Monday, July 18, 2016

You'll Grow Out Of It by Jessi Klein

You'll Grow Out of It by Jessi Klein
Published by Grand Central ISBN 9781478936619
Hardcover, $26, 287 pages

Jessi Klein is the head writer and executive producer of the very funny Comedy Central show Inside Amy Schumer. For that reason alone I wanted to read her book, You'll Grow Out Of It.

The book is a series of essays about how Jessi got to be where and who she is. The first essay, The Tom Man, recounts what happens when a  tomboy grows up. People like tomboys, tom men not so much.

She didn't care much what she looked like, wearing "her dad's old button-down cowboy shirts with enormous shapeless jeans and combat boots" in high school. When she got a real office job, she still dresses " a smidge like a rodeo clown" and thought that Hanes Her Way bikini underwear was the height of sexiness.

Finally, when she met a girlfriend at a bar, and her friend told her that she loved her, but her maroon backpack overflowing with papers and books hurt her feelings, she got the message. Jessi decided that if she wanted to date a Grown Man then she'd have to make an attempt to look like a Grown Woman.
"But when I looked at what it would mean to become a woman- one of those standard grown-up ladies, like the ones from commercials for gum or soda or shampoo- it all seemed to involve shrinking rather than growing."
Klein's observations are thoughtful, like in her essay The Bath, about how women loves baths because for women, the bath is "where you go when you run out of options", when you don't have a room of your own to go to.
"This is why Virginia Woolf stressed the importance of having a room of one's own. If you don't fight for it, don't insist on it, don't sacrifice for it, you might end in that increasingly tepid water, pruning and sweating while you dream of other things."

Klein is a comedy writer, so there are many funny lines in here, like describing a woman who was "just rounding third from medium drunk to very drunk." (I'm a sucker for a baseball metaphor.)

In talking about attending a Bar Method exercise class, she observes that "women have problem areas in a way that men don't. We have big hips and muffin tops. Men just have the thing where they create wars and wreak havoc all over the globe."

In The Cad, she advises that "when you encounter a man wearing loafers with no socks, run. I once heard that the late Tim Russert also believed that a sockless man is not to be trusted, which means that it is definitively true."

One of her funniest essays is Types, where she describes the different types of men she likes and their celebrity inspiration. I don't normally read anything about the TV show The Bachelor, but her take on it made me think, as did her essay on porn.

The one essay that spoke to me the most was Ma'am, abut that time in all our lives when we move from being called miss to being called ma'am by department store clerks, waiters, bank tellers, etc. I just kept saying "amen" throughout this essay, like Klein was a preacher in church and I was agreeing wholeheartedly with her sermon.

The book ends with Klein preparing to attend the Emmy Awards, just a few weeks after giving birth to her son. She was panicked about choosing a dress, and when her friend told her that the one Jessi liked best made her look like Mrs. Roper, she nearly gave up hope.  Anyone who likes the backstory on Hollywood will love that essay.

You'll Grow Out Of It made me laugh and made me think, just like when I watch Amy Schumer's show. It's a little Tina Fey mixed with Amy Poehler mixed with Nora Ephron, and it's a great gift to give to a young woman just starting out in life. I recommend it.

Saturday, July 16, 2016

Weekend Cooking- A Trip to the Lower East Side

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 Sunday, my husband and I took a long walk from our home on the Upper East Side of New York City to the Lower East Side. We ended up at the intersection of 1st Ave. and 1st Street, or what Kramer from Seinfeld calls it- 'the nexus of the universe'.

We've been in NYC for eight years and never eaten at the world-famous Katz's Deli, so we stopped in for lunch. The place was crowded, as always, filled with a mix of tourists and neighborhood people. When you walk in, you're given a blue ticket by a smiling big man working the door like a club bouncer.
Photo image provided

You can either put your name in for table service or join the multiple lines at the deli counter. We split up, I found us two seats at a four seat table, and my husband stood in Cutter Line #7 to place our order. Luckily, we had our cell phones, so he called me to coordinate our order.

