package, but large in weight. It's that unexpected arrival that gives A. J. Fikry the opportunity to make his life over, the ability to see everything anew. It doesn't take long for the locals to notice the change overcoming A.J.; or for that determined sales rep, Amelia, to see her curmudgeonly client in a new light; or for the wisdom of all those books to become again the lifeblood of A.J.'s world; or for everything to twist again into a version of his life that he didn't see coming. As surprising as it is moving, The Storied Life of A. J. Fikry is an unforgettable tale of transformation and second chances, an irresistible affirmation of why we read, and why we love.

Quick thoughts:

I laughed. I cried. In the end, this book was a little too sweet, somewhat predictable, and wholly improbable.

The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry  just didn't live up to my expectations. BUT it was still a good enough book, especially the beginning, so go ahead and give it a try.

Everyone else loved it!

A few favorite quotes:
"I do not like postmodernism, postapocalyptic settings, postmortem narrators, or magic realism. I rarely respond to supposedly clever formal devices, multiple fonts, pictures where they shouldn't be—basically, gimmicks of any kind. I find literary fiction about the Holocaust or any other major world tragedy to be distasteful—nonfiction only, please. I do not like genre mash-ups à la the literary detective novel or the literary fantasy. Literary should be literary, and genre should be genre, and crossbreeding rarely results in anything satisfying. I do not like children's books, especially ones with orphans, and I prefer not to clutter my shelves with young adult. I do not like anything over four hundred pages or under one hundred fifty pages. I am repulsed by ghostwritten novels by reality television stars, celebrity picture books, sports memoirs, movie tie-in editions, novelty items, and—I imagine this goes without saying—vampires." 
“Despite the fact that he loves books and owns a bookstore, A.J. does not particularly care for writers. He finds them to be unkempt, narcissistic, silly, and generally unpleasant people. He tries to avoid the ones who've written books he loves for fear that they will ruin their books for him.” 
“They had only ever discussed books, but what, in this life, is more personal than books?" 
“We are not quite novels. We are not quite short stories. In the end, we are collected works.” 
“You know everything you need to know about a person from the answer to the question, What is your favorite book?” 
“We aren't the things we collect, acquire, read. We are, for as long as we are here, only love. The things we loved. The people we loved."
My rating:

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Tuesday Intro: Beyond the Pasta

Some passionate love affairs are easily forgotten, others are only remembered as passing fancies or are over before they ever truly begin, but some are so instantaneously intense and wrought with pure, unbridled emotion that they can forever alter your life. I have had two such love affairs in my life and the one led to the other. 
It began with my first trip to Italy in September 2001. This trip was not going to be a guided tour; instead it was a self-catered vacation - a thrilling idea: to have the freedom to navigate the country and the culture with no guides, only my partner Richard and our mothers. "Wait a minute - a love affair began while on vacation with your mothers and partner?" Yes, and it was a love affair of the heart, too, but not the kind you are imagining.
Beyond the Pasta: Recipes, Language & Life with an Italian Family
by Mark Leslie

This book caught my attention when it was offered as a kindle deal for $3.99. My first impulse was to "purchase with 1-click", but then I realized recipes are included and I hate e-cookbooks. Luckily, my library had a copy (obviously well-loved). So far this book is almost as good as a trip to Italy.

The goodreads summary makes it sounds even more appealing:
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. 
What do you think? Would you keep reading?
The kindle deal was still available last time I checked.

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.

Sunday, August 17, 2014

Weekly Update: August 17, 2014

Hello, friends. It's time for another weekly update. After a beautiful weekend (the above photo is last Sunday's sunset), it has felt like fall much of the week. We've had high temps in the 60's and downright chilly overnight lows. That's perfect for long morning walks, but I'm hoping for more summer-like weather this week.

I started the second half of my #100HappyDays Project on Instagram. Flowers, the lake, books, food and my daughter heading off to Paris have been the subjects of this week's photos. Since I've missed a day here and there, this exercise will actually last a little longer, but I like focusing on small things that make me happy each day.

Read last week//  I had the best day last Sunday! We decided to stay home - all day- and I finished two books. I can't even remember the last time that happened. First was the delightful The Thoughts and Happenings of Wilfred Price Purveyor of Superior Funerals by Wendy Jones. I had my mother read it, too, but she didn't appreciate it quite as much as I did.

