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Friday, April 27, 2012

Weekend Cooking - Serious Eats

Serious Eats: A Comprehensive Guide to Making and Eating Delicious Food Wherever You Are by Ed Levine and the Editors of Serious Eats
Published by Clarkson Potter ISBN 978-0307720870
Trade Paperback $27.99

Seriouseats.com is a popular website that labels itself "A Food Blog and Community." You can find out where to get the best burger, the best sandwich, the best anything in most major cities.

Now they have published a book, Serious Eats: A Comprehensive Guide to Making and Eating Delicious Food Wherever You Are, and it is a fascinating book, especially if you are the kind of person who likes lists. (Me! Me!)

Some of the chapters include:

  • Fried Chicken: 12 of Our Favorite Spots
  • 5 Gelato Spots We Love
  • 11 Pies We Love From Coast to Coast
  • 10 Favorite Farmers Markets
I love that they include street food, which is so hot right now. They have
  • 5 Taco Trucks We Love
  • 20 Favorite Street-Food Stops
Within each chapter, they share the best places across the country to get the specified food, but they also include recipes from each category for those who prefer to cook and don't travel much. 

But if you do travel, this book is invaluable. I have been to many of the cities they visited, and have tried some of the food they recommend, but I wish I had it before I traveled. From now on, this book will be the first place I turn to when I visit other cities.

The end of the book has some unique stuff in it, including a chapter titled "College Town Eats". They share their daily agenda, which is so interesting. For example, they took a day trip to New Orleans, where they left New York at 4:45am, and returned at 9:30pm, making 12 stops at restaurants in between; that is just crazy! In Chicago they made 12 food stops between 10am and 6pm.

The section on New York City, where I live, gave me an entire list of places to try, including City Bakery for a pretzel croissant and a breakfast pastry at Locenda Verde. I sometimes get red velvet cupcakes at Two Little Red Hens, but now I must try their cheesecake. 

The directory at the end of the end of the book lists the states and each place mentioned in the book, along with their web addresses.

This book is so much fun, it's the perfect gift for your favorite foodie, and if you live in one of the many cities they have covered, it is essential.

rating 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, April 26, 2012

We're With Nobody by Alan Huffman & Michael Rejebian

We're With Nobody by Alan Huffman & Michael Rejebian
Published by William Morrow ISBN 978-0-06-201577-8
Trade paperback $15.99

I've always been interested in politics and in my opinion The West Wing was one of the best television shows of all time, so I was intrigued by the new book We're With Nobody: Two Insiders Reveal the Dark Side of American Politics.

Written by two journalists-turned-political-opposition researchers, Alan Huffman and Michael Rejebian, the book recounts their work digging up information on politicians, from US Senate hopefuls to local school board candidates.

The men tell their story in alternate chapters, but the gist of it is that they travel to local government offices to gather information that is supposed to be available to anyone who asks, i.e. voting records, tax records, court documents, etc. One big take-away from this book is that people who work in these government offices are frequently reluctant to share this information, even though it is their job to do so.

Time after time, the researchers have to cajole, flatter, and sometimes get indignant to get the information they need. The first question that is usually asked of them is "Who are you with?", thus leading to the title of the book. Their answer, more often than not, is "none of your business."

The government employees often stall, and the researchers have been followed back to their hotel and verbally threatened to go "back where they came from." This book reinforces the often-held opinion that government employees are uncooperative.

The men state that they are "guided, more or less, by the conviction that no one is fit to lead unless proven otherwise." They see themselves as "seekers of the truth." They believe that discovering the truth is"more crucial than ever, when today's news is prone to distortion, willful ignorance and lies."

I loved this quote: "Truth is a word that should never be qualified. It's like pregnancy; it's yes or no", and they quote Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan who supposedly said "everyone is entitled to his own opinions, but not his facts." Amen to that!

One of the more interesting incidents happened when they talked to the ex-wife of a candidate they were researching. They were looking about information about his business dealings, of which she had none. In the course of conversation, she complained that he never took her anywhere, but he takes his new girlfriend everywhere, and that he was arrested for beating the girlfriend up in an airport.

That piece of information might be useful. She said it happened on vacation, so Michael found out where they vacationed, pulled out a map, checked possible routes, and proceeded to call airports to ask about arrest reports. After many, many phone calls, he finds the report.

That information is passed along to a friend of the man, who takes the report to the candidate and shows it to him. The candidate withdrew from the running.

