Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Books and Cooks - Best Reads of 2008

I've read a lot of good books this year, but a book that lands on my Best Reads list has that extra something that I find hard to define. These books have touched me, and have stayed with me, some for nearly a year now. They have surprised and impressed me. They are not necessarily what the critics would call the best books, but they are the books that have affected me most deeply.

I don't allow myself to put books on my list that are re-reads. But if I did, A Tree Grows in Brooklyn by Betty Smith and The Handmaid's Tale by Margaret Atwood would both be on there. Both are timeless classic books, one set in the past, the other in the future. Both show life that is harsh, one ends with hope, the other, I still haven't decided. (What do you think happened at the end of The Handmaid's Tale?)

Here are my favorite books of 2008. Links will take you to my original review.

The Book Thief by Marcus Zusak - Brilliantly creative storytelling, a story that touched my heart all wrapped up in a book I wasn't sure I wanted to read.

A Fine Balance by Rohinton Mistry - Set in India, terrible things happen in this book, every time you think the character's luck will change, things become worse. These characters were so alive for me, I still think about them, I still pick up this book and re-read the ending.

Address Unknown by Kathrine Kressmann Taylor - At only 64 pages, this book packs a bigger punch that books 10 times its size. This 1938 book of letters that was originally published as a magazine article set during WW2 deserves the hour of your time it will take to read.

The Master Butcher's Singing Club by Louise Erdrich - I was surprised to love this book that I read for bookclub. Unique characters and a compelling story put this book on my list.

Fast Food Nation by Eric Schlosser - I thought I knew a lot about our country's food supply, but it turns out I was wrong. If you need another reason to never touch fast food or commercially produced meat, read this. If you want to be horrified at how the fast food industry has impacted our entire food supply, read this. Terrific.

When Will There Be Good News by Kate Atkinson - Atkinson outdid herself with this third installment of her Jackson Brodie series. I love how she manages her tightly controlled plots and at the same time writes memorable and brilliant characters.

Miss Ranskill Comes Home by Barbara Euphan Todd - I haven't forgotten Miss Ranskill these many months. Brilliantly republished by Persephone Books.

A Thousand Splendid Suns by Khaled Hosseini - I read this despite being one of 17 people who didn't adore The Kite Runner. Hosseini tells an important and moving story, it's easy to forget that he is a man writing these full and deep female characters.

Pomegranate Soup by Marsha Mehran - A delightful surprise which charmed me to pieces.

The Adoration of Jenna Fox by Mary E Pearson - A late addition here - it's not easy for December reads to make it onto this list, I like to let thoughts percolate a bit. This teen novel surprised and impressed me with its utterly unique story and compelling main character. Pearson's peeks into the future are thrilling and I couldn't stop thinking about this book and telling others about it.

Whew.

The Best Book of the Year? I cannot choose one, but without any hesitation the two books that stand out the most for me, that were unforgettable and stunning were:

The Book Thief

and

A Fine Balance

Happily, my book club will be reading The Book Thief in November of 2009 so I'll have the chance to experience it all over again.

Happy New Year to all of you! I am so grateful for this community and for the opportunity to share my reading life with all of you. Cheers!

2008 Statistics

Here are last year's statistics for reference.

Total Books Read: 85

Nonfiction: 21
Fiction: 64

Books by female authors: 64
Books by male authors: 20
(One book was by a woman and a man)

Memoir: 11
Mysteries: 14
WWII/Holocaust: 6

Books that were re-reads: 5

Books published in:

2009: 3
2008: 27
2000-2007: 35
1990-1999: 5
1970-1989: 5
1940-1969: 6
1900-1939: 3
pre-1900: 1

Total pages read: 27,447 divided by 85 = 323 average pages per book

(Not sure why I kept track of this, other than being curious. It's not a terribly accurate number, seeing as I read a lot of cookbooks and magazines that I don't count.)

I think the biggest difference is that I read many more books by male authors than I did last year. It felt as though I read less nonfiction, which I did overall, but I think it's still a respectable amount.

Next up: Favorite books of 2008!

Monday, December 29, 2008

A New Obsession

A few people I work with suggested that I might enjoy the TV program, Lost. That was either a really good idea or a really bad idea. Because I am absolutely hooked! If I could, I would hole up for the next week at this computer and watch every last episode. Alas, that is not possible, but it is certainly cutting into my reading time, I must say. Any fans out there?

I should tell you about a few books that I've read.


First off, is The Ghost Map by Steven Johnson. Now, how to convince you to read a book that at its most basic is about...excrement. The Ghost Map is a nonfiction book that explores the cholera epidemic in London in 1854. It's a bit of a who-done-it or actually a how-done-it, as the author traces the footsteps of the men who discovered what was the ultimate cause of the epidemic and how this discovery affected the future of London and really, all major cities around the world. This is one of those nonfiction books that reads like the best novel and is full of all sorts of interesting facts about topics you perhaps never thought about. For example, what might explain the fact that there is a disproportionate rate of alcoholism in Native American and Aboriginal people? The author suggests that this may be due to the fact that most other people on earth were forced through a 'genetic bottleneck' in which the genes for tolerating alcohol became dominant, due to the fact that drinking alcohol was safer than drinking water years ago. This is fascinating stuff! This is a great read for those who are interested in medicine or the history of medicine, the history of cities, the history of Victorian London and the future of cities on our planet.

Nuts - that's all I have time for, I'm off to ready myself for work.

I hope to post my favorite books of the year tomorrow, if my girl allows me the time.

Saturday, December 27, 2008

Goals, and Books, and Christmas, Oh My!

I must be thinking about The Wizard of Oz which I watched with my daughter for the first time (hers, not mine) last week. It was a bit nightmare inducing.

I am not usually a Saturday poster, but this is the first time I've been alone in days and days. I love my family, but I'm a true introvert so it's nice to be able to finish my own thoughts in my head for a few moments uninterrupted.

I began 2008 with a couple of goals. I must be afraid of failure, since I never mentioned the main one and only do so now since I have accomplished it. I've only kept track of what I've read since 2003 and each year I've finished more books, but the past couple of years I seemed to hit a plateau and was not able to break 80. So, my goal this year, which was also a goal of 2007 which I did not accomplish, was to read 80 books. One of the books was quite short, more of an article, so I felt I must read 81 to keep myself honest. And I have done it! I have finished 83 books, and I may get to 85. I know many of you read much more than this, but I am really thrilled. The other goal involves this list that I wrote late last year. Funny, it looks just the same outside now! I didn't do quite as well with accomplishing this goal. For the fiction list I've read Cranford, A Fine Balance, Shirley Jackson, and I am reading Elizabeth Taylor now. From the nonfiction list I read Fast Food Nation, and part of Maximum City but put it aside. It was really heavy on modern day India's crime and mafia and I just lost interest.

Christmas. All my lovely books have arrived but sadly our camera was left in Iowa so I will share those when it arrives. One bookish and sad thing that happened on Christmas had to do with my niece. She is 15, not really sure what she's interested in, her only idea for earning money is to marry a rich husband and she hates books. HATES THEM. She was so vehement about this, I wonder if it's just to be contrary, 'you all want me to like books but I won't, so there.' It's really quite sad. I looked through her books in her room and she had some good ones. I suggested Twilight -too long. It's not even that maybe I could buy her some books that she'd like, it's that she wouldn't even bother to try them. I even asked her if I read to her if she'd listen, and she said yes. So maybe it's worth it to read to your teenagers - I don't know. I can understand that the books she is required to read in school are boring and uninteresting to her. I just wish she'd read something, comics, magazines, trashy fiction, whatever. Sigh.

This post is sort of wordy already, but I ought to try to review something before I am interrupted!


