Saturday, September 27, 2014

Weekend Cooking- An Easy Steak Recipe

This post is part of Beth Fish Reads' Weekend Cooking.  If you have anything related to food, cookbook reviews, novel or non-fiction book reviews, recipes, movie reviews, etc., head over to Beth Fish Reads and add your post. Or, if you want to read food related posts, head over to read what some interesting people have to say about food. 

If you are like me, sometimes you haven't planned what you are making for dinner and then you turn around and it's almost time for your husband to come home. What to do?

A few weeks ago this happened to me and I remembered that I had pinned a steak recipe that only took ten minutes to put together. It's called Brazilian Skirt Steak with Golden Garlic Butter, and it comes from Fine Cooking.

Brazilian Skirt Steak with Golden Garlic Butter
6 medium garlic cloves
1 1/2 pounds skirt steak
freshly ground black pepper
2 Tbs. canola or vegetable oil
4 Tbs. unsalted butter
1 Tbs. chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley

Peel the garlic cloves and smash them with the side of a chef's knife. Sprinkle the garlic lightly with salt and mince it.

Pat the steak dry and season generously on both sides with salt and pepper. In a heavy duty 12-inch skillet, heat the oil over medium-high heat until shimmering hot. Add the steak and brown well on both sides, 2 to 3 minutes per side for medium rare. Transfer the steak to a plate and let rest while you make the garlic butter.

In an 8-inch skillet, melt the butter over low heat. Add the garlic and cook, swirling the pan frequently, until lightly golden brown, about 4 minutes. Lightly salt to taste.

Slice the steak, if you like, and transfer to four plates. Spoon the garlic butter over the steak, sprinkle with the parsley, and serve.
From Fine Cooking

I served it with potato salad that I had from the day before and some lightly sauteed spinach (with garlic and sea salt) and dinner was served in record time. Sometimes skirt steak can be chewy, but this steak was so flavorful and tender, and so easy to prepare. It's very rich tasting, so it's not something you'd have every week, but in a pinch, it's a quick, tasty weeknight dinner.

Do you have a quick, easy dinner that you can make in a pinch? Share it in comments.

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Win A Copy of Gillian Flynn's GONE GIRL Movie Tie-In Book

One of the most highly anticipated movies of the fall season is an adaptation of one of the most popular books of the past few years- Gillian Flynn's Gone Girl. Everyone has been talking about this movie, (which reportedly has a different ending than the book) and with director David Fincher (The Social Network, Zodiac) at the helm and Ben Affleck getting rave reviews for his role as Nick, the husband suspected in the disappearance of his wife, it is sure to be a hit.
Ben Affleck as Nick in Gone Girl
I'm looking forward to this movie, it has a cast- Affleck, Rosamund Pike, Carrie Coon, Kim Dickens and Neil Patrick Harris- that I am intrigued by.

Thanks to 20th Century Fox, I have two copies of the movie tie-in edition of the Gone Girl book to giveaway to my readers. Winners must be in the United States, and to enter just fill in the form below. I will choose two winners on October 3rd, the day of the movie opening.

Fans of Gone Girl can follow Amy Dunne's Pinterest page, where maybe she has left behind some clues as to what happened to her. Click here.

Watch the movie trailer here:

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

The Contract by Derek Jeter with Paul Mantell

The Contract by Derek Jeter with Paul Mantell
Published by  Simon & Schuster Books For Young Readers/Jeter Publishing ISBN 9781481423120
Hardcover, $16.99, 160 pages

Baseball fans across the country have been watching with interest and sadness as New York Yankees captain and baseball icon Derek Jeter is playing out his last year in baseball. Many people wonder what he will do next, and his answer is : become a publisher.

Jeter has his own publishing imprint with Simon & Schuster, where he will publish books by authors he finds have an something interesting to say. The first book under the Jeter Publishing imprint is for children ages 8-12 titled The Contract. Jeter wrote it with Paul Mantell, and it is based on his own life as a Little Leaguer.

Young Derek Jeter, called 'old man' by his mom because he went to school in a suit and carrying a briefcase, is a talented baseball player and a serious student. When his classroom teacher assigns the students an essay describing their realistic future dreams, Derek really wants to write that his future plans include playing shortstop for the New York Yankees.