We split a huge Reuben sandwich, along with an order of fries and two Pepsis. When you place your oder, you give the counter person your blue tickets, which they mark with your order for the cashier.
We split a Reuben sandwich

The sandwich was good, but I'm not as big a fan of corned beef as my husband. He actually prefers the corned beef at the 2nd Ave. Deli, which is right around the corner from our apartment.

The walls of the deli have hundreds of pictures of famous people who have eaten there- politicians (Bill Clinton, Rudy Guiliani), actors (Leo DiCaprio, Dan Ackroyd from his SNL days) and more (OJ Simpson). And for some reason, there seemed to be dozens of photos of Mike Bloomberg. Everywhere you looked was another photo of Mike Bloomberg, taken over many years, so it looked like a Mike Bloomberg scrapbook.

There are a few men wheeling big carts around to pick up the trays and trash, they just keep circling, which I found interesting. When you finish, you pay (cash only) at the register, giving the cashier your blue ticket. Our order came to $35 for what was essentially one person for lunch. So it's on the pricy end.
Inside Katz's Deli- photo provided

We popped in across the street at il laboratorio del gelato for a gelato treat. The place is all white and sterile looking, just like a lab (hence the name), and the staff were busy providing samples (two per person) to people at the counter.

I chose a small dish of salted caramel (their most popular) and vanilla gelato and it was so creamy and flavorful. My husband had a small mint chocolate chip (delicious) and peanut butter (bland).
Our gelato

We ate our gelato and wandered over to Tompkins Square Park where we found a musical group called The Meetles playing Beatles songs, and sat for a bit enjoying the music. We passed people with strollers and dogs, and apparently there is a street hockey league that plays some serious games on Sunday too.

After wandering about awhile, we decided that we needed to do this more often, just walk around parts of the city we don't spend much time in because it's a big city with a lot to see.

Thursday, July 14, 2016

A Little Life by Hanya Yanagihara

A Little Life by Hanya Yanighara
Published by Anchor ISBN 9780804172707
Trade paperback, $17, 832 pages

A friend of mine, whose taste in books I truly respect, told me I must read Hanya Yanagihara's novel A Little Life. She said it was difficult subject matter, but one of the best books she has read in years.

I had the book on my pile forever and it got such great reviews, but I kept putting off reading it. Was I afraid I wouldn't like as much as everyone else? Was it because it is 800 pages long? Last week, I decided to tackle it.

A Little Life tells the story of four college friends- Malcolm, who comes from a well-to-do family and becomes an architect, JB, an artist raised by his immigrant mother and aunt, Willem, an orphan from the midwest who had a brother who died at a young age, and Jude, a lawyer who was in an a terrible car accident as a youth and was left with lifelong injuries and crippling pain, and who has no family.

The story follows the men as they go through life, with their successes and failures, their loves and losses. But mostly it is about Jude. Slowly we discover that Jude was abandoned as a baby and raised in a religious community of brothers. He was treated cruelly by some of the brothers, but found what he hoped to be a savior in Brother Luke.

Jude's life as a young boy and young man was one devastation and degradation after another. He told no one what exactly had happened to him, although he came close to telling his social worker, a kind woman named Anna.

He formed a close bond with his college roommates, but never told anyone his life story. He studied hard, never dated anyone and became a very successful lawyer. The story weaves back and forth in time, which might be confusing to readers in the hands of a lesser writer, but Yanagihara handles it beautifully.

The thing that strikes me most about this stunning novel is the struggle between good and true evil in the world. Jude saw the worst of humanity and it scarred him both physically and emotionally for life. But he also saw the goodness of people. Willem, JB and Malcolm were lifelong friends and for the most part, were there for him when he needed them most.

Anna the social worker, his professor Harold and Harold's wife, and Andy, a doctor who took incredible care of Jude's many physical ailments but couldn't get through to him emotionally, all loved and cared for Jude, even if they didn't completely understand him.

A good novel creates empathy in the reader for its characters and A Little Life does that very well. Jude is an unforgettable character, one that the reader roots for and hopes that he can overcome the horrors of his young life. If you can't feel for Jude, you are simply not human. And if you ever doubted the resiliency of the human spirit, Jude will allay those doubts.