Many, many thanks are due to Cath for writing this review of Susan Hill's The Various Haunts of Men. Something about it peaked my interest and I bought it almost immediately. The cover says that it is 'A Simon Serrailler Mystery' which I found a little odd since he seems like a secondary character in this book. The Various Haunts of Men is much more novel than it is a mystery, and that I don't mind at all. The story takes place in the small British town of Lafferton. We get to know various residents of Lafferton, about their history and their lives, and oh! someone has disappeared! and we learn more about Lafferton and oh! someone else has disappeared! Perhaps these disappearances are related. Perhaps we should investigate. If you're looking for a page-turning who-done-it complete with gore this isn't it. If you like a character driven novel in which a murder mystery happens to be taking place - this may be the book for you. I have to say that I really, really liked this. I loved Hill's writing, I loved the small town, and what made this book stand out in my mind is that the people I was getting to know - they were the ones who disappeared. Often it seems someone has been murdered (in murder mystery books) and since we don't 'know' them we don't feel affected by it. In this sort of book, we feel the loss of the characters. I did figure out the perpetrator in this book fairly early on, but that didn't diminish my enjoyment of the book. I'd be interested to know if anyone else has read any from this series. As for me, I've already ordered the second one.

Cheers!

Sunday, December 21, 2008

You'll Be Hearing More About This


I have a feeling that The Little Giant of Aberdeen County by Tiffany Baker (Little Giant from here on out) is going to be one of those books that you'll be seeing a lot of in a few weeks. So much in fact, that this is the sort of book I might avoid, simply because of hype or popularity or its place on those bestseller shelves at Barnes and Noble. So it's lucky then, that I have had the opportunity to read Little Giant in advance and not fall prey to those preconceived notions that sometimes develop.

What makes Little Giant stand out, I think, is it's unlikely heroine Truly Plaice, who is big, really, really big, and whose mother dies in childbirth. Truly is left with her perfect, pretty, and petite sister, Serena Jane and her father, who never quite adjusts to single parenthood. Truly is raised by another family, an unpopular family, and due to this and her size, Truly is an outcast in a small town. A series of events leaves Truly in charge of the home and son (also Truly's nephew) of the town's doctor, a man who has always been unkind to her. Truly grows into herself, literally and figuratively and discovers hidden secrets which lead to a new phase of her life. I could really go on and on about the storyline, but I think it's one readers will enjoy discovering for themselves.

Little Giant is just one of those books that grabbed me and didn't let go. I loved Truly's voice - she was so honest and real. In a sea of books that may be easily categorized, The Little Giant of Aberdeen County stands out, for its unique and rich storyline and characters, and for its writing. The author made it look easy, though I doubt that it was. I should also mention that I think the cover is terrific and fits the book perfectly.

*********

I'll be doing the Mommy thing here, and then the out-of-town to the in-laws thing, and so the blogging and posting thing may suffer in the coming days. But I have a few posts left in me for 2008. Hopefully a review or two, but definitely the breakdown of the books for myself, and my favorite books of the year. Cheers!

Thursday, December 18, 2008

An Open Letter to US Publishers


Would you please publish some of Irish author Mary Stanley's work?

The first book of hers that I read was Retreat. I was lucky to find it in a used bookstore and while I don't remember the details, it is a story of young girls and how they were being treated (poorly) while attending a Catholic school. In the past year I've read Stanley's books Revenge and Missing. What they have in common is that they are stories about families, somewhat quirky and eccentric families, but families that are living and growing and to whom something bad happens. The only reason I haven't read Stanley's other books is that I love them so much, I horde them.

Revenge is the book that I just finished last week. In this tale, the oldest daughter in the family awakens on Christmas morning in her bed, obviously assaulted and with no recollection what has happened. The aftermath of this, how her family comes together and apart, and how each member of the family handles this is the bulk of the story.

It's hard for me to know how to categorize Mary Stanley's novels. I might call it women's fiction since most of the primary characters in the books are women. But some take offence to that category so I won't call it that. Though I do think it's true that there are books that have more appeal to women than men and there's nothing wrong with that. So back to the drawing board. It's even hard to decide who to compare Stanley's writing with. Her characters are real and flawed, unique and funny at the same time. Her writing is fluid, and just detailed enough. Her books have that page-turning sense of suspense. They are readable and smart and most importantly they are entertaining.

So please, US publishers, I implore you to take a look at Mary Stanley's work and consider adding her to your list. I don't think you'd be sorry, I think her books have widespread appeal and would sell. I, for one, know that I can purchase Stanley's books from the UK. But think of all the people who are missing out.

Sincerely, Tara

**************
In other news, a bookish story....this is a conversation that took place in my home last evening.

Me: Have you gotten me anything for Christmas yet?

Husband: No. (No surprise there.)

Well, would you mind if I ordered something and it'll be from you?

What do you want?

Books.

Well, you have that gift certificate from Amazon.

Yes, well. I want books from Britain.

Mmmmmm. I figured.

So can I?

Go ahead.

And that was that. I spent a glorious time on the computer last night ordering from The Book Depository and another company that begins with a P. I gave myself a monetary limit. Sort of. And the exchange rate now is quite good (1 pound = $1.55), so it's a good time to order. I will soon have SEVEN books winging their way to me and I.Cannot.Wait. Will share titles and photos after they arrive. I figure, even though I picked out the books and ordered them myself, they will all still be a surprise, since I've never held any of them in my hands or browsed through them. Dreamy.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

What I Can Tell You


A week or two ago one of you clever bloggers (who was it??) wrote a wonderful post about a book called The Adoration of Jenna Fox by Mary E. Pearson. I was so curious about this book that I ran over to the library, plucked the book off of the shelf in the Teen section, and began reading it, despite the fact that I was already in the middle of two other books. Oh, it was worth it.

What I can tell you about The Adoration of Jenna Fox is this. Jenna Fox is a teenager living sometime around 2023. She awakens from a coma that she has been in for more than one year following an accident. Jenna has lost her memory, and does not remember the people around her or the images of herself she sees in the home movies her parents encourage her to watch. Despite her lack of memory, Jenna feels that something is not....right. There's something about the house she lives in and in the way that the people around her are behaving that strike her as curious.

I can tell you that Mary Pearson has written a wonderfully suspenseful and rich novel of a young woman trying to figure out who she is. I can tell you that she raises all sorts of interesting questions that would be fantastic to discuss with a group, but I cannot tell you what they are. I can tell you that I hope you read this book and then email me and say 'oooooh, I'm so glad I read it and I sure didn't see that coming!' because that's how I feel.

That's all I can say about that.

Other thoughts I'm having lately involve vegetables and the fact that I've hardly eaten any lately. I've gone from the queen of vegetables to the queen of frozen peas. I'm eating fruit to make up for the vitamin deficit. Seriously though, I cooked some broccoli last week and it was horrible, barely green, tough and flavorless. Blech. I need inspiration, that's all.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Must.Do.Reviews.

There's been a lot more reading than writing going on around here. This is a good thing, since I've read lots of enjoyable books, but bad because I have forgotten what I wanted to say about them. For example, I enjoyed Kate Grenville's The Secret River last month but having never gotten around to doing a proper review, don't have much to say about it now.

Here are a few I remember more clearly.




Fixing Shadows by Susan Barrett had all the makings of a fantastic read for me. A setting in Victorian England/London, the swap of a baby, the upstairs/downstairs issue, a house in the country - what more could I ask for? The story is told by the omniscient narrator in what I cannot fully describe, but would say was a rather quirky and darkly comedic way. This made for an unusual reading experience as I never had the opportunity to feel close to any of the characters. The tale takes place over quite a long period of time and plenty of horrid things happen to all the characters, but I never really felt bad about any - all right, most - of it since I didn't have much of a connection to anyone. I think if you enjoy this sort of setting and the time period you might like this unique and modern take on a Victorian tale.



Next up is Rosewater and Soda Bread by Marsha Mehran, the sequel to Pomegranate Soup which I found delicious earlier this Fall. We join the Iranian Aminpour sisters in the little town in Ireland where they have made a home and a business for themselves. The three sisters grapple with life and love, religion and keeping secrets in this installment of their story. I enjoyed this book, though did not feel the same magic as I did with Pomegranate Soup. I think their story is a compelling one, so I am hoping Mehran is working on another book about them.

