Sunday, December 30, 2007

Reading Roundup

I've read lots of great books as we approach the end of the year. Here they are:

Q's Legacy by Helene Hanff is a memoir but felt a bit like a series of magazine articles. Hanff writes about her early life and how she came to write 84, Charing Cross Road and about her subsequent trips to London. She details the filming of the BBC TV production of 84 CCR in the 70's - I'd love to be able to watch this production now. She also writes about meeting with many of her fans and how 84 was brought to the stage in London. It was really a very remarkable book, dealing with extraordinary events in what Hanff felt was really a quite ordinary life. Hanff writes with her trademark humor and wit and I found myself charmed by her and rooting for her all over again. This was truly a wonderful read and my fourth Hanff book in 2007!

Identical Strangers - A Memoir of Twins Separated and Reunited by Elyse Schein and Paula Bernstein was a terrific read. These twin sisters were adopted as infants and separated due to a secret study of identical twins being carried out by the adoption agency. The sisters never learned of it until adulthood - and only then by accident. The story is told from both women's points of view; it is in turn devastating, joyful, and mysterious. I was astonished by their brutal honesty in telling their story and their innermost feelings about one another. This story is not just a memoir - it is also a book about twins, separated and not, and gives a pretty good argument for nature winning the nature vs. nurture debate. The story also has at its center a mystery, that of the twins mother, and the book ends with a final stunning climactic chapter. This was a wonderful read; I think I would say it is my eleventh favorite of the year, having already listed my top ten.

Have You Found Her is a compulsively readable memoir by Janice Erlbaum, a teen runaway turned successful writer. Erlbaum decides as an adult to volunteer at the shelter in NYC she stayed at as a teen. She visits weekly and brings beads for the girls to work with. Erlbaum has a habit of becoming emotionally attached to certain girls - she really desires validation from these girls. Erlbaum meets a young woman named Sam who has been living on the streets for years and the two form an instant connection. This is a painfully honest memoir and I found myself judging the author at times due to her behavior with drugs (she was smoking pot regularly) and her intense relationship with Sam which left her emotionally on edge and neglectful of her own friends and boyfriend. She seems to really have a need to feel needed. The author is really brave, in my opinion, for sharing so much of herself with the reader. The description on the back of this book states "Sam was more troubled than anybody had known, in ways no one could have imagined" and it was this line that propelled me through this book - I read the last half in one sitting, neglecting my own family in the process. I thought this was a very good read and came to a satisfying conclusion. I received this book thanks to the Librarything Early Reviewers program and it will be available in March 2008 according to the back cover.

Finally, I read the second Maisie Dobbs book, Birds of a Feather by Jacqueline Winspear. I liked it, though not quite as much as the first book. I really fell in love with the middle section of that book that dealt with Maisie's youth and young adulthood. I will continue to read the books in this series. Since I'm not a big mystery reader I like that they are somewhat light on the mystery part and heavy on atmosphere.

I think this will be my last post of 2007! I am looking forward to starting the New Year and getting back into a routine. It seems that we are just at the beginning of what looks to be a very long winter so I must find ways to embrace that and reading is certainly my favorite way.

Happy New Year to all of you - you've enriched my life, particularly my reading life in so many ways and I thank you.

Friday, December 28, 2007

Best Books Read in 2007

I'm still working on writing about my end of the year reads, but with all three of us in the house, well, it's been difficult to find the time. Here I present my favorite reads of 2007. Most of the books on my list are there due to pure enjoyment - they were all great reads for me. Some made me laugh, many made me think, some I learned from, some I'm sure were just the right book at the right time and gave me pleasure. All of them have stayed with me.

In compiling my list, I've decided to leave off two books which were favorite books but were rereads for me. I considered them favorite books in their respective years. They are:

The Blind Assassin by Margaret Atwood
Suite Francaise by Irene Nemirovsky

The following books, in no particular order except that in which I read them, are books 2 through 10, the last book is my Book of The Year.

Miss Mole by E.H. Young - A Virago Modern Classic and the first book I finished in 2007, here's what I wrote about it in my book journal: Very funny and witty, never 'met' a character like her before, enjoyed and could appreciate her unique point of view.

The Birth House by Ami McKay - A historical novel set in remote Canada looks at midwifery vs. the medical establishment. Enjoyed the unique way McKay told this story, prose alongside letters, articles, diary entries and old advertisements.

Alice Waters and Chez Panisse by Thomas McNamee - Fascinating biography of arguably the most influential person in the US promoting sustainable eating and her world renowned restaurant. Does not gloss over the negative.

The Observations by Jane Harris - Loved this fun and bawdy historical novel that is reminiscent of Slammerkin and Sarah Waters.

In a Sunburned Country by Bill Bryson - Bryson writes lovingly of Australia with his trademark humor.

The Lost by Daniel Mendelsohn - Gorgeously written account of a man searching the world for information about his relatives lost in the Holocaust. The highlight for me was when the author's brother left me a comment about my review.

Asta's Book by Barbara Vine - Loved this historical psychological thriller.

Water for Elephants by Sara Gruen - Wonderfully entertaining novel about a subject I'd never seen explored in fiction.

84, Charing Cross Road by Helene Hanff - Delightful book of letters sent me looking for more of Hanff's writing.

Finally, my Book of the Year is:

The Omnivore's Dilemma by Michael Pollan - Farming, our food supply, our eating habits - this covers it all. I think about this book almost every day, have sung it's praises to many, and delight in how it's changed my life and my attitudes towards food. Pollan is not the first to write about this subject, but does it most engagingly.

My author Finds of the Year are Barbara Vine and Helene Hanff. Thanks to all the bloggers out there who inspired me the read these two, and many other authors this year. I look forward to continuing the conversation.

Friday, December 21, 2007

The Breakdown...and a Fun Meme

The breakdown first...I was looking at my list of books read and was curious about a few statistics, so here goes.

Fiction - 51
Nonfiction - 27

Fiction by a female author - 48
Fiction by a male author - 3

Nonfiction by a female author - 18
Nonfiction by a male author - 8
Fiction by 2 authors 1 male one female - 1

Well, I knew I favored women writers but I didn't realize quite how much. Most surprising to me was that I thought perhaps I'd read more nonfiction books by men which is obviously not the case. (These numbers will be edited to contain the rest of my 2007 reads.)

LisaMM at Books on the Brain tagged me for a fun meme. It's called Whatcha Reading?

1. Whatcha reading? Birds of a Feather by Jacqueline Winspear

2. How much of it have you read so far? About a third

3. What’s it about? (in a nutshell! A sentence or two is enough)Maisie Dobbs is looking for someone. Billy has something mysterious going on.

4. What does the title refer to? I suppose the fact that several victims of crimes are connected.

5. Would you recommend it? Sure!

I'm not a tagger, but go ahead and do this -it's fun!

Due to time constraints and holiday travel, I'm planning on writing one big post about the rest of my 2007 reading. I'll also post separately about my top books of 2007.


Happy Holidays! And do let me know if you do the meme - I'd like to read your answers.

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

A Visit to a Bookshop

This past Sunday I had the good fortune to visit a wonderful book shop, Common Good Books, owned by Garrison Keillor. I wish I could tell you why I hadn't been there before, but I cannot. In any case, I walked down to this basement shop and feasted my eyes on the books, ignoring the freshly baked bread sitting on a table outside the shop. "Would you like to try our bread?" a voice said. "Yes, please." I replied and turned around. I suddenly realized that I recognized this man, Jeff Hertzberg. I read an article about him and him co-author Zoe Francois who have just published a book entitled Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day. "I'm on the list at the library for your book" I told him and he laughed. Naturally, I had to buy a copy and have it signed 'To Tara'. What fun. I happened to look on Amazon last night to read the reviews of the book and not only are they wonderful, but this book has sold out and Amazon won't be shipping until it's been reprinted. Obviously, a wonderful success for these nice people.

The book looks wonderful and if you're interested in their method do go to their website. Jeff told me there are reviews posted there that include recipes.




My husband who suggested I go to this bookshop soon arrived - we were meant to go for dinner - naturally I told him 'I hope you don't think I'm leaving now, that I've arrived at this wonderful shop.' It's really a lovely place, full of familiar titles, but also unfamiliar ones, to me the primary reason for shopping at independent stores. I also purchased The Ghost Map by Steven Johnson which is about the 1854 London cholera epidemic. Another book the caught my eye was Golden Legacy, about the history of Golden Books and is full of wonderful illustrations.