He discusses this with his parents, who encourage him to realize how difficult it will be, but with his excellent work ethic and determination and practice, he can do just that.

Derek signs up for Little League and ends up playing on a team with his best friend Vijay. He wants to play shortstop, but the coach's son is the star shortstop with a bad attitude.

Much of the book describes in detail many of the Little League games, and children who love baseball will so enjoy the thrilling play-by-play. But this book is also one parents should read to or with their children.

Derek would not be the great player he is today were it not for his parents. They created a contract for Derek, detailing what he needs to do to set himself on a path to achieving his dream. The items include respecting himself and others, doing his chores, being a good role model for his younger sister, maintaining good grades and the number one rule is family comes first.

The Contract not only teaches children how to be responsible, it can help parents with their own parenting skills. The Jeters are good role models for their two children, and hold them both to high standards, knowing that it is the key to raising good citizens.

I liked how important school is to Derek, how he works as hard at school as he does at baseball. And Derek is not a perfect child here; he gets frustrated and angry, but when he makes a mistake, he tries to be better.

The final scene is a sweet one, with Derek playing catch with his grandma, with whom he and his sister spend their summers. They clearly have a loving relationship, as many young children do.

I highly recommend The Contract for both children who like baseball, as well as their parents. It would make a wonderful gift for the young baseball fan in your life, and it would be a terrific addition to your child's school library.

5 of 5 stars

Thursday, September 18, 2014

This Is Where I Leave You- A Great Book to Movie Adaptation

Fours years ago, I read Jonathan Tropper's hilarious novel This Is Where I Leave You, the story of Judd Foxman, a man who comes home from work to find his wife and his boss in bed together. He loses his wife and his job in one fell swoop, and then his sister calls to tell him their father has passed away.

Oh, and their father's dying wish was to have his four adult children (who don't always get along) sit shiva for him. That means seven days of sitting at their family home, waiting for people to come and pay condolences. I remember being so enamored of this book, it made me laugh out loud.

I also thought it would be a fabulous movie and was thrilled when I heard that Tropper was writing the screenplay to be directed by Shawn Levy and released by Warner Bros. Pictures.
Jonathan Tropper with director Shawn Levy on set

This Is Where I Leave You opens this Friday, September 19th at theaters nationwide and I was able to see an early screening and can happily report that the movie just may be better than the book. It perfectly blends humor with poignancy, and the casting may be the best I have seen.

Each role is brilliantly cast, starting with Jason Bateman as Judd, whom Jonathan said in an interview with myself and five other bloggers he considered his avatar for the character as he was writing the script. I can remember as I was reading the book thinking Bateman would be amazing as Judd, and he really is. This is his best role yet.
Jason Bateman shines as Judd

The book is told from Judd's point of view, and I was curious as to how Judd's interior monologues would translate on the screen. Tropper and Levy did a fantastic job, adding scenes such as the one between Wendy and Horry, (beautifully played by Timothy Olyphant) Wendy's first love who has a traumatic brain injury, that said so much in just a look between them. It made me cry, as did a scene near the end with Jane Fonda, as Judd's mom, looking out the window at Judd.
Tina Fey and Timothy Olyphant

Tropper didn't have any role in the casting, that is the director's purview, but he did say what a surreal experience it was to get email updates about casting, telling him such things like Tina Fey would play Wendy, and Adam Driver would play perennial screw-up baby brother Philip.

Much of the film was shot at an actual house in Great Neck, Long Island, and between takes the cast would hang out in the upstairs bedroom, where they would bond and talk about their own families and careers. That bonding clearly worked well for the film, as you can believe that Bateman, Fey, Driver and Corey Stoll are siblings.

Tropper also said that Jane Fonda acted as a matriarch on the film, and he called her a force of nature, but one who was humble and didn't have an entourage with her. He said she soaked up the energy of the younger actors and they all were thrilled to work with her. He said she understood the character of Hillary so well.

One of my favorite movies is Love, Actually, and what that movie is to love relationships, This Is Where I Leave You is to family relationships. Both movies made you laugh and then tear up, and both will touch your heart. Anyone who has siblings will relate in some way to this movie.

