Saturday, June 25, 2016

Weekend Cooking- Food & Wine Best of the Best Cookbooks

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.

Food & Wine magazine annually publishes a cookbook titled Best of the Best, which contains recipes from 25 of the best cookbooks of the year. If you are a cookbook lover, and like me have limited kitchen space, buying these books are a great way to get the best recipes of the year from the most respected chefs.

Recently I picked up two of their editions at the Book Cellar, the used book shop where I volunteer. The 2015 edition has several recipes I'm interested in trying, such as the first one in the book for Chicken Saltimbocca from Mario Batali and Jim Webster's America- Farm to Table cookbook.
Here is the link to the Chicken Saltimbocca recipes on the Food Network.

Other recipes I want to try include:

  • Tyler Florence's Herb Roasted Wild Mushrooms with Red Wine and Cream from Inside the Test Kitchen
  • Agatha Kulaga & Erin Patinkin's Banana Nutella Coffee Cake from Ovenly
  • Lone Star Breakfast Taco from Tacolicious

I also bought the 2007 edition (they were each just $1!) and the recipes that interested me the most are:
  • Jamie Oliver's Chicken and Mushroom Pasta Bake from Jamie's Italy
  • The Pizza Maker's Wife's Pan Fried Steaks from Lobel's Meat and Wine
  • Mrs. Carl Winchenbach's Banana Cream Pie from Heirloom Baking with the Brass Sisters

These cookbooks have gorgeous full color photography of many of the recipes, and they'd be a perfect resource for someone having a dinner party. The book is organized by chef, and there is also a recipe index that organizes by category- starters, salads, poultry, desserts, etc.- to make finding what you are looking for easy.

Have any of you tried Food & Wine Best of the Best cookbooks? Let me know in comments.

Thursday, June 23, 2016

On Broadway- Bright Star

I was disappointed to hear that Steve Martin and Edie Brickell's Broadway show, Bright Star, was closing so soon. I had heard many good things about the show and about lead actress Carmen Cusack in particular.

Last Sunday I saw a matinee of the show and I am confounded as to why it is closing. Everything about this show works- the story, the Americana music, the performances- I just can't explain it. It's a wonderful show.

The opening number, If You Knew My Story, which was performed by the cast on the Tony Awards, is the perfect way to set the stage for this story. Alice Murphy has a sad tale to tell, one we will soon discover. 

In 1945, young Billy returns home from the war to find that his mother had died. He decides to leave his small town home in North Carolina to pursue his dream of being a published writer. Margo, who works at my dream job in a bookstore, encourages his writing and copy edits for him. She is in love with him, but he has not come to the same conclusion yet.

Billy travels to Asheville to a bring his writing to a prestigious literary journal where he meets Alice Murphy, the tough-as-nails publisher. She likes what she sees and encourages him to try again.

As we flashback to a young Alice, she is a teen living in a small North Carolina town, in love with Jimmy Ray, the scion of the town's wealthy businessman. When she gets pregnant, Jimmy Ray and Alice plan to marry. But Jimmy Ray's father intervenes and plans change.

As I said, this show is wonderful. There is humor, pathos, and emotional scenes; the closer of Act I causes gasps in the audience. There is a terrific six piece band that plays in a cabin on stage that moves as necessary. The band got well deserved huge applause at the end of the show.

The star of the show is Carmen Cusack, who convincingly plays Alice as a smart, joyful teenager and as a buttoned up, all business forty-something publisher. Her voice is clear and lovely and strong and she will be a big star on Broadway in years to come, ala Jessie Mueller.

Emily Padgett and Jeff Blumenkratz give terrific comedic performances as Alice's employees at the journal, and Hannah Elless is wonderful as Margo.

The show closes Sunday, June 26th but I'd be willing to bet it may make it as a touring show. What NYC audiences don't appreciate, the rest of the country just might enjoy.

Wednesday, June 22, 2016

The Royal Nanny by Karen Harper

The Royal Nanny by Karen Harper
Published by William Morrow ISBN 9780062420640
Trade paperback, $15.99, 384 pages

If you are one of the many people who love seeing photos of the young Prince George and Princess Charlotte on your Facebook page or when you see William and Kate and their beautiful children on the cover of People magazine must buy it, then Karen Harper's new novel, The Royal Nanny, is for you.

Harper based her historical novel on the true story of Charlotte Bill, the royal nanny to the children of the Duke and Duchess of York, who eventually became King George V and Queen Mary, grandparents to today's reining British monarch, Queen Elizabeth.

