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Saturday, March 31, 2012

Weekend Cooking- Two Quick Weeknight Recipes

I tried two new recipes this week. The first one was from ABC's The Chew, where I have had tried a few recipes, some were good, some not so much. This one, Clinton Kelly's Pan Fried Chicken with Brown Butter Caper Sauce, is similar to a Chicken Piccata, but the blood orange sauce added a fresh twist.

Kelly made it for a show about favorite restaurant dishes you can make at home, and he called this Chicken Glenobloise, which I have never heard of before.

It was very easy, took less than 30 minutes, and I had all of the ingredients (except for the blood oranges) on hand. And you could use any citrus fruit, (lemons, oranges) that you have on hand.

It looks very pretty plated, with blood orange sections on top, and I served it with homemade potato salad and a fruit salad to tie in with the entree.
Pan Fried Chicken with Brown Butter Caper Sauce

The link to the recipe is here on The Chew's website : Clinton Kelly's Pan Fried Chicken with Brown Butter Caper Sauce. One thing I don't like about The Chew is their website. They need a redesign; sometimes they leave ingredients off the list that are called for in the directions, or the directions don't make sense. I think they need a better editor on that site. Sometimes it's like whomever is putting up the recipes doesn't read them after they are typed in.

I also made a recipe from Robin Miller's Robin Takes 5 cookbook, which features recipes with 5 ingredients under 500 calories that can be made in under 30 minutes. I  made her
Cranberry Barbequed Pork Tenderloin
1 1/4 lb. pork tenderloin
15 oz. can whole berry cranberry sauce
2 tsp. dijon mustard
1 tsp. liquid smoke (I used Worchestershire sauce)
1/4 cup chopped scallions

Heat oven to 400 degrees. Coat shallow roasting pan with cooking spray. Season pork liberally with salt and pepper. Mix cranberry, mustard and liquid smoke and spoon over pork. Bake 30 minutes to 155 degrees. Let stand 5 minutes, slice and top with scallions.

Both dinners were tasty, and the pork tenderloin is one my sons would be able to make at college. I liked the combination of sweet and sour with the cranberry and dijon mustard. They were easy to make, and are perfect to put on the table on any weeknight.

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, March 30, 2012

The Good Father by Noah Hawley

The Good Father by Noah Hawley
Published by Doubleday ISBN 978-0-385-53553-3
Hardcover $25.95

There are two books that published recently, Defending Jacob, by William Landay and The Good Father by Noah Hawley, that deal with fathers struggling with the accusation that their sons committed murder.

In Landay's novel, an assistant district attorney's teenage son is accused of killing his classmate. In The Good Father, Dr. Paul Allen's estranged college drop-out son is arrested for killing a senator, a popular family man on his way to winning his party's presidential nomination.

Allen divorced his son Danny's mother when Danny was a young boy. He left them and moved across the country to take another job. He remarried and began a new family, now father to twin boys. Danny spent time with his dad and his new family, summer vacations, but he was basically raised by his mother, a woman who was prone to "intense manic interest followed by long stretches of epic boredom", as Danny was.

Paul is shocked when he and his wife see on the news that Danny is the one arrested for killing the senator. He cannnot believe that his son did this; there must be a mistake. He hires a lawyer for his son, but his son will not cooperate. Danny is being held in federal custody and no one is allowed to see him.

Paul becomes obsessed with proving that his son is part of a conspiracy, a fall guy for the murder. He travels across the country, trying to piece together the last few years of his son's life; where he was, who he met, what he did.

This obsession endangers his marriage, and he and his new family are hounded so much, they  move to a rural community in Colorado to escape and start over. His wife is patient, but she firmly tells him that if Danny will not cooperate, they must let him go and concentrate on saving their own two sons.

Hawley is a good writer, he really makes the reader empathetic to Paul's pain and anguish. He writes a great line, "Father and sons. What we wouldn't give to trade places with our boys, to absorb their suffering and ease their pain."

And yet here is my thought on that. Dr. Allen divorced Danny's mother because he couldn't take living with her anymore, that she may have suffered from depression. But he thought it was OK to leave his young son to be raised by her alone, while he starts a new life far away. Would it have been better for his son if he had his father around growing up? If he had made that sacrifice for his son, would things have turned out differently? I think that is something that Paul will have to live with for the rest of his life.

The Good Father haunts you with its sadness and despair, with a puzzling mystery thrown in. Did Danny kill the senator or was he a pawn in a conspiracy? It makes you uncomfortable, and gets you to think that you may not know your own child, the things he has gone through, what he is thinking. I do like that we get to see what Danny has gone through the past few years, and how he got to where he sadly ended up.

rating 4 of 5

My review of William Landay's Defending Jacob is here

Skin Rules by Debra Jaliman, M.D.

Skin Rules by Debra Jaliman M.D.
Published by St. Martin's Press ISBN 978-1-250-00095-8
Hardcover, $22.99
Sub-titled "Trade Secrets From a Top New York Dermatologist", you might think that this book is all about the Botox and surgical procedures, (or maybe it's just because I live on the Upper East Side in New York City, where you can't go a block without seeing someone who has had work done) but you'd be wrong.

Jaliman, a board-certified dermatologist, has written a very helpful book for everyone. She has 77 rules, short chapters that make her point, from 'Don't Waste Money on Expensive Cleansers- Spend It on Moisturizers, Sunscreens, and Anti-Aging Products Instead' to 'Lips, Eyes, and Hands Need Sun Protection, Too' to 'Clean Earrings Every Time You Put Them In'.

Each rule is followed by a short explanation; I like that you can use this book as a quick reference, and that Jaliman did not fill the book with unnecessary stuff; she gets right to the point. Although it is a short book, it contains so much useful information.

