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Saturday, March 30, 2013

Weekend Cooking- Great Food in Providence

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.

We visited my husband's youngest sister and her family this past week in Providence, Rhode Island. It was a lovely visit, we don't get to see the kids very often in their own home and we all had so much fun.

After a delicious Passover meal where Necole made a brisket that was so tender it melted in your mouth and a matzoh ball soup that was the best I have ever had, the ladies had an evening out.

Ina Garten, the Barefoot Contessa, was in conversation at the Providence Performing Arts Center on Tuesday with Al Forno restaurant owner Johanne Kileen, so Necole, her sister Brigette (the best cook in the family) and I went to see her. (More on that in next week's Weekend Cooking.)

First we had one of the best meals I have ever had anywhere at Bacaro. From the appetizer to dessert, everything was amazing. We shared a Pizza with Prosciutto di Parma and Arugula that was had just the perfect crispy texture. It was delicious.
Pizza with Prosciutto & Argula
There were so many fabulous entrees from which to choose, and since Necole raved about the Pasta Con I Funghi, I took her suggestion and boy was I glad I did. This was one of the best pasta dishes I ever had anywhere, including our trip to Rome. It started with tagliatelle, topped with butter, parmiggiano- reggiano, mushrooms and a truflfed-scented egg. Once you break that egg and mix it in with the pasta, oh my goodness, it was heavenly.
Pasta Con I Funghi
From their extensive dessert menu filled with unique dishes,  I chose the Bella's Citrus Bombolini, a plate of mini-doughnuts filled with orange curd and topped with caramel. I reluctantly shared them with the ladies (if they weren't my sisters, I probably wouldn't have), but man I am still dreaming about them. We also shared the Salted Chocolate Carmel Tart and the Olive Oil Cake with Rosemary Anglaise & Whipped Cream. The Olive Oil Cake was a close second in our humble opinions.
The next day we headed to Nick's On Broadway for breakfast. It's a popular restaurant, and I loved the design. You walk into the narrow bar area, where you can see the open kitchen from the bar. Behind the bar is the small restaurant, where you can see the chefs cooking your meal from every seat. I loved the clean, open lines and stainless steel.
Nick's kitchen
We ordered lots of dishes to share, but there were two big winners. Nick's prides itself on using local fresh ingredients, and the Baked Geer Farm corn + Vermont cheddar polenta with two eggs, baby spinach and Parmesan cheese was fabulous. The polenta was served as two rectangles, seasoned perfectly and the texture was just right. 

Eggs on polenta
They also served a special that day with eggs and a pork hash, along with two crispy biscuits that was very tasty, as was French toast, sausage, chicken sausage and rosemary ham. You really can't go wrong with anything you get there, and it all tasted so fresh.

So if you find yourself in Providence, I highly recommend Baccaro for drinks and dinner and Nick's On Broadway for breakfast or lunch. You will not be disappointed. 

Bacaro's website is here.
Nick's On Broadway is here.

If you've been to Providence, I'd love to hear about your favorite restaurants in the comments section.

Thursday, March 28, 2013

I Can't Complain by Elinor Lipman

I Can't Complain by Elinor Lipman
Published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt ISBN 978-054757620X
Hardcover, $20, 161 pages

I've read a few of Elinor Lipman's novels, but had not read any of her essays. Some have previously appeared in magazines (Good Housekeeping) and newspapers (she had a regular column in the Boston Globe), but all were new to me.

Lipman shares stories from her childhood, where her father always listened to her and her sister, an appreciative audience for their anecdotes. He was an avid reader who introduced his daughter to humorists like Max Schulman. Her mother was "dainty and fussy" and could not abide any condiments, could not even be around them. Lipman grew up without ketchup, mayonnaise, Worchestershire sauce.

She writes lovingly about her husband Bob, with whom she shares no common hobbies or interests and likes it that way. She sees no need to play golf or Jet Ski with him. I love that she said if she were a matchmaker, her important questions would include Do you want children? How far ahead of your flight do get to the airport? Are you willing to leave dirty dishes in the sink overnight? She thinks these are more important predictors of compatibility than shared hobbies and I so agree.

I loved her essay, "My Soap Opera Journal", tracing her life's moments through her soap opera viewing habits because I could relate to it. I go to a lot of author events, and her essay on things that have gone wrong at author events had me chuckling.
I also enjoyed "Ego Boundaries" about her and Bob's clashing fashion styles; he is "a sharp dresser with an impeccable eye" and she is, well, not so much.

One of the last essays is a heartfelt one about Bob and the devastating illness he faced. It is a testament to Lipman's brilliant writing that in this slim volume of essays I got to know Bob so well, it felt like I was losing a dear friend too. How she and her son Ben dealt with this illness is honest and heartfelt.