The children called Charlotte Lala, and she came to the family as an assistant to the main nanny, until Lala discovered that she had been mistreating David and Bertie, who would one day go one to become King Edward VIII, best known as the man who abdicated the throne to marry American divorcee Wallis Simpson, and King George VI, whom we know best from Colin Firth's portrayal of him in the Oscar-winning movie, The King's Speech.

Lala was devoted to her charges, including four more born after the boys. When the Duchess was giving birth to a baby named John, she had a very difficult birth and feared that she wouldn't live through the birth. She begged Lala to promise to always care for the baby and Lala agreed.

Lala became very attached to baby Johnnie, and as he grew, John appeared to be different from the other children. He had trouble sitting still, and he was slow to learn. Today, we would probably place him somewhere on the autism spectrum.

As Johnnie got older, he began to have seizures. These seizures frightened everyone, and doctors recommended that John be sent away to be cared for. But Lala would not allow that to happen. She appealed to the Duke and Duchess, and promised that she would care for John herself. Eventually, John and Lala were moved from the family home to a smaller home nearby, where Lala cared for him.

Lala gave up her entire life to care for the children, never marrying. She had feelings for Chad, a young man who worked on the family estate, but her sense of duty got in the way of her happiness.

Fans of Downton Abbey will love The Royal Nanny. You get such a sense of what life was like as a servant and as child in a royal household. History fans will enjoy it too, as we see David and Bertie's childhood lives, and how they grew up into the men they became.

Harper has some interesting insight into why David would marry Wallis Simpson and abdicate, she believes that he was attracted to women who dominated him.

In what could have been stock portrayals of real people, Harper brings out their humanity. The Duke loved his son Johnnie, and was torn about sending him away to avoid a scandal. The King and Queen are shown to be particularly fond of their grandchildren, just like every other grandparent. The King plays games with melting pats of butter and the Queen shares her love of small glass animal figurines with her grandchildren.

I found the relationships among the royals and their extended family members who ruled in Germany and especially Russia intriguing. We tend to forget that the Windsor family had such close ties to the rest of Europe and how that affected them during times of war.

The Royal Nanny is an utterly fascinating fictional look at a real historical character, and Anglophiles will want to put this one on their TBR list. I highly recommend it, and I'll be looking for more information on the real Charlotte Bill.

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

Tour Stops

Tuesday, June 21st: BookNAround
Wednesday, June 22nd: bookchickdi
Thursday, June 23rd: A Bookish Affair
Friday, June 24th: Luxury Reading
Monday, June 27th: A Bookish Way of Life
Tuesday, June 28th: Kahakai Kitchen
Wednesday, June 29th: A Literary Vacation
Thursday, June 30th: No More Grumpy Bookseller
Tuesday, July 5th: A Chick Who Reads
Wednesday, July 6th: Read. Write. Repeat.
Thursday, July 7th: Broken Teepee

Karen's Harper's website is here.

Monday, June 20, 2016

I'm Just A Person by Tig Notaro

I'm Just A Person by Tig Notaro
Published by Ecco ISBN 978-0-06226663-7
Hardcover, $26.99, 240 pages

In 2012, stand up comic Tig Notaro made headlines when she began one of her performances with "Good evening, hello. I have cancer. How are you? Hi, how are you? Is everyone having a good time? I have cancer." The video clip of that performance went viral and the world soon knew of Notaro's situation.

But that wasn't all. In the space of four months, Notaro nearly died of a C-Diff infection, her mother died in a freak accident, and she was diagnosed with bilateral breast cancer. Her memoir I'm Just A Person shares Notaro's journey of those months.

The book opens as Notaro is taking a cab ride from the hospital back to her mother's house in Texas after her mother died. Tig had recently been discharged from a hospital in Los Angeles after a harrowing infection which resulted in her being unable to keep any food down.

She was weak as a kitten when she got the call from her stepfather about her mother. Notaro shares stories about her unconventional mother, a woman for whom "drinking with friends by the pool was (her) nine-to-five job and she took it very seriously."

Notaro was a poor student, held back twice in the eighth grade. She eventually dropped out of school and ended up in Los Angeles with some friends where she became a working standup comic.

I'm Just A Person deals mainly with her four month ordeal. She writes matter-of-factly about her illnesses and fears, but it is her relationship with her free spirit mother and how Notaro came to terms with it after her mother's death that truly resonates here. Her description of going into her mother's home and looking at photos and her mother's belongings, and the memories that conjures up is moving.