After a few weeks of mostly listening to Imperial Woman by Pearl S. Buck, I finished it on my kindle. This is the fourth Buck novel I've read and, while I love her historical fiction set in China, this was not quite as good as the other three.

Current reading//  The Classics Club spin dealt me An American Tragedy by Theodore Dreiser. It's a very long book and I've decided to approach it as a read/listen combination. I'm at the 15% mark now and feel full-invested in the story. I look forward to spending some time with it this afternoon.

I also started reading Beyond The Pasta: Recipes, Language and Life with an Italian Family by Mark Donovan Leslie. Reading this travel memoir (with recipes!) almost makes me feel like I'm in Italy, too.

On the blog//
Weekend Cooking: Seared Swordfish with Lemon and Rosemary Wine Sauce
Review: Five Days at Memorial by Sheri Fink
Tuesday Intro: An American Tragedy by Theodore Dreiser

In the kitchen//  I tried two new recipes this week. New York Strip Steak with Corn and Avocado Salsa from Weber's Real Grilling  was good, but not great.

The real winner this week - and a big surprise, because I never would have thought of grilling a burger already in a pita - was Spiced Lamb Burgers from the July issue of Bon Appetit. The recipe was posted yesterday at Beth Fish Reads for Weekend Cooking. The burgers disappeared before I got a chance to take a picture.

Watching//  My daughter and I saw The Hundred Foot Journey one rainy afternoon last week - highly recommended. It seems like the television hasn't been on for anything other than news lately.

Later today we'll head to my sister's for my nephew's farewell dinner. Hard to believe he leaves for his first year of college in a few days. Now I want to spend some time with the Sunday papers and have another cup of coffee. What are you up to today?

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

Saturday, August 16, 2014

Seared Swordfish with Lemon and Rosemary Wine Sauce

I know a lot of my Weekend Cooking posts are about seafood. I'm lucky to have a wide variety of fresh fish and shellfish available at Wegmans and we routinely eat it at least a couple times each week. During the summer months, it's mostly grilled, but a recent streak of rainy evenings sent me back into the kitchen. With fresh swordfish in the refrigerator and grilling no longer an option, I turned to Pinterest for ideas and found a recipe for Seared Swordfish with Lemon and Rosemary Wine Sauce at Simple Comfort Foods.

Pan-searing is, without a doubt, my favorite technique for cooking seafood indoors.  It's quick, easy, and I love the slightly crisp, flavorful crust it produces. With basic ingredients on hand and fresh rosemary and thyme just waiting to be picked from my herb garden, selecting this recipe was a no-brainer. This dish was outstanding - definitely as good as anything from my favorite restaurant. The recipe can be found here.

To learn more about the technique, here is Wegmans Pan-Searing Seafood video. It's 4 minutes well-spent even if you're a pan-searing pro!

Pan-searing can also be used to cook chicken and meats... and Wegmans has videos for that, too. In fact they have, the have a variety of videos on various cooking techniques as well as specific recipes. Even if there isn't a Wegmans in your area, you can still check out their YouTube channel.

Do you ever watch cooking videos on YouTube? Any favorites to share?

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, August 14, 2014

Five Days at Memorial by Sheri Fink

Five Days at Memorial: Life and Death in a Storm-Ravaged Hospital
by Sheri Fink
narrated by Kirsten Potter
Random House Audio, 2013
Length: 17 hrs and 33 min
source: purchased

Publisher's Summary:

In the tradition of the best writing on medicine, physician and reporter Sheri Fink reconstructs five days at Memorial Medical Center and draws the listener into the lives of those who struggled mightily to survive and to maintain life amidst chaos.

After Katrina struck and the floodwaters rose, the power failed, and the heat climbed, exhausted caregivers chose to designate certain patients last for rescue. Months later, several health professionals faced criminal allegations that they deliberately injected numerous patients with drugs to hasten their deaths.

Five Days at Memorial, the culmination of six years of reporting, unspools the mystery of what happened in those days, bringing the listener into a hospital fighting for its life and into a conversation about the most terrifying form of health care rationing.

In a voice at once involving and fair, masterful and intimate, Fink exposes the hidden dilemmas of end-of-life care and reveals just how ill-prepared we are in America for the impact of large-scale disasters - and how we can do better. A remarkable book, engrossing from start to finish, Five Days at Memorial radically transforms your understanding of human nature in crisis.

My thoughts:

"Emergencies are crucibles that contain and reveal the daily, slower-burning problems of medicine and beyond - our vulnerabilities; our trouble grappling with uncertainty, how we die, how we prioritize and divide what is most precious and vital and limited; even our biases and blindnesses."