If you've read This Is Where I Leave You, then I can assure you you will love this movie. If you haven't read the book, go see the movie this weekend and then read the book. This Is Where I Leave You  is destined to become a fan favorite, just as Love, Actually is, and it's about time the adults have a movie we can see with our husbands, our girlfriends or even our siblings. Don't miss it.

Visit the movie website here.
For more exclusive video, like This Is Where I Leave You on Facebook here.

Watch the movie trailer here:

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Accidents of Marriage by Randy Susan Myers

Accidents of Marriage by Randy Susan Myers
Published by Atria ISBN 978-1-4516-7304-3
Hardcover, $25, 354 pages
The issue of domestic violence is at the forefront of many conversations today, in part due to the horrific video of Baltimore Ravens player Ray Rice knocking his fiancee out with a punch. Randy Susan Myers' timely novel Accidents of Marriage investigates what happens when a man who loses his temper too frequently finally loses control and it costs those he loves a great deal.

Maddie is a social worker married to Ben, a public defender celebrated for his passion and intelligence in his work. He is looked up to by his colleagues and worshipped by his female intern. But Ben has a terrible temper, one that only his wife and three children- 14 year-old Emma, 9 year-old Gracie and 7 year-old Caleb- have seen up close.

Ben verbally abuses his family and they live in fear of his outbursts, where he occasionally throws plates crashing into the wall. The slightest thing out of the ordinary- dirty dishes in the sink, clothes on the floor- send him into an uncontrollable rage.

Funny thing about people who say they can't control their rage; they seem to be able to control it just fine at the office. They never scream at colleagues or clients; they save that for their family.

Maddie has to call Ben to pick her up when her car gets towed for having an expired registration. Ben is late for a meeting, furious at Maddie for not taking care of the registration, and on a rain soaked road, he gets into a road rage incident and while speeding has an accident that leaves Maddie fighting for her life.

Ben is injured, but Maddie is in a coma. Her family, her parents and sister Vanessa, who doesn't like Ben, are all there. The children are there too, but they are not allowed in the ICU area, so the three young children are in a separate waiting area- all alone.

That really bugged me. There are several adults waiting, any one of whom could have gone and sat with these frightened children, who had no idea what was going on with their mother. The judgement of the adults in this situation left me dumbfounded. How could no one comfort those children?

The story is told from three perspectives; Maddie, Ben and Emma all get to tell their stories. It is heartbreaking to see this family torn apart, and difficult to see Maddie try and put her life together after a serious traumatic brain injury. She has to start from the beginning and learn how to do everything from walking to talking to cooking, and her frustration comes through clearly on the page.

Much of the day-to-day care of the house and the other children is left to Emma. Poor Emma gets overlooked, and so much is dumped into her lap, again without the adults thinking about how she is doing. I felt most deeply for Emma.

Meyers does a wonderful job making us feel what this family is going through. Ben still has his anger issues, Maddie is trying to pick up the pieces of her life and figure out just what happened, and the children are struggling too. There is no miracle cure for Maddie, she must fight everyday and it exhausts her.

The characters are realistic, and some even unlikable (and not just Ben, I didn't like Vanessa either). The Wednesday Blues Club, made up of women who live with domestic violence in their lives, is a support group that Maddie started in her job and when she returns after her injury, she has a new understanding and it causes her to rethink her own life choices.

Accidents of Marriage is a terrific book club pick; there are so many meaty things to discuss in this book.

rating 4 of 5
Randy Susan Meyers' website is here.

Thanks to TLC Tours for putting me on Randy's tour. The rest of Randy's stops are here.

Randy’s Tour Stops

Tuesday, September 2nd: BookNAround
Wednesday, September 3rd: nightlyreading
Thursday, September 4th: Luxury Reading
Monday, September 8th: Always With a Book
Tuesday, September 9th: Drey’s Library
Wednesday, September 10th: 5 Minutes For Books
Tuesday, September 16th: bookchickdi
Tuesday, September 23rd: My Book Retreat
Wednesday, September 24th: Wordsmithonia
Thursday, September 25th: Sara’s Organized Chaos
Monday, September 29th: Reading in Black & White
Tuesday, September 30th: Doing Dewey
Friday, October 3rd: Patricia’s Wisdom