You'll read I'm Just A Person in a few hours, it is a slim book, but Notaro's story will stay with you a lot longer and maybe give you pause to reflect on your own mortality and relationships. She packs a big punch in a few words. I recommend it.

Tig Notaro's website is here.

Saturday, June 18, 2016

Weekend Cooking- LaRose by Louise Erdich

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.

LaRose by Louise Erdich
Published by Harper ISBN 97800622777022
Hardcover, $27.99, 384 pages

I read Louise Erdich's heartbreaking but ultimately uplifting novel LaRose recently. It tells the story of a Native American man who accidentally shoots and kills his best friend's young son. According to an old tradition, he and wife give the grieving family their own five-year-old son to raise.

LaRose is the kind of book that works its way into your heart and mind and won't let go. Erdich writes beautiful characters, people that have flaws and deep feelings and want to do the right things. Each character feels so real- from Landreaux, the man who lives with the guilt of killing a young boy, to Maggie, the young rebellious teen sister of the dead boy, to Romeo, a troubled man addicted to painkillers, to Father Travis, the pastor who survived a bombing as a solider in the Middle East.

It's been a week since I finished LaRose, but I can't stop thinking about these people.

One scene, perfect for Weekend Cooking, in this stunning novel happens at a high school graduation party for Hollis, Romeo's son who grew up in Landreaux's home as a member of the family. As I read about the preparations for the party, I thought that even though they live in a different part of the country and have a different culture than mine, some things are universal- the desire to celebrate the milestone with a party.

Hollis's sisters prepare for the party:
The day before, she had made Hollis and Coochy peel two twenty-pound sacks of potatoes. She had cut them into bite-size chunks and boiled them, not too soft. Overnight she let the big dishpans of potatoes cool and marinate in oil, vinegar, salt and pepper, and diced onions. She had left them in the basement, on top of the washing machine, covered in clean towels. Now Josette left off planning and brought the cooled-off potatoes upstairs. Carefully, she stirred mayonnaise cut with enough mustard to give that jazzy goldeny color. But not too much mustard flavor. She diced a couple of jars of pickles, stirred them in too. Snow had hard-boiled a dozen eggs, plunging them into cold water so they didn't grow green fuzz on the yolks. Over the bumpy yellow surface of the big green, orange, and blue plastic bowls of salad, they now laid the sliced eggs, then stippled the eggs with shakes of paprika.
After the boys put out the coolers of pop, covered with coins of bought ice, and after the big pot of wild rice and the cardboard box of frybreads, after the chokecherry jellies were opened, and the knives, spoons and forks were set out in coffee cups, after the plastic bags of hamburger buns were opened and ready and then the potato salads, the bowls again covered with dish towels, Josette and Snow carried out the sheet cakes. They had turned out so well! The raised lettering was crisp in the sugar icing. The frosted diploma was perfectly curled at the end. The swirled tans in the camouflage icing looked exactly right. Josette had matched the pattern to Hollis's uniform without letting him know. But she had changed the words. She had taken off the You Go. The cake had no words because there were no words.
LaRose is such an unforgettable, emotionally compelling book,  I give my highest recommendation.

Monday, June 13, 2016

Summer Reads

Reprinted from the Citizen:
Summer will soon be here and that means it’s time to pick the books we’ll take with us to the beach or the pool or just to relax with on our front porch. There’s always so many to choose from, this month’s column will present the ones I recommend.

The book of the summer, one that has gotten so much buzz and praise from everyone I know who read it is Camille Perri’s debut novel “The Assistants”. Author J. Courtney Sullivan nailed it when she called it “the 9 to 5 for the millennial generation.” 

Tina is the twenty-something assistant to a Rupert Murdoch-type communications titan. She is in charge of gathering his receipts and turning them in to get reimbursed. Due to a glitch, Tina receives a reimbursement check that, while the amount means nothing to her boss, would pay off her huge student loan debt.

She pays off the debt and things spiral from there. Someone figures out what she did and asks Tina to do the same for her, and soon more people become involved. The book is hilarious and fast-paced and so well-written. I finished it in two and half hours and absolutely loved it. 

Dorothea Benton Frank’s novels always mean summer is here and this year’s book, “All Summer Long” takes the reader on a whirlwind trip around the world as we follow the adventures of Olivia, an interior designer whose major client is a wealthy industrialist.

Olivia and her husband Nick must navigate his retirement, relocation down South, and a business downturn all while dealing with the craziness of the uber-wealthy. It’s a little bit of a departure for Frank with the multiple settings, but just as much fun as always. 