The back of the book compares Lipman's essays to Nora Ephron and Anna Quindlen, both of whom I love, so it is no wonder that I enjoyed "I Can't Complain" so much. It's a great gift to give a girlfriend of a certain age.

rating 4 of 5

By the way, Lipman has a lovely, unique looking website here.

Sunday, March 24, 2013

Three Graves Full by Jamie Mason

Three Graves Full by Jamie Mason
Published by Gallery Books ISBN 9781451685039
Hardcover, $24.99, 320 pages
Jamie Mason's debut novel, Three Graves Full, has a doozy of an  opening line:
"There is very little peace for a man with a body buried in the backyard."
How can one resist reading onward? Jason Getty killed a man and buried his body in the backyard. But that is not the immediate problem. The landscaping crew that Getty hired to put plants in his front yard found a dead body, and it's not the one that Getty buried.

The police arrive and they find a second body buried in the front yard; again, not the one that Getty buried. Getty starts to panic, and like a cross between an Edgar Allen Poe story and a Cohen brothers movie, this novel turns the screws tighter.

The detectives find a bloody purse inside one of the walls, belonging to the woman who used to live in Getty's house: she is one of the dead bodies. The other body belonged to a guy who had been missing for a few years. Using a luminol light, they show Getty where the crime took place in the master bedroom. But there is also blood in the living room, where Getty killed a man who tormented and bullied him.

Getty is a quiet, lonely guy since his wife died. He's never been in trouble, never been violent. He meets a man who starts showing up unannounced at Getty's home, barging his way into Getty's life. This guy is bad news, a punk thief who eventually steals not only from Getty, but keeps evidence framing Getty for a robbery at his former father-in-law's mansion.

Getty panics, believing he needs to move his dead body before the police find that one too. More people get involved in the story: the two detectives, the dead man in the front yard's fiancee, the man who killed the two people in the front yard and pretty soon you are racing through the pages to see just how this thing ends.

Mason writes beautifully, as in this sentence about Getty staying close to home after his wife died.
"Ultimately, it would have been better for Jason to have undone, rather than simply lengthen, the apron strings to his original hometown."
There is a lot of action here- chase scenes, fight scenes- and all of it had me biting my nails to the quick. Only one thing struck a false note. There is a terrific fight scene at Getty's house, where there are chairs overturned, and a door is smashed in, but when a detective goes to the home, he fails to see the broken door or the trashed living room. An experienced cop would have seen the broken door before he went in. Maybe I'm being too picky.

Three Graves Full takes an average guy who makes a bad decision and has to extricate his way out, all the while digging himself a bigger hole. Mason kept my attention as I wondered what would happen to Getty, and her ending was a satisfying one indeed. She is an exciting new voice in suspense novels.

rating 4 of 5

Jamie Mason's website is here.

Superb Harper memoir takes readers inside the life of 'Rhoda' : Diane Larue

My review of Valerie Harper's memoir I, Rhoda from my monthly Book Report  column in the Citizen.

Superb Harper memoir takes readers inside the life of 'Rhoda' : Diane Larue

My review of Valerie Harper's Broadway show Looped is here:

Saturday, March 23, 2013

Weekend Cooking- Tea at the Plaza

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.

My in-laws came to town this weekend, so we celebrated my mother-in-law's birthday a few weeks late. She wanted to go to tea at the Plaza, and since I've never done that, I was excited to go with her.

Tea at the Palm Court in the Plaza Hotel is an event. The room is so open and bright, with lots of palm plants and flowers. We were seated at the perfect table to people-watch. There were many people there with young children, some of them celebrating birthdays. One adorable girl was celebrating her first birthday, imagine her looking at those photos when she is older!
The Palm Court at the Plaza (from their website)

I ordered the Fitzgerald Tea for the Ages, an homage to the fact that scenes from The Great Gatsby were set there, and that Scott and Zelda were patrons of the Plaza Hotel. The bottom tier held Curried Lobster Salad, Deviled Quail Egg Salad, Smoked Salmon, and a Cucumber Sandwich. The Deviled Egg was my favorite.

The second tier had two delicious scones, served with lemon curd, raspberry preserves and Devonshire cream. They were heavenly, so light and airy and the preserves were addictive.

The top tier held tasty sweets, including a chocolate bon-bon, and a fudgy marshmallow square that were the highlights.
The Fitzgerald Tea for the Ages
My mother-in-law ordered the Chocolate Tea, which had a chocolate fondue served with fruit, homemade marshmallows (that were so good and I don't like marshmallows) and a spongecake that was very light. She especially loved the Chocolate Mousse on the top tier.
The Chocolate Tea

Neither one of us are big tea drinkers, so I took a chance and ordered us a pot of Organic Egyptian Chamomile. It was perfect; so light and with a touch of fruitiness. We finished one pot and had another. If you ever find yourselves at the Plaza for tea, I highly recommend this one. (And if you go, call me, I'll meet you there!)

It was a lovely afternoon, very relaxing and a great place to meet up with someone and have a long chat. 