Finally, we have Miles from Nowhere by Nami Mun. When I requested this from Shelf Awareness I was thinking, based on the subject matter, that it was a memoir, so I was surprised to find that it is a novel, being released later this month according to amazon. Miles from Nowhere is the story of Joon, a Korean-American teenage runaway living on the streets of New York in the 1980s. Miles from Nowhere is not easy reading, as young Joon works for little money at horrific jobs, and winds up living in squalor with people she cannot trust, doing drugs and hoping for more out of life. This hope is present throughout the novel and we begin to see what could be a better life for Joon. I think what is most mystifying from the outside in terms of teen runaways is why they have left home in the first place. I suppose my opinion is that a person would have to be pretty emotionally and/or physically terrorized to decide that living on the streets is a better option. I wish that aspect of Joon's life had been explored in more detail. This is a beautifully written novel, but I found myself comparing it to a memoir about a similar book I read about a teen runaway in New York. I'm sure that's not a fair comparison, but it seems in this case, for this subject matter, a memoir simply resonated more with me as a reader.

Monday, December 8, 2008

Bookishness, Mostly

My book club had our last meeting of 2008 last Thursday evening. Everyone enjoyed A Tree Grows in Brooklyn, but the downside of that, was that it did not generate much general discussion. How do you handle it when that happens? Then we voted on our books for 2009. Here is the list:

The Plague of Doves by Louise Erdrich
Time of My Life by Allison Winn Scotch
Emma by Jane Austen
The Gravedigger's Daughter by Joyce Carol Oates
Oryx and Crake by Margaret Atwood
Tourmaline by Joanna Scott
Enchantress of Florence by Salman Rushdie
Those Who Save Us by Jenna Blum
The Gargoyle by Andrew Davidson
The Book Thief by Markus Zusak

I am really quite excited about our list! Most of my top picks were chosen, and I've only read three of these. In comparison, some years I've read up to seven of the chosen books. I was thrilled that everyone voted for The Book Thief, which was one of my three suggestions along with The Birth House by Ami McKay and another book by Louise Erdrich with a long title. There will have to be some purchasing, too, since I don't own most of these. I would like a new and pretty copy of Emma. Does anyone have any Austen books from the Vintage Classics line? Here is the cover of Emma. I'm wondering what the quality is.



In other news...

* I am reading three terrific books right now - that rarely happens. I can't wait to share them.

* Soon, we are going to be talking about a book reading goal that I had for 2008 that I think I'm going to reach.

* And one that I'm not going to reach.

* Has anyone seen the price of maple syrup? Real maple syrup? Holy cow, at Whole Foods today the 32 ounce jug of B grade was $16.99. EEEK! There was a note saying that warmer weather has simply not made it possible to produce as much and the shortage will last the next couple of years.

* Now, I am going to go make Creamy Tomato Soup and grilled cheese for dinner. Yum!

* Then, I am going to rest my feet, since I've been Christmas shopping all day. Cheers!

Friday, December 5, 2008

Immoveable Feast - A Paris Christmas


Could there have been a more perfect book that was offered to me one day this past Fall? A representative from Harper Collins suggested that I might be interested in this new book coming out, a memoir about food and cooking and France. France and cooking and food. Was I interested? I certainly was. He couldn't have possibly tempted me more. Unless perhaps the word chocolate was involved.

Immoveable Feast by John Baxter made it's way to me and was even more than I expected. The book is described as the memoir of an Australian born gentleman turned Los Angles based film critic who marries into a traditional French family and is faced with the task of preparing their Christmas dinner. There are high expectations, indeed. This is the driving narrative of the book, but it is so much more. It is a memoir of Baxter's food life. He describes growing up on what was probably a typical diet for any Australian, British or American child at the time, things were boiled and served plainly, pasta came from a can. He describes having lunch with an Italian family at age ten, and his revelations:

This was fresh from the pot, and chewy, baptized with oil and garlic, and a pungent grated cheese that smelled like sick but tasted sublime. Their homemade bread wasn't spongy and white but crusty, dusted with flour, and delicious if you dipped it, as my hostess demonstrated , in olive oil and salt.

Baxter's love of food brings him to the next logical step, that is how to cook it, something I can relate to coming from a home with a mother who would not be described as a good cook. And this brings us back to Christmas dinner. Baxter designs his menu and seeks out the finest foods in France. From the oysters, to the wine, from the cheese to the piglet (this part is perhaps not for the vegetarian among us), we travel with Baxter as he puts together his feast and serves it to his French family.

Charming and delightful, full of lovely vintage food related illustrations, Immoveable Feast would make a wonderful gift for anyone you know that loves food, either cooking or eating it, and in particular who loves France or all things French.

Here are a couple of terrific videos:

This one is a recreation of Baxter's feast in a lovely Paris restaurant.

And here is a delightful interview with the author.

Thursday, December 4, 2008

My House Smells So Good

Because I just made this.

But now that I look back at this post from last year, I realize that I'll be serving the same dessert to my bookclub two years in a row.

Nuts!

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Tidbits

1. Thanks everyone so much for your thoughtful comments and for sharing your stories with me. It's hard to feel so violated in your own home.

2. The WINNER of one copy of The Green Beauty Guide is........

BOOKFOOL!

Congratulations! I'll be emailing you for your address. Thanks to everyone who entered. I appreciated your comments and have found that we all have many of same challenges when choosing green products.

3. Squash.

Squash is good food, and I'm pleased that my family is eating it (somewhat) happily.

First there was this fabulous squash and pasta recipe, then some divine squash soup with roasted garlic and herbs that I kept all for myself. Because no one else would eat it.

Here is my latest creation, a squash and rice casserole that I adapted from Deborah Madison's book, Vegetarian Suppers.



This was total comfort food. Sauteed leeks with garlic and herbs, combined with cooked brown rice, grated butternut squash and a medley of cheeses I found in the fridge. I topped each serving with toasted pine nuts, not part of the recipe but my child is a nut lover and I though it would make this more appealing. My nervous husband suggested we go out after he took one look at this, but after trying it reluctantly said "It's good. I like it. (insert big sigh here)"

Here's how it looked after we had our way with it:



Yum!

4. Book Review

I finished Sophie Hannah's novel Hurting Distance recently. It has a fascinating premise: Naomi is having an affair with a married man. He seems to have disappeared. But when Naomi goes to the police and they contact his wife, she insists he's not missing. Naomi lies to the police in order to get them to take her seriously but this dredges up her past which she is reluctant to discuss.

Sophie Hannah sure knows how to create an atmospheric page-turner. As a reader, I was so attuned to what people were saying, who they were saying it to, and if there could be a double meaning. After all, Hannah completely fooled me with her book Little Face. I was happily reading along, when a storyline emerged having to do with rape. Rape is never a happy or positive story, but the slant this author took was really offensive to me. I found the storyline to be extremely sick and disturbing. It just was not the story I was expecting, nor would ever expect to read to be quite honest. After it becomes obvious what has happened, the final confrontation I found to be very....bland.

I don't know if I'll read Hannah's books again. She certainly does come up with unique and interesting premises, but this book crossed the line for me. I'd love to hear from anyone who has read this book; I had a UK copy but it looks to have been just released in hardcover here.

Friday, November 28, 2008

You Know How They Say Bad Things Come in Threes? Geez.

Came home yesterday evening after a busy day at work and a very nice Thanksgiving meal with friends to a door that had been busted open.

The main thing they took besides some jewelery was the valet case from my husbands dresser. All our spare car keys, a Sears card, and other paperwork - gone.

We spent the evening hiding our cars since our garage is unattached and super easy to break into, especially if you had keys to the two cars inside which happen to be amongst the most stolen vehicles (Hondas).

What is so crazy, is that when I discovered that the jerk, who incidentally SMELLED and stunk up my bedroom with his BODY ODOR and CIGARETTE, hauled his loot away in my lovely linen pillow sham which was long searched for and irreplaceable I became LIVID and screamed and kicked the bed. My daughter says robbers should carry their OWN bags, and doggone it, she's right.

