Friday, July 19, 2019

Friday 5ive- Catching Up

Welcome to this week's edition of the Friday 5ive, five things that caught my attention this week. This post is a catch-up of sorts, with two things that I did a few weeks ago and didn't have a chance to tell you all about.

1) On June 29th I went to see Hugh Jackman at Madison Square Garden in his "Hugh Jackman- The Man. The Music. The Show" tour. I saw Jackman when he did his one man Back on Broadway show a few years back. This show had a few elements from that one, he sang songs from his Tony-winning performance as Peter Allen, he told stories about his life. The big difference here was that he included songs from the movies The Greatest Showman and Les Miserables. He had Keala Settle come on and blow the roof off Madison Square Garden with her rendition of "This Is Me" from The Greatest Showman. The Harlem Village Academy school choir joined him for a few songs too, including "You Will Be Found" from Dear Even Hansen. I most enjoyed his medley of classic movie songs, including "Luck Be a Lady", "Singin' in the Rain" , "I Got Rythym", "Stepping Out With My Baby" and "Sing Sing Sing". He really knows how to rock a tuexdo and top hat too. Jackman is a versatile entertainer who just wants people to have a good time, and we all did. Catch his tour if you can, you'll leave with a big smile on your face.

2) I also went to see The Cher Show on Broadway, starring Stephanie J. Block as Star Cher in her Tony-award winning performance. You would swear you were seeing the actual Cher up there, Block is that good. I've seen her in 9 to 5 on Broadway (in the Jane Fonda role), in Falsettos and in The Mystery of Edwin Drood, and she is a fantastic actress. I'm so happy she won the Tony. The show features three actresses in the role of Cher- "Babe", young Cher played by just-out-of-high school Micaela Diamond, (who is terrific and we'll be seeing her on Broadway for a long time) "Lady", (Cher of the Sonny and Cher Show years) played by Teal Wicks, and Block as "Star". Jarrod Spector brilliantly plays Sonny Bono, and he sounds exactly like him when he sings. The three actresses interact with each other as Cher, which some people found confusing, but I thought it worked well. The biggest problem is that it's too difficult to tell Cher's 50-years-in-the-spotlight story in two hours and fifteen minutes on stage. Netflix or HBO should do a miniseries on her life. Go see The Cher Show before it closes August 18th.

3) We went to our annual NY Yankees game this week with my brother, who was visiting. It was the perfect night for a game, a warm, sunny evening. The first place Yanks were playing second place Tampa Bay, and the first batter of the game, Travis D'Arnaud hit a home run to right field. He went on to hit two more home runs, including the game winning three-run homer in the 9th inning to beat the Yankees 5-4. At least we had good seats and my soft pretzel was tasty.

Brett Garner and Aaron Hicks in the outfield

4) My husband and I have been totally absorbed by The Good Fight on CBS on Sunday night. We watched The Good Wife when it was on, and we are loving The Good Fight. Christine Baranksi was always the best part of The Good Wife, so I'm happy to see her in the starring role. Cush Jumbo and Sarah Steele are also back from the first series, and their expanded roles here give them room to shine. I don't know why CBS relegated The Good Fight to their CBS All Access streaming network, it's better than any drama they currently have on their broadcast network.
The cast of The Good Fight

5) I'm reading two nonfiction books now- Say Nothing- The True Story of Murder and Memory in Northern Ireland by Patrick Radden Keefe and Three Women by Lisa Taddeo. Say Nothing tells the story of a widowed mother of ten children who is taken away from her home in Belfast by masked men and never seen again. Through her story, we find out about "the Troubles" in Northern Ireland, as the I.R.A., a militia of mostly Catholic men and women, battle the British soldiers who are there to maintain the status quo for the ruling Protestant minority by any means possible, including brutal violence against the citizens of Northern Ireland. It is essential reading for anyone who wants to know more about that time in recent history.
Say Nothing

Three Women has been a very buzzed-about book for many months. Author Lisa Taddeo talks about the sexual desires of women through the stories of three women. The first is a young woman who had a sexual relationship with her teacher while in high school, and when she reports it a few years later is met with scorn from her community. The second woman is a successful restaurant owner whose husband likes to watch her having sex with other men. Rumors fly in her community about her as well. The third woman is a middle-aged housewife whose husband refuses to kiss her or have sex with her. She reconnects with a high school love and has an affair. This is riveting nonfiction that reads like fiction.
Three Women

I hope you have a great weekend and that you stay cool in this heat.

