Saturday, October 22, 2016

Weekend Cooking- Napa Valley Trip- Part II- The Wineries

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.

Last week, I wrote about the food we had on our trip to Napa. This week, I cover the wineries.

The first one we visited was Frog's Leap Winery, where I took my favorite photo of the entire trip.

The view at Frog's Leap Winery
We took a tour of Frog's Leap, where we discovered that the founder and owner John Williams graduated from Cornell and interned at Taylor Winery, and opened Glenora Winery in the Finger Lakes region where we used to live, so that was pretty cool. Our tour guide Evan was knowledgable and friendly, and we enjoyed all of the wines we tasted there. I like white wine, so I was very happy here. My husband likes red better.

The vineyards
The grapes are collected in wheeled bins

They get dumped into this container

and they go up the conveyor 
Then we saw the huge barrels the wines are aged in.
The wine barrels
Our next winery was Sterling Vineyards, where we took a tram up the mountain for a self-guided tour.
The view from the tram
The views were stunning, and at Sterling you followed a path to different stations where you again tasted more wine. We liked the tour better at Frog's Leap as it was more interactive and informative.

One of my husband's friends and his wife met us at Del Dotto for a tour of their wine caves. Del Dotto looks like an Italian castle inside, and the caves were very cool. We had a VIP tour, and actually tasted wine directly from the casks where the wine was aging. You could order wine from the very barrel you tasted from; the wine would be delivered in a few months or even years, depending on how long that particular wine needed to age.
Del Dotto cave

Del Dotto was pretty spectacular, and our tour guide really knew his stuff, as did my husband's friends. They have been coming to Del Dotto for years, and have many bottles of their wine, so they gave us the scoop on what to buy. Our wine is scheduled to arrive soon, and we can't wait to invite our sons and their girlfriends over for a wine tasting party.
In front of Del Dotto
We visited a few more wineries, and after two days of that, we decided that next time we did this, we'd probably stick to just one or maybe two wineries per day and then a little sightseeing before dinner. One of our friends told us that after visiting wine country, we wouldn't want to drink wine for awhile and she was right. I needed a little break, but by the time our Del Dotto wine arrived, I'll be ready!

Monday, October 17, 2016

Three Books by Funny Ladies

I really enjoy a funny book, and recently I read three books by funny ladies that made me laugh out loud. And with the election madness that seems to be pervading the news, now is the time to laugh.

Laurie Notaro is new to me, and she writes both fiction and non-fiction. Her latest non-fiction book is Housebroken, and after reading this gut-busting book, I immediately went to find any of her fiction at the used book shop where I volunteer.  (I scored with there's a (slight chance I may be going to hell.) 

Notaro recounts her many failings in the housekeeping and parenting department, and I loved her way with words in describing the feelings most of us have about being less-than in the days when we are bombarded with HGTV shows about uber-couples who remodel other people's homes and the perfect recipes people are creating in Facebook videos.

Notaro was unfriended by her father on Facebook, had no shelves in her refrigerator when her boyfriend (now husband) came to visit and brought beer (she told him to pile it on top of everything else), and her take on the famous book about tidying up your life by getting rid of all the things that don't bring you joy had me in stitches. If you are not a Martha Stewart acolyte, Housebroken is for you. Fans of Jen Lancaster will enjoy this one.

Jill Kargman's situation comedy Odd Mom Out on Bravo is one of my new guilty pleasures. She plays a version of herself- wife, mother, trying to build a career as a photographer on the Upper East Side in New York City, an off-kilter brunette in a world of cookie-cutter blonde perfect mommies- that is hilarious. If you have not watched the show, do yourself a favor and find it on demand.

Kargman's new book is Sprinkle Glitter On My Grave, a funny collection of essays that builds on her TV show. Since I live in her neighborhood, I related to many of her observations. She writes about a man who was panhandling outside a local popular restaurant. She usually gave him a few dollars, but this time offered to buy him lunch at the diner. He agreed and gave her a very particular, well-thought out order for a smoked, not roasted, turkey sandwich with Russian dressing on the side and a complete listing of additional fixings.