The men say that finding information on politicians, such as who donated to the campaigns, and who benefits from their votes is important. They state "the same type of systemic abuse that results in poorly built sidewalks in an out-of-the-way township resulted in the failed federal response to Hurricane Katrina." I'm not sure I totally buy that, but it is something to ponder.

They don't name names, although the reader is able to figure out that they did research on US Senate hopeful Christine O'Donnell and Sarah Palin.

Political junkies will enjoy this fascinating look at a part of the political process that is usually done under the cover of darkness, and has been done since the time of Caesar. The subject is interesting and timely in this election year, and you will look at political ads in a different light after reading this book.

rating 3 of 5

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Jenny Lawson at Barnes & Noble

Jenny Lawson at Barnes & Noble
Jenny Lawson is known to many people as the Bloggess, the name of her wildly funny, popular, and at times inappropriate, blog. Now she will be will be known as author with the release of her book, Let's Pretend This Never Happened (A Mostly True Memoir), from Amy Einhorn Books.

She kicked off her book tour at Barnes & Noble's 86th St. store on the Upper East Side to an standing room only audience, usually reserved for Broadway stars when they are promoting their CD recordings of their shows.

Lawson appeared a tad nervous, blurting out "holy s@*t" when she took the podium. She said she had a dream that only two people showed up, and she was one of them. Fans of Lawson know that she has Chronic Anxiety Disorder, which makes her book tour appearances even more impressive, explaining that if she felt it necessary to crawl under the table, she knows her fans "would be OK with that." And they would; they love her!

She began by reading what she describes as "the most embarrassing thing I could read", a hilarious chapter from her book titled "The Psychopath on the Other Side of the Bathroom Door" which described a do-it-yourself colon cleanse that goes terribly awry, and had the entire crowd roaring with laughter.

Lawson originally started this book ten years ago, as a way to tell her stories to her daughter. She got into blogging to find her voice, which she describes as essential to anyone considering writing (or blogging).

She also said that "finding your audience" as a blogger is key. She found her audience by commenting on blogs that she found funny, and soon other commenters followed her blog, and now she is a powerhouse in blogging. She says that the funniest part of her blog is the comments section.

Someone asked about the editing process for her book, and she was honest, saying that it was difficult. She described her editor as saying "this is lovely, let's cut this baby's limbs off here, it will look better without arms", which she declared was tough, but in fact necessary.

A question was asked about whether Lawson was able to contact William Shatner; she spoke to "his people" and said that "he was TOTALLY wrong, and I was TOTALLY right."

As the Q&A section of the talk ended, Lawson shared some advice that author Neil Gaiman gave to her that really helped; he said "pretend you're good at it". She didn't need to pretend; she had that room in the palm of her hand.

I read a few chapters of the book while I was waiting, and it is profanely hilarious. If you don't mind cursing, and you like to laugh, pick up Let's Pretend This Never Happened.

Friday, April 13, 2012

NY Met Bud Harrelson at Barnes & Noble 86th St.

Bud Harrelson at Barnes & Noble
Growing up, one of my brothers was a big NY Met fan, and as he was a shortstop, Bud Harrelson was one of his favorite players.

Harrelson is the only Met to have championships from both the 1969 team (as a player) and the 1986 team (as a coach). He appeared at Barnes & Noble 86th Street promoting his book, Turn Two: My Journey To The Top Of The World And Back With The New York Mets, which was co-written by Phil Pepe.

He is now the co-owner and senior vice-president of the Long Island Ducks, a baseball team in the Atlantic League of Professional Baseball, and he said that it is "the best thing he has done in baseball", and he sounds very sincere about it. He loves where he lives in Suffolk County, and this team impacts where he lives. They are lucky to have him.

Harrelson talked for a long time, over an hour, and answered many questions from the audience. He recounted how he got his start in baseball, as a walk-on for San Francisco State.  He joked about getting a $13,500 signing bonus from the Mets, which his brother "borrowed and never repaid."

One thing Harrelson is remembered for is an on-field fight with Pete Rose. Harrelson was (and still is) a small guy, and after a Mets/Reds game NLCS game in 1973 where Mets pitcher Jon Matlack shut down the might Reds hitting, Harrelson told a reporter that the Reds "hit like me" today. (Harrelson was a career .236 hitter, with 7 HRs.)

The next day, Joe Morgan from the Reds grabbed Harrelson by the shirt during warmups and told him "if you say that again, I'll punch you." Then he warned Harrelson that Rose was coming at him to fire up the team. In the 5th inning, Rose came at Harrelson and as Harrelson says "I hit him on the fist with my jaw."