The Palm Court website is here.

Thursday, March 21, 2013

With or Without You by Domenica Ruta

With Or Without You by Domenica Ruta
Published by Spiegel & Grau ISBN 978-0812993240
Hardcover, $26, 224 pages

Memoirs about people growing up in tough family situations are abundant. I just reviewed Jeanette Winterson's poetic Why Be Happy When You Can Be Normal?, and Jeanette Walls' The Glass Castle is a book I reviewed and recommended to many people over the past few years.

Domenica Ruta's With Or Without You is a searing, honest look at her life growing up with a mother who was an alcoholic and drug addict, and wanted her daughter to have the same life. Her mother kept Domenica home from school to watch classic movies; she felt this was a better education for her daughter.

The book opens with the mother, Kathleen, taking her young daughter along while she bashed in the windshield of romantic rival's car. The destruction she placed upon that woman's car is a metaphor for the destruction she would wreak upon her daughter's life.

Like Winsterson, literature and books became a savior for Domenica.
"Reading seemed to be a skill I'd somehow picked up on my own. In an extended family where people stumbled- and stumbled proudly- over three-syllable words, such a drooling little fiend for literature was endearing to no one. (It should be noted that even the most illiterate of my clan knew their way around a food stamp application, a subpoena, and a workman's compensation claim. We were nothing if not adroit at manipulating the system.)"

As she grew up, her mother did her best to lure Domenica into her drug-addicted lifestyle. Domenica did her best to avoid it, but eventually she succumbed. She believed that going to college and getting away from her mother would save her. If only her mother didn't send care packages of drugs to college with her.

Domenica writes honestly of her struggles with alcohol, drugs and her inability to have a romantic relationship. She runs away to Texas believing that only distance from her mother can save her. But her mother calls constantly, begging for money, pushing the guilt, harassing her daughter until the only thing Domenica can do is cut off all ties to her mother.

I particularly enjoyed the chapter where she worked as a recreation aide in a nursing home. She felt comfortable with those people, more at home with them than with her younger friends. She writes lovingly of a man named Saul who has lost his wife of sixty years, who became her compatriot.

With Or Without You will hit home with anyone who has had addiction issues or lived with anyone with addiction issues. Domenica Ruta writes with a clear-eyed honesty, which is remarkable considering how drunk and drugged up she was at times. Her decision to cut ties with the woman who gave her life and raised her probably saved her life, but is heartbreaking for her nonetheless. We don't know at the end whether Domenica will make it, but her journey is unforgettable.

rating 4 of 5

Domenica Ruta's website is here.
My review of Jeanette Winterson's Why Be Happy When You Can Be Normal?  is here.

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Harlan Coben at Barnes & Noble

Harlan Coben at Barnes & Noble
Going to see author Harlan Coben speak is like going to a neighborhood party and hanging out in the corner with the funniest guy on the block. Although he has authored 24 books, he is the down-to-earth guy you'd see shooting hoops in the driveway on your way to the grocery store.

He started out the evening promising to keep it short so we could all go home to watch the new reality show, Splash. This show that has such 'celebrities' as Kareem Abdul-Jabaar and comedian Louis Anderson in a diving competition was comedic fodder for much of Coben's night.

Coben's newest novel is Six Years, a stand-alone mystery (he authors the popular Myron Bolitar series) about a man who six years ago watched the only woman he ever loved marry another man. He recently saw that the man died and while attending the man's funeral, sees that the widow is not his ex-love. And the widow was married to the deceased man for twenty years. How is this possible?

Many people ask where Coben gets his ideas, and he replies with "what if?" For this novel, he was listening to his mellow playlist on Spotify, and he heard a heartbreaking song about a man who watches his love marry another man.

He talked about going to art fair and seeing a painting by an artist that he just had to have. He made the woman in the novel an artist and the painting he bought plays a big part in solving the novel's mystery. The actual artist was in the audience, and Coben pointed her out.

Coben jokes that he became a writer because he is so unqualified to hold an actual job. He talked about the hardest part of writing, which to just actually sit down and write something. Stop daydreaming and wondering why Burger King doesn't sell Mountain Dew or try to remember the name of the dog on Petticoat Junction. (Answer- the dog was called simply "Dog")

Not a big fan of research, Coben claims that it takes time from the actual writing, it is an excuse not to write. He believes that when you do too much research, you feel it necessary to add things to the book that slow down the plot.

Writing is three things according to Coben- "inspiration, perspiration, and desperation". He also said that the insecurity about the next book being a success never goes away. Every good writer wonders if this book is any good, even if they have sold millions of books. He claims that "only bad writers think they're good."

Six Years looks like another winner from Coben, and on the day of publication it was announced that Paramount Pictures bought the movie rights and Hugh Jackman is attached to star in it. (Yay!)

I always have to prepare to read a Harlan Coben book. I have start early enough in the day so I am not up until 3am finishing it in one sitting, as has happened more a few times in the past. I'll post a review when I finish.