As I was checking out, I noticed a card entitled 'Ode: On the First Anniversary' by G.K.

I leave you with a bit of it:

A bookstore is for people who love books and need to touch them, open them, browse for awhile,

And find some common good --- that's why we read.

Monday, December 17, 2007

Books Read in 2007

(I made this list so I could post a link to it on my sidebar. Thanks to Nan for the idea and instructions. I will continue adding to it until 2008.)

1. Miss Mole - E.H. Young
2. The World in My Kitchen - Colette Rossant
3. Toast - Nigel Slater
4. The Night Watch - Sarah Waters
5. Nigella Lawson - Gilly Smith
6. Where We Lived - Jack Larkin
7. Suite Francaise - Irene Nemirovsky
8. Arlington Park - Rachel Cusk
9. The Omnivore's Dilemma - Michael Pollan
10. Heat - Bill Buford
11. The Gentlewoman - Laura Talbot
12. Daniel Isn't Talking - Marti Leimbach
13. A Midwife's Story - Penny Armstrong
14. Shopaholic & Baby - Sophie Kinsella
15. Secret Girl - Molly Bruce Jacobs
16. The Birth House - Ami McKay
17. Whitethorn Woods - Maeve Binchey
18. The Key - Jennifer Sturman
19. Fall on Your Knees - Ann Marie MacDonald
20. The Last Days of Dogtown - Anita Diamant
21. The Innocent Man - John Grisham
22. When She Was White - Judith Stone
23. The Woman in Black - Susan Hill
24. Alice Waters and Chez Panisse - Thomas McNamee
25. Alphabet Weekends - Elizabeth Noble
26. The Observations - Jane Harris
27. Nineteen Minutes - Jodi Picoult
28. Julia Child - Laura Shapiro
29. Dusty Answer - Rosamond Lehmann
30. Sweet Ruin - Cathi Hanauer
31. Death at La Fenice - Donna Leon
32. The Shuttle - Frances Hodgson Burnett
33. Missing - Mary Stanley
34. The Accomplice - Kathryn Heyman
35. Plan B - Emily Barr
36. Facing the Light - Adele Geras
37. Beatrix Potter: A Life in Nature - Linda Lear
38. In a Sunburned Country - Bill Bryson
39. The Blind Assassin - Margaret Atwood
40. Animal, Vegetable, Miracle - Barbara Kingsolver
41. Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince - J.K. Rowling
42. Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows - J.K. Rowling
43. Keeping the World Away - Margaret Forster
44. Markham Thorpe - Giles Waterfield
45. A Step in the Dark - Judith Lennox
46. Atonement - Ian McEwan
47. Plenty -Alisa Smith and J.B. Mackinnon
48. Made in Heaven - Adele Geras
49. The Lost - Daniel Mendelsohn
50. The Nature of Monsters - Clare Clark
51. Road Song - Natalie Kusz
52. Singing Bird - Roisin McAuley
53. Excellent Women - Barbara Pym
54. Sister Carrie - Theodore Dreiser
55. Tarte Tatin - Susan Loomis
56. Asta's Book - Barbara Vine
57. A Childhood in Scotland - Christian Miller
58. Out of the Silence - Wendy James
59. Mephisto Club - Tess Geritsen
60. Water for Elephants - Sara Gruen
61. Almost a Crime - Penny Vincenzi
62. The Almost Moon - Alice Sebold
63. This Time of Dying - Reina James
64. The Air we Breathe - Andrea Barrett
65. Case Histories - Kate Atkinson
66. 84, Charing Cross Road - Helene Hanff
67. The Island - Victoria Hislop
68. Duchess of Bloomsbury Street - Helene Hanff
69. A Dark Adapted Eye - Barbara Vine
70. Apple of My Eye - Helene Hanff
71. Bad Blood - Lorna Sage
72. The Moonlit Cage - Linda Holeman
73. Maisie Dobbs - Jacqueline Winspear
74. Q's Legacy - Helene Hanff
75. Chatterton Square - E.H. Young
76. Identical Strangers: A Memoir of Twins Separated and Reunited - Elyse Schein and Paula Bernstein
77. Have You Found Her - Janice Erlbaum
78. Birds of a Feather - Jacqueline Winspear

Thursday, December 13, 2007

What I Love

a gingerbread house

I don't mind taking the credit for the pretzel 'logs'


the idea of making a tastebook

Check out this post from 101 cookbooks. You can create your very own beautiful cookbook from your own recipes. The only problem as I see it, is, that most of my recipes would be difficult to write down since I am fond the the 'eyeball it' and then taste method.

the original A Room With a View film

I have been rewatching it and confirm that it is perfect and marvelous in every possible way. Every character is perfectly casted, most of all the young and innocent Helena Bonham Carter. The music brings me joy and touches my soul every time I hear it. The new version doesn't hold a candle.

a nice juicy read

I recently enjoyed Linda Holeman's (author of The Linnet Bird) The Moonlit Cage. This is the story of a young woman growing up in a village in Afghanistan during Victorian times. She is the sort of girl that never quite feels as though she belongs, that she wants more than seems to be available to her. A series of events in which this young woman seeks to change her fate brings her to Victorian London. A few of the characters from The Linnet Bird appear in this book. This book had adventure, history, a foreign land and its culture, romance and a villain. What more could I want? This book may still be available from bookcloseouts. I am currently reading Maisie Dobbs and enjoying it immensely. I will certainly be reading more of this series.

a year with frog and toad

We saw this last night and it was really wonderful, certainly the best show I've seen yet at the Children's Theater (and I've liked them all). The music was so good, sort of a 30's big band sound.
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I have entered the 'too much to do and not enough time to do it in' phase of December and find myself looking forward to the new year. (Be forewarned, a whine is coming.) Due to a variety of reasons, it is not practical to spend Christmas with my family and I will again be traveling to my in-laws to spend Christmas. Naturally, as the wife, I am responsible for all the holiday preparations and then do not even get to stay in my own home. I wish that we could start to have our own traditions and wonder if this will ever come. Thank you. I needed to get that off my chest. Blogging will be light in the coming weeks, though I am looking forward to a few end of the year wrap-up sort of posts. Take care!

Monday, December 10, 2007

I've Been Tagged - Five Things

It's amazing how balmy 18 degrees feels when you're used to 4 degrees!

I've been tagged by The Literate Kitten, so here you go:

5 things I was doing 10 years ago
1. Dating my husband
2. Working full-time
3. Living in Chicago in a studio apartment
4. Going to great restaurants and musicals regularly
5. Reading some, but not as much as now. We used to go on bookstore dates.

5 things on my to-do list today
1. Take my daughter to school
2. Go to the gym
3. Go to the dentist
4. Think about what I need to do for Christmas (a lot)
5. Go to work until 11pm
Sounds fun, no?

5 things I would do if I were a millionaire
1. Travel
2. Move to a warmer climate
3. I'd love to be able to work somehow to promote a better way of eating in this country. That encompasses a lot.
4. Invest
5. Help underprivileged children with reading programs

5 things I'll never wear again
1. A bikini
2. Very high heeled shoes
3. Miniskirts
4. Colored mascara (blue, for example)
5. A coat that's not warm enough (Remember, I'm in Minnesota)

5 favorite toys
1. Princess Monopoly
2. Card Games
3. Pink Ipod
4. Computer
5. My family! We love to get silly.

I won't tag anyone directly, but if you'd like to play, please do!

Friday, December 7, 2007

A Post in Two Parts

Part 1 - The Trouble With Christmas Shopping

I'm not a big shopper, that is, I don't do much browsing. Well, I do in bookstores, but you already knew that. I'm just saying that I go shopping when I need to buy something, I walk in, pick it up and pay for it and that's the end of it. When a new season arrives, I go to a bunch of stores/websites, buy my child's clothing for the next 6 months and I'm done. Thus, the necessity of shopping, of browsing, for gifts for people for whom I'm not sure what to get, well it gets tricky for me. Mostly because I'm really good at finding things I'd like for myself.

Take, for example, the cool local craft show I attended recently. Every few years I'll make handmade gifts (hand-stamped stationary, jewelery, chocolate truffles, embroidered items) but it's a little late for that now. I figured the next best thing was supporting local crafters. See that cool bag with the gray and blue and red ribbon around it? Yep, that's mine now. I can't wait to use it this Spring. These folks make some terrific smelling soaps and bath salts - I threw a bar in for me. Here are some cute gifts for babies - fortunately I didn't need one myself. Look at these crazy cute animals - my little one is getting a gingerbread girl tree ornament - they look to be all gone. Then there is my new pin bought alongside my daughters new hair clip, my new chocolate lip balm...you get the picture.

