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Monday, August 26, 2013

Hungry by Darlene Barnes

Hungry by Darlene Barnes
Published by Hyperion ISBN 978-1-4013-2477-3
Hardcover, $24.99, 272 pages
What drew me to Darlene Barnes' memoir Hungry: What Eighty Ravenous Guys Taught Me About Life, Love and The Power of Good Food was that we had some things in common: she had two sons and was getting ready for 'empty nest syndrome' as she sent her last son off to college, and she liked to cook.

Barnes married a man in the Canadian military, so they moved from base to base. He eventually ended up as an engineer and they lived in Texas. She found a job working as a personal chef for a very wealthy (and a wee bit crazy and self-involved) family. What she liked best about the job was getting to taste the lunches that the Korean maids brought in- Korean vegetable pancakes and chili pastes- and the  fresh corn tortilla tacos the gardeners ate. Her wealthy clients insisted on Kraft cheese singles and fat-free yogurts, not exactly healthy or tasty.

When her husband took a job with Microsoft in Seattle, Barnes applied for a job as a cook at a fraternity house at the University of Washington. Her prickly personality and penchant for cursing earned her a reputation as someone not to be messed with, a definite plus with the frat members and the vendors, who were not accustomed to a frat cook who questioned what they were selling.

Barnes thought the job as a cook for a fraternity to be a "puzzling occupation, like circus clown or spy." But she was told she would have the ability to create her own menus, within the budget restraints given, and to make the job whatever she thought it should be.

She knew how to deal with young men, as she had two of her own, but there were moments that gave her pause. Stepping over broken glass on the way to basement storage and having to install a childproof device on the freezer after finding it unplugged three times made her apoplectic. But the respect and kindness the young men showed her convinced her she had done the right thing in taking the job.

Barnes was appalled at the kind of food that the men were used to; they had grown up on Pop-Tarts and Kraft mac and cheese. Still, they were willing to give her food a try. Instead of the frozen meatballs and fajitas the last cook served, Barnes made hers fresh. Her goal was to get them to eat healthier, to try new things, like kiwi fruit.

She decided that it was easy to make salad dressing from scratch, so she stopped buying bottled. This simple decision led her to question what else she could make from scratch, like soups, salsa and sauces. From there, she began a quest to use as much locally produced foods as possible. From fruits and vegetables to beef and chicken, Barnes questioned her vendors and sought out the best food she could buy for the guys.

The food service company sales reps were not as receptive as the frat guys. They often found Barnes to be argumentative and a general pain compared to the other fraternity and sorority cooks who just served packaged or frozen foods, but some grew to respect her way of thinking.

Barnes takes us inside the fraternity and introduces us to some of the guys. She talks about the ones she likes, and the few she felt were lazy. She watched as they pulled together during a few tragedies and answered their frequent text messages with cooking questions, even as she was on vacation in Istanbul with her husband. Her relationship with the guys is touching and sweet, even though she plans to quit every single summer.

I enjoyed Hungry immensely; Barnes' cranky, honest personality shines through. Her decision to make frat food tastier and healthier inspired me to be more mindful of what I'm buying and preparing for my family. I felt like I was right there in the frat kitchen with her, and if the Food Network is smart, they will snap her up and give her a show. I'd watch in a heartbeat.

I also like that there are many recipes throughout the book, and I'm going to try most of them, starting with Blueberry Cornbread now that blueberries are in season. (See, I learned something already!)

Blueberry Cornbread
4 T. butter
1 1/2 cups medium or coarse-grain cornmeal
1/2 cup flour
1 1/2 tsp. baking powder
1 tsp. salt
6 T. sugar
2 eggs
1 1/4 cups whole milk
1 1/2 cups fresh or frozen blueberries

Place butter in a 10-inch cast iron skillet and place in a 375 degree oven until butter is melted. Stir together cornmeal, flour, baking powder, salt and sugar. In a separate bowl, beat eggs and stir in milk. Add liquid ingredients to dry ingredients, stir in blueberries, and pour mixture into the hot skillet. Bake 30 minutes and serve with butter and honey.

rating 5 of 5

Darlene Barnes' blog is here.

Thanks to TLC Tours for putting me on this tour. The rest of the tour stops are below.

Darlene Barnes’ TLC Book Tours TOUR STOPS:

Monday, August 5th:  Life, Love & Books
Wednesday, August 7th:  ::steph chows::
Thursday, August 8th:  Peppermint Ph.D.
Friday, August 9th:  Lit and Life
Monday, August 12th:  A Lovely Bookshelf on the Wall
Thursday, August 15th:  Peeking Between the Pages
Monday, August 19th:  Book Club Classics!
Wednesday, August 21st:  Guiltless Reading
Thursday, August 22nd:  Svetlana’s Reads and Views
Monday, August 26th:  Bookchickdi
Wednesday, August 28th:  The Well Read Redhead
Tuesday, September 3rd:  Kahakai Kitchen
Thursday, September 5th:  BookNAround
Monday, September 9th:  girlichef
Saturday, September 14th:  Joyfully Retired

Saturday, August 24, 2013

Weekend Cooking- An Excerpt From Adriana Trigiani's The Supreme Macaroni Company

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.

