Thursday, December 22, 2011

The Crossley ID Guide Eastern Birds

The Crossley ID Guide Eastern Birds by Richard Crossley
Published by Crossley Books for Princeton University Press ISBN 978-0-691-14778-9
Paperback, $35

I'm not a bird watcher, but I know people who do enjoy the hobby a great deal. The Crossley ID Guide to Eastern Birds by Richard Crossley bills itself as a "book for beginners, experts, and everyone in between."

His stated goal is to "use unique photographs and page layouts to show birds as we really see them in the wild." I think this book will appeal more to the expert, as the information with the photos is very detailed, and probably more detailed than newbie birders are seeking.

In the introduction, Crossley explains how to use the book to its best advantage, and has a section titled "How to Be a Better Birder", which explains what to look for and how to take field notes.

The photos are spectacular, and I like how the photos are set in the habitat of the bird. For each bird, there is a description, along with a map showing where you will find the bird. The photos themselves almost seem 3D, like you can reach out and actually touch the bird.

This book would make a fantastic gift for the more serious birder, but the beginner will be in thrall of the luscious photos. I could see someone absolutely losing themselves for hours in the stunning pictures and illustrations.

rating 4 of 5 stars

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

The winner of THE HEROINE'S BOOKSHELF is...

Danielle is the winner  (chosen by random.org) of a copy of Erin Blakemore's THE HEROINE'S BOOKSHELF.

Congratulations to Danielle- email me your address ( laruediane2000@yahoo.com ) and I'll pass it on to Erin so we can get your book to you. Happy Holidays!




Thursday, December 15, 2011

The Last Icon: Tom Seaver and His Times

The Last Icon: Tom Seaver and His Times by Steven Travers
Published by Taylor Trade Publishing ISBN 978-1-58979-660-7 
Hardcover, $24.95
Tom Seaver is the quintessential New York Met. The Mets were a hapless team, a joke in baseball when Seaver was signed in 1966. Steven Travers' new book, The Last Icon: Tom Seaver and His Times takes you back to those days.

Seaver was a Southern California boy, raised in a conservative family in a conservative community. He was not the best baseball player, but he loved the game. He became a real student of the game, studying the history of it and mechanics of pitching.

He was one of the first major league players to use a weight training program, after discovering that working in a loading dock at a factory made him stronger and improved his stamina and pitching.

I learned many things from this interesting book. I had heard of the Cape Cod league for up and coming players, but I had no idea that what Cape Cod was to east coast baseball, Alaska was the western equivalent. Who would have thought that? Seaver's days playing for a great coach in Alaska help make him the great player he became.

The Vietnam War was raging, and I never knew how many players were in the reserves, and missed games to serve their weekends. I can't imagine that happening today.

Seaver was an intelligent guy, and during the off-season, he went back to USC to take classes to finish his degree. Not many athletes then or now would do that, although back in the 1960s, the contracts were not that lucrative.

Winning was important to Seaver, and he had a strong work ethic. It annoyed him that many of the players on the Mets did not take the job of baseball seriously. Some of his teammates did not like Seaver, thinking that he believed himself to be better than they were. He had a reputation for being faithful to his wife on the road, and this bugged some players, while others tried to live up to Seaver's high standards.

Growing up in a conservative white community, thoughts on race were different then, something from which the author doesn't shy away. Jackie Robinson had opened the door to black major leaguers, and men like Seaver found their views on race challenged.

The season of 1969, when things really jelled for the Mets, is detailed here. Seaver led this team, which had great pitching but lacked hitting. He consistently posted annual ERAs of under 2.00, yet he lost many games 1-0, 2-1, 3-2 because his team did not score enough runs. They seemed to save their runs for pitchers like Jerry Koosman.

Seaver dominated the game, winning the Cy Young Award three times, yet he never won the league MVP, though many people thought he deserved it. He won more games than any other Mets pitcher, led the league numerous times in strikeouts, wins and ERA.

The author did not get to interview Seaver for this book. He culls many other books and magazine articles, including many that Seaver himself has written, though Seaver has not written the definitive autobiography he has said he would one day write. (Reportedly his management has said that not enough money has been offered.)

The Last Icon is a must-read for any Mets fan, and for any baseball fan for that matter. Travers not only gives you a look at this fascinating man, but he evokes a time in baseball when baseball was the American past time. I was taken back to a magical time in my life, when I couldn't wait to watch the Saturday afternoon game on TV with my father and siblings.  If you have a baseball fan on your Christmas list, this is a fantastic gift.

rating 4 of 5

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Win a Copy of The Heroine's Bookshelf!