Saturday, July 13, 2019

Weekend Cooking- A Foodie Trip to Boston and Portland

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.

Our family took a trip to Boston and Portland, Maine for the 4th of July. We had so much fun and ate at some great restaurants. (We could have done without the 5 1/2 trip home that took 8 hours.)

On the first night in Boston, our son and his girlfriend took us to srv, an Italian restaurant in the South end of Boston. Their specialty is cichetti, which is the Italian version of tapas. We shared stuffed peppers and meatballs, and as my entree I had Tajarin, a creamy yet light pasta dish with black truffles, asparagus, and parmigiano-reggiano. The decor was beautiful, with the lighting fixtures capturing our attention.
The light bulbs are covered with upside down glass pitchers, bottles and dishes
After dinner, we wandered through Little Italy, stopping at a wonderful 24 hour bakery, Bova's Bakery. Even late at night there was a line and we ended up with an assortment of tasty treats. At least we walked home, burning off some of the upcoming caloric intake.

Too much to choose from

The boutique hotel we stayed at, Boston Yacht Haven Inn & Marina, has only ten rooms on the harbor. All the rooms are on one floor, and in the morning they serve a hot breakfast. Just outside the rooms in the hall we found a huge sideboard with pastries, cereal, and hot dishes like french toast (served in individual casserole dishes) and ham and cheese bake which we ate out on our balcony overlooking the harbor. What a lovely treat! It's a great place to stay, we highly recommend it.
Top- breakfast buffett, Bottom- french toast and ham & cheese bake

On July 4th, we wandered around the waterfront in Boston, stopping for lunch at Trillium, a brewery and restaurant. I chose a tasty burrata dish, served with figs, apple slices, grilled cornbread, crispy proscuitto and drizzled with honey. I made a good choice.
Burrata with apple, fig and crispy proscuitto

There was an outdoor beer garden with food and beverage trucks nearby, so we stopped and I had a frozé- a frozen rosé wine drink that was really an adult slushy- nothing wrong with that.

Next up was a trip to Wegmans (yay!), where we bought burgers and hot dogs to grill. It's very exciting for us because living in NYC we miss barbequeing so much. Our son's condo complex has three grills that people share, and they were working overtime that day, but we got there early and scored a grill and a table. Pasta salad and corn on the cob rounded out our All-American celebration.

The next day we headed to Portland, with a stop for lunch in Kennebunk at Pilot House, right on the water, where we finally got our lobster roll. It was worth the wait, and our waitress was so kind, giving us tips on what to see in Portland.

Restaurants in Portland are tough to get into for lunch and dinner during the summer- a lot of them don't take reservations, so be prepared to wait. We had appetizers and drinks at Street and Co.  Our choices of crab and cucumber salad and eggplant dip with capers and pita were so good, we ordered double. The restaurant is in an old brick building, and the ambience is pretty cool.

We moved on their sister restaurant Scales for dinner, where I had a lobster that was very fresh. The restaurant is huge, and you can pick out your lobster if you like, they have them in a big floor tank up front. The decor is modern, light and airy, with lots of floor-to-ceiling windows and a huge bar area.

Speaking of bars, we found an Irish pub, RiRa- The Irish Pub and enjoyed a drink or two and a chat with the friendly Irish bartender. A band was coming in to play just as we were heading to dinner.

On day two, my husband headed out to bring back donuts from Holy Donuts, where the secret ingredient is mashed potatoes in the batter. I know what you're thinking, but trust me, it works.
Holy Donuts

We had a fabulous dinner at Fore Street, a farm-to-table restaurant where the menu changes daily, depending on what the chef can find fresh that day. The kitchen is very open, and we got a table right in front, where we could see a sous chef preparing the salads. We were mesmerized for the entire meal. I had the roasted half-chicken, one of their specialties, but the highlight for me was dessert- a pistachio ice cream bar, drizzled with a caramel sauce. it was the perfect ending to the meal and our trip to Portland.
Pistachio bar
We could see everything going on in the kitchen

The salad ingredients are kept in a glass walk-in cooler

Friday, July 12, 2019

Friday 5ive- 4th of July Edition

I missed posting a Friday 5ive last week, but I have a good excuse- we were in Boston with our family! So this week's edition is a road trip to Boston and Portland, Maine.