Harlan Coben's website is here.

Pigeon in a Crosswalk by Jack Gray

Pigeon in a Crosswalk by Jack Gray
Published by Simon & Schuster ISBN 978-1-4516-4134-9
Hardcover, $22, 205 pages

Jack Gray is a producer on Anderson Cooper's AC 360 show on CNN, but many people know him from his humorous Twitter account. He has over one million followers, most of whom he says are "scammers or from Malaysia. I'm big in Malaysia."

He also writes the 360 blog online and his boss Anderson Cooper and others convinced him that he should write a book. So he did, and the result is the charming, sweet and hilarious Pigeon in a Crosswalk: Tales of Anxiety and Accidental Glamour.

Gray calls the book a collection of essays rather than a memoir, and I agree with that characterization. He starts the book describing his start in the news business as a ten-year-old- running BNN, a fake news network out of his grandparents' home. He had serious labor issues with his eight-year-old sister, but his experience there started his love of TV news which exist to this day.

He writes lovingly and humorously of his family, especially both sets of his grandparents, with whom he spent a lot of time. He has Greek grandparents on one side, so his descriptions of holiday dinners will ring familiar to anyone who has seen the movie My Big Fat Greek Wedding.

On the other side were his WASPy grandparents, who loved him just as much, but were a little less ebullient about it. I adore that he writes of his family with such warmth.

Gray worked his way up the ladder, working at a cable news station in Boston, where he wrangled Benazir Bhutto into a live interview. He then worked with Boston TV news legend Chet Curtis, where he managed to get an at-home interview with Supreme Court justice Stephen Breyer. Gray succeeded because he was not afraid to try.

He is naturally funny, and just about every page has something you will laugh out loud at. When he got a job at CNN after he wisely turned down an interview for a job with Glenn Beck (yikes!), he has a few great stories about skulking around trying to meet famous people in the green room.

Gray is obsessed by The Golden Girls, and when Betty White was doing The Joy Behar Show, he knew this might be his only chance. He ratchets up the tension as he hides in the hall, planning his moment, dodging security and hoping to get a photo with his idol. You'll have to read the book to find out if he succeeded.

(People who were nice to him- Maria Shriver, Elizabeth Edwards, Robert Redford. People who were not so nice-Barney Frank and Johnny Weir.)

Through his work with Anderson Cooper, Gray became friends with actress/comedienne Kathy Griffin. The chapter on his adventures with Griffin, trying to prevent her from swearing and/or stripping during CNN's New Year's Eve show with Cooper, wandering NYC in the wee hours of the morning looking for doughnuts, staying with Griffin in her fancy LA home and hanging with Maggie, Griffin's mother are laugh-out-loud funny.

This book is for people who liked Justin Halpern's S#*t My Dad Says and Andy Cohen's Most Talkative.  It brings the funny, like those books do, and yet is grounded in a sweetness. If you are offended by cursing though, this book is not for you. But if you are looking for a good laugh, buy this book now.

rating 4 of 5

I saw Anderson Cooper interviewing Jack Gray about the book and my post on that is here.

Saturday, March 16, 2013

Weekend Cooking- St. Patrick's Day

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.

My mother's family is Irish- the Brady clan- and so we always look forward to celebrating St. Patrick's Day. When I was younger, it was going to Tinker's at 9am and drinking green beer all day or until you could no longer drink. Thank goodness I gave that up.

After I got married and had two boys, we celebrated St. Patrick's Day a little differently. We'd have my family over for the day and I would cook a big dinner. We always had corned beef boiling on the stove,  one of my older son's favorites. I'd throw in a couple of heads of cabbage, which he also enjoyed. (Me, I can live without that.)

I also make a version of colcannon potatoes- mashed potatoes with chopped scallions and tons of melted butter poured into a well in the middle of the potatoes. I can't remember where I got the recipe for that one, but we don't make it with the traditional cabbage.

Dessert is the perfect ending to the meal. This recipe for Irish Bread Pudding I found in Cooking Light magazine years ago, and no  matter how much I make of it, it is never enough. It really is one of our favorite desserts of all-time and so easy to make. (And the Caramel Whiskey Sauce is heavenly!) I found the recipe and pinned it here.

In searching Pinterest, I found this recipe for Pistachio St. Patrick's Day Bread and I think it will make an appearance at this year's St. Patrick's Day celebration. It's from Better Than Burgers.

So enjoy the holiday, don't overdo the green beer and I'd love to hear about what special dishes you make for St. Patrick's Day in the comments section. Slainte!

Thursday, March 14, 2013

New in Paperback- Why Be Happy When You Could Be Normal? by Jeannette Winterson

Why Be Happy When You Can Be Normal? by Jeanette Winterson
Published by Grove Press ISBN 9780802120878
Trade paperback, $15, 240 pages

Jeanette Winterson wrote a critically acclaimed novel, Oranges Are Not The Only Fruit, loosely based on her life growing up in a Northern England industrial town. Her memoir, Why Be Happy When You Could Be Normal?, is the non-fiction version of that story.