Kargman makes lists of things that bug her, like dog strollers (a big thing in NYC), fur vests, and going over the Visa bill with her husband. You don't have to live in NYC to enjoy Kargman's biting humor, but if you do you will enjoy Sprinkle Glitter On My Grave on another level. I almost fell off the treadmill laughing at some of her stuff, so be careful when reading.

Jen Kirkman is a standup comedian, best known to TV viewers from her many appearances on Chelsea Handler's Comedy Central talk show. Her latest book I Know What I'm Doing- And Other Lies I Tell Myself is a memoir about getting married, getting divorced a year later, turning forty, and life as a comedian.

I expected the book to be funny, which it is, but is also very moving. Kirkman writes very honestly about divorcing her husband after a brief marriage, and how hard it was to admit that she had made a mistake.

She writes about dating and life on the road as a comedian, but my favorite part of the book is where she decides to travel abroad by herself. She describes getting up the courage to eat alone in a restaurant and a horrible Twitter debacle she had while overseas that could have ended her career.

Kirkman is a terrific writer, and her tribute to the late Joan Rivers and how Joan inspired her is wonderful. She recalled passing Joan Rivers on the street when she was struggling to make it and then years later getting to have lunch together and what that meant to her.

I Know What I'm Doing- And Other Things I Tell Myself reminded me of comedian Todd Glass's memoir The Todd Glass Situation, in that both books are honestly written and very moving accounts of their lives as comedians and human beings on this planet.

All three books contain lots of profanity, so if that is not your thing, you have been warned.

Saturday, October 15, 2016

Weekend Cooking- A Napa Trip- Part 1- The Food

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.

My husband and I made our first visit to Napa Valley wine country last month, and it was a wonderful time. On our first night, we walked from our hotel to the downtown area, stopping at a local bookstore Napa Bookmine first. (Where else would I go?)

Oenotri dessert
We asked the young woman working there for a restaurant suggestion, and she recommended an Italian restaurant, Oenotri, nearby. The place was lovely, with a bar tucked into the corner and wooden tables between the bar and the open kitchen. Scott had a Bistecca Alla Pizzaiola that he raved about, and I thoroughly enjoyed my pasta dish. My favorite though was the cannoli dessert with fig and pistachio- so tasty! It was our favorite dinner of the trip.

The next morning we looked for some breakfast before we started out on our winery tours, and a woman at the Oxbow Market told us about Model Bakery. They are famous for their homemade English muffins, which are a cross between an English muffin and a doughnut. We ordered their egg sandwich on the muffin and it was terrific. We went back again the next morning for pastries and muffins and everything there
was great.
The English muffins are in the center top

Model Bakery's cinnamon rolls

We had a lunch lined up at The Farmstead at Longmeadow Ranch. The Chef's Table was a special lunch for six people, a true farm-to-table meal. While we toured the farm, we saw a cook picking herbs from the garden for our lunch.

The company was fantastic, a younger couple celebrating her graduation from medical school and the other couple was our age, celebrating his birthday. We all had a blast and laughed and drank wine and talked for over two hours.

The food was wonderful too- a melon and tomato salad, grass-fed beef tenderloin and a strawberry and merlot sorbet over a financier.
Melon and Tomato Salad

Beef Tenderloin

Strawberry Merlot Sorbet over Fanancier

By the time dinner rolled around, we had had a lot of wine and food and so we decided to forego our dinner reservation at Cole's Chop House and we hailed an Uber to go eat at In-N-Out Burger. The Uber driver thought we were a little crazy, but we enjoyed our cheeseburger, fries and shared milkshake for dessert.

Our last evening in Napa we had reservations for Bottega, chef Michael Chiarello's upscale Southern Italian restaurant in Yountville. Maybe it was because we had just had too much wine or were too tired, but neither of us enjoyed Bottega.

The decor struck me as too industrial, and the service was rushed. (We were in and out in 45 minutes.) My husband had the meatball appetizer and one of his meatballs was nearly raw. He told the waiter, who took the meatball away and came back after conferring with the kitchen. He told us that the meatballs were meant to be served "medium rare" which is odd enough, but doesn't explain why two of the three were cooked and one wasn't. They did offer to take the item off the bill.

We both found our entrees to be lacking, and it didn't compare to our first evening's enjoyable Southern Italian meal at Oenotri. We skipped dessert and headed back to the hotel. I can't recommend Bottega.