1) One word- boats! We stayed at a beautiful boutique hotel, The Boston Yacht Haven Inn and Marina, right on the harbor in Boston, just a short ten minute ferry ride to see our family in Charlestown. Directly  outside our window were stunning yachts, including this one- the Invictus. It looked like a cruise ship, not a yacht. We looked it up and found out that you and 11 of your closest friends can rent the yacht for a mere $600,000 per week. Stay for a month, you can afford it.
The Invictus

2) Boats- Part 2- The USS Constitution is docked in the Charlestown Navy Yard. It's the oldest commissioned naval ship and you can visit the ship and museum. On July 4th, the ship circled the harbor and it was pretty majestic to see it moving through the water.
The USS Constitution

3) From Boston we made our way up to Portland, Maine. There are so many cute little mom-and-pop shops and fabulous restaurants. We took a boat tour of the city, and then visited the Portland Head Light at Fort William Park in Cape Elizabeth.  There are plenty of picnic areas and a few food trucks too. The views from the lighthouse are stunning, I highly recommend a trip there if you go to Portland.
Our team at the lighthouse- this is the spot for the photo

4) When our sons were little guys, they loved fire trucks. Whenever a fire truck went down our street, the boys, their dad, and our dog Malcolm would take off running to see what was happening. Portland has a tour that takes place on a renovated fire truck, and all I could think of when I saw it was that my guys would have loved to do this when they were little. They weren't so keen on it now that they are older.
Vintage Fire Truck tour

5) The guys did however want to go to Bissell Brothers Brewery. I've never been to a brewery (I'm not a beer fan, ten cent Genny screamers when I was in college cured me of that), but I found it very interesting. It is a true family affair, with lots of parents and their little children there. (Maybe they should put in a play area.) There were all age groups there as well, parents and grandparents, I found that fact fascinating. They had a food window before went into the brewery itself, with some tasty looking nachos being served that day. The guys were hoping to score some of Blowing Smoke cans of beer that Bissell Brothers made in conjunction with a Brooklyn brewery, The Other Half. Everyone seemed to be having a good time.

Blowing Smoke

Bonus: Tomorrow I will have a special edition of Weekend Cooking, with some of the great restaurants we visited.


Tuesday, July 9, 2019

More Great Beach Reads

Reprinted from the Citizen:

With the 4th of July behind us that means summer reading is now in full swing. Nothing beats grabbing a cold glass of lemonade, a good book and getting some sun. Don’t forget the sunscreen because these three books I’m recommending will have you glued to your beach chair until you finish them. 

Linda Holmes has written a charming debut novel, “Evvie Drake Starts Over”. Evvie is packing up her car to leave her emotionally abusive husband and her small hometown of Calcasset, Maine, when she gets word that her husband has been killed in a car accident.  

No one knows she was going to leave, including her loving single dad who raised her on his own, or her best friend Andy, who is raising his two young girls alone since his wife left the family.

Evvie seems stuck. She is living in a big house that she never liked, with a job transcribing research that she does from home. She helps Andy with his two girls, whom she adores, but that is the extent of her social life. 

Andy has a friend, a major league baseball pitcher for the New York Yankees who has lost his mojo. He can no longer pitch at all, every pitch thrown wildly, and no one has been able to help him fix his problem. With New York media and fans being brutal, Dean is looking to escape.

When Andy suggests that Dean move into the spare apartment Evvie has in her house, she reluctantly agrees. Evvie and Dean get to know each other, but they both agree that the topics of baseball and her marriage are off limits. Watching their relationship develop is sweet.

“Evvie Drake Starts Over” is a heartwarming story, and if you are someone who enjoys baseball and a good romantic story in a small town setting, this one is for you. Jenna Bush Hager chose this as her July pick for her Today Show Book Club.

Elin Hilderbrand is the queen of summer novels, and this year’s entry, “Summer of ’69” even has summer in the title. Hilderband and her twin brother were born in July of 1969 and so she used that for this intriguing family story that takes place over one summer. 
Elin Hilderbrand at the Book Expo NYC

Kate is distraught that her only son Tiger has been sent off to fight in Vietnam. Her first husband fought in the Korean War, came back home, and committed suicide. She worries constantly, and has turned to drinking, which upsets her second husband.

Oldest daughter Blair is married and very pregnant with twins. Blair’s marriage is troubled and she doesn’t know what to do. Second daughter Kirby was arrested at a peace protest in college and is hiding that fact from her parents. She also became romantically involved with a policeman, and something bad happened there.

Youngest daughter Jessie is thirteen and trying to maneuver through the summer while staying at her grandmother’s summer home in Nantucket. Hilderbrand does a fabulous job writing from Jessie’s point of view, bringing you right back to the days when you were thirteen.