The looming figure in both books is Winterson's adopted mother, who is always referred to in the book as Mrs. Winterson. Her parents were Pentecostal and her mother raised Jeanette to become a missionary.  Mrs. Winterson was abusive, frequently locking Jeanette out of the house overnight, leaving her to freeze on the porch steps.

During those long nights, it was books that saved young Jeanette. That was where she fell in love with language and books, and where she found truth, beauty and security in her lonely existence. Books saved her sanity and her life.

Mrs. Winterson spent much of her time at church meetings, and was always angry and disappointed in Jeanette. At the age of sixteen, Jeanette told her mother that she was in love with a woman and Mrs. Winterson uttered the phrase that became the book's title, "Why be happy when you can be normal?".

The fact that she was adopted affected her as well. Her mother wanted a boy and she finds some papers in her mother's things that confuse her. As expected, the confrontation with Mrs. Winterson about this does not go well.

Jeanette decided to try and find her birth mother and that journey is interesting. She searches long and hard and eventually finds her mother, although her own reaction to meeting her mother is much more complicated than she imagines.

Winterson's memoir, with its poetic language, gives hope to people who feel that they are different from everyone else around them, that life is too difficult. It can help them to find their own voice as she found hers. One of the passages I marked is this one:
"A tough life needs a tough language- and that is what poetry is. That is what literature offers- a language powerful enough to say how it is. It isn't a hiding place. It is a finding place."
Why Be Happy When You Can Be Normal? is a beautiful finding place for those who feel lost too.

rating 4 of 5

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

New in Paperback- The Unfinished Work of Elizabeth D. by Nichole Bernier

The Unfinished Work of Elizabeth D. by Nichole Bernier
Published by Broadway ISBN 9780307887825
Trade paperback, $14, 336 pages

A beautiful story about how well you think you know your friends. Kate moved away from her best friend Elizabeth a few years ago. When Elizabeth dies tragically in a plane crash, she leaves her journals to Kate, with no instructions on what to do with them. Elizabeth's husband is uneasy about this, he thinks he should have the journals.

Kate discovers that Elizabeth has journals back to her teen years. She starts reading at the beginning, and is shocked to discover many things she didn't know about Elizabeth. She never knew Elizabeth had a younger sister who died as a child. Her look into Elizabeth's life reveals an entirely different woman than Kate knew. I liked the author's message that we really don't know the people we think are closest to us. Everyone keeps secrets, and has hidden feelings that are kept from friends, and yes, even a spouse.

We get to read some of the journal entries, and through them, we get to know Elizabeth.  She not only hid her feelings, she was also hiding the real reason that she was taking that fateful trip. Kate is determined to get to the truth, but once she finds it, should she share it with Elizabeth's husband? What if Elizabeth was having an affair? There was an interior life that Elizabeth led about which Kate had no idea. She was Elizabeth's best friend and she feels that maybe she failed her friend.

Kate is also on her own journey. She was a successful pastry chef, winning a James Beard Award. She and her husband have two young children, and Kate has an amazing offer to work for a new restaurant. She is torn between her passion for her work and her love for her family. It's a tough decision women face and I think that many women will really relate to Kate's dilemma.

The characters in this novel got under my skin, and the conceit of using Elizabeth's journals to get to know her character is an effective, emotional one. The relationship between Kate and her husband was well done too; it was believable, and you felt like they could be your neighbors. This beautiful story will make you think about your life, your friends, and your marriage.

rating 4 of 5

I wrote about The Unfinished Work of Elizabeth D. in a Weekend Cooking post here.
Nichole Bernier's website is here.

Saturday, March 9, 2013

Weekend Cooking- My Week in Food

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.

This week's Weekend Cooking post is a review of My Week in Food.

My husband had business in Albany so we got to see our younger son who is in graduate school there. Our son took us to DiBella's Submarine Shop for lunch. Anyone who enjoys Wegman's subs knows about DiBella's. Wegmans bought DiBella's recipes and techniques when they decided to open up their own sub shops in their stores, and it was a good decision. I had the Old Fashioned and my son recommended the everything roll (like an everything bagel). That roll was the best bread I've ever had in a sandwich shop. It was definitely a hit in my book. There are 31 locations and if you run across one in your travels, I highly recommend them. Their website is here.

We had dinner with friends at Creo' Restaurant in Albany. It is a wonderfully warm restaurant, lots of wood and deep, rich colors. They have a large bar area and a huge dining room that overlooks the kitchen that runs along the back wall. We're not used to seeing such a big restaurant after eating in NYC. I had a tasty ravioli dish, with mushrooms, kale, cippolini, kale, and parmesan in a cream and truffle oil sauce. The food was good, and the company even better.