Saturday, September 13, 2014

Weekend Cooking: Small Plates by Katherine Hall Page

This post is part of Beth Fish Reads' Weekend Cooking.  If you have anything related to food, cookbook reviews, novel or non-fiction book reviews, recipes, movie reviews, etc., head over to Beth Fish Reads and add your post. Or, if you want to read food related posts, head over to read what some interesting people have to say about food. 
Small Plates by Katherine Hall Page 
Published by William Morrow ISBN 9780062310798
Hardcover, $24.99, 240 pages

Katherine Hall Page writes a mysteries series starring Faith Fairchild, a New York City caterer who marries a minister from from Massachusetts and moves there with him to start a family. Like Jessica Fletcher of TV's Murder, She Wrote, Faith frequently finds herself in the middle of a murder investigation that only she can solve.

Page's newest book is a short story collection Small Plates, most featuring Faith and her adventures. They are like little tapas, and like tapas, some are more tasty than others. There are nine non-linked stories here, and the last one, The Two Marys, is the longest and in my opinion, the best one.

Mary Bethany is a unmarried middle aged women who cared for her parents until their death. Now she only has her beloved nanny goats for company in the winter, and the guests who stay at her B&B home in the warmer months.

She finds a baby in her barn on Christmas morning, along with a note asking Mary to care for Christopher, and $50,000 in cash. Mary calls her neighbor Faith and asks her to help her find the mother, whom she believes is in big trouble.

I liked the character of Mary, and when Page has the time in the story to draw us into the characters and story, I found it more satisfying.

Some of other stories, which are much shorter, are interesting as well, such as Death In The Dunes and Across The Pond, where the moral of the stories is beware of your sister. The Hiding Place has a clever twist to the story of a woman who yearns to start a family with her loving husband, and when she finds that her husband hides things in odd places, she finds it charming- at first.

The Would-Be Widower tells the story of Mr. Carter, who wants to be a widower, "and, since he already had a wife, he figured he was halfway there." The writing crackles in this one, and like a good Alfred Hitchcock story, there is some humor here as Mr. Carter schemes to kill his wife to accomplish his goal.

Sliced is a fun story for fans of culinary reality shows. Faith is a contestant in a cooking competition evening for a local charity. We see some characters we have met in other Faith Fairchild books, like Chef Billy Gold, a man with a huge ego and a bad temper (think Gordon Ramsay) who treated Faith terribly when he gave her a job she started her culinary career.

Claudia Westell is a famous TV cook, who uses shortcuts to make easy dishes (like Sandra Lee). Claudia was once Faith's assistant, and Faith fired her when she was caught her scanning Faith's recipes to steal them as her own.

The last chef was Jake Barlow, who had a disastrous experience as a chef at a restaurant in Sanpere where Faith and her husband have a summer home. Faith was at the restaurant when Barlow tried to create an over-the-top experience menu that fell flat, and he blames Faith for the fallout.

This story is fun because we see Faith create delicious dishes, such a savory bread pudding, using anchovies, baguettes, rainbow and smoked Ghost Pepper flakes and a picnic meal from chicken livers, frozen lemonade, Cheez Doodles and peppermint hard candies.

The end of book features recipes from the stories, like Cardamom Raisin Bread, Mussels with Pasta and St. Germain Cocktail.

Some of the stories end rather abruptly, like perhaps they were the beginnings of books that were abandoned, but this is a fun little book, perfect for picking up and reading one story at a time when you have a few stolen moments. And it's always fun to catch up with Faith.

rating 4 of 5

My review of Katherine Hall Page's A Body in the Boudoir is here.

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

We Are Not Ourselves by Matthew Thomas

We Are Not Ourselves by Matthew Thomas
Published bySimon and Schuster ISBN 978-1-4767-5666-0
Hardcover $28, 640 pages

One of the books that was getting the most buzz at this year's Book Expo was Matthew Thomas' debut novel, We Are Not Ourselves. The 600 page tome delves into the life of Eileen Tumulty Leary, a girl born to Irish immigrants in 1941.

Her father, called Big Mike, was the man that all of the guys in the neighborhood turned to for advice and a drink. Big Mike spent much of his time at the local bar, holding court and drinking whiskey. The Tumultys lived in a two bedroom apartment, sharing one bedroom with three single beds and the second bedroom belonged to Mr. Kehoe, a quiet boarder.