Hilderbrand also manages to weave in two historic events from July of ’69- the Apollo 11 moon landing (Blair’s husband works for NASA) and the death of Mary Jo Kopechne in Senator Ted Kennedy’s car, which happened on Martha’s Vineyard that same week. (Kirby works at the Shiretown Inn where Senator Kennedy was staying on that evening.)

“Summer of ’69” is Hildebrand’s best book yet, an emotional family drama.

Jean Kwok’s “Searching for Sylvie Lee” is a mystery and a family drama. Sylvie is a successful first generation Chinese-American daughter living in New York City. As a young child, she was sent to live with her aunt, uncle and grandmother in the Netherlands. She has returned to the Netherlands to be with her dying grandmother and try to fix her life, which is falling apart, but her family doesn’t know it. 

When she disappears, her introverted younger sister Amy goes to the Netherlands to find out what happened. The story is told from the point of view of Sylvie, Amy, and their mother, who only speaks Chinese. 

Family secrets are revealed, and Kwok’s story shares what the immigrant experience is like for people who don’t speak the language and are looking to build a better life through hard work. We also see the family dynamics that threaten to destroy them.

“Searching for Sylvie Lee” is brilliantly written, heartbreaking, and Jenna Bush Hager recently chose it for her Today Show Book Club. 

Evvie Drake Starts Over” by Linda Holmes- A-
Published by Ballantine
Hardcover, $26, 304 pages

Summer of ’69” by Elin Hilderbrand- A-
Published by Little, Brown and Company
Hardcover, $28, 432 pages

Searching for Sylvie Lee” by Jean Kwok- A
Published by William Morrow
Hardcover, $26.99, 317 pages

Sunday, June 30, 2019

Weekend Cooking- Sometimes It's The Simple Things

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.

Sometimes I dread thinking about what to make for dinner, especially when I know I have to work and won't be home until after 6:30pm. I could get something at the grocery store the day before that's a 30 minute recipe, but then I have to rush home, have no down time, and get right down to cooking.

Or I could turn to my InstaPot, figuring that I will throw something in the slow cooker, turn it on and head out to work. That still requires a grcoery store run the day before, but at least when I get home from work I have the main entree part done. Then it's just figure out a side, vegetable and salad, and it's done.

A few weeks ago, I decided to go the slow cooker route and pulled out a cookbook I haven't yet used- Phyllis Good's Stock the Crock- 100 Must-Have Slow-Cooker Recipes, 200 Variations for Every Appetite. I picked it up at the Book Expo a few years ago, but never used a recipe from it.

Not being in any mood for something with mulitple steps, I found a Basic Chicken and Salsa recipe by Sara P. The book is filled with recipes from "a community of cooks". Well, OK, Sara P., let's see if this works.

You need 2- 3 pounds of boneless, skinless chicken thighs and a 16 jar of salsa. I happened to have jar of Frontera salsa sitting in my cupboard, so that was easy. Spray your slower cooker with nonstick cooking spray, put the thighs in and top with the salsa. Cook on low for 4 to 4 1/2 hours, then shred the chicken in the salsa and put over rice. That is it.

I had my doubts- it seemed too easy. I was fully prepared to order out that night if this didn't work.
Boy, was I surprised. I came home to a wonderful smell, and my son's girlfriend had kindly shredded the chicken before I got home, so I didn't even have to do that!

It. Was. Delicious. My husband and I loved it, the chicken was so tender and the salsa was flavorful. (Using thighs instead of boneless breast is key.) When my son and his girlfriend came home much later, they had some of the leftovers and asked for the recipe. My husband even took some for lunch the next day

They do suggest some variations to spice it up- add a drained can of black beans and one cup of fresh corn before pouring the salsa over the chicken in the slow cooker. You can also top the chicken with cheese, avocado slices, halved cherry tomatoes, chopped red onion and bell peppers.

Sometimes it's the simple things.

Friday, June 28, 2019

The Friday 5ive- June 28, 2019 edition

Welcome to the Friday 5ive, where I share five things that caught my attention.

It's been a busy week, with lots of family celebrations- my older son JD turned 31 on June 25th, my mom's birthday was June 27th, and we had a belated anniversary celebration for my husband's parents at their home in upstate New York.