Among the useful things I learned:

  • Tanning beds increase the chance of melanoma by 75%! She believes they should be illegal.
  • Products should be bought in tubes or pumps; the contents deteriorate when exposed to air.
  • Don't get the nail gel at nail salons; it can cause neurological damage.
  • Humidifiers should be cleaned with equal parts vinegar and water every two weeks.
  • False eyelashes are bad- the glue can damage the skin and pulls out eyelashes.
Jaliman also names the best products to use; from cleansers to moisturizers to foundations to sunscreens to laundry detergent. Many of the products are available at drug and discount stores. I made a list of products she recommends for my skin type and keep it in my purse when I go shopping.

She has her own line of products but she does not include recommendations for them in this book; I think that shows character on her part and I appreciate that she didn't write this book as a sales tool for herself. It isn't all products, though; Dr. Jaliman does discuss procedures that can done in the dermatologist's office that can help.

At the end of the book is a 'resource section' with website addresses for all of the products that Dr. Jaliman recommends. 

No matter what your age or issue- teenagers with acne, people with dry skin, people with sensitive skin, menopausal women- there is helpful information for everyone here. Think of it as your skin manual.

rating 5of 5 stars

Thursday, March 29, 2012

The Shoemaker's Wife by Adriana Trigiani

The Shoemaker's Wife by Adriana Trigiani
Published by Harper ISBN 978-0-06-125709-4
Hardcover $26.99

The first thing you notice about Adriana Trigiani's newest novel, The Shoemaker's Wife, is the stunning cover. A gorgeous woman in a tangerine colored gown strikes a dramatic pose against a wallpapered print that evokes the beauty of an Italian village. The first time I saw it, it literally took my breath away.

I have read many of Trigiani's books, starting with the Big Stone Gap series, through the Valentine series, stand alone books like Rococco, and her non-fiction book about her grandmothers titled Don't Sing at the Table, and enjoyed them all, but all of the those books so clearly led her to write this masterpiece, her best book yet, The Shoemaker's Wife.

Some writers are better at story (John Grisham, for example), others excel at writing memorable characters; in my mind, no author is better than Trigiani at writing the setting of the story. We fell in love with the small town of Big Stone Gap in Virginia and all of the wonderful people who lived there. In the Valentine series, we were a part of Greenwich Village, and made unforgettable visits to the Italy and Argentina.

Trigiani's writing is so vivid and visual, you can picture each setting so clearly in your mind, you feel like you've taken a trip there yourself. Clothing, shoes and interior design have also played a part in many of her books, and I have often lamented that there were no illustrations of the beautiful things that were being described.

In The Shoemaker's Wife, we begin early in the 20th century in the Italian Alps, both beautiful and dangerous. Young Ciro Lazzari and his older brother Eduardo are being sent to a convent following the death of their father, who was working in a mine in America. Their grieving mother was unable to to care for them.

At the convent, Ciro learned to work with his hands, doing all of the chores that the nuns needed. Eduardo took to the prayer and ritual of religious life. The relationship between the brothers is so well-written; they were very different from and yet devoted to each other.

Young Enza lived with her family on the mountain. They did not have much money, but her father scraped out a living ferrying people up and down the mountain with his horse and carriage.

Ciro meets Enza when he is sent to dig a grave for Enza's young sister who died tragically. They share time together and a special connection is made between the two. Ciro runs afoul of the local priest when he sees him in an embrace with a young girl. The priest wants Ciro gone, and the nuns send him to America.

Enza and her father also emigrate to America to make enough money to send home to build a family home. They are sad to leave their family behind, but know that if they work hard and save all their money, they will return home soon.

Ciro becomes a shoemaker's apprentice in Greenwich Village. Enza works in a clothing factory, a sweatshop where she makes a lifelong friend in Irish immigrant Laura. Over the years, Ciro and Enza run into each other, and although they both have feelings for each other, they are kept apart for many reasons.

Enza and Laura get the opportunity of a lifetime when they are chosen to work as seamstresses at the Metropolitan Opera. Enza's creativity gets her noticed, and she is thrilled to be able to design for Enrico Caruso, the international star of the Met.

This section of the novel soars. The excitement of New York City, the grandeur of the opera house, the lovely boarding house where Enza and Laura live, the gorgeous costumes they create- I was swept away with the beauty of it all.

Enza and Ciro are star-crossed lovers, but you can tell by the title of the book that they are fated to be together. They are hard-working immigrants and when an opportunity to make a better life in Minnesota arises, they take it.

These characters are based in part on Trigiani's grandparents. Reading this book will encourage many people to talk to their grandparents and great-grandparents, to hear their stories, which are probably very similiar. Isn't it funny how we never think of our grandparents as young people, in love and trying to build a life, but they are precisely the people who built our country.

Trigiani hits the nail on the head with her depiction of Enza and Ciro's marriage; it isn't always easy, no matter how much in love they are. There is one scene near the end that takes place among Ciro, Enza and their son that just broke my heart, and the beauty and sadness of it was both private and universal at the same time.

She writes so many thoughtful passages; as the mother of two sons, this one particularly touched me:
"A man need his father more as life progresses, not less. It is not enough to learn how to use a lathe, milk a cow, repair a roof; there are greater holes to mend, deeper wells to fill, that only a father's wisdom can sustain. A father teaches his son how to think a problem through, how to lead a household, how to love his wife. A father sets an example for his son, building his character from the soul outward."
The Shoemaker's Wife is Adriana Trigiani's most magnificent work yet. As beautiful on the inside as the cover is on the outside, it moved me immensely. This is the book I will put into all of my family and friends' hands, saying "you must read this!"

rating 5 of 5 stars

Adriana Trigiani will be on the Today Show with Kathie Lee and Hoda on March 30th and on NBC's Dateline talking about The Shoemaker's Wife.

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Venus in Fur

I have seen actress Nina Arianda in a few small but memorable parts, in Woody Allen's Midnight in Paris and the Ben Stiller movie Tower Heist. But nothing prepares you for the whirlwind entrance she makes in Broadway's Venus in Fur. 