So this is the THIRD lousy thing that happened this Fall (perhaps you recall my husband's car accident which totalled his car and my daughter's head injury in the middle of the night), so I hope it is the LAST, because I am due for some BETTER LUCK.

The end.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

The Most Wonderful Book


A Tree Grows in Brooklyn by Betty Smith might be the most wonderful book, I think. I've just read it for the second time and I could begin again right now. Francie Nolan is one of the most appealing heroines in all of literature. She is smart and book-loving, sincere,truthful, and hardworking, and despite everything she goes through in her life, she remains hopeful and engaged. The story begins when Francie and her brother Neely are young, living in the slums in Brooklyn in 1912. They collect trash to sell to the junk man, fight crowds for stale bread and broken pies, they live an existence in which each penny that comes in has already been appropriated for something and nothing is taken for granted. We get to know Francie's family, follow her to the library as she reads her way though the alphabet, and finds herself a better school. Because somehow, Francie knew early on that knowledge would be her ticket for a better life. There is tragedy and sorrow in this story alongside little happinesses and moments of joy. It is a human story and this is why perhaps this book is considered a classic. It is so difficult to explain what is so very special about this book, it tells a tale that so many people lived, but in such an eloquent and direct way.

I couldn't recommend this book any more highly. I've also enjoyed Smith's book Joy in the Morning and have a copy of Maggie Now which is out of print and I'm saving for a rainy day.

Friday, November 21, 2008

Every Vote Counts

So, I wanted to do a book review today, but I got too busy and that's not happening.

I hate to bring up the 'go vote' thing again, I mean it's three weeks after the election, but here in Minnesota the recount for senator has just begun.

You wouldn't believe the photos of ballots they're showing online and on the front page of the paper. Check this out. This person voted for two people - huh? Do they think we have runoff voting??

I'm not saying this to be mean. But seriously, voting is important. And you have to do it right! You have to fill in the circle with the provided black market. Not make a check mark. Not an X. If you messed up, like my first example above, wouldn't you ask for a new ballot?

Watching this so closely in the state in which I live makes me feel such an overwhelming sense of EVERY VOTE COUNTS. This recount is going to go down to the wire. There could be just a few votes separating the candidates when all is counted and recounted, and challenged and confirmed. Just think, no matter which way this goes, those who voted for the winner will realize, that WOW! If I hadn't voted, the other guy would have won. It's amazing to watch this recount.

Don't stay home because you figure your choice is a shoe-in.

Every Vote Counts.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

The Green Beauty Guide - Booktour (and a giveaway!)


Confession: I love my beauty products. Sometimes it feels as though I've spent my entire life trying various products to finally get to the point where I am now - with my skin not breaking out or reacting to things all the time. So when my husband wondered why, with all the organic food and household cleaners that I purchase, I don't consider all the products I'm covering myself in. Good question, but to tell the truth I didn't really want to think about it.

Enter Lisa from TLC Booktours and her offer to me to host Julie Gabriel and her book, The Green Beauty Guide. Julie Gabriel has written a complete and all encompassing book about green beauty - from head to toe. I knew she had me after I read the second chapter, beauty and the toxic beast. Gabriel discusses specific ingredients contained in most beauty products that are just plain toxic, and the fact that they're not really being regulated. This was a huge take home message for me. Gabriel provides a list of specific ingredients/chemicals to avoid. If you are like me, most everything in your bathroom will contain these things.

What's a girl (or boy) to do? Not only does Gabriel give examples of products she recommends, she also give recipes to prepare your own beauty products. I'd love to try her hand and nail treatments! Gabriel says that if there's one product you should replace, it's your moisturizer since it sits on your skin all day with plenty of opportunity for absorption, unlike soap. I thought great - I have a bottle of Whole Foods brand lotion that I had a coupon for - I'll use that. When I looked at it, wouldn't you know it contained several of the ingredients Gabriel recommends avoiding. The point is, as Gabriel says, you really need to be vigilant in seeking out green products and making sure they are actually green instead to just appearing to be.

From Gabriel's Ten Commandments of Green Beauty, to the incredibly helpful appendix complete with online product sources and resources, this book covers it all as far as green beauty goes. From hair care, to toenail polish, Gabriel shares her thoughts and suggestions on each and every topic.

I didn't agree with everything in Gabriel's book. For example, the idea of rinsing my face with imported bottled mineral water simply because it contains magnesium does not strike me as being an especially green suggestion. But overall, I found The Green Beauty Guide to be a helpful addition to my 'green' library, and I imagine I'll refer to it often as I adjust my personal regimen to make it more green.

If you would like to read more about Julie Gabriel and The Green Beauty Guide, may I suggest her website - I've enjoyed browsing it myself.

If you would like to visit other stops on the booktour (there are more giveaways!), you may find them here.

Now for the fun! The publisher accidentally sent me two copies of The Green Beauty Guide! So I would like to share one with you. To win this book, you must leave a comment on this post telling me your favorite green beauty item, or if you don't have one, what you perceive to be the biggest challenge in transitioning to green beauty products. There is one entry per person. You do not have to have a blog to enter, but please make sure I have a way to contact you via email if you've won. I'm sorry to have to restrict this contest to US addresses only - I checked the shipping costs for Canada and the UK and I simply cannot afford it right now. I will close the comments and draw the winner on November 28.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Live to Tell

Thank you for all your kind comments on my last post!

I survived the night shift. It's not the work itself that's bad, it's the toll it takes on your body that made this shift so difficult for me. I'd say I lost around 10 hours of sleep over the course of the nights and my brain is still quite fuzzy. Though, I may actually accomplish something today and hope to shower before 5:00 which will be an improvement.

I realized that I haven't done a new books post lately and things are piling up around here. In lieu of having anything more interesting to say, here goes:

Some books came from swaps. I was thrilled when The Toss of a Lemon became available!


Some of them I won - great prizes, no?



I've been buying a lot of books lately. These.



And these. No wonder my husband is telling me to take it easy!


There is a definite theme here - mystery and suspense - that wasn't prevalent in my reading a year or two ago. Does anyone have any opinions of any of these?

Now I have a question for you. What is your opinion of reading books in a PDF format for review? Is this something that appeals to you or just the opposite? Inquiring minds want to know.

Friday, November 14, 2008

This is a Blog Blackout

{See Below}



Can you believe I have to work overnights as in all night long for the next three nights? Neither can I. I 'volunteered' under threat. Since my body sleeps like clockwork I am extremely anxious about how I am going to get through the next days.

So, I am giving myself a blog blackout. See you next week. Once I've recovered. Eek!

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

A Cool Award

Here's an award I never thought I'd get.


I don't generally think of myself as a creative person so thanks to Iliana for reminding me that I am. In certain ways.

There's a fun meme that goes along with this award. Here goes:

7 things I did before
1. read
2. sleep late
3. go out on the weekends
4. wear short skirts
5. work full time
6. live in Chicago
7. watch tv regularly

7 things I do now
1. read
2. blog
3. eat organically and locally if possible
4. look up old friends on Facebook
5. cannot imagine life without the internet
6. work part time, parent full time
7. volunteer at school

7 things I want to do
1. Travel more
2. Speak French
3. Live overseas for a time
4. Live to see my child as an adult
5. Read all the books in my library (ha!)
6. Learn photography
7. Host holidays at my house


7 things that attract me to the opposite sex
1. Intelligence
2. Sense of humor
3. Height
4. Kindness
5. Stability
6. Parenting ability
7. Ability to put up with me

7 Favorite Foods
1. potato gratin
2. ice cream
3. duck breast
4. butter toffee
5. pasta
6. gin and tonic
7. a big salad full of veggies and some cheese

7 things I Say Most Often
1. Brush your teeth!
2. Pharmacy, may I help you?
3. Let's go, sister.
4. Nuts!
5. She's very active.
6. Thank you.
7. Love.

I am passing this award on to the following people. Remember, this is a no pressure award - participate only if you wish!