In a way, Five Days at Memorial seemed like two books. The first part focuses on Hurricane Katrina at Memorial Hospital - the storm itself, patient care and relief/evacuation efforts during the following days, and how management, staff and patients coped. It details the horrifying conditions and immeasurable human suffering endured by those within the hospital. The second part of the book deals with the aftermath of all that occurred during those five days - the investigation, allegations of euthanasia, and its ramifications.

This book held me spellbound for nearly two weeks. I have spent many years working in large, teaching hospitals and was utterly shocked by the lack of preparedness and breakdown of communication detailed in this book. As a former health care worker, I found it hard to believe that these events could have occurred in the 21st century United States. I admired the workers, both medical and support staff, who stayed and devoted themselves to patient care under such desperate and deplorable conditions. It is difficult to predict how one might react under such circumstances and even harder to judge professional decisions made at such a time.

If there is a bright spot in this book, it lies in the contrast with one New York City hospital during Superstorm Sandy. Perhaps lessons were learned.

A note on the audio production:
Kristin Potter, with over 150 audiobook credits, is a narrator I will listen to without hesitation. Her voice is clear and strong, with just the right amount of authority necessary for narrating a piece of investigative journalism. Overall, a perfect match for this book.

My rating:

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

A Classics Spin/Tuesday Intro: An American Tragedy

Dusk--of a summer night. 
And the tall walls of the commercial heart of an American city of perhaps 400,000 inhabitants--such walls as in time may linger as a mere fable.
And up the broad street, now comparably hushed, a little band of six,--a man of about fifty, short, stout, with bushy hair protruding from under a black felt hat, a mostly unimportant-looking person, who carried a small portable organ such as is customarily used by street preachers and singers.  And with him a woman perhaps five years his junior, taller, not so broad, but solid of frame and vigorous, very plain in face and dress, and yet not homely, leading with one hand a small boy of seven and in the other carrying a Bible and several hymn books. With these three, but walking independently behind, was a girl of fifteen, a boy of twelve and another girl of nine, all following obediently, but not too enthusiastically, in the wake of the others.
An AmericanTragedy
by Theodore Dreiser

The most recent Classics Club Spin has dealt me An American Tragedy by Theodore Dreiser, a book I have wanted to read for decades. Published in 1925 and based on an actual (and fairly local) 1910 murder, this 800+ page novel is both a character study and portrait of early 20th century life. Here's the goodreads summary:
A tremendous bestseller when it was published in 1925, "An American Tragedy" is the culmination of Theodore Dreiser's elementally powerful fictional art. Taking as his point of departure a notorious murder case of 1910, Dreiser immersed himself in the social background of the crime to produce a book that is both a remarkable work of reportage and a monumental study of character. Few novels have undertaken to track so relentlessly the process by which an ordinary young man becomes capable of committing a ruthless murder, and the further process by which social and political forces come into play after his arrest.
In Clyde Griffiths, the impoverished, restless offspring of a family of street preachers, Dreiser created an unforgettable portrait of a man whose circumstances and dreams of self-betterment conspire to pull him toward an act of unforgivable violence. Around Clyde, Dreiser builds an extraordinarily detailed fictional portrait of early twentieth-century America, its religious and sexual hypocrisies, its economic pressures, its political corruption. The sheer prophetic amplitude of his bitter truth-telling, in idiosyncratic prose of uncanny expressive power, continues to mark Dreiser as a crucially important American writer. "An American Tragedy," the great achievement of his later years, is a work of mythic force, at once brutal and heartbreaking.
As with many classics this length, I'll approach An American Tragedy as a read/listen combination. The ebook has been downloaded to my kindle and I've used an audible credit for the 34-hour audiobook narrated by Dan John Miller. The first couple of chapters, like the opening paragraphs, are very descriptive. I have high hopes for the story and think I can manage the October 6 deadline.

What do you think? Would you keep reading?

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.

Sunday, August 10, 2014

Weekly Update: August 10, 2014

Good morning, friends. It's time for another weekly update and, once again, the week has passed in a flash. Technically it's still early August, so I was horrified to see a Halloween candy display going up at my local Wegmans. This has me concerned... it could be Christmas by Labor Day at this rate!

It was pretty much an ordinary week around here - the usual round of errands, doctors appointments, lunch with my parents, cooking, blogging, and even a little reading ;-) The highlight of the week was a peaceful Friday evening on the boat. Here is my instagram photo for #100HappyDays.