Hugh Dancy portrays a playwright who has written an adaption of a German novel, Venus in Furs. The story is about a man who dreams he is talking to the goddess Venus about his attraction to cruel women. The play opens as he is lamenting that he cannot find an actress to play the lead role in his play. The young actresses are to ignorant and selfish, the older actresses not beautiful enough.

Then Arianda barrels through the door, claiming she has an audition. You cannot take your eyes off her (and not just because she spends most of the time dressed in a corset and thigh-highs) from the time she enters the scene until the end of the play. She originated the role off-Broadway and resumed the role when it moved to Broadway. Last year she was nominated for a Tony for her role in Born Yesterday.

She claims her name is Vanda, the same unusual name as the character. She claims she hasn't read the play, yet she knows all of the dialogue. She acts like the selfish, oblivious young actresses that Dancy was complaining about, but it is clear that she is hiding something.

As the two read scenes from the play, we see that something else is going on. Who exactly is Vanda and where did she come from? She forces the playwright to face the real reason he wrote the play, to face what he is hiding about himself.

Arianda is nothing short of brilliant in this play; woe to any actress who plays the role after her. It is a two-character play, so the other actor must be strong to avoid being wiped off the stage by Arianda. Hugh Dancy amazed me; I have never seen him in anything and I will definitely look for him again.

There are at least two powerful scenes that leave the audience holding their breath as their jaws dropped; the theater was as silent as an empty church. Director Walter Bobbie does a wonderful job with this show.

When the play ended, I listened to people debating exactly what was going on in the play. One thing that wasn't debated- Nina Arianda is a star, one that may come along once in a generation.

I got a discount ticket to the show, but this is a play I would play full-price to see. This play is for adults only, as the theme is sexual.

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Elegy for Eddie- A Maisie Dobbs Novel by Jacqueline Winspear

Elegy For Eddie- A Maisie Dobbs Novel by Jacqueline Winspear
Published by Harper ISBN 978-0-06-204957-5
Hardcover, $25.99

The BBC's Downton Abbey caused quite a stir (I myself was late to the party, watching both seasons on two marathon weekends), and increased interest in the post-WWI world in Great Britain. But readers have for years been immersing themselves in the same era with author Jacqueline Winspear's fascinating Maisie Dobbs' novels, set in London at the same time.

Maisie was a young maid in Lord and Lady Compton's home (think Anna from Downton) who was caught by Lady Rowan in the library late at night reading. Lady Rowan realized Maisie's intelligence and potential and arranged for her to be schooled by Dr. Maurice Blanche, a well-renowned psychologist and private investigator.

Maurice became Maisie's mentor, and Maisie was able to rise above her station and eventually became a nurse serving in France during WWI. Maisie was severely wounded and returned home to recuperate, and eventually take over Maurice's private investigation business.

After Maurice died, he left his home and much of his fortune to Maisie. Overnight, she became a wealthy woman. She also fell in love with Lady Rowan's son and heir, James Compton. Maisie is a woman who owns her own business, has enough wealth to own a home and an apartment in London, and is able to financially help her friends and colleagues.

In the newest novel, Elegy For Eddie, Maisie is visited by men she knew as a child, fruit peddlers from Lambeth. They ask her to investigate the death of Eddie, a forty-six-year-old man with the mind of a child. Eddie had a job running errands for workers in a newspaper plant and was killed when a bolt of paper crushed him.

Maisie knew Eddie and the single mother who raised him. She took the case, and it brought forth many feelings to the surface for her. The class system in England was fairly rigid, and it was unusual for anyone, particularly a woman on her own, to move up. Maisie was living a life about which she felt increasingly uncomfortable.

When she stays at James' family estate, she doesn't like the staff waiting on her. Ringing a bell for the next course of dinner feels unnatural to her. While she loves James, she begins to feel that the life he leads is not one she wants.

Now that Maisie has money, she uses it to help her employees. She purchases a home in a good neighborhood and rents it to her loyal assistant Billy and his family after they lost a daughter to illness. She hired Sandra, who lost her husband, and let her move in with her. She also paid for Sandra to further her education.

When Billy is seriously injured investigating Eddie's death, Billy's wife blames Maisie for putting her husband in danger. Maisie feels guilty, arranges for Sandra to help care for Billy's children, and gets him the best medical care.

A doctor confronts Maisie about her 'helping' her employees. She asks Maisie to consider whether her help is "affecting their lives, making decisions on their behalf that they might not have made for themselves, or might come to at a different time." She suggest that Maisie may have been trying to get others conform to Maisie's view of the world.

Maisie's best friend Priscilla tells her that by coming to the rescue of everyone, she could be causing people to resent her, as Billy's wife does. She explains that people don't like being beholden to someone, and that Maisie is depriving her friends of the "opportunity for them to be proud of something they've achieved.''

This book in the series doesn't have much action, it is much more introspective. We see Maisie coming to a fork in the road of her life. She has to decide whether she wants to move forward with her relationship with James, and how to deal with her new station in life and her control issues.

Maisie is an independent woman living in a turbulent time. This story is set in 1933, and England, weary from the losses of so many men in WWI, is now facing the possibility of another war. Hitler is causing problems in Europe, and Eddie's death may be tied to a newspaper publisher who is using his power to drum up war propaganda to get the people of England ready for confrontation.

I love being immersed in Maisie's world. Winspear does meticulous research, which is available on her website.( If you want to know more about that time in history, click on the link.) Maisie is a strong woman, but she has her doubts about her abilities and where she is going in life. She feels so real and I think many women today can relate to her.

I always look forward to catching up with Maisie, and if you are a fan of Downton Abbey and are suffering from withdrawal, the Maisie Dobbs series are a wonderful way to immerse yourself in that time.

rating 4 of 5

I have reviewed all of the Maisie Dobbs books during last year's Mad for Maisie readalong on BookClubGirl.com;  the links are below:
Maisie Dobbs
Birds of a Feather
Pardonable Lies
Messenger of Truth
An Incomplete Revenge
Among the Mad
The Mapping of Love and Death
A Lesson In Secrets

Thanks to TLC Book Tours for including me on their March is Maisie Month tour!