1. Carrie K for her cool knitting projects.

2. Simon for his amazing sketches.

3. Bookfool for her photographic artistry.

4. Nan for her photography, cooking and gardening.

5. Bermudaonion for her yummy looking recipes.

6. Elaine for her fantastically hilarious and imaginative writing.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Farmer's Market - November 8

We are having Too.Much.Drama. around here. 3:30 Sunday morning found me rushing to the emergency room with a child who fell out of bed and had an enormous lump on her head. Since then we've watched the eye become swollen shut and a huge hematoma migrate to the area around her eye leaving her with a whopper of a shiner. We've also been carefully monitoring her vision and nausea for other unseen injury. This has wiped me out. As a parent, having a sick or injured child is terrifying.

I have more drama (and not the good kind) coming later this week, though this will be planned and will take me away from blogland for several days.

Despite the cold weather at the farmer's market this weekend, everyone was very upbeat. There are still plenty of vegetables available and the meat vendors could actually put their stock on the tables for browsing thanks to the freezing temperatures. This caused me to stock up on meat for the deep freeze. Some of it had just been packaged the night before.



My girl asked me why we had so many 'pumpkins'. I told her they were 3 for 5 dollars - she said 'That's a good price!' It sure is.

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Thoughts and a winner.

A profound thing happened in the United States last night.

I am proud to have been a part of it.

I am proud that my 6 year old took pride in casting her vote at school yesterday and that the moment she woke up this morning she called "Mama? Did anyone win yet?".

I was proud to tell her that even though she doesn't realize it now, she will remember when she is an old lady, that she was eating popcorn and watching the returns with me, and that vote she cast at school. That she will tell people that she remembers.

It is an amazing and wondrous day in the history of this country.

The winner of The Heretic's Daughter is Chris. Congratulations!

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

There is only one word for today.



Do it.

The drawing for The Heretic's Daughter will take place tomorrow.

Friday, October 31, 2008

A Fatal Inversion


A Fatal Inversion is, I believe, the fifth book of Barbara Vine's that I have read. In this story, there is the classic Vine set-up - we know that two people have been killed but not who they are, we know the group of people from which the killer comes, basically we know the 'what' but not the 'who' or 'why'.

Around 10 years before the story takes place five young people come together one hot summer to live in an old estate, Wyvis Hall. Their behavior is rather bohemian, as they drink away the summer, sleep late, and sell items from the house to pay for alcohol and food. Something happens though, that causes them to all go back to their lives, school and work, and make a decision to never speak to each other again. 10 years later two skeletons are found. The story is told from the perspective of three of the original five people. All are terrified of this story being traced back to them and deal with this in different ways. We slowly come to learn what happened that summer and how everything went so wrong.

I liked this book, but not as much as the others by Vine that I've read. I can't really put my finger on why. The only thing I've come up with is that in this book, every chapter, every thought is about that one incident, and in Vine's other books, there is much more of a sense of everyday life that is suddenly affected by a fatal act. The reviews I've found of this are quite good so it may just be me that feels this way. Despite my issues with the story, I found the last chapter to be absolutely brilliant and capped the book off perfectly. I think this book would be generally enjoyed by Vine fans, but is not perhaps the best place to start reading her work. For that I would suggest Asta's/Anna's Book, A Dark Adapted Eye, or The House of Stairs.

I hadn't planned on writing about this book today, but it turns out to be perfect for Halloween. Boo!

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Farmer's Market - Sunday October 29

This past Sunday was the official end of the 'Summer Market' for the Saint Paul Farmer's Market. After that, the 'Winter Market' begins on Saturdays. The market was vastly different than the last time I was there. Since we'd had our first frost all the summer vegetables were gone. There were probably only 15-20% of the number of usual vendors and the crowd was quite sparse, though it was only 8 am. It felt like I bought one of everything, knowing this might be the last time until Spring.



Look at all that goodness! Spinach, broccoli, onions, garlic, leeks, shallots, apples, cranberries, potatoes, raspberries, eggs, carrots, parsnips, Brussels sprouts, sage, baby gourds, buttercup squash, and that cauliflower - I wish you could see how gorgeous it is. How lucky we are to have so much good food here in Minnesota in October! But don't get too jealous - after the market it snowed most of the afternoon!

All this good food put me in the mood to cook.

I've made a wonderful roasted butternut squash and greens pasta dish from the How to Eat Supper book I posted about a while back. The ingredient list is a bit long, but this seriously took no time at all to put together.

The pasta recipe had half and half in it so I used the leftover to make a potato gratin according to Alice Waters' recipe in The Art of Simple Food.



She suggests the use of half and half as an option but mine separated in the oven, looking curdled but tasting fine. Does anyone have any experience with this?

Finally, I made Brussels Sprout hash with caramelized shallots from the November 2007 Bon Appetit magazine. Yum!

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

WINNERS - TESTIMONY BY ANITA SHREVE

I meant to do this hours ago, but instead was re-introduced to my least favorite season....ear infection season. Ahhhhhh! All I can think is that my child did not have an uninfected ear last winter from December to May....so I'm pretty upset that she has an infection so early in the season.

On to the giveaway.....I enjoyed your answers so much about favorite Shreve books and favorite women's lit authors...I'm not sure what I meant by women's literature and didn't mean to offend anyone by it. I guess I just think of books or authors that are primarily read by women or are of interest to women. I think The Pilot's Wife was the Anita Shreve book that was most often mentioned. The one I'd most like to read and haven't is Resistance.

The winners of Testimony by Anita Shreve are:

J. DANGER

LAURA

CARRIE K

Congratulations! I'll be contacting the winners for addresses. Don't forget to sign up for the Heretic's Daughter giveaway!

THE HERETIC'S DAUGHTER - A GIVEAWAY AND AN OPPORTUNITY



I am pleased to be able to offer another copy of The Heretic's Daughter by Kathleen Kent compliments of Hachette Books.

Here's the opportunity part - this is part of an email I received yesterday from Miriam from Hachette:


As a fan of THE HERETIC'S DAUGHTER by Kathleen Kent, I thought you might want to know that there is an opportunity to chat live with Kathleen this Wednesday at 1PM ET on Blog Talk Radio. If you want to be sure to ask your question to Kathleen (and are free at that time) please respond to this email with your question (readers of this blog can email miriam.parker@hbgusa.com ) and the area code that you will be calling from (so that our call screener can identify you). I will put you on the agenda for the call.

You can call into the show at just before 1PM ET on Wednesday at (646) 378-0040

If you just want to listen online, visit here.

The rules for the giveaway are simple. Just leave a comment on this post, one entry per person. You don't have to have a blog to enter, but please make sure I have a way to contact you if you've won. This giveaway is open to US and Canadian addresses only, sorry to those outside these areas. I will close the comments and draw the winner on November 4. If I can pull myself away from the election coverage! Good luck.

Sunday, October 26, 2008

Booktour Stop for Capote in Kansas



I'm so pleased to be hosting Kim Powers, author of Capote in Kansas, on behalf of TLC Book Tours. In Capote in Kansas, Powers presents an alternate reality, in which a drugged and drunk Truman Capote contacts his estranged friend, recluse Harper Lee, towards the end of his life. As Capote and Lee revisit old memories of their friendship and working relationship, there exists an undercurrent of anxiety as both are haunted by the Clutter family and consider how their lives turned out.

Kim Powers was kind enough to answers a few questions I had for him and a good sport, too, as you'll see from my last question:


*One of the aspects of Capote in Kansas that I found most interesting were the snake boxes. How did you find out about those and have you ever seen one or a photograph of one?

I love the snake boxes – I’m glad you did too! Bizarrely, though, since they’re such an important part of the book, I didn't find out about them until I was some ways into it, after I had written about Capote and Lee’s childhood together, and their time in Kansas. Then I found several mentions of these art collage boxes that Truman began making, in George Plimpton’s oral biography of him called Truman Capote. Truman began working on them in the later years of his life, when (I think) he was having so much trouble writing. He had so much creativity in him, it had to find an outlet somewhere, even if it no longer could in his writing. He was such a visual writer, with such rich descriptive powers, I think it’s natural he moved toward visual art. He knew a lot about art, and supposedly tore pictures out of the coffee table books of friends! The “snake boxes,” as I call them, also had a great deal to do with his fascination with snakes. He had been bitten by one as a child, and almost died from it. After that, he was obsessed with them, almost as if focusing on the thing that scared him the most could take away its fear and power. (The snake image on the cover of Capote in Kansas is actually from a Richard Avedon photograph of a snake sculpture that Truman kept in his apartment.)