We wanted a hearty breakfast on our last morning, so I found a diner- Jax White Mule Diner located in downtown Napa. We split an order of beignets, which were so sinfully delicious and my husband had the short rib hash, which was fantastic. I even watched the cook shredding the short rib to put in the dish. I highly recommend Jax White Mule Diner if you ever visit Napa.

Short Rib Hash

Next week's post will cover the wineries we visited. Have any of you ever visited Napa or Sonoma?

Saturday, October 8, 2016

Weekend Cooking- Two Weeknight Recipes

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.

It's always a chore to find recipes that I can make on weeknights when I work. This week I made a quick 20 minute lamb chop dinner and a slow cooker beef stroganoff. Two different methods that resulted in two terrific meals.

One of the perks of working at the Book Cellar is that I stock the $1 non-fiction shelf and when the cookbooks get moved there, I often find an interesting new one. (And I mean, how can you go wrong for a $1? You can't even buy a candy bar for a $1 anymore.)

I picked up Cooking Light Fresh Food Fast Weeknight Meals which promises 5 ingredient, 15 minute recipes, perfect for whipping up on a weeknight after work.  The first recipe I made was Lamb Chops with Minted Yogurt Sauce. It was so easy and delicious! I don't make lamb too often, so this was a real treat. I will be making this again very soon.

They paired the chops with a Couscous Salad and since I had a box of Near East Roasted Garlic and Olive Oil Couscous in the pantry, I just cooked the couscous according to the directions on the box and added 3/4 cup chopped plum tomatoes, 1/3 cup minced fresh mint,  2 Tbsp. lemon juice and 1 Tbsp. olive oil like the recipe called for. I don't use mint too often, but it really brightened up the couscous and didn't overpower it at all.

Lamb Chops with Minted Yogurt Sauce
1/2 cup plain fat-free yogurt
1 Tbsp. chopped fresh mint
1 tsp. lemon juice
1 small garlic clove, minced
1/2 tsp. salt, divided
1/2 tsp. fresh ground pepper, divided
8 (4-oz) lamb loin chops, trimmed
Cooking spray

Prepare grill. Combine yogurt and next three ingredients. Stir in 1/8 tsp. salt and 1/8 tsp. pepper. Chill.
Sprinkle lamb evenly with remaining 3/8 tsp. each salt and pepper. Place lamb on grill rack coated with cooking spray; grill 3 minutes on each side or until desired degree of doneness. Serve with yogurt sauce and couscous.
Lamb Chops with Minted Yogurt Sauce- photo from book

On another day I had to work, I pulled out the slow cooker and made a new recipe I found on Pinterest- No-Canned Soup Slow Cooker Beef Stroganoff. I don't like using canned soup in recipes, so this one appealed to me. I had most of the ingredients, I just needed to get the stew beef. The recipe came from Going Reno, and it can be found here.

My slow cooker has a saute feature, so I browned the stew beef, took that out of the cooker, then added thinly sliced onion and sliced mushrooms to brown for a few minutes. After adding a few tablespoons of red wine to deglaze the pot, you toss the beef back in with the onions and mushrooms and add a cup of beef broth. I set the timer and went to work.

Six hours later, I returned and mixed together sour cream, dijon mustard, paprika, bits of cream cheese and added that to the slow cooker for another 20 minutes. And while that finished up, I boiled the egg noodles. I did add some corn starch mixed with water to the beef sauce to thicken it up, and that worked just fine.

The stroganoff was fantastic, and the addition of dijon mustard and paprika gave the sauce a nice little kick. This is a perfect fall weather dinner and we had enough left over for the next night, which I may put over polenta or mashed potatoes to change it up.

What are your favorite weeknight recipes? Share them in comments.

Friday, October 7, 2016

The Life She Wants by Robyn Carr

The Life She Wants by Robyn Carr
Published by Mira ISBN978-0-7783-1967-2
Trade paperback, $15.99, 348 pages

My husband and I took a trip to Napa a few weeks ago, so I brought Robyn Carr's newest book, The Life She Wants along for airplane reading because it is set in Sonoma County.

Emma Shay Compton's marriage to big-time financier falls apart when he is convicted of bilking his clients (ala Bernie Madoff) out of their life savings. Emma is devastated by his betrayal, of which she had no idea. But many people and the media believe she is hiding money and so she is a pariah as well.