The Heroine's Bookshelf by Erin Blakemore
Published by Harper Perennial ISBN 978-0-08-195877-9
Trade paperback, $13.99

When I was a young girl, I would get lost in books. (OK, so I still get lost in books.) I would identify with the heroine of the story, wondering what it would be like to be her; would I make the same decisions she did?

I fell in love with Laura Ingalls Wilder's Little House on the Prairie series when I was in third grade, devouring each book. I lived in a very cold, snowy climate, and I identified with Laura and her family being trapped in their home in an horrific snowstorm as the snow piled up in my yard.

So it was with great joy that I read Erin Blakemore's Life Lessons, from Jane Austen to Laura Ingalls Wilder. Blakemore writes of the important things she learned from great heroines in literature. Each chapter focuses on a different heroine, and Blakemore discusses not only the heroine herself, but the life of the fabulous female writer who created such memorable characters.

She starts with Lizzy Bennet from Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice, in which she examines the concept of "Self" through Jane Austen and Lizzy. Lizzy turning down both Darcy and Mr. Collins' proposals mirror Jane's decision to not marry, but Jane never married as Lizzy eventually did, believing that to be true to herself meant not marrying someone she didn't love just to conform to society's norms.

My all-time favorite heroine, Scarlett O'Hara from Margaret Mitchell's Pulitzer Prize winning Gone With The Wind, epitomizes "Fight". I recently re-read the novel along with The Heroine's Bookshelf readalong, and found so many things that both bothered me (the racism) and reinforced my belief that Scarlett is the most fascinating, but seriously flawed, character in literature.

I enjoyed Blakemore's insights into Mitchell's life and her quest to write this book. Struggling to make it as journalist and married to a drunken, violent man, Mitchell had to fight to get her story written and sold. I also liked her analysis of why Melanie will never be as popular as Scarlett, though she is a much better person. I love that Scarlett will fight with everything she has to save herself and those she loves.

At the end of each chapter, Blakemore includes the best time to read (or reread) these books (In Gone With the Wind, one of the reasons is "when the mortgage is due"), as well as "Literary Sisters" to the heroine (Lily Bart from The House of Mirth is one of Scarlett's sisters).

From books that I have read, Harper Lee's To Kill a Mockingbird and Charlotte Bronte's Jane Eyre, to books I'm ashamed to say I haven't read (but will now!), A Tree Grows in Brooklyn and Their Eyes Were Watching God, this is a book that will reconnect you with old friends and encourage you to make new ones.

My favorite line in the book is in the introduction:
"A moment with a book is basic self-care, the kind of skill you pass along to your children as you would a security blanket or a churchgoing habit."
I wholeheartedly agree with that sentiment!

The Heroine's Bookshelf has given me a new perspective on these interesting characters and authors, and reading it I almost felt like I wanted to go to Facebook and 'friend' these authors and their creations. I felt like they were "my friends", and I want to know more about them.

This is a wonderful book to give as a Christmas gift to a woman or teenage girl in your life for whom reading is akin to breathing. I can't recommend it highly enough!

Erin Blakemore and Harper Perennial are generously giving me a copy to giveaway to readers of this blog. Leave a comment in the 'comments section' below, telling me who your favorite literary heroine is. A bonus entry for anyone who becomes a follower of this blog (or already is) and another bonus entry if you tweet this post! The winner will be chosen on December 21 at 5pm. 

rating 5 of 5

Monday, December 12, 2011

Guest post from Erin Blakemore

Author Erin Blakemore has written a book that speaks to the heart of every girl who sat on her porch lost in a good book. The Heroine's Bookshelf: Life Lessons, from Jane Austen to Laura Ingalls Wilder is the perfect gift to give the woman who has been a life-long lover of books, and it would be great for teen girls as well.
I will have my review of the book, as well as a giveaway courtesy of Ms. Blakemore and Harper Perennial, tomorrow.


Today, Ms. Blakemore writes about some interesting things she learned during her research of the book.



From the Heroic Vaults

One of the most frustrating things about research is the knowledge that it can't all be used. Sure, it all goes somewhere, and there's nothing better than knowing your material, but it was downright painful for me to leave out some of my favorite letters, diary entries, and quotes from the women I got to know while writing The Heroine's Bookshelf. 