Truman would order snake bite kits by the dozens, and then decoupage these artsy clippings on to them, the same way he would make home-made kites, decorating plain white paper. He’d add on all sorts of odd bits, like photos of favorite authors like Emily Dickinson or Oscar Wilde, and then add more snake pictures, cigar bands (his stepfather manufactured the Capote brand of cigar), etc. Then he’d put the boxes down n plexi-glass shells for safekeeping. Near the end of his life, Truman went to a renowned book store owner in New York (Andreas Brown’s Gotham Book Mart, now defunct) and said he wanted to deliver a “top secret” project. Of course, Andreas thought it was the long-in-process novel Truman had been talking about forever. Instead, it was the snake boxes. There was an exhibit of them at the Gotham Book Mart. Many of them were left to various people in Truman’s will, and a number of them were recently sold at auction, and went for prices ranging from 3,000 to 10,000 (too rich for my blood!) I’ll send you photos of some of them.

Anyway, once I began reading of the boxes in Plimpton’s biography, I thought they would be a great device to add into my book, a Gothic element. I wanted the book to have a plot, not just be a series of flashback memories, and I came up with the idea of Truman sending something akin to the snake boxes to Harper, along with photographs inside them, to create a mystery Harper had to solve. So I’m not recreating the boxes literally, just using them (and dressing them up a lot) as a jumping off point for part of my plot.


*What are your favorite authors?

I really love so many writers, but there are certainly ones I’ll buy whenever they come out with a new book. I tend not to read reviews, because I don’t want anything to prejudice me. A favorite of the last few years, who makes me insanely jealous because she’s such a brilliant, imaginative writer, is Kate Atkinson, whose new book is called When Will There Be Good News? (Or something like that; I might be paraphrasing.) I also love her books Human Croquet and Case Histories. Early on, in my pretentious high school and college days, I began reading a lot of John Cheever, whose Waspy world was so different from my lower middle class Texas upbringing. Maybe that’s why I liked him so much. Then in college, I had a great Southern literature class, and started reading a lot of those writers: Eudora Welty, Carson McCullars, Flannery O’Connor. Her collection of letters called The Habit of Being is one of my favorite books, and taught me so much about what it means to be a thinking, feeling person in the world. And because I thought that I wanted to be an actor, and acted quite a bit in high school and college, the plays of Edward Albee and their exquisite language had a huge affect on me. I also love Pat Conroy, whom I once interviewed at Good Morning America. I literally started crying as I talked to him I was so moved. I also like a lot of comic writers like James Wilcox, Peter Lefcourt, Armistead Maupin. (I’m embarrassed to admit I’ve literally never read Jane Austen or Dickens…maybe when I retire!)

*What is on your nightstand right now?

Some finished books, some not so finished. I’ve developed a bad habit lately of buying books and then reading just a few pages, and no more if they don’t grab me. I jumped on the Oprah bandwagon and just read The Story of Edgar Satwalle, which is truly a work of genius. It will be one for the ages, it’s that good. Also a great new book that got a little lost in the Satwalle uproar is Hannah Tinti’s The Good Thief. Three other books are just sitting on my nightstand, which will probably head to the bookcase in my apartment basement: one is the Joseph O’Neill book Netherland that got such great reviews. I’m just a few pages into it, but I’ve already gotten so bogged down by all the writing on cricket I’m turned off. Another is the Swedish writer Peter Hoeg, who wrote the great Smilla’s Sense of Smell. But his new book that’s just come out in paperback, The Quiet Girl, is just so downright weird! And I hate to admit it, but I’ve been working away at Ann Patchett’s Run, which I know is a big book club favorite, but it’s just not enveloping me. I’ve always got to have an easy mystery or two on hand, to lull me to sleep (in a good way): right now it’s a Ruth Rendell, and the new Brad Meltzer book The Book of Lies. So my nightstand is quite crowded!

*Would you talk a bit about your physical writing process - where, when, on a computer or by hand, is it quiet or noisy, is there food involved?

It’s gotten much more relaxed over the years. When I started on my first book, a memoir about my twin brother’s disappearance called The History of Swimming, I could literally only write in the dark. This sounds like I’m making it up, but I’m not. I’d turn off the lights and do half hours of automatic, stream of consciousness writing, almost as if the material was too scary to see in the light of day. (As I said earlier, I had been an actor in college, and I think it had roots in that, “suffering” for my art and getting into character.) And I’d just hope my fingers were hitting the right keys! Then the rewrites involved copious amounts of iced coffee, with lots of cream and sugar. This was before I developed a late in life lactose intolerance – which I ignore (and pay the price of) when a bowl of coffee Haagen-Daz is staring me in the face.

When I started working on Capote in Kansas, I could look at the computer screen a little more directly. I found several photos of Truman and Harper at different points in their lives, and I taped them up on the walls around me. (That’s become a consistent thing – taping up these sensory pictures. I did it with the thing I just finished, a semi-autobiographical thing about my childhood. So I taped up lots of childhood pictures that had meaning to me.) And for Capote, I listed nonstop to the sound track of To Kill a Mockingbird, and I’d keep playing the same most emotional cuts over and over. That was somewhat deliberate, that choice of music, but I’ve found that everything I write organically develops a sort of soundtrack. During The History of Swimming, I was listening a lot to a singer named Michael Holland and his album Darkness Falls, and it became sort of Pavlovian – I got to where I couldn't write without it.

I have to be pretty focused while I’m struggling through a first draft, more or less creating on the spot, with only a few big turning points already in mind. I don’t outline. And there’s so much agony about whether I’m going in the right direction and should I keep going to the bitter end, or do I stop midstream and go back to the first and start revising. But after that first real draft, which is actually a few drafts, and can take over a year to write, I can then write anywhere and during anything. I write on a laptop computer, and I say “my lap is my office.” I often write with the TV on, because I like the white noise. I’ll try to write about two hours in the morning, before I have to go into the job that pays the bills (as a writer for ABC’s Primetime and 20/20), and then I’ll keep writing a lot on the weekends. On a full day, I can go for about three hours at a stretch before I take a break. And lots of coffee – but now with coffeemate!


*What are you working on right now?

I just finished a new novel, with the lurid – and hopefully provocative title -- The Movies We Watched (The Year My Father Killed My Mother). That title pretty much sums it up! It’s about a little boy whose mother has died, and he begins to think his father killed her, so he can be with his new girlfriend. The little boy obsessively goes to see the movies every weekend, and keeps a scrapbook with the movie ads from the local paper pasted in it. Then based on the grown-up things he sees in the movies, he begins playing detective, to try and catch his father. It’s somewhat autobiographical, a sort of prequel and sequel to The History of Swimming. My own mother died when I was seven, and there’s always been a mystery to how she died: suicide, an accidental drug overdose, a brain aneurysm, even murder. So I’m chasing those family ghosts, once again. Because of the title, I came up with a fun way for my agent to submit it to editors. Most books these days are submitted to publishers via email, but this manuscript was too big, because of all the movie ads that are scanned into it. So I bought all these old-fashioned movie canisters from a film company in Hollywood, and taped the title of the book on the lids, and we had those messengered to editors. Certainly made the book stand out ! Now I’m just hoping editors like the book itself as much as the marketing. It’s a relief to have finished the book -- I went through about ten drafts of it – but now I’m feeling a little post-partum. But already, I have some rough elements of a new book in mind, something that’s not based on real people, but will require a lot of historical research.


*Is there a chance Truman Capote or Harper Lee might be subject matter for you in the future?

No! I’ve put them to bed.