All she is left with is a few kitchen tools, and she moves back home to Sonoma County. Her father died years ago, and his second wife, who treated Emma badly, wants nothing to do with her. Emma tries to pick up the pieces of her life, starting with finding a place to live and a job.

Her old friend Lyle finds her a small guest cottage behind Penny, an elderly woman, who becomes Emma's friend. Penny's other widowed friends welcome Emma into their circle.

The only job she can get is working as housekeeper in a nursing home. But when her coworkers realize who her husband was, she loses that job.

Emma reconnects with Adam, the brother of her former best friend Riley. Riley and Emma had a big falling out in high school and haven't spoken since then. Adam gets Emma a job with Riley, who has her own successful cleaning company.

The Life She Wants is a wonderful story of female friendship that you don't frequently see. Riley and Emma are very wary of each other, unable to forget the past. I love the character of Riley, how she overcame her life's challenges to build her own successful business. Riley and Adam's mom is a great character too, one who did a terrific job raising her kids, and is a good grandmother.

I admit to tearing up more than a few times reading The Life She Wants. Carr's writing hits your heart, and her characters' grit and grace win you over. There are a few hot sex scenes and you hope that love eventually wins out.

While sitting on the plane, the man next to me said "Is that Robyn Carr's newest book? I've read all of her books- I love her!" I have to admit that one took me by surprise.

I recommend Robyn Carr's The Life She Wants to anyone who loves a good story about female friendship, and if you like Jennifer Weiner's books, give Robyn Carr a try.

Tuesday, October 4, 2016

Three Twisty Mysteries

Reprinted from

Mysteries are among the best-selling fiction books, and there are three recent entries that are not only propelled by great plots, but by outstanding writing and characters as well.

Noah Hawley, best known as the creative genius behind the television series “Fargo”, is also a novelist. A few years ago, he garnered critical acclaim with his mystery “The Good Father”, about a father whose son is accused of a political assassination. 
Before the Fall

His latest novel is “Before The Fall” a propulsive, twisty story about a plane crash. A private jet falls out of the sky, and the only survivors are a 40-something artist looking for his last chance at success and a four-year-old boy, the son of the head of a powerful conservative cable news channel (think Fox News).

Scott used be a swimmer, and he valiantly saves the young boy’s life by hoisting the boy on his back and swimming miles to shore. He is hailed as hero at first, but then the media begins to dig deeper to find out why the plane went down and why Scott and the young boy were the only survivors.

Besides the powerful head of the news channel, his wife and teenage daughter, another couple was on board. That man was facing an imminent indictment for laundering money for banned foreign companies through his U.S. company.  

Was it a bomb on board that killed them? And if so, who was the target? Scott got on the plane at the last minute, was he involved in the plot to blow up the plane?

One of the characters is a popular and confrontational cable news show host, a close friend of the young boy’s father. He believes that Scott knows more than he has let on, and he uses his nightly TV show to destroy Scott’s reputation, taking advantage of the situation for ratings.

“Before the Fall” is a page-turner of a book, and you should leave yourself plenty of time to read this is one or two sittings because you won’t want to put it down. Hawley paints a portrait of our current circus media atmosphere that is not flattering.

Irish writer Tana French’s sixth book in her Dublin Murder Squad series is “The Trespasser”. Each one of her fascinating books tells a story from the perspective of one of the detectives in the squad, concentrating on one case. 

The Trespasser
“The Trespasser” follows female detective Antoinette Conway, a tough and smart cop who we got to know in the last book, “The Secret Place”. She is again partnered with Steve Moran, the newbie in the squad. 

A woman is found dead in her home. It looks like she was waiting for her date to arrive, so suspicion naturally falls on the man, a mild-mannered bookstore owner, who had recently met the dead woman. The veterans on the Irish squad want Conway and Moran to quickly wrap this case up, but they have their doubts about the bookstore owner being the murderer.

Fans of The Dublin Murder Squad will be happy with this addition to the series, but you don’t have to have read any of the previous books to enjoy this intriguing mystery. French has created a fascinating world here, with whip-smart dialogue and a plot that will have you guessing all the way. Fans of TV’s “Prime Suspect” and “NYPD Blue” will enjoy. 