I don't generally like to read books where characters suffer abuse, and A Little Life truly gutted me. I sobbed through some of it and audibly gasped a few times. Even now, a week after reading it, my eyes fill with tears for Jude and all he suffered.

A Little Life is a towering achievement, and it rightly deserved all the praise it earned last year (it made many best-of lists). I give it my highest recommendation. It is one of the best books I have read in many years, my friend was right.

Kick by Paula Byrne

Kick by Paula Byrne
Published by Harper ISBN 9780062296276
Hardcover, $29.99, 352 pages

It seems to be the time for books about the Kennedy sisters. Recently, Rosemary: The Hidden Daughter by Kate Clifford Lawson was published and now Paula Byrne's Kick, about Kathleen Kennedy is on the shelves.

Not much has been written about Kathleen, the fourth child of Rose and Joseph Kennedy, better known as Kick. She, Joe Jr. and Jack were thick as thieves growing up together. When Joseph Kennedy was named U.S. Ambassador to England, Kick began to blossom.

She loved their time in England and when WWII was looming over England,  the Kennedy clan returned to America much to Kick's dismay. She had fallen in love with Billy Hartington, the son of the Duke of Devonshire and Chatsworth.

The Kennedys were the embodiment of good Catholics and Billy's family were from the Church of England and historically hated Catholics. Though they were madly in love, their marriage would be problematic for all.

Kathleen returned home and got a job working at a Washington DC newspaper, and pining for Billy. She found a way back to England as a volunteer for the Red Cross, where she and Billy rekindled their love. Although she risked her mother's wrath, Kick accepted Billy's marriage proposal and married him outside of her deeply felt Catholic faith.

They were married for only a few months when Billy was killed in combat. Kick was devastated. She had lost her brother Joe in the war and her brother Jack was nearly killed when his PT-109 boat was destroyed in the Pacific theater.

She fought through the pain and eventually began a relationship with Peter Fitzwilliam, a married man. Kick and Peter were killed in a plane crash outside of Paris in 1948.

The first half of the book is filled with names, so many that it made my head spin. The book came to life for me in the second half, when Kick goes to England with the Red Cross. Byrne concentrates on Kick more, and the people around her less, and that strengthens the book for me.

Not much is known about Kick, or Rosemary, so these two books give us insight into these two ladies from America's most famous family. We see the strife between Rose and Kick over Kick's willingness to marry outside her faith, and Joseph's strong love and belief in his daughter to make her choice, though he disagreed with her.

I also liked reading about Kick's job in DC, how she made her way as a curious, intelligent young woman. Her relationship with her brother Jack was an important part of her life, and the death of his two closest siblings just a few years apart must have impacted Jack in a powerful way.

I recommend Kick for fans of the Kennedy family, as well as for anyone who likes a memoir about strong women.

Monday, July 11, 2016

Three Books About Siblings

Reprinted from the Citizen:

While summer is often time to read a light summer romance, this season seems to be a time for books about siblings. For those of us lucky enough to have siblings, we will be able to relate to the complicated, caring relationships the siblings in the following three books.

Curtis Sittenfeld’s “Eligible” is a modern retelling of Jane Austen’s “Pride & Prejudice”. The names are the same, but the setting is different; this Bennet family- mother, father and five sisters- resides in Cincinnati, Ohio. 

After Mr. Bennet has a heart attack, oldest sisters Jane (a yoga instructor) and Liz (who writes for a fashion lifestyle magazine) leave New York City to help out at home. Mrs. Bennet is chairing a very important fundraiser and can’t care for her husband on her own.

Apparently neither can the three adult sisters who still live at home: Mary, who is working on her third online post-graduate degree, and Lydia and Kitty, who spend all their time at the Cross Fit studio. Liz comes home to find that the house is in disrepair and since her parents don’t have health insurance, Mr. Bennet’s medical bills necessitate the sale of the family home.