Reading//  I finished The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry and ,while it got off to a very strong start, was left feeling underwhelmed. Not a bad book by any means, just not as wonderful as I'd expected.

After that, I pulled a pile of possible reads and ended up selecting a library ebook that has now expired (thanks goodness for airplane mode!). The Thoughts and Happenings of Wilfred Price Purveyor of Superior Funerals by Wendy Jones is a quietly understated comedy of manners. I'm enjoying it very much and will finish this afternoon.

Listening//  The will be the last week I mention Imperial Woman by Pearl S. Buck, I promise. I'm closing in on the 90% mark of this nearly 18 hour audiobook and am tempted to finish it in print. It's good, but I am more than ready to begin something new.

On the blog//
- a Tuesday Intro from The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry
- my review of The Invention of Wings  by Sue Monk Kidd
Book Sale Bounty, my haul from the latest Friends of the Library event
- a new Classics Club Spin (the number will be announced Monday)

In the kitchen//  There was one more batch of soup for Twin A as she recovered from the removal of her wisdom teeth. Butternut Bisque from Susan Branch is my favorite butternut squash soup and since Twin A is happily eating solid food again, I finished the last of it myself.

I also tried a recipe for Tunisian Halibut for the next edition of Cook It Up, Trish's cookbook challenge. This month I'm cooking from Weber's Real Grilling.

Looking ahead//  It's time to set aside a day for review catch-up again and I may even start my Classics Club spin book (can't wait to see which number comes up on Monday!), but mostly I just want is to kick back and enjoy the final weeks of summer.

Are you doing anything exciting this week?

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

Saturday, August 9, 2014

The Classics Club: Spin #7

The Classics Club Spin has been a huge success. Previous rounds have dealt me The Bell Jar, Middlemarch, Tess of the d'Urbervilles, The Picture of Dorian Gray, and Cheerful Weather for a Wedding. The rules are the same this time, only the dates have been 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.
- Post that list, numbered 1-20, on your blog by next Monday. (8/11)
- 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 October 6.

I'm still sticking with a slightly modified version of my original list. Here's what it looks like this time:

Pick Me, Pick Me (books I want to read now)
1. My Cousin Rachel by Daphne DuMaurier
2. The Joy Luck Club by Amy Tan
3. Delta Wedding by Eudora Welty
4. Wild Strawberries by Angela Thirkell
5. The Remains of the Day by Kazuo Ishiguro

6. The Sun Also Rises by Ernest Hemingway
7. Breakfast at Tiffany's by Truman Capote
8. The Professor's House by Willa Cather
9.  Sandition by Jane Austen
10. A Room of One's Own by Virginia Woolf

Favorite Authors
11. The Bunner Sisters by Edith Wharton
12. What Maisie Knew by Henry James
13. They Were Sisters by Dorothy Whipple
14. The Winter of our Discontent by John Steinbeck (reread)
15.  Cranford by Elizabeth Gaskell

16.  Crime and Punishment by Fyodor Dostoevsky
17.  An American Tragedy by Theodore Dreiser
18. Villette by Charlotte Bronte
19.  Wives and Daughters by Elizabeth Gaskell
20.  The Way We Live Now by Anthony Trollope

Here is a link to The Classics Club's announcement post.
Are you participating this time around? Let's Spin!

8/11/14 UPDATE: Number 17 came up for this spin. I'll be reading An American Tragedy by Theodore Dreiser.

Friday, August 8, 2014

Book Sale Bounty

Last weekend was our annual Friends of the Library book sale.  I love the Friday night preview event for members - wine, cheese, music, and a chance to shop before the Saturday morning madness. It's basically a cocktail party with books!

My goal is always to donate more than I purchase. Despite the wine, I came home with only 14 books. Such restraint! From the top:

I loved the audio version of This is How You Lose Her (read by the author) and have wanted to read his Pulitzer Prize-winning novel ever since.

Fin & Lady by Cathleen Schine 
If it's even half as entertaining as The Three Weissmans of Westport, I'll be happy.

The Time of Our Singing by Richard Powers 
I've been wanting to read this author for quite a while.

Sweet Tooth by Ian McEwan 
I seem to collect McEwan's novels.

Isabel's Bed by Elinor Lipman 
The View From Penthouse B  was a highlight last summer. I'm not familiar with this title, but for a dollar I'll take the risk.