*I write about what I cook as well as what I read. Do you do any cooking at home? If you could have Truman Capote and Harper Lee over for dinner, what would you serve them?

I love cooking, and like doing it when I have an easy day at work. It’s the shopping I hate, which is such a hassle in New York. A few years ago, my partner and I bought a weekend house an hour or so outside the city, in Asbury Park, NJ – Bruce Springsteen land! We finally had a decent, big open kitchen there, unlike the cramped little galley kitchen we had in the apartment. And it was sort of the social thing to do to cook on Saturday night, and have friends over. So we really started cooking there, instead of our endless parade of Chinese takeout. I like following recipes. I wish I could bake and make cakes and pies, but I haven’t much. Now that the weather’s turning colder, we cook at home a lot. In the summer, it’s nice to sit outside at a restaurant, and we like taking our dog Frankie (a Maltese/Yorkie) with us, to sit outside and drink margaritas!

What a wonderful question about cooking for Truman and Harper! It’s the one question nobody’s ever asked me! I was in Baton Rouge a few weekends ago at the Louisiana Book Festival, talking about Capote in Kansas, and I found a book I’d never seen before, called Sook’s Cookbook – after Truman’s old cousin Sook Faulk, who is memorialized in Truman’s short story “A Christmas Memory.” I want to start cooking my way through that, but until then, I’d like to dig up the recipe for a Coca Cola cake, which I remember having as a kid in Texas, and which I have Harper make in my book. And I’d make this jazzy baked chicken I made the other night, stuffed with goat cheese and apricots and almonds – that’s as fancy as I get. And I’d love to make biscuits. And since Truman is there, I’d have to have lots to drink!

Thanks to Kim Powers for answering these questions! If you would like to check out the rest of the booktour the full list of hosts can be found here.

Friday, October 24, 2008

I love lentil soup!

And it's all mine! You may think I'm being greedy, but my husband is terrified that one of these days I'm going to serve this soup to him. I'm not sure why lentils have such a bad reputation, but there it is. This is the soup I make all Fall and Winter, freezing it in individual portions and eating it for lunch at home or at work. Besides freezing well, the other great things about this soup are how easy it is to make and the fact that I ususally have all the ingredients on hand. Here they are.

Those are French Du Puy lentils which I've had since last year. All the stores around here are OUT of them right now. Why is that? Is there an embargo problem with French lentils?



This is the sauteed bacon with carrots and onion added. You could leave the bacon out and use olive oil for a vegetarian soup.

By the way, the recipe for this soup comes from The New Best Recipe by the Cook's Illustrated folks. They'll have my head if I give you the recipe, but if you search around a bit, you can find variations of it.



Here I've added garlic, bay, thyme, and tomatoes.



Now the lentils have been added. The secret to this recipe is sweating the lentils before adding the liquid; they stay firm that way.



I added liquid - wine, broth, and water and simmered. Here is the final product, part of the soup has been pureed in the blender to thicken it.



I guess it's not that pretty, but is sure smells and tastes good.

Have a nice weekend!

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Chit-Chat and Catch Up

Or, I'm about to write about a bunch of things that have nothing to do with one another.

It was good to come home this past Monday and sleep in my own bed. Ahhh. I was happy to see that bloglines was fixed but not so happy that I had over 500 posts to catch up on. I'm still working on that.

Here's what I learned in Florida:

* It is a profound experience to take your child to the ocean for the first time. I will never forget the utter joy on her face as she played on the beach for hours with no toys except what washed up. I said "She's never been so content in her life as she is right now." My husband agreed.



* It really makes you feel as though you are on vacation when you eat lunch at a restaurant on the beach where you don't need shoes and your child can wear a bathing suit.

* The Magic Kingdom was fun but we never need to be there for a week. The best ride is Buzz Lightyear. Those Disney princesses work a lot harder than you might think. Seriously.

* I'm not as bad at canoeing as I was when I went to Girl Scout camp. Thank goodness.

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


Speaking of traveling, I love travel guides. I couldn't agree more with European travel guru Rick Steves (who I ran into in Amsterdam on my honeymoon) who said that when you're spending so much money on a trip, it's worth it to spend and extra 15 or 20 dollars to figure out what to do when you get there. Online publicist Lisa Roe offered some travel guides on her site and I requested one about the Wisconsin Dells by Dirk Vanderwilt for two reasons: 1. I have been to the Dells four times in the past 5 years so I figured I knew the subject and 2. I'll probably go back and I thought this guide might come in handy. It turns out I was right on both counts. This guide is part of the Tourist Town Guides series which seems to focus on destinations that might not necessarily have already had an entire book written about them. This guide offers a great history of the Wisconsin Dells area, extensive reviews of everything from accommodations to attractions and even a few photos. Overall, I agreed with the authors assessments though I wished the restaurant reviews were more detailed. I learned about some things to do that I hadn't known about and I look forward to trying when I go back. I would definitely recommend this guide to those visiting the Dells, and I would consider using the other Tourist Town Guides myself in the future.


I finally got around to reading something by Shirley Jackson besides The Lottery. We Have Always Lived in the Castle is a deliciously creepy tale of the two Blackwood sisters and their Uncle who live in the big family home alone because the rest of the family are dead. Their rather bizzare life is quite insular as they have little contact with the outside world. Jackson slowly reveals why the Blackwoods live as they do and why they are ostracized by the people who live in the village. Cousin Charles arrives and things turn even more upside down. I find these sorts of books difficult to review because I don't want to give anything away! This book made me uncomfortable in a good way as I learned the horror of the Blackwood's life. Something that I noticed was a scene at the end of the book that reminded me of The Lottery. It made me think that Jackson must have a sort of fascination with the idea of an entire community turning against one person or family. Did anyone else notice this? In any case, I'll definitely be reading more of Jackson's work.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

GIVEAWAY - TESTIMONY BY ANITA SHREVE

I'm so excited to be partnering with Hachette Books again to give away THREE copies of Anita Shreve's latest novel, Testimony which is being released today.



I really enjoyed Testimony and would rate it among my favorite of Shreve's books.


The rules are simple. Just leave a comment on this post - if you have a favorite Anita Shreve book please tell me what it is - if not, please tell me your favorite author of 'women's literature'. There is one entry per person. You do not have to have a blog to enter, but please make sure I have a way to contact you via email if you've won. This giveaway is open to US and Canadian addresses only, sorry to those outside these areas. I will close the comments and draw the 3 winners on October 28. Good luck!

Thursday, October 16, 2008

And They're Off......

See you next week!

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Testimony by Anita Shreve


Is there anyone out there that hasn't read Anita Shreve? Well, I'm certain that there is but this is one author that I keep coming back to for reliably solid and entertaining women's fiction. It doesn't hurt that I went to hear her speak once, and she seemed like a very nice person, too.

Anita Shreve's latest book, Testimony, will be released next week. Shreve's novel Fortune's Rocks has always been my favorite of her books, but Testimony is right up there. Testimony is the story of a scandal at a New England Boarding school, a sex scandal involving minors, adults, and a videotape that ultimately destroys lives and marriages. In Testimony the reader hears the points of view of everyone, from the headmaster to the participants, their parents and friends - every single person that is affected by what these young people have done. Shreve has the gift of making each of these many characters distinct individuals as she explores their innermost thoughts and motivations. We hear their stories in the context of a person who we never hear from but who is studying the case at the University of Vermont. The voice of the headmaster, Mike, is the one we hear most often and is in many ways the one with the most to hide. We hear from terrified and angry parents who do not understand how and when their children lost their innocence, and wonder what will become of their future. Shreve does an amazing job of making the people who might be seen as the perpetrators seem sympathetic, and the one who seems the victim to be complicit.

I found this intense novel to be an absorbing page turner. I found this to be not just about the ramifications of this particular incident. This is really a commentary on how one choice a person makes or how they spend one hour of their life can have drastic long lasting consequences that can be destructive to many people.

Great news: I will hosting a giveaway of Testimony next week. So come back!