Monday, March 26, 2012

Home Front by Kristin Hannah

Home Front by Kristin Hannah
Published by St. Martin's Press ISBN 978-0-312-57720-9
Hardcover, $27.99

The horror story of the US soldier accused of murdering 17 innocent civilians in Afghanistan blares on the nightly news and we all have a difficult time understanding how this could happen. The accused soldier is on his fourth deployment, something unheard of in previous wars.

In author Kristin Hannah's 19th novel, Home Front, a lawyer married to a female National Guard Black Hawk helicopter pilot is defending a soldier accused of snapping and killing his wife. When she wrote the book, I can't imagine that Hannah could have known just how timely her novel would be.

Michael, the lawyer, has been depressed since he lost his father and law partner recently. His wife Jolene, who lost her parents when she was 18, goes through life always looking for the positive. She and her best friend and neighbor Tami fly choppers for the National Guard.

Tami's husband and 12 year old son are proud of her and the work she does. Michael doesn't understand why Jolene wants to be a soldier; they have two daughters- Betsy, 12 years old and Lulu, four years old- and he thinks she should leave the Guard.

After Michael refuses to attend his wife's birthday party at the Guard base, Jolene hides her disappointment again. Then Michael tells her that no longer loves her. Jolene is devastated and can't understand what has happened.

Jolene and Tami's unit gets called up and off to Iraq they go for a year's deployment. Michael is angry that he has to change his routine to take care of his daughters, and he resents the detailed binders of information that Jolene has left for him. Schedules of meals, doctor's appointments, and household maintenance are all laid out by the efficient Jolene.

Hannah does an amazing job showing how these families' lives are turned upside down, and having the wives as the deployed soldiers and the husbands left behind to handle the home front made this novel that much more interesting. The contrast between Tami's supportive husband and Michael is jarring.

We see how hard it is for those left behind and how difficult it is for forty-something women in a war zone. Jolene tries to protect her family by downplaying the danger, and Michael is willing to play along.

She writes emails to her daughters, but nothing to Michael, believing that their marriage is over. Michael makes no effort to reach out to Jolene either, even though he feels badly that she left believing he no longer loved her.

I saw Kristin Hannah a book signing at Barnes & Noble on 86th St. in New York City in February and she said that she wanted to write a book about the price of deployment on military families and a marriage in trouble. She said "some books I like more than others, and this one I like."
Kristin Hannah at Barnes & Noble

She interviewed a chopper pilot and "didn't understand one word she said because she used acronyms." The pilot, Chief Warrant Officer 5 Teresa Burgess, is thanked in the acknowledgments, and it is clear that she was the inspiration for Tami and Jolene.

There is a turn of events halfway through the novel, and it reminded me very much of Anna Quindlen's novel, Every Last One. Just like that powerful novel, I cried all the way through the last half, and my heart literally hurt reading it. It was a emotionally draining experience reading this book.

The characters are well drawn, and the story is well written. Betsy going through her teenage angst, Michael struggling and Jolene's withdrawal felt so real. I read this book in two sittings; I couldn't set it down or get these characters out of my mind.

Home Front takes you on a emotional journey, and it reminds us of the hugh sacrifice that a small percentage of Americans make on behalf of the rest of us. It is shameful that we as a nation have not done enough to help the families left behind or the soldiers upon their return, and thanks to Kristin Hannah for reminding us that we have a responsibility too.

rating 5 of 5 stars

Another excellent book about soldiers and the families they leave behind is Siobhan Fallon's You'll Know When the Men Have Gone.

Friday, March 23, 2012

Weekend Cooking- Weeknights With Giada

Weeknights With Giada by Giada de Laurentiis
Published by Clarkson Potter, ISBN 978-0307451026
240 pages, $35

I bought Giada de Laurentiis' first cookbook, Everyday Italian, when it published in 2005. I've seen some of her TV shows on the Food Network and her appearances on the Today Show.

Her latest cookbook, Weeknights With Giada promises 'quick and simple recipes to revamp dinner' that will take less than an hour to cook. Giada has a young daughter Jade, and many of her recipes in this book are geared to appeal to young children.

There is a cute photo of Jade eating Mini Meatball Sandwiches, and two other recipes that kids would enjoy are Pastina with Peas & Carrots and Pirate Pasta, both of which feature lots of chopped vegetables, which can be tough to get kids to eat. Adding them to pasta accomplishes that, and it allows you to use up vegetables you have in your refrigerator.

Giada and her family have breakfast for dinner once a week, which I used to enjoy when my sons were young. Pancakes, eggs, sausage and hash potatoes were always a treat for dinner, but now that they are men, that doesn't cut it.

There is an entire chapter of Breakfast for Dinner recipes that I would like to try, including Breakfast Tart with Pancetta & Green Onions, Peach and Cherry Fritatta and Crispy Breakfast Pita, with spinach, prosciutto and mascarpone cheese.

This is a twist on a piadina, an Italian flatbread. For weeknight ease, instead of making a dough, I use store-bought pitas as the base. They get topped with a creamy mascarpone spread, a salty bite of prosciutto, a lightly dressed arugula salad and a fried egg. Serves 6.
6 (6-inch) pita breads
Extra-virgin olive oil
6 large eggs
¾ cup (6 ounces) mascarpone cheese
Grated zest of ½ large lemon
Kosher salt and freshly ground
Black pepper
3 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
3 packed cups (3 ounces) arugula or baby spinach
8 ounces thinly sliced prosciutto
Heat a grill pan over medium-high heat or preheat a gas or charcoal grill. Brush each side of the pita breads with ½ teaspoon olive oil and grill for 2 to 3 minutes on each side, until crisp. Remove from the grill and cool slightly. In a large skillet, heat 1 tablespoon olive oil over medium-high heat. Crack the eggs directly into the pan and cook until the egg whites are set, 2 to 3 minutes. Combine the mascarpone cheese, lemon zest, ½ teaspoon salt, and ½ teaspoon pepper in a small bowl. In a medium bowl, whisk together 3 tablespoons olive oil, the lemon juice, 1 teaspoon salt, and ½ teaspoon pepper until smooth. Add the arugula and toss until coated. Spread each pita with 2 tablespoons of the mascarpone mixture. Divide the prosciutto on top. Divide the arugula and mound on top of the prosciutto. Carefully place a fried egg on top of each pita. Season the eggs with a pinch of salt and pepper, and serve.
Crispy Breakfast Pita from Weeknights With Giada

Some of the other interesting recipes are Rustic Vegetable and Polenta Soup, Caramelized Onion, Chicken & Grapefruit Salad and Couscous with Watermelon, Watercress and Feta Cheese.