I made a Trader Joe's run last week and found a new snack that is very dangerous- Chocolate Covered Sea Salt Butterscotch Caramels. They hit all of my flavor points and if you are not careful, you will look down and find that you ate almost half of the bag in one sitting. (Not that I know anything about that.) 

I attended a taping of Katie Couric's show this week with a friend, and we treated ourselves to lunch at The Porter House in the Time Warner Center at Columbus Circle. They have a lovely $25 pre-fixe lunch, and I had a huge Caesar salad, petite filet mignon with whipped potatoes and raspberry and passionfruit sorbet, all for $25. It was a great deal, and the service was impeccable. They also have a lovely view overlooking Central Park.

We had a few good meals at home this week too. From Katie Lee Joel's The Comfort Table, I made a quick and tasty dish- Crispy Oven-Roasted Chicken With Roasted Garlic, Pancetta and Rosemary. It takes longer to type the name than make this juicy dish. The recipe is on her website here
Katie Lee's Crispy Oven Roasted Chicken

 Finally, on Thursday I paired an old favorite recipe- Wegman's Beer & Cheddar Cheese Soup with Bobby Flay's Chicken Milanese with Arugula Salad. My husband doesn't like arugula though, so I substituted red leaf lettuce instead. I halved the soup recipe, which sometimes doesn't translate too well, but this time it worked. Bobby made this recipe on the Today Show, so I included the video here.

Visit NBCNews.com for breaking news, world news, and news about the economy

The Beer & Cheddar Cheese Soup recipe is here.

What was your Week in Food like? Let me know in the comments section.

Friday, March 8, 2013

New in Paperback- The Gods of Gotham by Lyndsay Faye

The Gods of Gotham by Lyndsay Faye
Published by Berkley Trade ISBN 9780425261255
Trade paperback, $16, 480 pages

If you were a fan of TV's NYPD Blue, and you like historical fiction then Lyndsay Faye's novel The Gods of Gotham is for you. Set in 1945, it tells the story of the origins of the NYPD through the story of Timothy Wilde. (If Andy Sipowicz were around in 1845, he'd fit right in.)

Tim is genial bartender who knows everyone in the neighborhood.  He is seriously injured in a fire, and after recuperating, his brother Val gets him a job in the newly formed New York Police Department, called "the copper stars" after the copper badges they carry. Hence, the slang "copper" for police.

Tim is none too pleased with his job. Cops are looked upon with suspicion by the general public, and he is assigned to the worse section of the city, the slums in Five Points. Not to mention that he is in great pain from his burns.

One night he runs into a small girl covered in blood. She is too traumatized to tell him what happened, so he takes her to his apartment where his landlady helps to care for the girl. She tells Tim that there are several bodies of young children buried in the woods; a serial killer is on the loose.

Gods of Gotham drops the reader right smack into the middle of 1845 New York City, with interesting characters trying to solve a crackling good murder mystery. We meet a doctor who uses early forensic methods to determine how and who killed these children,  a priest whose church is the site of a horrible murder and a young female charity worker named Mercy who is a romantic interest for Tim.

The writing evokes sensory reactions in the reader. We can smell the rot of the slums and feel the shame of the daily taunts and slights that the Irish immigrants are subjected to as they try to assimilate and make lives for themselves and their families.

The Irish became 'coppers' because it was not thought to be a respectable job, and therefore no decent man would want to do it. Through the NYPD, the Irish gained a foothold politically, and the corruption that follows is a theme in this fascinating novel.

I liked the character development; Tim and his brother Val's relationship is particularly well done. The plot is well-paced and although I do not like blood and gore, what is here is essential to the story and not overdone. One particularly memorable scene involves a mother and her baby that is so very sad, it made my heart ache.

The attention to historical detail is impeccable. I could study the map of 1845 New York City on the inside cover for hours, and the quotes at the beginning of each chapter are interesting as well.

Fans of historical literary murder mysteries, like Caleb Carr's The Alienist, will love Gods of Gotham. I'm not the only one who feels this way; Faye was nominated for a 2012 Edgar Award for this enthralling mystery. And I was not surprised to find that this book was originally published by Amy Einhorn; she always finds the good ones.

rating 4 of 5

A Future Arrived by Phillip Rock

A Future Arrived by Phillip Rock
Published by William Morrow ISBN 978-0-06-222935-9
Trade paperback, $14.99, 450 pages

I'm still going through Downton Abbey withdrawal, but the trilogy of novels set in Abingdon Pryory by Phillip Rock have helped me get through it. But now that has ended too. Sigh.

I just finished the third and final novel, A Future Arrived, which takes us from one generation to another just before WWII. Having already seen these characters through the horror of WWI in The Passing Bells, I was glad to see that Rock didn't repeat himself in this last novel.