I went to my favorite local gift shop, full of things you never knew you needed, and found these fantastic mugs. There is a cute red bird on the other side. I thought these would be great for my sisters....but wouldn't it be fun if we each had the same one? Of course it would. And it sort of matches my new bag, no? The thing is, I always tell people 'don't get me anything!'. What they don't realize is, I've already done it for them.

Part 2 - Why I Love Nigel Slater (again)


The 30-Minute Cook by Nigel Slater arrived the other day. I bought it from Abebooks for about 5 dollars. I just cannot get enough of this man's writing. I have three of his books on my nightstand right now. Really. I wish I could have all of his food knowledge and ideas inside my head or at the very least eat at his table for the next month. Here are my favorite 'Nigelisms' from this book:

"Chinese cooking is a doddle. Unless, of course, you take it very seriously."

"Hooray for the salsa."

"..avoid any chilli sauce made in Vietnam. If you value your tastebuds and sinuses, that is."

On coconut milk:
"You can use fresh coconut. If you have all day. You can use desiccated coconut. If you're desperate."

On coriander (cilantro for those of us in the US):
"After initially thinking it tasted of washing-up liquid I became addicted to the stuff."

"I had become a bit bored with broccoli."

I love this man. I'd love to watch him cook but don't think he's ever been on US television.

*****
Sorry for such a disjointed post, I've been reading but haven't finished anything. I spent most of yesterday sitting in a house with a broken furnace waiting for repair. It was 52 degrees in the house and about 8 degrees outside. The only good news is, it wasn't the house I live in. There will be lots of crafting here this weekend, tonight there is an event at my daughter's school and tomorrow we'll be building a gingerbread house at her old preschool. Have a great weekend!

Wednesday, December 5, 2007

A List

We have snow.

Plenty of it already - as far as I'm concerned - and more on the way. We might have a total of 20 inches by this weekend. I am so thankful for my new tires we bought last winter.

I have a habit of browsing my bookshelves as though they are a bookstore. Sometimes I do it when I'm looking for my next read, sometimes when I'm just waiting for someone to arrive. But what I always realize is, why haven't I read all these amazing looking books? I bought them, and now they're just sitting here. So I've decided to make a list. A list of books that I will make some sort of attempt to get to in 2008, and I hope that having this list will prompt me to go back and look at it. The books on this list are on it for a reason. Some have been on my shelves for years, some are newer but I made a big fuss about obtaining them. Some were obtained when I was on a kick about something that has now passed. In any case, all deserve a chance to be read and I hope to give it to them. I've chosen 24 books, 12 fiction and 12 nonfiction. Interestingly I had a much easier time choosing the nonfiction list. And for the record, this is not a challenge, just A List.

Fiction

Maggie Now by Betty Smith
The Needle in the Blood by Sarah Bower
Cranford by Mrs Gaskell
The Real Charlotte by Somerville & Ross
Lady Audley's Secret by Mary Elizabeth Braddon
My Brilliant Career by Miles Franklin
The Forest Lover by Susan Vreeland
The Corrections by Jonathan Franzen
A Fine Balance by Rohinton Mistry
A London Child of the 1870s by Molly Hughes
Something by Shirley Jackson
Something by Elizabeth Taylor



Nonfiction

Fast Food Nation by Eric Schlosser
Hungering for America by Hasia R. Diner
Much Depends on Dinner by Margaret Visser
Consuming Passions by Judith Flanders
Period Piece by Gwen Raverat
Testament of Youth by Vera Brittain
Triangle by David Von Drehle
Three Cups of Tea by Greg Mortenson and David Oliver Relin
Maximum City:Bombay Lost and Found by Suketu Mehta
Diane Moseley by Anne de Courcy
Nightingales by Gillian Gill
The Working Poor by David Shipler

What books do you want to read in 2008?

Tuesday, December 4, 2007

Reviews

I've had the pleasure of reading another book by Helene Hanff thanks to Cath who recommended it. Apple of My Eye is somewhat difficult to describe. It is subtitled A Personal Tour of New York which is, I suppose, what it is. Helene and her friend Patsy become tourists of their beloved city and experience life as tourists. I think this is an interesting perspective because no matter where you live, there are probably sights that you've never visited just because you figure "well, I live here, I can go anytime". The book is filled with wonderful photographs of NYC and even though this book was published in 1977, everything looks very modern - except for the automobiles. The book is written in the style of a journal and is similar to Duchess of Bloomsbury in that way. Naturally, Hanff's wonderful witticisms are all there, and the book is full of humor and fun. This book would not serve as a guidebook, not now or in 1977, but would be a wonderful read if you are visiting New York. It is full of eclectic bits of history. The only thing I didn't like about this book and I'm speaking of the exact library copy I hold in my hands, is that some horrible person has torn multiple pages out of it! They seem to be pages that had photographs on one side and text on the other and it is very disconcerting to be reading along and then not be able to finish the author's train of thought. This rude person actually tore out the last page of the book- text included! Grrr. I'm going to try to find an inexpensive used copy of Hanff's book Q's Legacy. This book looks like it ties all the bits of Hanff's life together.



I've also finished Bad Blood by Lorna Sage which has a very different tone from the above. I came across this memoir in one of my favorite used book stores - they tend to have a small selection of UK publications. Sage had a very dysfunctional and poor childhood, living with her grandparents and mother in a vicarage while her father was away fighting WWII. The main thing that struck me about this book was the treatment of children. I've mentioned this before in other books, but in these very child-centric times (I'm not saying this is the best way - only the way things seem to be right now) it's difficult to read about caregivers being so neglectful. All the instincts I have make me want my child to have the things she needs to be happy and healthy. Sage mentions several times that she had lice for years - her caregivers felt she'd just get it again so didn't treat her. She writes about her insomnia due to chronic sinusitis. The doctor recommended that Sage be allowed to stay up late and read but I can't help but wonder if penicillin or other treatments would have helped. Sage finds solace in books and education, both of which she knows will be her ticket out of her present life. Sage becomes pregnant in her teens and makes the decision to marry and take her exams after the baby is born. I liked this book. It was a fascinating portrait of a girlhood during a time that is forever gone, yet so many of the themes are the same today.

Friday, November 30, 2007

Oops I Did It Again...

I ordered more books from Bookcloseouts. Here they are:


Reading Groups by Jenny Hartley was recommend by Simon a few months back. There are some nice reading lists in the back.

The Widow's War by Sally Gunning was recommend by Gentle Reader.

The Viceroy's Daughters by Anne de Courcy and Ladies and Not-So-Gentle Women by Alfred Allan Lewis are nice big biographies of women - I love these sorts of books.

Title Deeds by Liza Campbell - I read about this book last fall in Vogue - and again this fall by its US title.

The Ship of Brides by Jojo Moyes is a novel about Australian women traveling to the UK to reunite with the UK born husbands.

Here are my latest mooches and used book purchases:


The Brimstone Wedding and The House of Stairs are my 2 latest Barbara Vine acquisitions.

Celia by E.H. Young is the book on these piles I'm most excited about. It's been eluding me until now.

The Optomist's Daughter by Eudora Welty - another Virago

Masie Dobbs by Jacqueline Winspear - There was a meme a while back and one of the questions was 'What character in fiction would you want to be?' So many people answered Maisie Dobbs and I just knew I needed to find out what all the fuss was about.

The Matriarchs edited by Susan Mitchell is a compilation of twelve Australian women's thoughts on their lives. I think I'm the only person on Librarything with this one!

City of Dreadful Delight by Judith R. Walkowitz - The subtitle is Narratives of Sexual Danger in Late-Victorian London. It looks very scholarly.

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A Meal to Please the Masses

It's rare to prepare a meal that everyone is equally excited about. Last night I prepared Broccoli with Wonderful Peanut Sauce from Mollie Katzen's new cookbook The Vegetable Dishes I Can't Live Without. I figured that if you were dipping broccoli into peanut sauce, you might as well dip the rest of your dinner, too, so I prepared broiled chicken marinated in lime juice, olive oil, and cumin, and quinoa mixed with lime juice, cilantro, olive oil, and soy sauce.