At first glance, I wasn't crazy about this cookbook, but upon further perusal, I found more recipes that I would like to try, among them Crispy Chicken with Rosemary Lemon Salt, Fig & Brie Panini, Scallion & Mozzarella Cornbread and Grilled California-Style Chopped Salad with Shrimp, which if I remember correctly, Giada served Prince William and Princess Kate when they visited California last year.

There are a lot of photos, many of them with Jade in them, and a few of the photos of the food looked not very appetizing to me.  (I had an uncorrected proof of the book, so perhaps they were edited out in the final edition.) Giada has branched out from Italian to include recipes with quinoa, tofu and soy in them; those did not appeal to me as much. 

I think if you like Giada, you'll like this book, and if you have young children, there are recipes here that seem fresher and healthier than the typical kiddie fare. 

rating 3.5 of 5 stars

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!

Thursday, March 22, 2012

The Summer Garden by Sherryl Woods

The Summer Garden- A Chesapeake Shores Novel by Sherryl Woods
Published by Harlequin ISBN 978-0 7783-1309-0
Mass Market Paperback, $7.99

Let me start by saying that the romance genre is not one that I usually read. But something spoke to me about Sherryl Woods' The Summer Garden.

Maybe it was the beautiful cover art of a garden gazebo surrounded by lovely wildflowers. Maybe it was that the heroine Moira O'Malley is from Ireland, and I am Irish. Whatever it was, it captured my attention.

This is the 9th book in the Chesapeake Shores series, but I was able to jump right in without feeling lost. The numerous members of the O'Brien family live in Chesapeake Shores in Maryland, a small town where they own several businesses- an art gallery, a hotel, real estate management, an architecture firm- and young Luke O'Brien wants to join the club by opening up an Irish pub in town.

While it took a while to get to know who is who and how they are related (maybe a family tree and town map should be included for newbies to the series in the next book), but once I did, I fell in love with the O'Brien clan.

Moira met Luke when the clan went to Ireland for a family wedding, and they had a fling. Now Moira comes to America with her grandfather, who is having a romance with his long-ago love Nell, Luke's grandmother and owner of the titled summer garden.

In true romance novel fashion, Moira is maddening, "with the sharp tongue and wry wit." She is quick to anger and a bit mercurial. Luke, being a typical guy, is happy to see Moira, but not willing to make a commitment right away. He wants to wait and see what develops, and besides all his time and energy is going into making his pub a success.

What I liked about this novel was it's willingness to take on a hot topic: the changing role of women. Most of Luke's young female relatives have careers- one owns an art gallery, one owns the hotel-but Moira is not sure she wants to have a career.

She want to have a family and raise her children. When she was a child, her single mother had to work, and Moira wants a different life for her children. She discovers a talent for photography, but her heart is not it, and she is happier helping Luke prepare to open his pub.

Moira's ambivalence reflects what many young women feel today. Many of them were raised by single moms and would like to be there physically for their children. TV's The Good Wife recently tackled this in  an arc where Caitlyn, a savvy young lawyer with a promising career, leaves the law firm after one year because she is pregnant and getting married.

Two of the older women in the law firm, Diane, an unmarried founding partner in the firm, and Alicia, a third year associate who returned to practicing law after a 15 year absence to raise her children, are astounded by Caitlyn's decision. Caitlyn's announcement causes Alicia to reflect on her own life's decisions.

The push-and-pull between Moira and Luke got a bit tedious at times, I thought that perhaps the author was beating a dead horse, but then I reflected upon my own experience many years ago and thought perhaps she really did capture that uncertain feeling of young love.

I enjoyed The Summer Garden, especially after not reading many romances. The romance between Luke's grandmother and Moira's grandfather was sweet. As the former owner of a restaurant, I related to Luke's efforts getting his pub up and running. But mostly, I liked getting to know the O'Brien family and will look for other books in this series.

rating 4 of 5 stars

Mad Women by Jane Maas

Mad Women: The Other Side of Life on Madison Avenue in the '60s and Beyond by Jane Maas
Published by Thomas Dunne Books ISBN 978-0-312-64023-1
Hardcover, $24.99

If you want to get in the mood for the return of Mad Men this Sunday, pick up a copy of Jane Maas' memoir of life on Madison Ave. in the 1960s.  She is a real-life Peggy Olson, who worked her way up the ladder from copywriter to creative director to eventually owner of her own advertising agency.

Maas worked for advertising guru David Ogilvy at his agency, and her descriptions of life on Madison Avenue-the constant cigarette smoking, drinking at work and office sex- validate the writers of Mad Men. She has some amusing anecdotes, but as one of the few working mothers at Ogilvy, her observations about working when most of the other moms stayed home with their children are informative. Her older daughter, four years senior to the younger daughter, recalled all the things her mother missed, but the younger daughter was proud to have a working mom.

Jane's husband Michael was an enlightened man who fully supported his wife's career. And then there is Mabel, the woman who lived with the family during the week and cared for the children and the household. Without Mabel, Jane would not have been able to have a career. What did working mothers who did not have the money to afford a caretaker do back then? Daycare was not an option.