It became known as the "Duel in the Sun", and there were lots of questions last night about Pete Rose. Harrelson said that Rose signs autographs for $65 a pop, signature only. If you want it personalized, it's another $65.

Harrelson signs for free, and he told a story about seeing Rose at Cooperstown, where he was on the main street signing for $65. Harrelson, who was relegated to signing on a side street, but when he saw Rose, he pulled up a chair next to him, and when people asked Rose to sign a photo of the "Duel in the Sun" for $65, Harrelson signed it for free.

He also said that Rose's son, Pete Jr., played for his Long Island Ducks for three years, and he refused to sign autographs too. (OK, that is something I do not understand. Rose Jr, is not even a big leaguer.)

Someone asked Harrelson if he would vote for Rose to get into the Hall of Fame, and Harrelson got a little prickly, saying "I'm not in the Hall, so I don't get a vote, but Seaver, Morgan and Bench won't vote for him". The man kept at him, saying there was more to the Rose story, but Harrelson reminded the guy that Rose was offered a lifetime ban in exchange for MLB sealing the record of the investigation into gambling allegations against him, and Rose took it.

Harrelson is a stand-up guy with a dry sense of humor, and I couldn't believe it when he said he was 68 years old; he does not look it. He loves baseball and he has a lot to teach young players. He even let us all try on his 86 World Series ring; how cool is that? He said this book is not a tell-all, but his story of his life in baseball, which is an interesting one. Think of this as a great gift for the NY Met in your life.

Weekend Cooking- A Birthday Celebration

My husband's sister Brigette, his brother's wife Kay and I all share the same birthday, although we were born in different years. It's always nice when two or all three of us can celebrate together, and this year Brigette and I shared a celebration.

On the day before our birthday, we went up to Kingston to visit, and Brigette made Cook's Illustrated Perfect Baked Ziti, since it was Good Friday and we couldn't have meat. It was soooo tasty! She added a Caesar salad and some fresh bread and it was the perfect way to kick off the weekend.

I found the recipe for this ziti posted on A Bountiful Kitchen's website, so here it is. I know I will be trying it soon. Perfect Baked Ziti.
Baked Ziti- yum

On Saturday evening, our actual birthday, our husbands treated our families to a delicious dinner at Calico Restaurant and Patisserie in Rhinebeck (the town where Chelsea Clinton got married). It's a darling little place, and our group of eleven took up half of the restaurant.

Calico Restaurant

Some of the culinary highlights included the escargot appetizer, which was escargot Chardonnay and shallot braised and baked in a garlic and herb butter sauce (my husband and mother-in-law raved about them) and the sauteed risotto and saffron fritter with shiitake mushrooms in a wild mushroom and chive broth that Brigette and I both had. Oh my goodness, it was scrumptious! My sons both had the crab cake appetizer with a homemade tartar sauce they loved.

After dinner, they brought out the dual birthday cakes, baked by Leslie, the chef's wife and co-owner of Calico. Brigette had a Chocolate Raspberry Mousse Cake, and I got a Chocolate Mousse Cake. Both were so beautifully decorated and tasted sinfully good. And there were very few leftovers, even though we had two cakes!

We all had a lovely time and if you ever go to Rhinebeck, I highly recommend this gem of a restaurant.

On Easter Sunday, we celebrated mass at Ferncliffe Nursing Home, where we assisted transporting the residents. The mass was so wonderful, and many of residents participated in the readings and ringing bells during the mass; it was a beautiful way to celebrate Easter.

Following mass, my mother-in-law arranged for a fantastic catered brunch. We had sausage quiche,  fruit salad, a huge platter of bagels, pastries and carrot cake mini muffins that were yummy. The big hit at brunch was the stuffed french toast, which was stuffed with turkey and ham and there were many people calling dibs on those leftovers.

It was a lovely birthday/Easter weekend, and best of all, we shared it with family.

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, April 12, 2012

Adriana Trigiani at Barnes & Noble

Last night was one of my favorite nights of the year- Adriana Trigiani's annual book signing event at Barnes & Noble 86th St. store in New York City.

The atmosphere is always like a party, and the only thing missing is alcohol and hors d'oeurves. Adriana sweeps into the room, hugging and blowing kisses to her friends in the room, which is pretty much anyone who has ever met her once.

At the podium she scans the room, calling out "her peeps", including Jonathan Burnham, her publisher, whom she says "is handsome and British- two of my favorite food groups." And the laughter began.