(Changes I made to the peanut sauce recipe include: using a bit less water, 2 whole cloves of garlic, and more soy sauce than called for.)

*************

I've been feeling quite smug for the past week that I hadn't picked up the cold my family has been sporting but my luck has ran out. I'm still in the beginning stages with my headache and swollen throat, soon to be followed by the stuffy nose and cough. And there's so much to do. Anyhow, I'm skipping the gym today and throwing myself at the couch to watch Perfume, a movie based on a very strange and creepy book. I read the book a few years ago and Danielle has reminded me that I must watch the film.

Enjoy the weekend!

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Roasted Vegetables, Anyone?

Roasted vegetables are one of my favorite things to make and eat. They are easy to prepare and the flavors are terrific. Here are some green and wax beans I roasted this past Summer.

I'll roast just about any vegetable. Some of my favorites are:

Potatoes
Tomatoes
Onions
Shallots
Green and Wax Beans
Broccoli
Peppers
Root Vegetables
Asparagus
Winter Squash

I love them all but I think roasted broccoli is probably the biggest surprise taste-wise on this list. Even the stalks taste good this way.

I prepare all my roasted vegetables pretty much the same way. I toss them with olive oil, salt, and pepper right on the baking sheet and put them into the oven. The best temperature for my oven for roasting is around 400-425 degrees. If I happen to have something else in the oven that needs a lower temperature, I just count on a longer cooking time, though I do think the oven needs to be at least 375 degrees. I usually check them for doneness after about 15 minutes. I like the vegetables to get pretty brown so I just keep checking and tasting until they're just the way I like them.

My current favorite roasted vegetable dish is carrots and parsnips with honey. I cut both into sticks. They seem to cook a bit faster this way and you get the greatest amount of browning.

I roast them as described above until they are almost finished. I then put some honey, and a bit of salt if the veggies need some, into the microwave and warm. I then pull the veggies out of the oven and toss with the honey. The pan goes back into the oven for five more minutes. Delicious!


In other news.............

It is winter here! Yesterday morning the our indoor/outdoor electronic thermometer showed 4 degrees. I actually checked 2 other sources to make sure that was correct! It is a shock to the system, but luckily I have my new down coat, which I have named The I'll Never Be Cold Again Coat - and I wasn't.

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I've been watching some episodes of The Duchess of Duke Street on Netflix instant watch. I enjoyed the first five episodes and on the sixth, the show was really not about Louisa Trotter at all. It seemed much more like a weekly show with storylines that were independent of one another that happened to take place in Louisa Trotter's hotel. Is this the case with the rest of the show? I enjoy the parts with Louisa the most and felt a bit let down.

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I have to have my picture taken tonight for our church directory and I'm NOT looking forward to it. I really hate having my picture taken. My husband and daughter are hugely photogenic and have great smiles and new haircuts. I suggested that the two of them represent all of us, but my husband didn't go for that idea. Oh, well.

Monday, November 26, 2007

A Dark Adapted Eye


A Dark Adapted Eye is the second book I've read by Barbara Vine. I owe a big thank you to the bloggers who have written about her books because I'm sure I would never have picked them up otherwise. I cannot tell you how many people have commented on the fact that the book I've been carrying around (different cover than shown) does not look like something I would typically read - and they are right. Vine's books look like typical murder mysteries but they are really so much more.

A Dark Adapted Eye is the story of Vera Hillyard, as told by her niece Faith. We know from the outset that Vera has been hung for murder around 1950, yet we do not know who she killed or why. A reporter in the present day is doing research for a book and causes Faith to revisit her memories of the time. Faith's reminisces begin when she was a young girl, visiting her Aunt in the country, and the story continues in this vein as Faith becomes older and watches the actions of her elders. This book is very domestic, very much a family drama that happens to have a tragic murder tied to it. Vines drops little hints and comments that we don't understand until later on. I find her such a clever writer and find it hard to believe how prolific she is. I enjoyed this book, and while I didn't love the ending, I would still consider it a very good read.

Barbara Vine is Ruth Rendell, and when I wrote about Asta's Book I had wondered what the differences were in the books written under each name. The copy of Dark Adapted Eye that I have contains a letter from Rendell on this very subject. She writes that she has been called both Ruth and Barbara for her entire life and they are two different facets of her personality. Barbara has a softer voice which is more intuitive and is the more feminine part of her personality. I have a few other Vine books waiting in the wings and look forward to them.

I am currently reading:

The Apple of My Eye by Helene Hanff

All Passion Spent by Vita Sackville-West for Karen's new bookgroup. I just started this last night.

North and South by Elizabeth Gaskell - I just picked this up again last week. I'm having a bit of trouble with it...Margaret Hale has been visiting Bessy and Nicolas Higgins quite a bit and the parts with the Higgins' speaking is written in colloquial English (is that the proper word?). I don't know why, perhaps because I'm reading at night and I'm tired but these parts make me feel so tense because I have to work so hard to understand what's being said. A minor gripe, really, but it's keeping me from wanting to pick up the book again.

Sunday, November 25, 2007

Happy 6th Birthday Baby Girl!



Apparently the dream dinner of a six year old, well my six year old anyway, consists of:

macaroni and cheese
hot dogs
a baguette with butter
raw baby carrots

All followed by a chocolate frosted doughnut. Ugh. Unfortunately I worked all weekend, so wasn't able to make a special meal (I did make the cake last week, after all). In any case, she was pleased with the meal she chose.

Book talk soon, I promise.

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Aftermath

Ahhhh. They butterfly party went well, overall and I think everyone had a good time. I am saying, though, that this was my last big birthday party at home. It was a little crazy and my daughter tends to have her bossy hat on at our home which made for some tense moments for me.

Now I can get back to blogging about books. I have managed to finish two, the first was The Island by Victoria Hislop. In the first part of The Island, a young woman, Alexis, travels to Crete with her boyfriend and intends - with her mother's blessing - to learn about her family's history. This introduction is just a vehicle the author uses to tell the main portion of the story which is that of a family living in a small Cretan village around the time of WW2 across the water from Spinalonga, a leper colony.



This book is primarily a family saga which is a genre I always enjoy. I appreciated learning more about leprosy and leper colonies, what life was like for the lepers, and about how treatment became available. It was interesting to search online after reading this book and see photographs (as above) of the island of Spinalonga. I wasn't crazy about the beginning and ending of the book , that is to say, the parts about present-day Alexis and her boyfriend troubles. But, overall, I enjoyed this book and found it to be entertaining. It wasn't a particularly taxing read which is just what I needed at the time.

The second book I finished is The Duchess of Bloomsbury Street by Helene Hanff. This book is the journal Hanff writes during her visit to London which was a lifelong dream. I was surprised to notice that when I read the first page of this book Hanff leaves New York for London on the exact day I was born - year and all. It was certainly fun to see that in print. For everyone who remarked how much they enjoyed 84, Charing Cross Road - well I just know you'd love this book. It's just a delight - charming, lovely, funny and warm. Hanff is treated like a princess in London - hence the title. I don't like to give too much away so that you can enjoy it yourself.

We are preparing to celebrate Thanksgiving in a few days. We're having dinner with friends since we have to stay in town - I have to work all weekend. I'll be preparing cranberry-orange sauce, a sweet potato dish with a praline topping (it could really be called dessert), and a green bean dish with mushrooms and shallots. I'll also bring bread, a relish tray, and cocktails - passion fruit bellinis. What will you be making for the holiday, if you celebrate it?

I suspect I won't be back until after Thanksgiving...so until then, enjoy the holiday.

Friday, November 16, 2007

Friday Fumblings

Whew. If there was an award for Mom of the day, I'd be in the running today. I have baked a butterfly cake (from scratch) complete with three colors of frosting, tied many tiny butterflies to lengths of curling ribbon and attached them to my chandelier, soon I'll go sell books at the aforementioned book sale, followed by dinner and more preparations for tomorrow's party.

*****

Bookclub was held at my house last night when we discussed Case Histories by Kate Atkinson. I was somewhat surprised by the reaction: 3 people liked it, 2 "did not like it and would not recommend it", and 1 thought it was 'okay'. Hmmm. We had a good discussion nonetheless and voted on what we'll read in 2008. I'm fairly pleased with the list. I didn't feel the suggestions this year were the greatest...and other people must have felt the same because we added three titles spontaneously that no one had suggested. One was my husband's idea. Here is the list - the titles I've already read are bolded.