Maas interviewed other women who worked in advertising to get their observations. One thing I found interesting was that at one agency, when the women got promoted from secretary to copywriter, they started wearing their hats in the office- all day. It was "a badge. It proclaimed that you were no longer a secretary."  The male copywriters had their own private dining room, but the women couldn't eat there. They were served lunch at their desks by their secretaries. And they ate with their hats on.

Maas was a key person on one of the most successful advertising campaigns ever, the I Love New York campaign. I found this section of the book utterly fascinating. Maas worked closely with Governor Hugh Carey, and he was so impressed with her work, he asked her to plan his wedding, although she had never done anything like that before.

Leona Helmsley, the so-called Queen of Mean, offers to back Maas in an agency of her own, and that turns out to be a big mistake. Helmsley offers to introduce Maas to her important friends and to help make her agency a huge success, but in the end, she treated Maas as poorly as she treated most people who worked for her. Helmsley is larger-than-life and not in a good way. Let's just say everything you have ever heard about her is true and then some.

Mad Women is a fabulous look at what it was like to work in a mostly-male domain of advertising in the 1960s. Maas is a terrific writer, and being a copywriter, she knows how to say a lot with a few words, and make those few words have a punch. It's the perfect book to get you in the mood for the start of season five of Mad Men.

rating 4 of 5 stars

Saturday, March 17, 2012

Weekend Cooking: The SparkPeople Cookbook

The SparkPeople Cookbook: Love Your Food, Lose the Weight by Meg Galvin
Published by Hay House, ISBN 978-1-4019-3132-2

I had never heard of SparkPeople.com when I received their cookbook for review. The introduction tells the fascinating story of the origins of SparkPeople, beginning with their first book, The Spark: The 28-Day Breakthrough Plan for Losing Weight, Getting Fit and Transforming Your Life. 

That led to SparkPeople.com, helping people lose weight and eat healthier through "10-minute bursts of fitness, small goals set along the way to achieve larger ones, a tight-knit network to offer support, and healthy easy-to-prepare food to fuel an active life."

This led to the The SparkPeople Cookbook, by Meg Galvin, which is really a lifestyle book. Chapters like Satisfying, Sustaining, and Stress-Free Eating, The Science of Satisfaction,  and my favorite, The Healthy New Kitchen, which lists necessary the kitchen tools and pantry staples, spell out in easy-to-read terms how to live a healthier lifestyle.

The second part of the book gives recipes that range from simple and unique, Pumpkin Pie Smoothie,  to ones that take a little more time like the one I tried, Minestone Soup with Parmesan Crisps, which was hearty and filling, with only 197 calories per serving, 4.6 g of total fat and 9.4 g of dietary fiber.
Minestrone Soup from DailySpark.com

The soup was very tasty, but it called for "one 4.5-ounce can of diced tomatoes". I frequently use the standard 14.5 oz can of diced tomatoes, but I have never seen a 4.5 oz. of diced tomatoes, and that seemed like too small an amount, so I used a 14.5 oz. can of tomatoes, and it seemed to work.

It also calls for "one 5.5-ounce can cannelini beans". Again, I have seen 15.5 oz. cans, but not 5.5 oz. cans. Has anyone else tried this recipe, and if so, did you follow it as written? How did it turn out? Has anyone ever seen a 4.5 oz. can of diced tomatoes? I found this confusing, but I didn't see any other odd measurements on any other recipes I perused.

Each recipe has an icon index at the top that tells you such things as whether the recipe has multiple servings of fruit and vegetables, if it freezes well, if it's great for company or kid-friendly. I liked this, it makes it easy to see at a glance if it work for what you need.

It has lots of photos, again something I like, and the appendix is filled with useful information, such a table on how long fresh fruits and vegetables should last and how to store them, a comparison chart for oils, and a two week menu cycle. (I would have liked to have seen a three or four cycle; two weeks seems like you could get bored more easily.)

The SparkPeople Cookbook is a good book for someone who wants to make a healthy change in their life. It has so much great information in addition to the recipes, it is an invaluable tool for every cook's bookshelf.

4 of 5 stars

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!

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

In The Bleak Midwinter by Julia Spencer-Fleming

In The Bleak Midwinter by Julia Spencer-Fleming
Published by Minotaur Books ISBN 978-1-250-00651-6
Trade paperback $14.99

I read the latest in the Clare Fergusson/Russ Van Alstyne series One Was A Soldier last year, and so I was pleased to see that the first book of the series, In The Bleak Midwinter, was reissued last month.

It gave me the opportunity to see Clare, a National Guard helicopter pilot/ Episcopal priest and Millers Kill Chief of Police Van Alstyne meet for the first time and begin their working friendship that eventually blossoms into love.

Clare is the new priest at the local Episcopal church when a baby is left at the church entrance. She takes the baby to the hospital, along with the note that requests that the baby be given to a couple from her church who have been trying to adopt a baby.

Soon after, Katie, the college student who gave birth to the baby, is found murdered. Chief Van Alstyne is on the case and the good reverend has made it her mission to become involved as well. Katie's father had sexually abused her older sister, so it was possible that her father was the baby's father and murdered his daughter to keep quiet.

Katie had been seeing a boy from high school- could he be the father and/or the killer? Clare discovers that Katie had also been secretly dating a young man from a prominent family in the community; his father serves on Clare's church board of directors. And what about the couple whose name was in Katie's note? They wanted a baby so badly, would they kill to get one?

The list of suspects is long, and Clare's involvement in the case puts her life in danger. She is lured into the forest and shot at by someone. The scene is a long, tense one as Clare uses all her survival skills she learned in the military to save her life.

Millers Kill is located in the Adirondacks, and the setting is winter. Clare is from Virginia, and the author mines some humor from Clare not being prepared to live in the cold and snow. She drives a red sports car that has no traction in the snow. Her boots are dressy, not practical and she doesn't even have a parka. You would think someone who spent time in Iraq would be better prepared.