A Future Arrived deals mostly with the next generation- Ivy's brother Albert, who follows in his brother-in-law Martin's footsteps as a foreign and war correspondent, Colin, Alex's son who leaves America to become a pilot for Britain,  and Colin's friend Derek, who attended Charles' private school and joins Colin as a pilot in the war.

The women are represented by Fenton and Winnie's girls- twins Jennifer and Victoria and youngest daughter Kate, some of whom become romantically entangled with the above mentioned fellows, and involved with the war and anti-war efforts.

I liked seeing how these children grew into adults, but I did miss my old friends- Alex and Charles in particular. They do not play much of a role here, but the book would have been easily 1000 pages if Rock were to give all of his previous characters a bigger role.

The girls learned well from their mother Winnie who, although she wished her husband hadn't devoted his career to the military, understood that she fell in love with a soldier, and if she wanted to remain married to him she would have to accept all that comes with that.

Colin and Derek's war experiences are much different from Charles and Fenton's during WWI. WWI was fought in the trenches, up close and personal. As pilots, Colin and Derek saw war from farther away, although Rock writes a few harrowing scenes as the men come into combat contact with the Germans in the air that had me white-knuckled as I read them.

The British were more reluctant to go to war again after their WWI experiences; we see how Chamberlain and Parliament appeased Hitler, willing to ignore Germany's movements into other sovereign nations. It wasn't until Hitler began bombing England that Britain faced facts and fought back.

One thing I liked in particular about this book was the fact that it brought me back to history class; there were so many references to things I had learned- the problems between China and Japan, Mussolini's rise, Haile Selassie, Francisco Franco- it sent me to Google to refresh my memories.

I also liked that Rock showed us how Martin's live radio reports changed how people thought. Once they could hear the sounds of war for themselves, what was happening could no longer be ignored. A similar thing happened when TV reporters showed us the Vietnam War as it was happening; people could see for themselves and no longer believed only what the government told them was going on.

Just like Downton Abbey, we have a large estate, many characters from different classes, romance and sprawling storylines. It also reminded me of John Jakes' North & South books, using war as a backdrop to tell an epic story with fascinating characters. If you miss Downton, Abingdon Pryory is the next best place to be.

rating 4 of 5

My review of book one- The Passing Bells
My review of book two- Circles of Time
BookClubGirl's Read-Along of the trilogy is here

Thursday, March 7, 2013

New in Paperback- The Orchardist by Amanda Coplin

The Orchardist by Amanda Coplin
Published by Harper Perennial  ISBN 978-0062188519
Trade paperback, $15.99, 448 pages

Sometimes you read a debut novel and you just know that you will hear great things from this author time and again. After reading Amanda Coplin's amazing The Orchardist, I know that she is in that category.

Her character of Talmadge is one I can't get out of my head. Talmadge lives on his family's orchard in the western United States at the turn of the 20th century, all alone since his teenage sister walked into the woods one day and never came back. Did she run away? Was she kidnapped or killed? The answer to that question burns a hole in Talmadge's heart.

He is a taciturn man, and he has little contact with other people, save for Caroline, who tends to the townspeople's medical care, and the native American men who bring their horses through each spring and camp nearby.

One day Talmadge finds two nearly feral teen girls hiding in the orchard. He tries to make contact with him, but they are afraid. He leaves them food and blankets, and soon he breaks through to talk with Jane and Della. They are both pregnant and scared to death. He convinces them to come live inside his home, and has Caroline check them out medically.

Slowly, Talmadge discovers where the girls came from and he goes there in an misguided attempt to find out what happened to them and why they left. The girls fled a bad man and a worse situation, and Talmadge's discovery of this leads to a tragic event.

In his mind Talmadge hopes that by taking care of these girls, he can make up for not taking good enough care of his sister. Her disappearance changed his life forever, and this is a chance to redeem himself and have a family of his own.

The book alternates telling Talmadge's and Della's stories, but to say more would be to reveal parts of the story that are best left discovered by the reader herself, and this is a beautifully written story you will want to discover for yourself.

Talmadge is one of the most indelible characters in recent memory. His story is one of loyalty, redemption and the importance of family, whether it's the one you are born into or one you create. Congratulations to Amanda Coplin who won the Barnes & Noble Discover Writers Award for Fiction last night in New York City. The story is here.

The Orchardist made many Best of 2012 list, including my Most Compelling Books of 2012, and if you haven't read it yet, it's now in paperback.

rating 5 of 5

Sunday, March 3, 2013

The K Street Affair by Mari Passananti

The K Street Affair by Mari Passananti
Published by Rutland Square Press ISBN 978-0985894603
Trade paperback, $15.99, 360 pages

If you are hooked (like I am) on the new FX TV series The Americans, about Russian spies embedded in the Unites States in the 1980s, then Mari Passananti's political/spy thriller novel The K Street Affair is the perfect companion piece.