The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath
She's Come Undone by Wally Lamb
Eat, Pray, Love: One Woman's Search for Everything Across Italy, India, and Indonesia by Elizabeth Gilbert
The Master Butchers Singing Club by Louise Erdrich
Love in the time of Cholera by Gabriel Garcia Marquez
A Thousand Splendid Suns by Khaled Hosseini
The Handmaid's Tale by Margaret Atwood
There are No Children Here by Alex Kottowitz
Nineteen Minutes by Jodi Picoult
A Tree Grows in Brooklyn by Betty Smith

I was a little disappointed but not surprised that no one voted for Half of a Yellow Sun.

*****

I was very envious recently when so many UK blog writers wrote their thoughts on the new version of Room With a View shown on television. My clever friend from work who is also a fan of all things 'period' found it online, I won't spell it out for fear of it being removed but the initials of the place are Y** T***. You can watch it in 10 segments. I liked it.....but I have loved the original 1985 film for years and have watched it many times - though not recently. The new film didn't live up to the old version for me, so I'm going to re watch it- the old version - and see if it lives up to its place in my memory.



*****

Nutmeg asked me in a comment to list Nigella's books from favorite to least favorite. Here goes:

1. How to Eat - for reading pleasure and recipes
2. How to Be a Domestic Goddess - about baking - same thoughts as number one
3. Nigella Bites - I love the TV show this book was based on and have some favorite recipes from it- chocolate cake anyone?
4. Feast - I haven't cooked much from this but it's a terrific read.
5. Forever Summer - Similar in style to Nigella Bites (that is to say, less wordy - which is my favorite thing about Nigella - her writing). There are a couple recipes I make regularly.
6. Nigella Express - I don't see myself using this much. This is also less wordy that her previous books.

I would suggest How to Eat or HTBADG to start with. I think those really represent how Nigella cooks and much of the rest is a bit diluted - in my opinion.

Have a lovely weekend - after the party I'll be making my shopping list for Thanksgiving.

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Gingerbread....and other stuff

Well, it looks like I really struck gold by mentioning 84, Charing Cross Road! Thanks so much to everyone for mentioning how much they enjoyed it and for suggesting additional reading and watching. I picked up Hanff's sequel, The Duchess of Bloomsbury Street from the library today and will hopefully report back on it soon.
*****
I helped set up the Scholastic Book Fair yesterday at my daughter's elementary school - I was surprised by how much fun it was! I got to live out my fantasy of working in a bookstore for a little while - unpacking boxes, setting up displays, figuring out where books should go - what fun!

*****
I've been tagged for a fun meme by Lisamm at Books on the Brain. Here are the directions:

Open up the book you’re currently reading to page 161 and read the sixth sentence on the page, then think of 5 bloggers to tag.

I currently doing some light reading (The Island by Victoria Hislop), and the sixth sentence on page 161 is:

Levels of starvation in Crete were, by now, reaching such high levels that it was not unheard of for local people to accept what was know as the 'Deutsche drachma' for a tip-off about the whereabouts of resistance fighters.

Well. That doesn't sound very light, does it? If you would like to do this please do, and let me know. I love knowing what people are reading.

*****
Today I baked Nigella's Fresh Gingerbread with Lemon Icing from How to be a Domestic Goddess.



I have made this recipe several times and it's always been successful and received rave reviews. The only change I've made is in the icing.....when I've mixed it as directed it's been more of a glaze and there has not been enough. I generally sift a pile of confectioner's sugar (1 1/2 to 2 cups) then add most of the juice of a lemon - stir in warm water until you have a thick, white spreadable paste (it resembles glue).

I love making gingerbread in the fall but it makes so much that I like to make it for a crowd - that's where tonight's bookclub meeting comes in handy. Are there any recipes you look forward to making each fall (or any other season for that matter)? I'm thinking of recipes that are not generally repeated often, just made year after year.

Monday, November 12, 2007

Monday Meanderings

I want to apologize for the many responses to comments I need to make, the many posts I need to read, and the lack of posts I've meant to write...

I've just finished a three day weekend (no school on Friday) with an out of town husband and a little person attached to me for most of the time. She seems to sense when things are different, that is, when one of us is not just at work but is actually away - and really wants to be near the person with her. Which is lovely, really, but there's not much reading or blogging or anything else to be done when that happens. All in all we had a very nice weekend, played with some preschool friends we haven't seen since kindergarten began, saw an unexpectedly funny move (Bee Movie) - the reviews were terrible, and purchased some Christmas decorations.

I'm feeling a bit overwhelmed this week. I have some volunteer work to do at the elementary school that I signed up for a while back - helping with the Scholastic Book Sale - perfect job for me you know, school conferences, I'm hosting bookclub this Thursday which means cleaning and baking, and a party for 11 5-6 year olds on Saturday - more cleaning, baking and decorating. I'll be relieved when Saturday evening arrives.

I've actually finished two books recently, the second one quite short. The first was Case Histories by Kate Atkinson which my bookclub will be discussing here on Thursday evening. This was actually a re-read for me and I think I enjoyed it this time just as much as I enjoyed it the first time. The novel opens by describing three separate and seemingly unrelated crimes. Jackson Brodie, private investigator, becomes involved with all three incidents and the people involved in each one. This is a mystery, but a very literary mystery. I think I enjoyed this book more than Atkinson's follow-up, One Good Turn, which also features Jackson Brodie.

The second book I read arrived on Saturday compliments of a swap. I started paging through it and before I knew it I'd read the entire book in about an hour. 84, Charing Cross Road by Helene Hanff is an utterly charming book and I'm so glad I read it. I'm not sure what precipitated my reading it - perhaps it was Karen's post last week regarding books of letters. In any case, it was educational, informative, funny, and really, just what I needed. I realize that I simply cannot fully comprehend the situation in the UK in the years following WW2. Of course, I've read that the situation was bad and that rationing went on for years, but I found this line stunning:

'Brian told me you are all rationed to 2 ounces of meat per family per week and one egg per person per month.'

Goodness. In any case, I am so looking forward to Hanff's follow-up, The Duchess of Bloomsbury Street which is on its way to me from the library.

Ever since I told Nan about Bloglines, I've had nothing but trouble with it. Each post I look at reappears as a new one - I can't make anything go away! Is anyone else having this problem?

Wednesday, November 7, 2007

There's a catch...

Ohhhh, lovely new (to me) books! And the best part? I didn't pay for any of them. It's true, they are all mooches and swaps and the only brand new one was obtained with a gift card.



Let's see what we have...

The Brimstone Wedding by Barbara Vine - I really enjoyed Asta's Book and have been investigating Vine's backlist to see what I might enjoy. This looks enticing and I should have a few more Vine books on the way soon.

Lot's of great Virago finds...

Cecilia by Fanny Burney - This is huge! I'm thinking this was not the best format for this book to be published in....it's rather awkward.

The Way Things Are by Delafield - This is about the doubts a 34 year old woman has about her marriage - are they really 'happily married'?

Crewe Train by Rose Macaulay

Deerbrook by Harriet Martineau - The author was a friend of Charlotte Bronte. The plot sounds reminiscent of an Austen book.

An Omlette anda Glass of Wine by Elizabeth David - I'm looking forward getting to know the work of this classic food writer.

Nigella Express by Nigella Lawson - This book is beautifully published but I can already tell it won't be one of my favorites of hers. I think what I like most about Nigella is her writing and this book has a bit less of that - in the interest of being Express, of course.

I emailed a publisher about an author's visit to my city and he sent me a great link to a site that lists what authors will be in your area. Genius! And from signing up, it looks as thought this might be international. I haven't seen anything in particular I'd like to see, but I'm going to keep checking.

Monday, November 5, 2007

The Air We Breathe


I was lucky enough to win a copy of Andrea Barrett's The Air We Breathe from Library Thing's Early Reviewer program. This novel takes place in upstate New York in 1916 in a village called Tamarack Lake - a place primarily populated by sufferers of tuberculosis. The wealthy stay in private cute cottages, the less fortunate are wards of the state and thus live in the public sanatorium. There is a war going on across the ocean and the residents of this community wonder and wait to find out if the United States will become involved. Barrett takes her time with this story, introducing us to each character in turn, so that the reader might get to know each one as an individual - how they came to be in this place, and their hopes and dreams. Leo Marberg is the main character in this tale, a young Russian immigrant who speaks multiple languages and was trained as a chemist in the old country; he has not yet fulfilled his dreams in this new world. Eudora and Naomi are girls from the village with differing ideas of how to get what they want from this life. Miles Fairchild is a wealthy owner of a concrete company as well as a patient; he tries to use his time productively. This is the story of how these people and others become entwined in one another's lives, of the love quadrangle that results, and ultimately the disaster that occurs.