Here are a few moments I wish I could have shared: 

Colette's hair:  Somehow I ended up doing a lot of research on Colette's legendary hair. It came from a simple statement that when she married her icky first husband, Willy, she had braids that went to her ankles. Was this possible? I wanted to know! I found out that not only was it possible, but that she chopped it all off at his request a few years later. He was having an affair with an actress and thought Colette might look like her if she cut off her tresses. Ew. 

Louisa May Alcott's journals:  Louisa May Alcott's dad was a noted Transcendentalist and all-around unreliable guy, but he could be counted on to keep copious notes about his children (he was a pioneer in early child education). When Louisa wrote journals as a kid, he and his wife, Abba, left notes in the margins. What a weird, amazing record of a family.

Charlotte Brontë's letters:  I do quote from one important letter in the life of Charlotte Brontë, but I found myself fascinated by her other correspondence while writing the book. She didn't get out much, but when she did she made fast friendships that came to life on the page. Charlotte's letters are funny, sad, and incisive. I wonder what she would think about today's instantaneous communication. 

Erin Blakemore learned to drool over Darcy and cry over Little Women in suburban San Diego, California. These days, her inner heroine loves roller derby, running her own business, and hiking in her adopted hometown of Boulder, Colorado.  Erin’s debut book,The Heroine’s Bookshelf, won the Colorado Book Award for Nonfiction-General and is now in paperback from Harper Perennial. Learn more about the book at http://theheroinesbookshelf.com

--
erin blakemore | author of "the heroine's bookshelf" | theheroinesbookshelf.com

Saturday, December 10, 2011

Beer & Cheddar Cheese Soup with Swiss Steak

I was looking for something to pair with Wegman's Beer & Cheddar Cheese Soup, and then I saw Michael Symon's 5 Minute Swiss Steak, which he made on ABC's The Chew this week.

My family enjoys the Beer & Cheddar Cheese Soup, and one year we served it with Prime Rib at our holiday dinner party. It tasted great, so when I saw Michael Symon's Swiss Steak, I thought they might work well together.

They did work well together, and I like that you can make the Swiss Steak in less than ten minutes. It's a quick, tasty main dish.
Wegman's Beer & Cheddar Cheese Soup with Michael Symon's Swiss Steak
Wegman's Beer & Cheddar Cheese Soup
Ingredients:
6 Tbsp Wegmans Butter 
1 pkg (8 oz) Food You Feel Good About Cleaned & Cut Mirepoix 
1 tsp chopped Food You Feel Good About Peeled Garlic 
3/4 cup Wegmans All-Purpose Flour 
2 cartons (32 oz each) Food You Feel Good About Chicken Culinary Stock 
1 bottle (12 oz) Dogfish Head Indian Brown Ale (Your favorite beer will do)
1 pkg (16 oz) Wegmans Shredded Sharp Cheddar Cheese (Dairy Dept) 
1 1/2 tsp dry mustard 
1 1/2 tsp Worcestershire sauce 
1 tsp Wegmans Horseradish Sauce (Seafood Dept) 
1/2 cup Wegmans Fresh Heavy Cream 
Salt and pepper to taste 


Directions:
  1. Melt butter in stockpot on MEDIUM. Add mirepoix; cook, stirring, 4-5 min, until softened. Add garlic; cook about 1 min, until soft but not brown. Remove from heat. Add flour, stirring to coat vegetables. Return to heat. Cook, stirring,4-5 min, until flour turns golden.
     
  2. Add stock gradually, whisking until well blended. Heat to boiling on HIGH. Reduce heat to MEDIUM; simmer 15-20 min, stirring occasionally.
     
  3. Remove from heat. Stir in beer. Add cheese, a little at a time, stirring after each addition. Stir in dry mustard, Worcestershire sauce, and horseradish sauce. Stir in heavy cream. Heat gently on LOW, stirring occasionally, 4-5 min. Season to taste with salt and pepper.
Option(s):
Top with crumbled bacon and chopped fresh chives.

Ingredients:
1 lb. cube steak (I used pepper steak)
1/4 cup red wine
1 lb. arugula, dressed with olive oil
Salt & pepper
Olive oil
1/2 lb. cremini mushrooms, sliced
1 small onion, chopped
2 sprigs thyme
1 clove garlic, minced
flour for dredging
1 Tbsp. butter

Directions:
Heat olive oil in large skillet. Liberally salt and pepper each piece of steak and dredge in flour. Brown in skillet, 2 minutes, flip 2 more minutes.
Add thyme, onion, garlic and mushrooms to pan, session with salt and saute.
Add wine to deglaze the pan, reduce by half. Whisk in butter, remove from heat.
In mixing bowl, lightly drizzle olive oil over arugula.
To serve, plate steak with mushroom, onions an sauce on top. Serve arugula on the side.