The setting is today's Washington DC, where the book opens with a bang- literally. There have been underground explosions in several DC Metro stations, killing hundreds. A terrorist attack is suspected, and corporate lawyer Lena Mancuso is still shaken walking home after the attack when two FBI agents show up at her door.

They ask Lena to help them prove that her boss is covering up for some international clients- a Russian oil tycoon, a government lobbyist and a Saudi prince- whom they believe are behind the bombings. Lena is stunned by this revelation, but she reluctantly agrees to help by looking for information in the files of her law firm.

It is a decision she will come to regret as she is dragged deep into a byzantine plot, where her life and the lives of people she loves become endangered. She is kidnapped and ends up in Russia, where her life depends on trusting the right person. Does she trust the FBI agents who got her into this mess or Mikhail, the Russian mobster's right hand man who has kept her alive and tells her a different story?

The part of the story set in Russia is most interesting. Lena is dragged from place to place, from hotel to the mobster's casino to his mansion to the Russian criminal underground. She has to use her gut instincts and smarts to keep her self alive and to get the one piece of information she needs to put the puzzle together.

There is plenty of political intrigue, with the Vice-President of the United States involved in a plot to control a new oil pipeline for a company he used to head up, and the usual FBI/CIA infighting and intrigue, complete with double-and-triple agents. There are also a lot of nail-biting action scenes which ratchet up the tension. The car chase scene was particularly well done, and the nuns were a nice touch.

I did find myself lost a little bit at times, trying to follow the conspiracy. If you don't trust lawyers or your government, The K Street Affair will have you saying "See, I told you so".

Lena is a gutsy, smart main character, and I liked her even if I did not agree with some of the choices she made. Fans of John Grisham's The Firm will enjoy this book, as it has a similar tone. It's very cinematic as well, and would make a great movie. Maybe Jennifer Lawrence as Lena?

Mari Passananti's website is here.

You can win a copy of The K Street Affair- leave a comment below with your email address- (US addresses only please). A winner will be chosen on March 18th.

rating 4 of 5

Saturday, March 2, 2013

Weekend Cooking- Fever by Mary Beth Keane

Fever by Mary Beth Keane
Published by Scribner ISBN 9781451693416
Hardcover, $26, 320 pages
March is Women's History Month and St. Patrick's Day is celebrated on March 17th, so this Weekend Cooking post combines the two with a review of Mary Beth Keane's novel Fever, a fictional story about the infamous Typhoid Mary, an Irish immigrant who was blamed for the deaths of over twenty people from typhoid in New York City in the early years of the twentieth century.

Keane did a great deal of research on Mary Mallon, an Irish immigrant who became a cook for wealthy families in New York City. Her website contains an amazing time line of events with photos and information about the real Mary Mallon. It can found here.

Mary is an intriguing woman; she lives with, but does not marry, Alfred Briehof, a German immigrant with a drinking problem. Mary and Alfred love each other deeply, but Alfred's drinking and inability to hold a job creates friction in their relationship.

When several members of a family whom Mary cooks for die from typhoid fever, Dr. George Soper investigates and is determined to find Mary, whom he believes may be a carrier of the disease even though she exhibits no symptoms of typhoid herself. He finds Mary working for another family, and she is detained in an exciting passage of the novel.

Mary ends up quarantined on North Brother Island, where she is forced to live alone, even though she herself is not ill. The isolation wears greatly on her, and she despises Dr. Soper. Her only friend is a male gardener who brings her meals and newspapers, and has a bit of a crush on her.

But Mary misses her old life, and especially Alfred. She wonders how he is doing, who is caring for him and if she will ever be able to leave the island. She finds a lawyer willing to represent her and he works to get Mary released, all while Mary becomes tabloid headlines.

This is a fascinating novel, mostly because Mary is a remarkable character. She is tough, imposing and independent and her unconventional life with Alfred and her manner made her suspect in many people's eyes.
"If she had been the type of woman who saved her money, or gave it to someone who needed it more, a neighbor with children, perhaps, or the church, if she'd been a married woman who handed every dollar over to her husband, or better yet a married woman who didn't have earnings because she was taken up with the care of her own home, she'd never be in the situation she was in. She couldn't prove it, but it was the truth nonetheless."
The best historical fiction immerses the reader into a different place and time, and Fever does just that. You can see, smell, hear and taste New York City at the turn of the century. You get such a feel for  immigrant life, and if you enjoy food, the descriptions of Mary's cooking will indulge your senses.
"Back in her own silent kitchen, she cleared off the cluttered table and used it to prep. She filled the pot with water. She rubbed the small pork tenderloin she'd purchased half-price with plenty of salt and pepper, a bit of nutmeg she grated, a pinch of cinnamon, a dash of sugar, a teaspoon's worth of onion powder she measured with cupped hand."
Mary Mallon's story is so compelling and Keane tells it beautifully. It's the perfect novel to kick off Women's History Month.

rating 5 of 5

My review of Mary Beth Keane's The Walking People.

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.