I really, really enjoyed reading this book. I thought Andrea Barrett's characterization was brilliant, I felt as thought I knew each person in the story. She uses a unique perspective in telling this story - it is told in the collective "We" and represents the other patients at the sanatorium, the ones not directly involved in the action. I particularly enjoyed learning about early x-ray technology as well as how tuberculosis was treated in these times with no appropriate medications. Overall, I would recommend this book. I understand that there are characters in this book that have also appeared in her other books so this might be of particular interest to those who have read Barrett's other work.

In other news.....I saw flurries when I was out driving a little bit ago. Snow flurries! Eeek!

Also...Lotus has been kind enough to give me a lovely award, the Schmooze award.



This award is for the bloggers who “effortlessly weave their way in and out of the blogosphere, leaving friendly trails and smiles, happily making new friends along the way. They don’t limit their visits to only the rich and successful, but spend some time to say hello to new blogs as well. They are the ones who engage others in meaningful conversations, refusing to let it end at a mere hello - all the while fostering a sense of closeness and friendship.”


I would like to pass this award on to the following people - and as always - no need to do anything. Pass it on if you wish, or just enjoy - it's up to you.

Karen
Nan
Iliana
Geranium Cat
Gentle Reader

I'd like to give it to all of you who've welcomed me so kindly here and made me feel at home.

Of course I give this award in particular to Lotus, who completely epitomizes the meaning of the Schmooze award, in my opinion.

Friday, November 2, 2007

Have you ever made....Quinoa?



The first time I ever ate quinoa, it was in one of those prepacked box dishes. We didn't like it very much and I didn't really think about eating it again. In the past few years, in the interest of variety and trying to feed my family well, I began thinking again of whole grains. Last winter I bought Lorna Sass's cookbook Whole Grains, Every Day, Every Way and have found it to be a wealth of information. She includes basic cooking instructions for so many grains ( as well as more involved and interesting recipes) and that is where my basic recipe came from.

Even though I have lots of interesting recipes that call for quinoa, I haven't gotten too fancy with it, mainly because I've found it to be a quick weeknight meal addition. One way we've eaten is in place of rice with a stir fry. Basically, you just boil water and add the quinoa to it. Apparently you're supposed to rinse it, which I've never done, but now you know. I use about 1 cup dried for the 3 of us and there is usually a bit left over. I start checking the quinoa for doneness after about 15 minutes, and have found it generally takes 15-20 minutes to cook. You'll see a tiny white ring pull away from the grain and it will be chewy.

The main way we like to eat quinoa and the way we had it last night is as follows.



Cook as directed above, drain and toss with olive oil, salt, pepper, a bit of grated Parmesan and toasted pine nuts. I like to use a fork to mix it all together so it doesn't get too clumpy. I think a bit of grated lemon rind would be a nice addition. My almost 6 year old eats this, mainly because she loves pine nuts - I don't dare leave them out.

I thought I'd add a bit of color to this post with this purple broccoli.

It's not local, I found it at Whole Foods and couldn't resist. It has a much more broccoli-ish flavor than the usual grocery store variety. The purple parts turned dark green upon cooking, but left purple water marks on our plates.

I'll be working this weekend (sigh), but since I'm making lasagna tonight for dinner, at least I'll have good meals while I'm there.

Wednesday, October 31, 2007

This Time of Dying


This Time of Dying by Reina James is the tale of ordinary people living in extraordinary times. The story tales place in London during the Fall of 1918 - a time of war and of the Spanish Flu and is told primarily from the points of view of two people. Allen Thompson is a lady. She is a widow, a schoolteacher, a caregiver for her invalid sister and a woman who is ahead of her time. She is unusually kind to her maid and has a burgeoning friendship with a man below her station. Henry Speake is an undertaker whose first love is music and playing the piano. He sees the effects of the epidemic firsthand and reads a letter left behind by a victim which gives him insight as to how serious this flu may be.

This novel describes Allen and Henry's everyday activities. Her school closes and she visits the sick with her friend. She deals with her sister who is in a state of decline. Henry takes care of more and more of the victims, running out of lumber for coffins and time to arrange burials. Each day Allen and Henry meet and talk and get to know one another and the people around them tell them more and more how inappropriate their relationship is. I found it interesting the extent to which Henry's family and coworkers were upset with him over his relationship with Allen. They felt she was 'ruining' him which I wouldn't have expected.

Despite the dramatic subject matter, I found this to be a very quiet book. I found myself rooting for this disparate pair and hoped they would not be parted by the expectations of society. I enjoyed this book, though I never felt a very strong connection to it. That puts it in more of a 'liked it' than 'loved it' category for me and I'm glad I decided to read this.

Saturday, October 27, 2007

The Almost Moon


As I said in my last post I enjoyed Alice Sebold's first novel, The Lovely Bones (except for that strange part at the end and I see I'm not alone there). Despite the odd ending, I considered it a book I might re-read at some point.

I don't like to give away plot points, but I think by telling you The Almost Moon is about a woman who kills her mother I've given nothing away. This fact is made clear in the first line and the rest of the book details this daughter's actions and thoughts over the next 24 hours, as well as a look back at her dysfunctional family and childhood.

I like Sebold's writing, I think she tells a good tale. But the tale itself? Mmmmmmm, well, I was not a fan. I like sad books, depressing books, books that show the negative side of human nature. But this was somehow different. Perhaps because all our families are a little bit dysfunctional or odd behind closed doors, perhaps because at some point most of us will deal with an aged, or ill parent, perhaps it hits too close to home but it all serves to make this an uncomfortable read. The first few chapters are so intense I wouldn't be surprised if casual readers don't make it past them. I do like the cover of this book - an almost blinding red - it is intense and harsh, just like the words it holds within. The characters in this book are highly unlikable - I found I couldn't identify with them or their choices, particularly the main character, Helen.

I am sure The Almost Moon will be purchased and read by the thousands, thus my opinion won't hurt it's success at all. I'll certainly be interested to see what others think of this book. To tell you the truth, I don't think I can say 'I'm glad I read it' but I don't think I could have helped myself.



On a brighter note, I posted a while back about some cookbook releases I was looking forward to. I've been fortunate enough to borrow some of these from the library and thought I'd share one I've particularly enjoyed browsing, The Vegetable Dishes I Can't Live Without by Mollie Katzen. This is a slim book, only around 160 pages containing just under 100 recipes. The book is beautifully produced with a colorful cover and the hand written text and drawings within are done by Katzen. I have tagged so many recipes in it, I think this may have to go on my Christmas list. The recipes are interesting and unique without being fussy or calling for too many ingredients. Here are some of the wonderful sounding recipes:

Artichoke heart and spinach gratin
Tarragon pecan asparagus
Braised Brussels sprouts in maple mustard sauce
Southwest summer corn hash
Mushroom stuffed mushrooms with wild rice and goat cheese

And many more! I think this would be a great book for a vegetarian or really anyone looking for interesting vegetable recipes as a side dish.


Incidentally, my Bookclub met on Thursday evening to discuss Water for Elephants and it was universally loved by all. We found ourselves discussing our own lives a bit more than the book, but it was a good meeting and a rarity since we hardly ever all agree on books.

Thursday, October 25, 2007

Chicken Soup.....and the stack on my nightstand

Chicken soup simply had to be made this week - not only did I have a chicken carcass, but I also have a cold. I do not have a picture to share - for several reasons, but the main one being that the soup was not that pretty, quite dark actually. I used Nigel Slater's Roast chicken broth recipe from Real Cooking as a template.

I sauteed onion, carrots, and leeks in olive oil, then added the chicken carcass and browned it. Brandy and red wine are added at this point and allowed to cook until almost evaporated - this made the soup dark brown. I then threw in 4 cups of water, bay leaves, peppercorns, and some fresh thyme and cooked gently for an hour. The house smelled fantastic - as though I were cooking Thanksgiving dinner. After I strained it, I brought it to the boil and added a bit of sherry (Nigel's suggestion - this is a very boozy chicken soup), leftover chicken, some orzo and peas for color. It was delicious. Nigel suggests using ginger and mushrooms during the initial vegetable saute, which sounded wonderful, but I didn't have either.