1) My father-in-law took this photo of the Hudson River from the deck of their home. It's so gorgeous, I had to share it with all of you.
The cake from the Cake Box was delicious

2) On Wednesday I attended the White Mass at St. Patrick's Cathedral. Cardinal Dolan celebrated a mass honoring health care workers, and it was so wonderful to see a full house of people gathered together to celebrate and honor the important work they do. The procession down the aisle was accompanied by a group of people carrying colorful umbrellas. Cardinal Dolan joked that when he saw the umbrellas he was concerned that the roof of the cathedral was leaking and everyone laughed.
The umbrella procession

Cardinal Dolan greets the congregation

3) My sign of the week stopped me in my tracks and I laughed out loud. The staff at Olive and Bette's are so clever. And it is hot here.

4) I noticed a new feature on my Echo Show. Alexa asked me if I wanted to use my own photos as background on the Echo Show. I tried it and ever since then, random old photos have popped up. I don't even recognize some of them, and many of them I haven't seen in years. I'm still not sure where they came from. One of them is this photo of The Handmaid's Tale star Elisabeth Moss coming out of her set trailer on the Upper East Side. It was at least nine years ago, and I think she may have been on a location shoot for Mad Men or maybe a movie. We chatted for a few minutes, I told her how much my son and I enjoyed her work on West Wing, and she let me take her photo.
Elisabeth Moss 

5) I started and finished Laura Lippman's upcoming mystery Lady in the Lake, the story of  Madeline, a housewife in 1965 Baltimore who decides that she wants her independence. She leaves her husband, gets a job at a local newspaper, and finds herself involved in the disappearance of a young black woman, trying to find answers that no one wants her to discover. Lippman submerses the reader in Madeline's life and what it's like to work at a newspaper in 1965, and it is a fantastic read. Look for this one in July.
I also started Evvie Drake Starts Over, written by NPR's Pop Culture Happy Hour host Linda Holmes. It's also about a woman looking for a new life. Evvie is packed and ready to leave her husband when he is killed in a car accident. She doesn't know what to do next when she takes in a tenant, a former New York Yankee pitcher who has lost his mojo. It is so charming and I can't wait to see what happens. If you like baseball and romance, this one is for you.

I hope you find a way to beat this heat- have a great week.

Wednesday, June 26, 2019

June Books From Book Expo

I spent some time organizing my books from the Book Expo, and this year I organized them by the month they publish. It's going to make it so much easier to read the books as they publish so I can keep current with my reviews.

The June books  are all about family, and I've read three of them so far.

Mary Beth Keane's third novel, Ask Again, Yes is one of my favorite books of the year. Keane writes so beautifully in her story of two Irish families who live next door to each other. A tragedy tears them apart and years later it still reverberates through the families. My full review is here, but suffice to say, you must read this book.

Jean Kwok's book Searching for Sylvie Lee is also a family drama and wonderfully written as well. Sylvie Lee leaves her home in NYC to go to the Netherlands to visit her dying grandmother. When she disappears, her younger sister Amy goes to the Netherlands to find out what happened. Family secrets are revealed, and the story is told from Sylvie, Amy, and their Chinese immigrant mother's point of view. Jenna Bush Hager chose it as her Today Show June Book Club pick, and Jean will be on Today with Hoda and Jenna on Friday, June 28th.

Jennifer Weiner's Mrs. Everything tells the story of two sisters' lives, from their childhood in the 1950s through the current day. It's really the story of women in America through those years and it's her best book yet, I just inhaled it. It debuted at number two on the NY Times bestseller list last week.

I'm starting Elin Hilderbrand's Summer of '69, which I have heard great things about. It's her first novel set in a different time period and it's about the Levin family and what happens to them during that historic year.  She signed books at the Book Expo, and gave out Corona beers. I wish I liked beer, it looked refreshing.

Grant Ginder's Honestly, We Meant Well is a family story about a Classics professor who finds that her perfect husband is cheating on her and her college-bound son's life is a mess. She takes them to Greece for a month to fix things and it sounds like a good summer read, funny and heartfelt.

Claire Lombardo's novel, The Most Fun We Ever Had follows Marilyn and David and their four adult daughters. One of the daughters gave birth to a son and gave him up for a closed adoption fifteen years ago, but he reappears in their life. Lombardo is being compared to Celeste Ng and Elizabeth Strout, high praise indeed.

Eloisa James' fourth novel in her Wildes of Lindow Castle series is Say No to the Duke, and it continues the story of the Wilde family, with this story focusing on young Lady Betsy Wilde who loses a billiards game and bet to Lord James Roden and now must spend the night with him. I really enjoyed the first three books in the series, the first historical romances I have read in a long time, and I'm looking forward to this one as well.