She asked "Who's Italian here?" and 3/4 of the people in the room raised their hands. I sometimes feel left out, as I am Irish/English/Scottish, but the Italian people are very welcoming. She asked people "where they are from" and the Italians started spouting off villages and regions in Italy. A mixed marriage in Italy "is one between two people from different villages."

Adriana is married to a man of Scottish descent, and she said that "an American is a person who doesn't know where he is from." She said that when people say "we're Scottish", she says "what does that mean?" She doesn't understand people who don't know from where their ancestors came. (Guilty: I have no idea.)

To get ready to write her epic novel, The Shoemaker's Wife, she said that she had to "reconnect with her Italianess" and that meant watching a Rocky movie marathon. She recalled thinking how hot Sylvester Stallone was in those movies, and joked that the movie was memorable for the bad hat that Adrian wore, because "all Italian girls have a key moment in their life where they are wearing a bad hat."

The book is based on her grandparents love story. They lived five miles from each other in Italy, but didn't meet until they came to America, living in Hoboken. I loved this lush, gorgeous book (my review is here), and was fascinated by the little tidbits of inside information we got last night.

The book is dedicated to her great-uncle Monsignor Don Andrea Spada, brother to her grandmother Lucia. He was the editor of L'Eco di Bergamo, a Catholic newspaper, for 51 years, and Adriana credits her "gift of words", as one audience member said, as coming from him. The character of Eduardo is based in part on the monsignor.

The book itself is gorgeous because Adriana says that her readers "love beautiful things." The outer cover feels so rich, and has raised lettering on it. It feels like a book you would have bought back in the day. The cover is a photo by Louise Dahl-Wolfe, who took portrait photos for Harper's Bazaar in the 1940s and 1950s. The model for the photo is the same model on the cover of Adriana's book Lucia, Lucia (also by Dahl-Wolfe).

Adriana told a story of the model, an older woman by now, seeing herself on the book cover of Lucia, Lucia in Target and telling her daughter "that's me!" Her daughter contacted Adriana and the women met. Can you imagine seeing yourself on the cover of a book?

A lot of research went into this book, and one fascinating fact Adriana mentioned was that the United States sent 10,000 men a week to fight in World War I. To get that many men, they were offered citizenship if they fought, and most of the men who did this were Puerto Rican. (There is a Puerto Rican soldier in the book who befriends Ciro.) She mentioned a great book on WWI by Peter Englund, The Beauty and the Sorrow.

In the Q&A session, the inevitable question of when the movie of Big Stone Gap will be made came up. Adriana likes Ashley Judd for the role of Ave Maria, and told a funny story about meeting with actor Jeffrey Dean Morgan (Denny from TV's Gray's Anatomy) in an L.A. hotel room to discuss him playing Jack Mac. (Her makeup started to melt.)

I want to thank Adriana for the lovely words she said about me and my blog, and bloggers in general. It's nice that authors appreciate the role that bloggers have in discussing books and why we love them.

At every book signing, we take a photo together, and although I really hardly ever like any photos of me, I always like the photos of Adriana and me.
Adriana and me at Barnes & Noble 

If you have the opportunity to see Adriana at an event, do it! (Her tour stops are here). And if you are looking for a big, lush, epic book about star-crossed love, family, the building of America in beautiful settings, get a copy of The Shoemaker's Wife.  (Mother's Day is around the corner- ask your kids to buy it for you!)

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Adriana Trigiani on Good Day New York

The Tiger's Wife by Tea Obreht

The Tiger's Wife by Tea Obreht
Published by Random House ISBN 978-0385343848
Paperback $15

Tea Obreht's was born in Belgrade, Yugoslavia in 1985, which made her just 25 years of age when she wrote The Tiger's Wife, which was nominated for the National Book Award last year. That is a remarkable accomplishment, one that had many people in awe of her talent.

The book tells the story of Natalia, a doctor in a war-torn country. Her grandfather, also a doctor, died in a remote town from an illness he kept hidden from his wife and daughter, but not from Natalia. Natalia spent a lot of time growing up with her grandfather; he took her to the zoo and read to her from Rudyard Kipling's The Jungle Book.

He also told her a story from his childhood about a woman called the Tiger's Wife. She was a young mute woman married to the town butcher, a man who physically abused her. No one in town would her help her, and when a tiger was on the loose and the butcher was sent out with other men to kill the tiger, the butcher never came back.

The tiger was seen going into the butcher's slaughterhouse at night, where the butcher's wife let him in. People in the town were frightened of her, and when she became pregnant, they feared the baby belonged to the tiger. Her only friend was Natalia's grandfather, then a young boy.