If you like your summer fiction more on the serious side, Jennifer Haigh’s “Heat and Light” tackles the subject of fracking and its effect on a small coal town in Pennsylvania. 

When fracking companies come to town promising big money to anyone who will lease their land to them, desperate people take the money and have to deal with the consequences later. Haigh takes us into this small town and makes it so real to us, feeling these people’s pain and the bad position they find themselves in.

Anything with the word “girl” in the title is hot this summer and I have three titles that fall under that umbrella.

Emma Cline’s debut novel, “The Girls” has gotten high praise from many reviewers. Cline’s novel echoes the Manson family killings of the 1960’s as a lonely teenage girl falls under the spell of a group of young people and their charismatic leader in California of the late 1960’s. 

Anyone who lived through those years will find this novel particularly intriguing, and Cline’s main character is so well-drawn that as she falls through this bizarre rabbit hole, you will understand how she got there.

Anne Tyler’s “Vinegar Girl” is part of the Hogarth Shakespeare series. Famous authors are tasked with with reinventing Shakespeare’s plays, and Tyler takes on “The Taming of the Shrew.” 

Kate is a lonely preschool teacher who lives at home in Baltimore with her research scientist father and her teenage sister. She loves to garden but is beginning to resent taking care of the adults in her family. 

When her father connives to get her to marry his research assistant so that the man can get his green card, Kate must decide if she will turn her life upside down or keep going the way things are. It’s a quick read, and you don’t need to be a fan of Shakespeare to appreciate this clever story.

Richard Fifeld’s debut novel “The Flood Girls” is set in a very small town in Montana. Rachel returns home to make amends as part of her twelve step program, but most of the people, including her mother the local bar owner, want nothing to do with her.

She makes friends with Jake, her twelve-year-old neighbor who loves Madonna, Jackie Collins novels and designer clothes. The characters are indelible in this fantastic story where the local ladies’ softball team provides the town’s entertainment and the ending will have you in tears. 

If you like non-fiction, Nathaniel Philbrick’s newest book, “Valiant Ambition” shares the story of the American Revolution through the troubled relationship of George Washington and Benedict Arnold. 

Whatever you read, enjoy the summer and happy reading!

Sunday, June 12, 2016

Weekend Cooking- Chicken Week on the Today Show

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.

I flipped on the TV one morning this week and found myself in luck as Kathie Lee and Hoda were celebrating Chicken Week on The Today Show with a recipe I thought my husband would enjoy- 30 Garlic Clove Chicken.

The ingredient list was simple, all fresh ingredients, and the directions were easy as well. The only things I needed to get at the grocery store were some fresh rosemary and bone-in chicken thighs.

The prep only took fifteen minutes to brown the chicken first, then the onions, garlic and rosemary. Add the wine, cover and pop into the oven for one and one half hours.

It was a good night to make this dish, as my poor husband had a heckuva time getting home from work that night. President Obama was in town, which meant that traffic would be a disaster as streets were blocked off and when he went to the subway to get the 6 train, there was a delay and no trains were moving.

Finally, after about an hour and half after he left work, he made it home, a trip that usually takes twenty minutes. He was afraid that dinner would be ruined, but this dish held up great. I turned off the oven, left the cooked rice on the stove with a lid and when he got home, we were ready to go.

I added some fresh fruit salad and a sliced tomato with mayonnaise and black pepper and we had a wonderful meal. The wine made a nicely flavored sauce over the chicken and rice, but personally I felt that it could used a little bump of flavor, maybe some more fresh herbs. My husband liked it just the way it was, and as an added bonus, no vampires will come near you with all that garlic.

I checked out some other Chicken Week recipes, and I'm going to try the Crispy Chicken With Honey Sauce and the Chicken Salad Sandwich next.

From the Today Show- 30 Clove Garlic Chicken

30 Clove Garlic Chicken
from Craig Strong

1/2 cup vegetable oil
8 bone-in chicken thighs
2 cups thinly sliced onion
30 whole cloves garlic
1 cup white wine
4 branches of rosemary
salt and pepper to taste

Preheat the oven to 325 degrees. Salt and pepper chicken.

In a heavy pot that has a lid, heat oil over medium high heat. Add the chicken and brown on both sides. Remove the chicken from the pan and reserve. Add the onions, garlic and rosemary and cook for five minutes.

Place the chicken on top of the mixture and add the wine. Place the lid on top and place the pot in the oven. Cook for one and one half hours.