The mystery is a good one, and I did not guess the killer. The author does not telegraph her killer's identity, giving the reader reasons to suspect many people.

But it is the blossoming relationship between Clare and Russ that is the strength of this book. They become friends, but it is clear that they will become more as time goes on. Russ' wife is mentioned several times in the book, but she is not present in the story.

Spencer-Fleming does a great job with the setting as well. I lived in cold, snowy Central New York most of my life, and her atmosphere was spot-on; I had to put a sweater on while I was reading it. I liked the town of Millers Kill, and look forward to getting know more of the townspeople in the other books of  the series.

rating 4 of 5

The Emerald Diamond by Charlie Rosen

The Emerald Diamond by Charley Rosen
Published by Harper Collins ISBN 978-0062089885
Hardcover $25.99

Saturday is St. Patrick's Day, and since spring training is well underway, it's a good time to review Charley Rosen's book The Emerald Diamond: How The Irish Transformed America's Greatest Pastime.

I'm proudly Irish and have been a big baseball fan since childhood, so this book held great appeal for me. I had never really considered the Irish contribution to baseball, and Rosen's book is comprehensive in his thesis.

As the Irish wave of immigration exploded during the potato famine in the 1840s, the author states that
"only four paths of advancement were readily available to young Irish males: politics, police work, the priesthood and sports." 
Many sports were out of reach for immigrants- golf, tennis, football, track and field were the purview of the wealthy and college educated. Boxing and baseball appealed to the Irish immigrants. Baseball was their game
"because the basics of the sport involved manipulating a bat (which strongly resembled the ancient Irish war club known as the shillelagh), running fast, and throwing a ball hard and accurately- all skills familiar to traditional sporting pastimes in Ireland. "
Rosen's intertwined history of baseball in America and the Irish immigrants who played the game utterly fascinated me. In the late 1880s, Irish players became valued for their contributions to the game. The Sporting News wrote that the Irish were "distinguished by their ability to quickly devise plans and schemes." The American Press Association said it was due to their "love of a scrap and proficiency in the use of a club."

The schemes that some of the Irish players devised are recounted with great humor and admiration here. Mike "King" Kelly frequently took advantage of the fact that when there was only one umpire who had to watch the play at first, he would take a "shortcut" while rounding third to get home, eliminating 20 feet or so.

Kelly also would hide an extra ball in his uniform shirt and if it was dark out and a fly ball went over the fence, he would pull the ball from shirt and claim to have caught it for an out. There are many clever and funny tales like this that had me giggling, because I know a few coaches who would love to pull some stunts like that.

Some of the greatest managers in the game were Irish; Joe McCarthy, John McGraw, Casey Stengel and Connie Mack brought many innovations to the game that still exist today. When Mack was a catcher, he one was one of the first who would attempt to throw out the trailing runner in a double steal. He was also the first catcher who would physically block the plate when the runner attempted to score.

I'm from Auburn, NY and one of the interesting tidbits in the book concerns McGraw who, at the end of every season, donated the Giants used uniforms to the Auburn Prison baseball team. I had never heard that bit of lore.

Each chapter begins with a quote, and my favorite is from George Bernard Shaw- "People who say it cannot be done should not interrupt those who are doing it." I think I'll put that one on my family's coat of arms.

The book profiles Irish players, coaches, and even umpires, from every era and gives their stats. I grew up loving baseball and being proud of being Irish, yet I never thought about the important contributions the Irish made to the great game of baseball.

This is a wonderful book to give to the Irish sports fan in your life; it makes the perfect St. Patrick's Day or Easter gift, just in time for opening day in April.

rating 4 of 5 stars

Monday, March 12, 2012

No Mark Upon Her by Deborah Crombie

No Mark Upon Her by Deborah Crombie
Published by William Morrow ISBN 978-0-06-199061-8
Hardcover $25.99

I was surprised to discover that Deborah Crombie, author of No Mark Upon Her, the 14th in her Duncan Kinkaid/Gemma James Scotland Yard detective series, lives in Texas. This is the first of her books I have read, I would have bet my bottom dollar that the author was as British as Queen Elizabeth and scones with clotted cream. I would have lost that bet.

How could any author who peppers her novel with such phrases as "taking the mickey" out of someone, which means to tease, and "dab hand in the kitchen", meaning someone who knows her way around the kitchen, not be British? I enjoy learning new words and phrases, and I got a lot of new vocabulary from this book. (Maybe they'll use some of the words in the next season of Downton Abbey.)

I do have to admit being a little lost in the beginning of this book. A female police detective is found dead after she goes out rowing one evening. Becca Meredith is secretly training for the upcoming Olympics, and it was unlikely that she accidentally drowned.

I know nothing about rowing, and it would helped immensely to have been somewhat familiar with the sport, as many of the characters, including police detectives, were. It also would have helped to have read some of the other books in the series, as there is a lot of backstory and relationships among characters that I didn't know about.

That being said, I'm glad I stuck with the book. There are a lot of characters here, and after awhile I was able to sort them all out and enjoy the author's ride. I like Duncan and Gemma and their patchwork family: Kit (Duncan's son), Toby (Gemma's son) and Charlotte (their foster child). They are newly married, and their efforts to work out the logistics of marriage, family, child care and work issues rang true to me.

Becca's death peels back some unsavory layers, like an onion. Her ex-husband had some shady financial dealings and would profit from her death via an insurance policy. Becca was secretly dating an Iraq war vet who worked on boats at the rowing club she belonged to. Was the women's crew coach upset because Becca could possibly take the spot of one of his rowers on the Olympic team? And what about the deputy police commissioner whom Becca accused of rape last year?  Someone Becca arrested? The list of suspects is lengthy.

Duncan Kincaid is an ethical man, and he puts his all into finding out who murdered Becca. Although his wife Gemma is still on family leave, she and her colleague Melody uncover some evidence that help point Duncan's investigation in a dangerous direction.