I really miss Wegmans! They are the best grocery store, with excellent customer service and reasonable prices.



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!


Friday, December 9, 2011

Books make great Christmas gifts!

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The Sisters by Nancy Jensen

The Sisters by Nancy Jensen
Published by St. Martin's Press ISBN 978-0312542702
Hardcover $24.99

This novel covers a lot of ground, telling the story of the Fischer sisters, Mabel and Bertie, beginning in 1927, and ending in 2007. It is a tragic story, full of violence, sacrifice, good intentions and misunderstandings. Mabel does her best to protect her younger sister Bertie from their abusive stepfather after their mother dies in childbirth. Things don't go as planned, and Mabel and Bertie end up estranged.

What follows are their individual stories: marriages, pregnancies, raising children, building careers. Mabel and Bertie's stories are interesting, but I do wish we had seen more of Mabel and her daughter Daisy's lives. They seem to have gotten shorter shrift than Bertie and her daughters and granddaughters. Bertie becomes closed-off after believing her sister abandoned her, and although she finds the love of a good man, she is never really happy. Her character is reminiscent of Elizabeth's Stout's Olive Kitteridge, and fans of that book will like The Sisters.

The theme of the book is that you really don't know what has happened in someone's life that makes her the person she becomes. Bertie says, "Something can happen to change your life so sudden, you can't ever get over it fast enough. And so you do things that you wouldn't have ever thought of doing. Maybe hurt other people. And that changes things for them, too, all in a line". Bertie compares what happened to her as the same thing as going through a war. What she doesn't know is that Mabel ended up becoming famous for photographing soldiers before going to war and upon their return, so the war theme applies to both of them.

I do think that this book makes you empathetic to people in your life; you realize that you don't know everything that has happened to a person that affects her. Many people who read this book may come to the conclusion that their parents did the best job they could, as children in the book eventually learn. Mothers hurt their children, unintentionally or not, and they in turn hurt their children. I think the author believes that it is time to forgive and move on to break the chain of hurt.

The Sisters is sad book, and I find violence against children and women hard to read. There are a few scenes that will cause you to gasp.  If you are depressed, this book may make that worse, but if you want to learn about the human condition, this is an emotionally cathartic novel.

rating 3.5 of 5 stars


Hugh Jackman Back on Broadway


The hottest ticket on Broadway is Hugh Jackman Back on Broadway. I can't say that I'm a huge Jackman fan, but I did like his performances hosting the Tonys and the Oscars. (I regrettably never saw him as Peter Allen in The Boy from Oz.)


I really wanted to see what the big deal was, and when I sat down, the woman next to me was raving about the show; it was her second time. She was going on and on about how wonderful he is and I thought, oh boy.

Then Jackman took the stage, singing "Oh What A Beautiful Mornin'" from Oklahoma, a show in which he played the role of Curley. From the moment he takes the stage in a white shirt and black pants, he owns it. His singing voice is good, not great, but Jackman is an incredible performer.

He calls the show "karaoke where I don't have to share the microphone", and he tells his life story throughout.  A picture of a very skinny 14-year-old Jackman in his rugby uniform drew laughs from the audience, as he tolds how he would rush home from rugby practice to watch old movie musicals on TV.

The best part of the show for me was when Jackman sang and danced to songs from these classic movies with his lovely dancers. "Singing in the Rain", "Easter Parade", "Guys & Dolls"- they were all represented, and Jackman took everyone back to a nostalgic place with a new energy. I loved it!

Everyone loves Jackman. When he pulled a woman up on stage to dance with him because it was her birthday, half the audience gasped, just wishing it were them up on that stage. I really thought some of them might faint, including Grace, the birthday girl.

The show is fast paced, and Jackman's love of musical theater is represented with a powerful "Soliliquy" from Carousel. After intermission, he shows up dressed as Peter Allen in gold lame. This section of the show gets everyone crazy as he remains in flamboyant character to sing Allen's most famous songs and joke with men in the front row. He has such an easy rapport with the audience, joking and teasing in a self-deprecating manner.