Caleb's Crossing by Geraldine Brooks 
I've enjoyed several other books by this author.

The Remains of the Day by Kazuo Ishiguro 
It seems like this has been on my wish list forever. Is it old enough to be considered a classic?

Mary Coin by Marisa Silver 
recommended by a book club friend

Nine Coaches Waiting by Mary Stewart 
...for Anbolyn's Mary Stewart Reading Week next month

The Inn at Lake Devine by Elinor Lipman 
Another Lipman! This one is Thomas's favorite.

TheSnow Child by Eowyn Ivey 
Maybe a little outside my comfort zone, but many bloggers loved it.

Winter of the World by Ken Follett 
Book Two of the Century Trilogy, 940 pages in hardcover - what was I thinking? Maybe I'll read it on the beach in Florida this winter.

The Happiness Project by Gretchen Rubin 
This book was everywhere a couple of years ago. Time to find out what all the fuss was about.

The Middle Place by Kelly Corrigan 
totally an impulse purchase

Have you read any of these? Where should I start?

Wednesday, August 6, 2014

The Invention of Wings by Sue Monk Kidd

The Invention of Wings
by Sue Monk Kidd
narrated by Jenna Lamia, Adepero Oduye, Sue Monk Kidd
Penguin Audio, 2014
13 hours and 46 minutes
source: purchased

Publisher's Summary:
Hetty “Handful” Grimke, an urban slave in early nineteenth century Charleston, yearns for life beyond the suffocating walls that enclose her within the wealthy Grimke household. The Grimke’s daughter, Sarah, has known from an early age she is meant to do something large in the world, but she is hemmed in by the limits imposed on women.

Kidd’s sweeping novel is set in motion on Sarah’s eleventh birthday, when she is given ownership of ten year old Handful, who is to be her handmaid. We follow their remarkable journeys over the next thirty five years, as both strive for a life of their own, dramatically shaping each other’s destinies and forming a complex relationship marked by guilt, defiance, estrangement and the uneasy ways of love.

As the stories build to a riveting climax, Handful will endure loss and sorrow, finding courage and a sense of self in the process. Sarah will experience crushed hopes, betrayal, unrequited love, and ostracism before leaving Charleston to find her place alongside her fearless younger sister, Angelina, as one of the early pioneers in the abolition and women’s rights movements.

Inspired by the historical figure of Sarah Grimke, Kidd goes beyond the record to flesh out the rich interior lives of all of her characters, both real and invented, including Handful’s cunning mother, Charlotte, who courts danger in her search for something better.

This exquisitely written novel is a triumph of storytelling that looks with unswerving eyes at a devastating wound in American history, through women whose struggles for liberation, empowerment, and expression will leave no reader unmoved.

My Thoughts:

It's always a good thing when a novel sends me back to my history books. I had heard that the Grimke sisters in The Invention of Wings were real people, but that fact slipped my mind until I was almost halfway through the book. Once it finally clicked, I became even more impressed with both the novel and the research behind it.

The Invention of Wings makes early nineteenth century Charleston come alive - I could practically feel its pulse. Sarah Grimke is our window into its slave-owning, high-society circles. At the beginning of the novel she receives a slave, complete with a lavender bow tied around her neck, as an eleventh birthday present. Hetty, that slave, also known as Handful, represents the opposite end of the spectrum. Their stories, perfectly balanced and told in alternating voices, give structure to the novel. They eventually collide with the abolition movement and the birth of the struggle for women's rights.

I especially loved the scene featuring locally-famous abolitionist Gerritt Smith set in Peterboro, NY (just minutes from my home). My proximity to Seneca Falls also makes Lucretia Mott and others involved in the women's rights movement seem like local heroes. It's always a thrill for me when they pop up in novels. Other elements I enjoyed were the Quakers and quilting - particularly the "story quilt" as a means for illiterate slaves to share their lives with future generations.

The authors note at the end was much appreciated, and especially enjoyable on audio as it is her own voice. Kidd explains in great detail which parts of the novel are factual and what is imagined. She explains how the novel was born and offers suggestions for further reading.

A note on the audio production:

The beginning of the The Invention of Wings marked a strange audio first for me. Most of you know I love audiobooks and find many narrator's voices to be immediately recognizable, yet I have never "heard" a character from another novel before. This time I was initially puzzled to hear Skeeter from The Help (an all-time favorite audio) and wondered what she was doing here. It took several minutes for me to erase Skeeter and begin to hear Sarah Grimke.