Adriana Trigiani is one of my favorite authors, both for her compulsively readable books and for the funny, kind person she is. Her fans, myself included, have been waiting rather impatiently for the third book in her Valentine series, and the wait will be over soon as The Supreme Macaroni Company publishes on November 5th.

The books follow the adventures of Valentine Roncalli, a thirty-something unmarried Italian woman who creates gorgeous wedding shoes for her the company her grandparents founded, Angelini Shoes, located in Greenwich Village in New York City.

Valentine comes from a loud, raucous Italian family and my favorite scenes in all three books are set on Christmas Eve, during the Feast of the Seven Fishes, when we get to see the Roncalli family cook, eat, drink, laugh and eventually fight. These scenes always have me in stitches laughing out loud, and usually the people sitting around me while I am reading them eye me warily.

At this year's celebration, Valentine has big news for her family; she is engaged to handsome Gianluca, the older Italian leather tanner she fell in love with in Italy in the second book of the series, Brava, Valentine. This is big news for the family, and they get down to brass tacks right away, immediately planning the reception at Leonard's, the huge, overly ornate catering hall.

Also discussed is a tradition I am not too familiar with as I am from an Irish family- cookie trays. Valentine describes them to Gianluca this way:
"Another Italian-American institution. Every woman in the family bakes cookies, dozens of them. They box them up and meet at a disclosed location where they stack the cookies on trays lined with gold doilies. They wrap the pyramid of cookies in cellophane and tie it with curling ribbons that, once again, match the bridesmaids' dresses. As dessert is served, the flowers are removed from the tables and the cookie trays become the centerpieces. They're pretty and delicious, but never forget, it's also a competition, fig bar against fig bar, but no one sings the National Anthem and gets a medal in the end- you just get bragging rights."
She continues:
"You got snowballs, pizelles, amaretti, sesames, chocolate biscotti, mini cupcakes, jam-centered thumbprints, peanut butter rounds witha Hershey kiss hat, seven-layer cookies, coconut bonbons, and confetti- don't forget those candy coated almonds. They are good luck, even when you crack a molar when you bite down on one."
An Italian Cookie table from Italian-Canadian Life
I know that the cookie table is also a big Pittsburgh tradition; I'll have to ask my sister-in-law about it. Have any of you made cookies for the Cookie Table at a wedding? Let me know in comments.

In the meantime, be sure to put The Supreme Macaroni Company on your TBR list for November; it was definitely worth the wait. For more information on the novel, visit this Facebook page.

My review of Very Valentine is here.
My review of Brava, Valentine is here.

Sunday, August 18, 2013

Weekend Cooking- Two Parties, One Week

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.

Every summer we go back to central New York to visit my family. This year we rented a home on Skaneateles Lake with a pool and everyone had a great time splashing around. We invite our friends over for a party and it's always good to see everyone and catch up.
The beautiful pool area
This year we also celebrated my nephew's high school graduation with a small party. I decided to try some new Pinterest recipes, even though I generally don't make new recipes for the first time at a party, I felt confident that the ones I chose would work well.

As our appetizers, I made two sweet dips- Creamsicle Fruit Dip and Monster Cookie Dough Dip. My brother loved the Fruit Dip (it really did taste like a creamsicle) and the Monster Dip was a huge hit.

We served the Creamsicle Fruit Dip with strawberries, grapes, cantaloupe and pineapple, and I found the pin on SixSistersStuff.com

The Monster Cookie Dough Dip is served with mini pretzels, graham crackers and apple slices and everyone was digging in. The recipe came from TheGirlWhoAteEverything.com. 

The savory dips started with Seven Layer Individual Dips, which just looks so darn cute.

It aslo came from SixSistersStuff and everyone loved them.

I also made Mary Alice's Hoagie Dip, which my sister-in-law Brigette has made for several occasions and is always a fan favorite. She found it on FoodNetwork.com

My sister brought pulled pork from her pig roast, so we made sliders. I also added Walking Tacos, which became the talk of the party, much to my surprise. You cook the ground beef, add taco seasoning, simmer and place in a crockpot. Then you set out individual bags of Fritos and Doritos, along with your taco bar toppings- shredded cheese and lettuce, chopped tomatoes, sliced black olives and green onions, sour cream and taco sauce.

A sign with directions- grab a bag of Fritos or Doritos, crunch the bag a little, open the bag, add ground beef and then your favorite toppings, grab a fork and eat. There's no taco mess and it's so easy. Everyone was talking about it, how they are going to use this at their next party and we even ran out of taco meat, which shocked me. I got this recipe from my sister-in-law Kay, who served them at three graduation parties to much acclaim.
The mad rush for Walking Tacos
For our friends' party, I made another batch of Individual Seven Layer Dips, and So Cal Fajita Dip with leftover steak from dinner the previous night. This is always a big hit.