I haven't finished any books because I keep starting new ones. Here is what I've got going right now:

North and South by Elizabeth Gaskell- It's been a few weeks since I picked this up, but I definitely plan on going back to it.

This Time of Dying by Reina James- I noticed this in the Portobello Books catalog and found a copy at the library. I am enjoying it so far.

The Almost Moon by Alice Sebold- I was a fan of The Lovely Bones (despite that strange out-of-body-experience portion towards the end) and hoped that despite the negative press I've heard about this one, it might be a winner. I'm about 80 pages into it since I picked it up at the library yesterday and I can say it's dark. It's very dark.

The Air We Breathe by Andrea Barrett- This is the first book I've won from the Library Thing early reviewers program - I am thrilled! I only put my name in for a couple of books that I was really interested in and knew I would want to read right away. It feels very official! It came with a letter from the publisher addressed to me, not just 'Dear reader'.

I have my bookclub meeting tonight when we will discuss Water for Elephants. I cannot wait to see what everyone thought of it. I think we will also start emailing lists of each member's suggestions for next year, which I always look forward to.

Monday, October 22, 2007

Catching up

I have so much going through my mind right now, I'm going to make this a bullet post so as to try to gather my thoughts.

** We had a really nice visit with my Dad. He traveled from sunny Florida to (mostly rainy and chilly) Minnesota. It's always great to see your child interact so easily with your parents, even though they don't see one another very often. We visited the Minneapolis Sculpture Gardens which was a terrific place for my noisy exuberant child, and the Minnesota Zoo where we saw a moose for the first time. They are enormous!

** I didn't have much reading or computer time over the past 5 or so days, but did manage to finish one book, Almost a Crime by Penny Vincenzi. She is definitely my 'trashy' novel writer of choice. This book turned out to be a perfect read for the moment since I didn't have much time to read and it was easy to pick up and become quickly absorbed in the story. Also, I haven't been feeling great - this is shaping up to be the Cold That Lasts The Entire Fall Season - and my brain isn't working so well, so a light read was great. Almost a Crime is the story of a power couple that has to deal with the husband's infidelity. There was a lot of business being discussed towards the beginning (I mean, I did have a headache) so I wasn't sure if I would like this but I fell right into it. I think Penny Vincenzi does a couple things really well; first of all, the reader generally knows more than the characters so that creates an interesting sense of anticipation. There are a lot of characters and the action is never in one place for long - every couple of pages it shifts - I think this serves to make her fairly long books read very quickly, and the reader never has time to become bored with the story. I think this was one of my favorites of Vincenzi's books. If you like a big, fat, juicy novel full of romance, deception, and power based on the lives of what seem to be quite rich English people, you'll like Vincenzi.

** Mail. I have a lot of mail. The holiday catalogs are arriving with great speed and since I'm a lover of catalog/online shopping I will be perusing these with great interest.

** Blogs. Wow. Everyone is so prolific, my bloglines account is packed to the gills with interesting reading and I'll get to that over the next few days. Please forgive me if I haven't responded to comments from last week...I really only spent a few minutes online each day this past week. I do appreciate all your thoughtful comments and cherish every one. They are just the icing on the cake of this great blogging community.

** I almost forgot. I've had a request for a Butterfly Birthday party so I am working on planning that. I welcome suggestions!

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Chatterton Square.....Finally.


I've been reading Chatterton Square by E.H. Young for what feels like forever. I first read E.H. Young earlier this year - Miss Mole - and enjoyed it so much that I obtained copies of many of her other novels, published by Virago as Modern Classics.

Chatterton Square is a very quiet book in which the action doesn't move much from the Square for which it is named. It is the tale of two families, The Blacketts and The Frasers. The Blackett family is headed by Herbert Blackett, a man with an inflated image of himself. He is quite concerned that his life appear a certain way, a 'proper' way, and insists that everyone in his household defer to him in all matters. Then there is Mrs. Bertha Blackett, who has on the surface been a proper and agreeable wife, but underneath it all harbors a great dislike, really a great hatred towards her husband. She simply loathes him, thinks him an insufferably silly man and the force with which her feelings are made clear is stunning. When Mr Blackett goes away, Bertha experiences freedom for the first time in her married life and it makes his homecoming all the more difficult and it is impossible for Bertha to hold her feelings in any longer.

The Fraser family is headed by Rosamund Fraser. She is separated from her husband who is overseas. She lives with her five children and a friend, Miss Spanner. Rosamund has lived on Chatterton Square her entire life and is a bit of a free spirit. Miss Spanner is the daughter of a minister and had a very unhappy childhood and expects to remain a spinster.

Mr Blackett does not approve of the Fraser family and their lifestyle, yet is oddly attracted to them. During Mr Blackett's travels, the families - particularly the adult women become friendlier which is very disturbing to Mr Blackett upon his return. The novel takes place just before England becomes involved in World War II which is a constant character in its own right, and of course each character has different views on how it will change their destinies.

I enjoyed this book, but not in the same way I enjoyed Miss Mole. There is not much action in the book, it is mostly a series of conversations between the characters along with reflections of the characters. I tended to pick this up in the evening when I was tired and it was difficult to become absorbed in this book in a way I would have wished to. Another obstacle was keeping track of the 8 offspring of the Frasers and Blacketts. I think it is simply a case of being not quite the right book for the moment for me. That is not the say I didn't like it or that it's not a good book......it was a difficult read for me.

One particular incident that I found so interesting and wanted to share was when Mr Blackett returned from his travels and his family had gone out for the day. It seemed that there was only one key and of course Mrs Blackett had it, leaving Mr Blackett to sit on the sidewalk and wait for her return. I found it so intriguing that a family would only have one key to their home.

On a personal note, my Dad is coming from Florida for a visit so I don't think I'll be posting the rest of the week.

Friday, October 12, 2007

Reviews

I was lucky enough to win a prize in a drawing held by The Book Depository and Tess Gerritsen's The Mephisto Club came my way. You should check out Mark's blog there, he has said he might do more giveaways in the future. Though I've mentioned it before, I'll say again that The Book Depository is a wonderful place to purchase books - particularly for us Americans who are enamoured with books and authors only available in the UK.

The Mephisto Club is certainly not the sort of book I generally read but I took this as an opportunity to try something different. This book falls neatly into the murder/mystery category and of course there were murders and detectives and medical examiners and police on the scene and trying to solve the case. Plenty of gruesomeness and brutality if that's your thing. It became apparent quite early on that this book is part of a series, that the characters had history with one another and that that history was never going to be made perfectly clear to me. Since I tend to be a reader more interested in the relationships between the characters and less interested in the crimes, this was a bit disappointing - certainly the story could still be followed but those loose ends are not tied up - you must read the rest in the series. The story was told from three different perspectives - the first being that of the current murders being committed, the second having to do with the youth of the killer, and the third - and the one that I found quite compelling - that of a woman being pursued through Europe. Overall, I found this book an entertaining read, it is very fast paced and the author creates a sense of urgency. I really wanted to get to the end after reading 2/3 of the book. I would recommend it if you enjoy these sorts of books.


The second book I have the pleasure to review really deserves its own post. I read Water for Elephants earlier this week and my bookclub will be discussing it in 2 weeks. Water for Elephants is a story with a unique setting, that of a traveling circus during the depression. The story is told in retrospect, from the perspective of an elderly gentleman who joined the circus in his youth. This book has it all: drama, humor, humanity, romance, animals, and circus freaks. I just adored this book. I've read quite a lot of books this year that I've 'liked' but this one grabbed me as few have and I just loved the experience. If every book was this good, I'd never get a thing done because I literally couldn't put it down. I have a hard time putting my finger on just why I liked this book so much - was it the writing? the story? the characters? I don't know - it's just a smashing good tale. I can't say it will change my life or my views but it simply entertained me in a most wonderful way. I thought the ending was sublime - completely irrational and unlikely but it fit this book perfectly.

I have to work all weekend so I have my first pot of soup of the season on the stove right now. Roasted pumpkin, coconut milk, red curry paste, chicken broth, onion and salt....I think it will be perfect for this chilly weekend.

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

100th Post!!!

I pleased to note that today I am publishing my 100th post. As I only post 1-3 times per week this is a really big milestone for me. I never expected to be doing this- at all, in fact - and it's been a blessing in so many ways.