After Eileen's mother became pregnant and miscarried, she spent months in the hospital. Upon her return home, she was a different woman. She began to drink, and it was up to Eileen to care for not only her father, but now her mother as well. It was a big burden for a young girl.

Eileen knew the way out of her troubles was getting an education. She was smart and worked hard to become a nurse. Her goal was to get into the middle-class. She knew the key to this was marrying a man who shared her dreams. She wanted a man with her father's best qualities:
"She wanted to find a man who was like him, but who hadn't formed as hard an exterior; someone fate had tested, but who had retained a little more innocence. Someone who could rise above the grievances life had put before him. If her father had a weakness, that was it. There were other ways to be strong. She wasn't blind to them.
She wanted a man whose trunk was thick but whose bark was thin, who flowered beautifully, even if only for her."
Eileen found that man in Edwin Leary, a research scientist. After a rocky first blind date, they fell in love and married. Eileen felt sure that they were on their way to being solidly middle-class American. They both had good jobs, and buying a home wouldn't be far behind.

She believed that Ed would climb the ladder at work, and when he was offered a job working for a pharmaceutical company, making a lot more money, she was bewildered when he turned it down.  Ed wanted to teach students at a local college. He also worked endlessly on his research, leaving Eileen and their young son Connell alone for long stretches of time.

It began to dawn on Eileen that maybe Ed didn't want the same things she did. She wanted to keep moving forward, he was content for things to stay the same. The eccentricities she had noticed while courting and thought romantic had "curdled into pathologies. What had been charmingly independent became fussy and self-defeating."

After years of this stasis, Eileen became determined to buy a home. Their neighborhood in Queens was becoming much more diverse, the Irish residents moving away. Eileen looked at homes in Bronxville, closer to her and Ed's work and a place where there was more space.

She found a dilapidated home that needed a great deal of work to make it livable, and after many arguments and Ed saying he was never leaving Queens, she insisted and they bought the house. Soon after, it became apparent that Ed's eccentricities and rages were more than personality quirks; there was something wrong.

Ed was diagnosed with early Alzheimer's. Their world changed overnight and everything Eileen had worked and hoped for was gone. Their place in middle-class America was in jeopardy. Ed had to hide his condition from his employer in order to make it to retirement in 18 months where he would made $1400 more per month than if he left his job now.

Eileen had to make sure she kept her job for ten more years to get to retirement. She saw a lawyer friend who advised her to divorce Ed in order to keep her assets separate, and then Ed would be eligible for Medicaid. What an indictment of the American healthcare system that this is the best option.

Eileen is determined to care for Ed at home, and that becomes increasingly difficult. She hires a man to care for him during the day while she works, and comes home to care for him at night.

We Are Not Ourselves tells not only Eileen's story, but it is ours too. We want what Eileen wants: love, family, satisfying work, a home of our own, our part of the American dream. We are willing to work hard for it, but along the way things happen that can derail our lives. How we deal with the bumps along the road, big and small, will define us.

I loved this beautiful, sad, heartbreaking novel. Eileen is not a perfect woman; her inability to show affection for her son caused both of them much pain. But when the chips were down, Eileen showed her true colors. She did what most us do: step up, soldier on, and do the best we can, even if that sometimes wasn't enough.

There were so many things that made my heart hurt here. When Eileen's mother is on her deathbed after years of sobriety, she tells Eileen that she wishes she hadn't stopped drinking. She would have given everything she had a way for another drink. That just killed me.

Eileen's relationship with her son was a heartbreaker too. Connell couldn't step up when she needed him to, and he was willing to throw away everything Eileen and Ed had worked for and hoped for him.  Eileen's rage and disappointment is palpable on the page.

We Are Not Ourselves is the kind of book that you savor as you're reading, devouring it all and occasionally closing the book to contemplate the beautiful language and story. And when I finished it, I wanted to open it again and start re-reading it, wanting to experience it again and yet regretting that I will never read this stunning book for the first time again. But I know this will be a book I turn to again and again.

Frequently books that have such hype can't possibly live up to the expectations. Do not fear, We Are Not Ourselves not only does that, but exceeds it.

rating 5 of 5