Jenna Lamia and Adepero Oduye are both outstanding as they give voice to Sarah and Hetty. Lamia, of course, is an old favorite from The Help, but Oduye is a new and promising voice. Listening to these two very talented women added another dimension to the story.

Bottom line:
 I highly recommend listening to this novel. It is easily one of my favorite audiobooks of the year.

My rating:

Tuesday, August 5, 2014

Tuesday Intro: The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry

On the ferry from Hyannis to Alice Island, Amelia Loman paints her nails yellow and,while waiting for them to dry, skims her predecessor's notes. "Island Books, approximately $350,000.00 per annum in sales, the better portion of that in the summer months to folks on holidays," Harvey Rhodes reports. "Six hundred square feet of selling space. No full-time employees other than owner. Very small children's section.  Fledgling on-line presence. Poor community outreach. Inventory emphasizes literary, which is good for us, but Fikry's tastes are very specific, and without Nic, he can't be counted on to hand-sell. Luckily for him, Island's the only game in town." Amelia yawns - she's nursing a slight hangover - and wonders if one persnickety little bookstore will be worth such a long trip. By the time her nails have hardened, her relentlessly bright-sided nature has kicked in: Of course it's worth it! Her specialty is persnickety little bookstores and the particular breed that runs them. Her talents also include multi-tasking, selecting the right wines at dinner (and the coordinating skill, tending friends who've had too much to drink), houseplants, strays, and other lost causes.
The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry
by Gabrielle Zevin

A.J. Fikry is everywhere this year and thanks to the perfect alignment of circumstance (craving a lighter, gentler novel and getting to the top of the library hold list), my time to read it has finally come. After the first quarter, I am not disappointed. This brief summary from amazon makes me think it will only get better:
A. J. Fikry, the irascible owner of Island Books, has recently endured some tough years: his wife has died, his bookstore is experiencing the worst sales in its history, and his prized possession--a rare edition of Poe poems--has been stolen. Over time, he has given up on people, and even the books in his store, instead of offering solace, are yet another reminder of a world that is changing too rapidly. Until a most unexpected occurrence gives him the chance to make his life over and see things anew.   
Gabrielle Zevin’s enchanting novel is a love letter to the world of books--an irresistible affirmation of why we read, and why we love.
What do you think? Would you keep reading?

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.

Sunday, August 3, 2014

Weekly Update: August 3, 2014

Summer is passing too quickly. I love the laid-back pace and long evenings outdoors, but suddenly back-to-school sales are everywhere and I'm certain the first changing leaves are just days away. School doesn't begin until after Labor Day, but it already feels like summer is beginning to wind down.

I managed to keep up with my #100HappyDays project this week and am closing in on the half-way mark. Among my favorites were a literary cocktail, black-eyed Susans from the garden, and my leather-bound Jane Austen set. What made you happy last week?

Reading//  I finished We Are Not Ourselves by Matthew Thomas a couple of nights ago. Easily one of the best books I've read this year, it left me an emotional wreck. I'll post my review around its publication date later this month.

Something lighter and sweeter was definitely in order after that and The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry by Gabrielle Zevin has come to my rescue. I'm loving this one!

Listening//  Imperial Woman by Pearl S. Buck is still occupying my limited audiobook time. I'm 55% done and like it, but not quite as much as The Good Earth, Pavilion of Women, or Peony. There's still plenty of time for it to pick up though.

On the blog//  Since I was consumed by We Are Not Ourselves last week, things were fairly quiet.
- Top Ten Tuesday:  Authors I Own
- my review of Tequila Mockingbird by Tim Federly for Weekend Cooking and Trish's Cook It Up Challenge

In the kitchen//  Twin A had her wisdom teeth removed this week so, even though it's high summer, I've been making soup. Her favorite is Split Pea (which I'd never made), so I decided to try a recipe from David Lebovtiz. It was delicious! Sadly, there is no way to make a photograph of Split Pea Soup look appealing. You're better off not seeing my attempts... trust me.

Looking ahead//  A quick look at my reading list for the year shows I've been reading predominantly new releases lately. That's unusual because I'm normally a classics, backlist, wait-til-it's-out-in-paperback kind of reader. Starting this fall, I'll be returning to my old habits. One of the titles I'm considering is An American Tragedy  by Theodore Dreiser.

Are you making fall reading plans yet?

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


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