With the plethora of suspects, the author successfully keeps the identity of the killer, as well as the motive under wraps until the end. I admire Crombie's skill as a mystery writer, as I dislike being able to guess the killer halfway through the story. She kept me interested in the mystery and the story of Duncan and Gemma and their lovely family.

My favorite character though was Kieran, the Iraq war vet and rescue searcher. He seemed like a lost soul, but his relationship with his dog, and with Tavie, another rescue searcher, was touching. It's obvious that the author had a special affinity for this quiet hero.

I will keep my eye out for more of Crombie's Kincaid/James series, especially when I'm in the mood for  a little Brit lit mystery.

rating 4 of 5

The Gypsy Twist by Frank Hickey

The Gypsy Twist by Frank Hickey
Published by Pigtown Books ISBN 978-0-9848810-0-0
Paperback, $9.95
I had the pleasure of attending the book launch party for Frank Hickey's The Gypsy Twist on March 10th at the lovely home of Frank's sister, WPIX news reporter Magee Hickey.

The huge crowd overflowed the apartment as many people came to congratulate Frank on the publication of his Max Royster mystery, the first one in which Frank (among many others) hopes is a series of books starring the quirky, misfit NYPD patrol officer.

Max Royster became an NYPD patrol officer at the advanced age of 42. He is an enigma to many of his fellow officers, as well as to his commanding officers. He enjoys bellowing about wanting cash and spends time at the bar across the street from his precinct house in Flatbush, Brooklyn, where he calls the regulars at the bar the
 "Budweiser tribe. The orange-haired, pink-faced Irishers who always wear either bright kelly green or hairy gray tweed. Or football jerseys. Who bellow and stomp around the local saloon like young prize whiteface bulls. Cops. Or priests. Con Edison workers, bus drivers or firemen. Irishers all. When you get older, you grow beautiful heads of silver and white hair. You can always see the tribesmen on St. Paddy's day. Or at Topsy's here, sucking down those Budweisers so that the tribes carries on."
Author Frank Hickey at his book launch party

Hickey read that passage at the party and he got a big laugh from the crowd. While reading the book, I could definitely hear Hickey's voice in Max's dialogue, although when I asked him how much of Max is Frank, he demurred, saying "not much."

When a woman asked him who he would like to see play Max in a movie, Hickey replied "Jerry Lewis!" That is something I could hear Max saying. They both have an unorthodox sense of humor.

The storyline revolves around the vicious murder in Central Park of a young boy who attended St. Blaise's School, a private school on the Upper East Side, or as Max calls it, 'the Playpen'. Since Max attended the school as a boy, and knows the feel of the neighborhood, he is brought in to work the case.

Hickey captures the atmosphere of the Upper East Side circa 1995, and the sense of entitlement and secrecy that some of the residents of 'the Playpen' hold. This brutal murderer must be caught before the press and the residents go crazy.

When another boy is brutally murdered in a similar fashion, the police have a serial killer on their hands. Royster is tipped off by a local reporter about a young boy murdered in the same fashion in New Orleans.  Another murder happens in San Francisco. The kicker is that the murderer is believed to be a woman, highly unusual for serial killers.

Hickey does a fabulous job giving his readers the flavor of the cities that Royster visits to uncover the identity of the murderer. We see the seedy underbellies of New Orleans and San Francisco, places where a killer could hide out.

Max goes undercover and without the resources or blessing of the NYPD; he is on his own matching wits with a cunning killer. Hickey is masterful at ratcheting up the tension as Max gets closer to finding the true identity of this barbaric killer.

There is a lot of savage, sudden violence in this book, and readers who cannot stomach that should stay away, but fans of James Patterson's Alex Cross series will want The Gypsy Twist on their bookshelf. Max Royster is a fresh, unique, quirky character in a genre that needs it.

rating 4 of 5

Saturday, March 10, 2012

Weekend Cooking- Bean by Bean- A Cookbook

Bean by Bean- A Cookbook by Crescent Dragonwagon
Published by Workman Publishing ISBN 978-0-7611-3241-7
Softcover, $15.95

I have seen other reviews of this book, and my curiosity was peaked. My family doesn't eat lot of beans, but I would like to incorporate more of them into our diet. (I like black beans, refried beans, kidney beans, white beans myself.)

This is a comprehensive book about beans. The author starts with Bean Basics, discussing the many variety of beans and the basic cooking methods for each type: what to look for in a good green bean, shell beans and how to cook them, soaking beans- whatever you need to know about beans is covered here, no more need to fear them.

The ten chapters cover such topics like Hummus & Starters, with such recipes as Gotcha-Hotcha Sweet-Smoky Cocktail Peanuts, Hillbilly Hummus (made with peanut butter!) and Greektown Dip from Chicago's Greektown.

Soulful Simmer Soups is a great chapter that covers the world of beans literally. There are Middle Eastern Bean Soups (Spicy Syrian-Style Lentil Soup), African Bean Soups (Nigerian Seed-Thickened Beef & Shrimp Soup Stew), Asian Bean Soups (Thai Hot & Sour Soups), Indian Bean Soups (Sambar), European (Hungarian Green Bean Soup), and the Americas (Day after Thanksgiving Turkey, Wild Rice & Rattlesnake Bean Soup).

Of course there are many chili recipes, curry recipes and a chapter on skillets and stir fries that contains an interesting vegetable hash recipe I want to try.The last chapter has desserts, with Julie's Peanut Butter Cup  Brownies that looks good and I never would have thought I'd find in a bean cookbook!

I like that each recipe has symbols next to it that states whether it is compatible for vegans, vegetarians, gluten-free diets or has meat in it. That makes it easy for anyone with dietary restrictions or preferences to quickly see if the recipe is for them.

The only negative I have is that there are no photos of recipes in the book, but it is a substantial book, and I guess that photos would add to the heft of the book.

If you like beans or would like to add more beans to your diet, this is the cookbook to pick up. I can't imagine that there is any information about beans that I would like to know that is not in this comprehensive, 175-recipe book.

rating 4 of 5 stars

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!