Liz is the one who has to figure all of this out, and things get complicated when she meets Dr. Fitzwilliam Darcy, a newly ensconced surgeon at the local hospital. He is openly hostile to Liz, but as we all know, that means he has feelings for her.

“Eligible” is a love story, but for me, the family relationships, especially the sibling relationships, are the more interesting elements of the story. Mr. Bennet, whose dry wit made me laugh out loud, and Mrs. Bennet, who exasperates over her daughters’ lack of suitable suitors, seem to be waiting for Liz to take care of everything, even while resenting her efforts. And Liz has to kick a little sibling behind to get the Bennets’ house in order.

It is funny, charming and sweet, and if you like the TV show “The Bachelor” you will enjoy how that show plays into this modern storyline. 

Emily Giffin is known for her women’s fiction, but her latest novel, “First Comes Love” is about a sibling relationship. Adult sisters Josie, a single preschool teacher, and Meredith, a married corporate lawyer with a young daughter, have a close, but at times strained, relationship. 

When they were in college, their beloved brother Daniel was killed in a tragic car accident and it devastated the family. Their father had a drinking problem and their parents divorced. His death affects them all still to this day.

Josie envies her sister’s happy marriage to Daniel’s best friend Nolan, and their beautiful little girl. When Josie’s former boyfriend’s young daughter ends up as a student in her first grade class, Josie begins to question whether she will ever have a happy marriage and children like Meredith.

Since a husband isn’t on the horizon but her 40th birthday is, Josie decides to have a baby on her own. Meredith thinks this is a selfish decision, and she begins to question her own choices, especially quitting acting to become a lawyer and marrying Nolan.

“First Comes Love” deals with some serious issues- giving up a lifelong dream, how loss affects people in different ways, how secrets can destroy a relationship- through the prism of the sibling relationship between Josie and Meredith. Giffin does a wonderful job with a more serious subject matter and her fans will be pleased with this effort.

Ann Leary’s “The Children” is set in Connecticut. When Whit Whitman dies, he leaves behind his second wife Joan, her two adult daughters Sally and Charlotte, and two adult sons from his first marriage, Spin and Perry. 

He leaves his family’s long-held estate to his sons, with the provision that Joan be allowed to live there until her death. Charlotte is reclusive, rarely leaving the home. She is also a famous “Mommy Blogger”, which is odd because she has no children.

Her blog makes very good money, and no one has yet figured out that her husband and children are figments of her imagination, and she feels she isn’t hurting anyone. She believes she provides entertainment for mothers who read her blog.

When Spin brings his new fiancee Lauren home, something about her makes Charlotte and Sally suspicious of her motives. Again, the relationships among the siblings are the strongest parts in this terrific novel that draws us into the world of the Whitmans.

“Eligible” by Curtis Sittenfeld- A
Published by Random House
Hardcover, $28, 500 pages

“First Comes Love” by Emily Giffin- B+
Published by Penguin Random House
Hardcover, $28, 400 pages

“The Children” by Ann Leary- A-
Published by St. Martin’s Press

Hardcover, $26.99, 246 pages

Sunday, July 10, 2016

Weekend Cooking- CBS Saturday Morning's The Dish

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.

Every Saturday morning, I hit the treadmill gym before I'm off to volunteer at the Book Cellar. I watch CBS Saturday Morning and I particularly enjoy their weekly segment called The Dish, where a chef is interviewed at a table filled with a meal of dishes they have created. It's great because the chefs aren't busy trying to cook on camera, they can sit and tell their story, and the viewer can drool over the beautiful food on the table.
Anthony Mason, Vinita Nair and Chef Ouita Michel

Last week Chef Ouita Michel from Kentucky had a gorgeous spread before her. She owns five restaurants in Kentucky, the most famous of which is Holly Hill Inn. She's also the chef-in-residence at the Woodford Reserve Distillery, so many of the recipes she made for The Dish contained bourbon:

  • Grilled Peaches Wrapped in Country Ham
  • Happy Jack's Sweet Corn Salad
  • Black Eyed Peas
  • Bourbon Beer Bread
  • Pork Chops Bourbonnais
  • Kentucky Bourbon Trail Berry Cake
  • Her beverage was Woodford Thoroughbred
This would be a great menu for a Kentucky Derby party, but since that event has passed, I'm planning on making this menu for a Sunday dinner. It all looks so fabulous!