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Also, for those of you you have read my recent post which I later removed...my husband says we have to go or I'll regret it. He's probably right. Feel free to weigh in, though.

Monday, October 13, 2008

Farmer's Market - October 11

This was a lot heavier than it looks. I wasn't planning on buying much since we're going out of town later this week. This was the least crowded I've seen the market since early June. The regular market continues until the end of October, then the Saturday winter market begins. I've never been to the winter market but I plan to check it out. I understand there is meat, eggs, honey, breads - stuff like that.



What's new? Butternut squash - there's a great looking pasta and squash recipe I want to try from Lynne Rosetto Kasper's new book. This a great cookbook by the way, and would make a terrific gift. I'm a little wary of serving butternut as a main course. Afraid the natives will become restless and all that. I hope the sweetness of it will win my daughter over. There's some spinach and some ground pork there. I'm going to make a meatball soup with those, along with orzo and carrots based on a Nigel Slater meatball recipe and a soup recipe from Bon Appetit. By the time I'm done with it, it'll be a Tara original.

What else? I'm getting rather uncomfortable about the economic situation. I've heard of two co-workers whose husbands have lost their jobs....I'm pretty lucky to work in healthcare right now, but who knows what will happen. It makes me extra glad we've been eating less meat for many reasons, and now we have finances to think about. I make a great rice and black bean dinner from scratch, so I've got that to fall back on.

Saturday, October 11, 2008

Pomegranate Soup


I had grandiose plans yesterday for blogging and commenting, but wouldn't you know, I lost my internet connection for the day. Nuts. It's so hard for me to collect my thoughts when people (ie. my child) are in the house, but I'm going to give it a whirl.

I had an unexpectedly wonderful surprise this week when I picked up Pomegranate Soup by Marsha Mehran. I was expecting (and hoping for) a light quick read, and while this was quick and light in parts, it was definitely deeper than I was expecting. This story opens when the three Aminpour sisters from Iran arrive in a small town in Ireland, Ballinacroagh, and begin to set up a cafe. The opening chapters were reminiscent of Maeve Binchey with their descriptions of small town Ireland and of people who are quirky, multi-faceted, and not always kind. I was reminded of Chocolat by Joanne Harris in the fabulous descriptions of cooking and food, the food sometimes seeming to intoxicate those who eat it. But Mehran makes this story all her own, because these sisters have come to Ireland for a reason, they have escaped from Iran during the revolution and each has their own memories and experiences to bear. Oldest sister Marjan is the mother-like cook, Bahar is the middle sister, tense and worried, and Layla is the youngest, still in high school, and lovely, with her whole life ahead of her. In Ballinacroagh, they meet the townspeople, some of whom are kind and supportive, others who wish to run them out of town. The Aminpour sisters are strong women and we learn of their struggles in Iran as they struggle to make a new life in Ireland.

I was really, really charmed by this book, I enjoyed the characters, the story, and the wonderful descriptions of food with accompanying recipes. It just so happens that there is a sequel, Rosewater and Soda Bread, and I am looking forward to the continuation of this story.

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

The Lace Reader



All the book buzz this past summer seemed to be about The Lace Reader, by Brunonia Barry. I sure tried my best to get my hands on an advance copy. That was fruitless so I wound up buying a hardcover copy, something I rarely do. But the question here, is did The Lace Reader live up to those high expectations I had going in? Hmmm.

The Lace Reader opens with Towner (Sophya) Whitney, a self-professed liar, who returns to her hometown of Salem, Massachusetts because her Aunt Eva is missing. It becomes obvious right away that Towner has suffered from psychological illness in the past. We then meet a host of eccentric and unusual characters, family and friends alike. There are witches, people who read fortunes in lace, and religious zealots. Towner reminisces about the past, about her relationship with her twin sister, who is now dead, about old boyfriends, and family secrets. This leads to a quite dramatic ending, full of action and revealed secrets.

I really liked the first half of this book, the setting of the stage if you will. I've found it interesting that many of the reviews I've read cite the opening of the novel as their least favorite part. What does that say about me? The latter part of the book felt so frenetic to me, people running around, being chased and then hiding, there is a fire, and finally secrets are revealed. Now I like a good twist, one that turns the story on its head. But I have a problem with twists that make me feel as though I've been had, and that's how this twist felt to me. Yes, I know Towner said she was a liar. But still. Despite this, I liked this book. I thought it was a page-turner and I always looked forward to getting back to it. It just wasn't the book-of-the-year that I was expecting based on so many great reviews. Have you felt that way about any books lately?


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In other news....it may seem as though I haven't visited you lately. The reason may be twofold. 1. I have on and off problems with my right hand and since they're on right now, the only relief is to rest, so I'm trying to type less. 2. I really, REALLY rely on bloglines and I just noticed in the past few days that some blogs have not been updated by them since October 1 so I've been missing lots of posts. This is so frustrating and I cannot find any way to contact them to find out what is going on.

Also, how are you using bloggers new 'followers' feature? Is this meant to replace the blog roll?

Monday, October 6, 2008

Agnes Humbert's Resistance


It is summertime in 1940 when Germany takes Paris. Soon after, Agnes Humbert bands together with a group of like-minded friends to publish Resistance - a French resistance newsletter. By the Spring of 1941 Humbert has been arrested, spends time in a French prison, and is then deported to Germany to a work camp. She suffers there until the end of the war, and while awaiting transport back to France, assists the Americans with their work in Germany.

Humbert wrote Resistance in 1946 shortly after the war, the beginning and end parts taken directly from her diary, the middle portion, by necessity written from memory, yet still in a diary format. This gives the book a strong sense of immediacy. I was feeling a bit lost in the opening pages of the book, there were many names and locations that I found difficult to keep track of. The story becomes quite intense when Humbert is arrested, tried and imprisoned. What is most striking in Humbert's writing is her sense of humor, her bravery, and her feistiness. Humbert finds herself working (slaving) in a rayon factory. I didn't know a thing about the manufacturing of rayon, but have discovered that it is quite dangerous and toxic. Humbert and her fellow prisoners are not given protective gear as the paid workers are, and the prisoners are suffering from terrible wounds, temporary blindness, and clothing that is disintegrating instead of covering them. Humbert suffers so much but never loses her sense of self and compassion for others.

Not only is Resistance an intensely personal story, it is an informative one as well. It was fascinating to read about the French Resistance and especially how its members were treated once imprisoned and charged. Resistance was out of print for many years, until Barbara Mellor the translator of this book, came across it and knew it was a story that transcended time. We have her to thank for bringing this story to our attention.

I end with a quote from Agnes Humbert from 1943, when she is thinking about her inanimate objects waiting for her at home:

I think about my books, especially: which one shall I open first when I get back? I can see my bookshelves, and the rows of my beloved books. By the time I get back I shall have quite forgotten how to read, and I'll have to start all over again by looking at picture books like a child.

Many thanks to Bloomsbury for giving me the opportunity to read and review this book.

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

Farmer's Market - September 27

This is the most amazing time of year at the market - there's so much to choose from! It's too bad that it's only open one more month for vegetable sellers. (The meat, egg, and honey vendors come on Saturdays through the winter.)



I had a little helper with me this week which is why you see flowers, mini-pumpkins to draw faces on, and honey sticks. Those flowers are lovely - can anyone tell me what the cabbage-look-alike things are called? - but were wilting by Sunday so I wasn't too impressed.

Everything just looks so vibrant and gorgeous to me, especially the peppers and cauliflower - you won't find anything like that at the store. The green leafy stuff on the left is sold as Chinese broccoli, and I'm not sure if it's the same as broccoli rabe. It was a bit bitter so my family wasn't thrilled about it, though I liked it. If a person were really serious about buying good food for their family at low prices, the market is a great place. There is so much available for one dollar - the Chinese broccoli, bok choy, beets, green onions, kohlrabi, and lots of other greens as well. Certainly other items cost more, but you can do it on a budget. We've cut back on our meat consumption quite a bit, but I crave a good flank steak every month or so. The animals are grass fed and the meat is so tender you can cut it with a fork.