Natalia's grandfather also crossed paths with Gavran, a man who cannot die. The first time the young doctor meets him is when the man is shot and drowned in a river by a fearful group of townspeople. He has a hole in his head, but he is not dead.

The doctor does not believe his story about being unable to die, but the men cross paths a few times more over the years. Gavran's story of how he came to be unable to die is fascinating, and his interactions with the doctor are the most interesting parts of the novel.

Obreht weaves a magical tale, and the book soars during the fable-like stories of the Tiger's Wife and Gavran. Natalia's story, though she is presumably the protagonist of the novel, is really the least interesting, perhaps because it is rooted in reality.

One of my favorite passages in the book talks about war:
"When your fight has purpose- to free you from something to interfere on the behalf of an innocent- it has a hope of finality. When the fight is about unraveling- when it is about your name, the places to which your blood is anchored, the attachment of your name to some landmark or event- there is nothing but hate, and the long, slow progression of people who feed on it and are fed it, meticulously by the ones who come before them. Then the fight is endless, and comes in waves and waves, but always retains its capacity to surprise those who hope against it."
What a very sad but profound statement, and many societies, including our own, have found that to be true at the cost of many innocent lives.

The Tiger's Wife is a unique novel, combining the real horrors of war with the fables of the Tiger's Wife and Gavran, the man who could not die. I'm sure I am not the only one who looks forward to Obreht's next work.

rating 4 of 5

Monday, April 2, 2012

Cruising Attitude by Heather Poole

Cruising Attitude by Heather Poole
Published by William Morrow, ISBN 978-0-06-198646-8
Trade paperback, $14.99

I had just finished Heather Poole's memoir, Cruising Attitude: Tales of Crashpads, Crew Drama, and Crazy Passengers at 35,000 Feet, when the news broke about the Jet Blue pilot who had a breakdown on his flight from New York to Las Vegas. After reading Heather's book, you kind of understood how this happened.

Poole began her career on a regional airline, SunJet, that offered a $69 flight from Dallas to Newark, Ft. Lauerdale and Long Beach. The airline was often filled with unattended minors shuttling back and forth between parents and grandparents, and one flight Poole flew had 12 unattended minors. She joked that the planes were literally held together with duct tape on seats, in the galley, etc.

She eventually moved on to a bigger airline, and she gives the reader a fascinating insight to the world of flight attendants. The first step was flight attendant school, or as Poole called it 'Barbie Boot Camp', which lasted for two months. Each day, fewer and fewer people would be at school; it reminded me of Demi Moore in the movie G.I. Jane, where recruits would disappear without a word.

Poole made a good friend in Georgia, a gorgeous Southern belle who had always dreamed of being an flight attendant. Her roommate was a Texas gal named Linda, who was a grandmother. Heather had her doubts about Linda, but they became friends too.

I learned many interesting facts about flight attendants. For example, they do not get paid until the  plane backs away from the gate. While you're boarding and they are welcoming you and helping with your bags, they are not being paid. I think that is just plain wrong.

They must find crashpads to stay in, usually rented rooms in homes near their base airport. Heather and Georgia lived in a home owned by a Russian cabbie, where they shared a room with four other women, and there were three other bedrooms set up in similar fashion upstairs. And only one bathroom. It sounds almost like living on a submarine to me. (In fact, some people did have a bed-sharing agreement, like a submarine.)

There were even some flight attendants who lived in RVs in the employee parking lots at JFK airport.

Poole attempts to explain the reserve system, which sounded like the equivalent of hospital residents on-call system, but I didn't quite understand all of the intricacies of it. It is very involved, and the first time Heather was called to work on reserve, she messed it up and almost got fired, as she was on probation and could be fired for any small infraction.

In the 1970s, flight attendants averaged 18 months of employment, because they must be single and childless. Today, they last either a few months or an entire lifetime; there seems to be no middle ground.

Most attendants take the job for the travel passes; the ability to fly for free or for a very reduced rate. They can also have a few family members or friends fly for free. For the low pay and sometime abusive conditions, I'm not sure it's worth it. (Some of her stories of horrible passengers made me cringe. How can human beings act like that?)

Poole is a terrific writer; her book reads like a good novel. She tells her story with humor and pathos, and there's even some tension thrown in for good measure. I raced through the book, and it gave me a new appreciation for flight attendants.

One thing she said that stuck with me is that flight attendants appreciate hearing a "please" or "thank you".  I think that it is only fitting that I end by saying 'thank you' to Heather Poole for writing this informative and entertaining memoir.

rating 4 of 5