Since I'm feeling celebratory, I thought I would share some interesting things I've found browsing through catalogs recently.


Bookopoly is available from the Signals catalog. The description states you "collect bookstores and trade them for libraries....find out if you're elected president of the book club.." What fun! I think it would be great for a Book-blogger get-together.



Or what about the 'Too fond of books..' ornament, also available from Signals. Signals has other bookish items, and lots of other great gift ideas. I'm not sure how I got on their mailing list, but I'm pleased I did.








The Acorn catalog has loads of great gifts, particularly for the BBC lovers among us.

I wouldn't mind seeing Lillies,




The House of Elliott, or





The Duchess of Duke Street.

Everyone I know says that I am so difficult to buy for. I don't know why, I seem to have no trouble with it myself!

Monday, October 8, 2007

The lights went out..

Our electricity went out early Saturday morning due to a storm and came back on around noon. It felt so strange around here, not in a bad way, just in a quiet way, and I think the break in my routine of checking email just pushed me away from the computer for the rest of the weekend. Which is not a bad thing - certainly I spend too much time on it, but I just wasn't interested. I think I'm back in form now, though, having spent my entire workday in front of one.

I've had the cooking bug lately and a few things have turned out well. I made what I consider 'my best mashed potatoes ever' - though my dear husband disagrees - he says his are better. Anyhow, I have heaps of shallots, so I sauteed them in butter and oil for a long time - they were practically crispy - then stirred them into yukon golds mashed with lots of milk - added salt, pepper, and some leftover chives. Oh, yum. My mashed potato hating child actually ate some. There are leftovers....I'm considering combining them with an egg and then dipping in flour then frying them up like potato pancakes to go with dinner tonight. These were served Saturday evening and Sunday brought more shallots. I sauteed them again, then added 2 cut up apples and sauteed those. I removed those from the pan, added pork chops seasoned with s/p and sage, removed those and deglazed with apple cider, apple cider vinegar, Dijon mustard, and maple syrup. I served the pork chops with rice to soak up all that lovely sauce and roasted brussels sprouts. I considered it a perfect fall meal......

I have finished a couple of books, but since I'm feeling long winded I'll only share one of them now.

Out of the Silence by Wendy James is an Australian book I picked up on bookcloseouts. I have some sort of fascination with what sort of books women are reading in other countries, so that is what drew me to this. This novel is based on a true story and is told from the perspective of two different characters. The first, Maggie Heffernan, was a country girl and a real person. The second is Elizabeth Hamilton, a fictional person that serves to offer a perspective on life for single women in Australia at the turn of the 20th century. Elizabeth has close ties to Vida Goldstein, a suffragist and her story collides with Maggie's due to a crime. I enjoyed this novel overall, though I found myself enjoying Maggie's part of the story more, and felt at times as I was just trying to get through Elizabeth's tale. The most interesting part for me was reading about women in Australia from 2 different walks of life, yet both desiring much the same thing.

Friday, October 5, 2007

Jackpot!

I felt as though I hit the jackpot yesterday - I visited a different Half-Price Books (HPB) location than the one I usually frequent and found lots of great titles. I think that's what is so satisfying about shopping used book stores - the thrill of the chase.



From top to bottom:

Ruth by Elizabeth Gaskell - I'm having a Gaskell moment and picked this up even though I have a copy - which is not as nice as this. I really like these black Penguin Classics paperbacks.

The Rituals of Dinner by Margaret Visser - Subtitled: The origins, evolution, eccentricities, and meaning of table manners.

Miss Miles by Mary Taylor - This caught my eye as it has the same cover image as my copy of Wives and Daughters. The author is introduced as 'Life-long friend of Charlotte Bronte'. The blurb on the back suggests there is some controversy about whether this could possibly be CB's work.....I doubt it, but I suppose someone thought that would help this book sell. In any case, I'd never heard of this and was happy to come across it.

The Verneys by Adrian Tinniswood - I've had an interest in this book and found this ARC - so it was inexpensive.

Beard on Food by James Beard - This is an ARC of the soon to be re-released 1974 book.

These books have been filtering into my house over the past few weeks.


The 2 Viragos, Olivia by Olivia and A Stricken Field by Martha Gellhorn are from Paperbackswap (PBS).

Sylvia's Lovers by Elizabeth Gaskell - A nice black Penguin Classic that I didn't already own - from HPB.

The Working Poor by David Shipler - from PBS.

Don't Look Now by Daphne du Maurier - Danielle wrote an amazing review of the short story which gives this collection its title....happened across this at HPB.

Palace Walk by Naguib Mahfouz - I've read a few reviews of this recently in blogland...cannot remember where...and found this for $3 at HPB.

The Perfect Summer by Juliet Nicolson - I've wanted this for some time...a copy came to me from PBS.

The Splendid Table by Lynne Rosetto Kasper - I've read that Julia Child considered this book the 'Mastering the Art of French Cooking' of Northern Italian food - this is from PBS.

Finally at the bottom is Reading Women by Stefan Bollman which I've managed to leave out of the photograph. This is another book that Danielle featured and I couldn't live without.

I'm thinking about going to see Once tonight; Nan wrote about it earlier this week - I already love the music. Have a great weekend - I hope to get some reading in.

Tuesday, October 2, 2007

What's new

Thanks so much to everyone who left me such caring messages on my last post. I really do appreciate your thoughtfulness. My back is feeling better, but is not better - I'm still having pain but I think things are improving slowly.


I have failed miserably at the Non-Fiction Five Challenge. I did read the number of non-fiction books required (actually, more since I read 8 instead of 5) but none of them were on my original list. I think this just goes to show that I am not meant to sign up for challenges. I simply want to read what I want to read when I want to read it. I do feel a bit strange about this, I'll admit. So many people seem to really enjoy doing the challenges, it makes me wonder why I don't want to be so 'challenged', that perhaps I am lacking in some way. In any case, this means no more challenges for me and that is okay. For the same reason, I don't think I would make a very good paid reviewer - not that my reviews are any good, but a bit of the pleasure is gone for me when there are deadlines to be met. Thank you Joy for hosting this challenge - it's not you, it's me!

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On to happier things.

I had the distinct pleasure of watching the BBC adaptation of Elizabeth Gaskell's North and South this past weekend. Oh, my. I loved it, I really, really loved it and would say it is one of my favorite 'costume dramas' ever. I haven't read this book, though it is on my nightstand now, and was surprised at the similarities between this and Pride and Prejudice. I thought it was just brilliantly filmed. The scenes in the Northern city of Milton are so drab and colorless and when the action shifts to London or 'the South' the colors and light are so vivid and dramatic. All in all, very well done, I loved the actors in their respective roles and I cannot believe I waited so long to see this.

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I was lucky enough to be the winner of Karen's BAFTA drawing this past summer. (There is another drawing going on right now, so do visit Karen and sign up). Karen sent me the lovely book you see here - A Childhood in Scotland by Christian Miller and it demanded to be read this past weekend. It is a small book, really that could be my only complaint about it, that I wished it were longer. Childhood is a memoir of Miller's childhood years spend at her family's estate in Scotland in the 1920's and is a wonderful example of what life was like for the upper classes. It is really about day to day life - Miller describes the castle she lives in, how bitingly cold it is, mealtimes, her schooling, the gardens, hunting expeditions - simply a wonderful look at a time gone by. What struck me the most reading this was the experience of children at this time. Certainly Miller's situation was better than most, but reading some the following excerpts made me feel very sad.

"..outside the schoolroom, I was rationed to one question a day"

".. my parents refused to answer me;they looked on my curiosity as mildly amusing, but also as something that should not - because it was a nuisance to grown-ups--be indulged."

"three of the twelve indoor servants....were employed for the sole purpose of making sure that my parents had as little as possible to do with us."

"In my entire childhood, for instance, I only once remember my mother giving me my bath.."

"Our parents never went on holiday with us."

Miller writes at one point that upon her father's death, she is confused as to why everyone expects her to cry - she never knew him, was only frightened of him - why would she be upset?

You could certainly argue that children today have too much say in their own lives and the lives of their families; there must be a happy medium. Thank you so much Karen for such a wonderful book, I enjoyed it thoroughly.

Edited to add: If anyone knows if the castle (as she described it) Christian Miller lived in is currently a place that can be visited, I'd love to know about it. Not that I'll probably get the chance to visit it, but there might be photographs online.