Here is the link to the video segment and the recipes are posted there as well.

One note- CBS Saturday Morning also had a piece about an interesting PBS documentary airing this Tuesday titled The White House: Inside Story. It's about the permanent employees of the White House, including the first female Chief Usher and the kitchen staff. It looks fascinating, and here is the video to that story.

Thursday, July 7, 2016

New in Paperback- Carrying Albert Home by Homer Hickam

Carrying Albert Home By Homer Hickam
Published by William Morrow Paperbacks ISBN 9780062325907
Trade paperback, $15.99, 432 pages

Carrying Albert Home: The Somewhat True Story of a Man, His Wife and Her Alligator tells the story of Homer Hickam's parents, Homer and Elsie, and their journey from West Virginia to Florida with their alligator Albert during the Great Depression.

Young Homer is watching his favorite TV show, Davy Crockett, when his mother walks in the room and says "I know him. He gave me Albert.", pointing at actor Buddy Ebsen on the television. Homer is flabbergasted that his mother actually knows someone on TV and when she tells him that Albert was an alligator, Homer is even more confused. Elsie tells him that she will tell him the whole story, but not now.

The story of Albert is doled out to Homer over many years. Elsie had been living in Orlando, Florida, where she met a young Buddy Ebsen and fell in love. They dated and then Ebsen moved to New York to try and make it as a dancer and actor.

Elsie moved back home to West Virginia, married Homer Hickam and became the wife of a coal miner, something she did not want to be. Buddy Ebsen sent Elsie a wedding gift- a baby alligator she named Albert.

Albert became her best friend, and she treated him as if he were her child. After four years, Albert became too big and when he chased her husband into the yard without his pants, Homer told her Albert had to go.

Elsie reluctantly agreed, but only if they would drive Albert back to Orlando to release him. Homer loved his wife, although he believed that she was still in love with Buddy Ebsen, and he wanted to make her happy, so he agreed.

On their way from West Virginia to Florida, with Albert lying in a tub in the backseat and a rooster who tagged along, the foursome made their way down the coast. The adventures that awaited them would have made Forrest Gump proud.

They found themselves in the middle of a bank robbery (that Albert foiled), met author John Steinbeck, got involved with a coal miners strike, kidnapped by bootleggers, Homer played baseball while Elsie became a nurse to a wealthy man, they acted in a Tarzan movie, and they met Ernest Hemingway during a terrible hurricane. And at each turn, two bad men, Slick and Huddie, kept humorously turning up like bad pennies.

At least these are the stories they told their son Homer Jr. through the years. The stories are fascinating and funny, but the most interesting part of the story is the marriage of Elsie and Homer Sr.

Homer tried his best to make his capricious wife happy, but Elsie always seemed to want something more, some new adventure that he found himself dragged into. Elsie was very unhappy, she "always felt that her life was like a jigsaw puzzle with no picture on the box to show her how the puzzle pieces should fit together."

All Homer wanted to was be a coal miner and good husband, but he had a difficult time competing for his wife's affections with a movie star. And Elsie wanted to be anything but a coal miner's wife, yet there she was.

Hickam does a wonderful job with these characters, and we feel their pain. Marriage isn't always easy, especially when the spouses appear to want different things in life.

I tore through Carrying Albert Home, and it felt like a 1940's movie you might find on the Turner Classic Movies channel, or maybe a Saturday matinee serial that you would return week after week to see what would happen to Homer, Elsie and Albert next.

I'm sure young Homer wondered over the years what stories were true, which ones were exaggerated, and which ones were just plain fiction, but it doesn't really matter. Carrying Albert Home is such an enjoyable, crazy journey, and that is all the truth the reader needs to know. I highly recommend it.

Homer Hickam's website is here.

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.