He ended this raucous section with a lovely ballad, "Tenterfield Saddler", a song about Allen's father and grandfather that is well-known in Australia, but not here.

Jackman also paid tribute to his homeland with a rendition of "Somewhere Over the Rainbow", with digeridoos and two Aborigine singers. He put an interesting twist on a song that has been frankly overused lately.

He gave a shout-out to his movie career, singing a love song while a video of his most romantic movie roles, including an early career scene with his wife Deborrah.

He tells a beautiful story about how proud his dad was when he found out Hugh was going to perform at Carnegie Hall. His dad flew from Australia to NYC, and Hugh had told him it was black tie. It was actually not black tie, but his dad wore it anyway, because "My son is playing Carnegie Hall. It's black tie for me!" It was very sweet.

At the end of the show, Jackman participated in raising money for Broadway Cares/Equity Fights AIDS. He auctioned off his sweaty t-shirt, and two women got into a bidding war, one of the women being Kathie Lee Gifford. When Kathie Lee gave up at $13,000, Jackman pulled another t-shirt that he wore during Act I, and told them if they each gave him $12,500, they could each have one, and go backstage and get photos with him.

Then he said that if anyone wanted to donate $2500, they could get a photo with him. My husband and sons were very pleased to hear that I had left our checkbook at home, otherwise I may have gotten into BIG trouble.

By the end of the show, I was a convert. I certainly hope that HBO or someone else tapes this fantastic show because the entire world should get to see this amazing man at the peak of his performing career. I rank him up there with great stage entertainers like Bette Midler and even Liza Minelli.

Tickets are impossible to come by, and the show closes in early January, but if you somehow can get a ticket, GO. It's a once-in-a-lifetime theater experience.


Sunday, December 4, 2011

Meatball and Macaroni Soup

My husband decided that for lunch today he wanted Meatball and Macaroni Soup, or as most people call it, Italian Wedding Soup.

I made a batch a few weeks ago and it was delicious, and I had enough leftovers for lunch for the next few days. I've made this for a few years, since I found the recipe in Rachael Ray's book, Rachael Ray 30-Minute Meals 2.  My copy of the book is filled with sticky notes and food stains, so you know I've used it frequently.

Other recipes in it that my family has enjoyed include Marinated Beef, Chicken, Pork or Portobello Mushrooms, which is a simple marinade with a basic pan gravy that anyone can whip up quickly, Cheesy Orzo, a versatile side dish, and Sausage Calzones.


The recipe is below:
 Rachael Ray's Meatball & Macaroni Soup



Ingredients

  • 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, 2 turns of the pan in a slow stream
  • 2 carrots, peeled and chopped
  • 2 ribs celery, chopped
  • 1 medium onion, chopped
  • 2 bay leaves, fresh or dried
  • Salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 pound ground beef, pork and veal combined
  • 1 egg, beaten
  • cloves garlic, minced
  • 1/2 cup grated Parmigiano-Reggiano or Romano, a couple of handfuls
  • 1/2 cup plain bread crumbs, a couple of handfuls
  • 1/2 teaspoon freshly grated or ground nutmeg
  • 6 cups chicken stock or broth
  • 2 cups water
  • 1 1/2 cups dried pasta, rings, broken fettuccini or ditalini
  • 1 pound triple washed fresh spinach, coarsely chopped

Directions

In a deep pot over medium heat add oil, chopped carrots, celery and onions and bay leaves. Season with salt and pepper. Cover pot and cook veggies 5 or 6 minutes, stirring occasionally.
While the veggies cook, combine meat, egg, garlic, grated cheese, bread crumbs, salt, pepper, nutmeg.
Uncover your soup pot and add broth and water to the pot. Increase heat to high and bring soup to a boil. When soup boils, reduce heat a bit and start to roll meat mixture into small balls, dropping them straight into the pot. You are making meat dumplings that will cook in the broth. When you are done rolling the meat, add pasta to the soup and stir. Cover and simmer soup 10 minutes. When pasta is tender, stir in chopped spinach in batches. When spinach has wilted into the soup, the soup is done and ready to serve. Adjust your seasonings. Serve soup with crusty bread or grilled 4 cheese sandwiches.
I use Whole Foods Organic Chicken Broth, it really has the best flavor. I also add the spinach to each bowl individually. If you add directly the soup pot, the wilted spinach gets too stringy in the leftover soup.

    Soup's on!
    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!