Ben H. Winter’s has written a fantastic alternative history book, “Underground Airlines” that supposes that Abraham Lincoln was assassinated in 1861, and the Civil War was never fought. Today there are four Southern states where slavery is still in practice, and an uneasiness exists between these states and the rest of the United States. 
Underground Airlines

Victor is a young black man who used to live in one of the slave states. He escaped and is now being forced to work for the U.S. Marshal Service hunting down escaped slaves. He is very conflicted about this, and begins his new assignment when things aren’t what they seem.

He meets a young woman with a young son who is trying to find out what happened to her son’s father, a slave, and Victor gets involved in her situation too.

There is a lot of tension in this book, and Victor is walking a tightrope to help the young woman and figure out why the marshal service really wants to find this one particular fugitive who may not be exactly what he seems. It’s a searing, what-if terrific book, and it deserves to find an audience.

Tuesday, September 27, 2016

The Goodbye Year by Kaira Rouda

The Goodbye Year by Kaira Rouda
Published by Spark Press ISBN 9781940716336
Trade paperback, $17, 312 pages

Many of my friends (myself included) have hit the crossroads of life called "empty nest". Our children have grown up and gone away to college to leave us all wondering how we deal with the fact that we are no longer needed in the same way.

Kaira Rouda addresses this situation through her novel The Goodbye Year. In it we meet a group of families who live in a well-to-do beach town in Southern California. There are several couples who are on the cusp of empty nest, including power couple plastic surgeon Jud and his perfectly put together (partially through plastic surgery) wife Sarah, who have the perfect daughter Ashley.

Ashley is a great girl, a hard-working student, beautiful, president of everything. She is dating a football player, but becomes friendly with Collin, the son of two recent Ohio transplants. His mom Melanie works hard to make sure every post on her Facebook page represents the kind of family she wants everyone to believe she has.

Collin is musically gifted but not academically motivated like his older brother Seth, which drives Melanie crazy. She can't understand why he doesn't try harder in school. It caused much friction between them.

Will works as a building inspector for the town, and his wife is the uber-organized principal of the middle school. She has her entire family's lives on a color-coordinated schedule, with nothing left to chance or circumstance. Will is tired of being scheduled to death and is having an affair with the mother of one of the students in his daughter's class.

Rouda takes us through the senior year of high school, alternating narration from the adults and their children. I liked the differing perspectives we get from this, not only what the parents are dealing with, but also the pressures of being a high school senior with everyone coming at you about your future. It is much different than when I was in school.

The one thing I took away from this is that you never know what the person next to you is dealing with. Someone may look so together on the outside, but on the inside they may be just as conflicted or lonely or scared as the next person. Maybe it will make someone reading this feel not so alone with their own issues.

The Goodbye Year can be a little Desperate Housewives-like, with the scandals and affairs and secret lives, but it also makes you think as well as entertain you. And if empty nest is sneaking up on you, reading this may make you feel like you can handle whatever comes your way.

Thanks to TLC Tours for putting me on Kaira Rouda's tour. The rest of her stops are here:

Kaira Rouda’s TLC Book Tours TOUR STOPS:

Thursday, September 1st: The Baking Bookworm
Friday, September 2nd: FictionZeal
Tuesday, September 6th: Thoughts on This ‘n That
Wednesday, September 7th: Palmer’s Page Turners
Thursday, September 8th: A Chick Who Reads
Friday, September 9th: Bookmark Lit
Monday, September 12th: Write Read Life
Tuesday, September 13th: Books and Bindings
Wednesday, September 14th: Dreaming Big – author Q&A
Thursday, September 15th: Bookchickdi
Friday, September 16th: Brooklyn Berry Designs
Monday, September 19th: Kritter’s Ramblings
Tuesday, September 20th: 5 Minutes for Books
Wednesday, September 21st: Lavish Bookshelf
Thursday, September 22nd: Diary of a Stay at Home Mom
Friday, September 23rd: Patricia’s Wisdom
Monday, September 26th: Sharon’s Garden of Book Reviews
Tuesday, September 27th: Good Girl Gone Redneck
Wednesday, September 28th: Satisfaction for Insatiable Readers
Thursday, September 29th: Laura’s Review