This one came from ohsweetbasil.com

We made a few batches of Raspberry Mango Sangria, which has quickly become our favorite summer party drink of choice.

This is from MarthaStewart.com

Maria brought her world famous Pumpkin Cookies, (which my family demolished the next day) and Barbara made Summer Pizza Squares, which also mysteriously disappeared the next day. I so love when people share their best dishes with friends.

Both parties were wonderful, we played corn hole and ping pong at the graduation party, and we all laughed so hard at our friends' gathering that we had headaches and stomachaches. One of our friends, Rick, really hit then nail on the head. He said that we could not see each other for ten years, and when we did get together, it was like no time had passed; we just pick up where left off. That is so true.

My favorite food from the week was this Creamsicle Cake, which came from Reese's, a local family owned restaurant that makes their own ice cream. This has been a favorite of mine for years, and  it brought back all kinds of great memories.
Creamsicle Cake- yum

What are your favorite party recipes to share? Tell me about them in comments.

Saturday, August 17, 2013

LaRue: 'Astronaut Wives Club' tells a grounded but affecting story : Diane Larue

This month's Book Report from The Citizen is a review of Lily Koppel's The Astronauts Wives Club LaRue: 'Astronaut Wives Club' tells a grounded but affecting story : Diane Larue
Lily Koppel at Bryant Park

Monday, August 12, 2013

In The Land of the Living by Austin Ratner

In the Land of the Living by Austin Ratner
Published by Reagan Arthur Books ISBN 978-0316206099
Hardcover, $25.99, 320 pages

As I have mentioned before, I live in a household of all men (even our dog, Malcolm, was male). So I am always fascinated by novels that give me insight in the male psyche, like Khaled Hosseini's The Kite Runner.

Austin Ratner's novel, In the Land of the Living, tells the story of two generations- Isidore, the son of Russian Jewish immigrants fleeing the horrors of the pogrom, and his son Leo, an intelligent, hard-working man studying to be a doctor like his father.

Isidore lost his mother to illness when he was young, and his relationship with his father Ezer was troubled. Ezer could not work and raise his three young sons, so they spent time in a foster home. Isidore felt that his father was a bully and did not know how to raise his sons, and as he got older, their arguments became more violent.

Isidore accused his father of "employing a technique he'd presumably learned at the Kishinev School of Cossack Child Rearing" when Ezer hit his son Burt in the head with a pot. Ezer screamed at his son "Do not judge me, Isser! You know nothing! You're a child!"

Ezer has a point; he grew up in horrible poverty, his family chased from one hovel to another, the men and children beaten, the women raped. He left his homeland for a new start, and worked long, hard hours to make a better life for his own family. He felt his sons should be appreciative, his sons felt unloved by their father. No one understands the other.

Isidore is a smart man, and he works hard to get into college and then medical school. He puts distance between his family in Cleveland by going to college at Harvard, where his love of poetry is not looked down upon.

Back home in Cleveland he finds a mentor in Doc Neuwalder, a renowned surgeon and father to the lovely Laura, who is "very good at keeping people happy." Laura and Isidore fall in love, he becomes a doctor and they have two beautiful baby boys, Leo and Mack. Tragedy befalls the family, and Leo and Mack never get to know their father.

Leo wants to follow in his his father's footsteps as a doctor, to make him proud. But he is a lost soul, and his relationship with his younger brother Mack makes him his sad. Mack is a popular guys, has lots of friends, but Leo is not one of them, though he would like to be. It hurts Leo when Mack doesn't come to his high school graduation because he would rather be with his friends.

It is said that each child in a family is raised by different parents, meaning that each child has very different relationship with their parents than their siblings. In this case, it is more literal in that Mack didn't remember his father at all.

The last section of the book consists of a road trip, with Leo and Mack driving from California to Cleveland. Leo hopes that this trip will help his get his head straight and that he will gain some insight into his Mack. He really wants to have a relationship with his brother.

Leo writes a letter to his father, swearing to fulfill his promise, and become successful. He promises to be the "best there ever was" for his father, to make him proud. He vows to "fight on for you here in the land of the living with all the strength I have."

And that is what this book is all about- fighting to make it in the land of the living, through all of the struggles and tragedies that lie ahead.

The relationship between fathers and sons and brothers is explored with great intensity and deep insight in The Land of the Living. I highly recommend it.

rating 4 of 5

Thanks to TLC Book Tours for allowing me to be a host on this tour. Other tour hosts are:

Austin Ratner’s TLC Book Tours TOUR STOPS:

Monday, August 12th:  BookChickDi
Tuesday, August 13th:  Svetlana’s Reads and Views
Wednesday, August 14th:  The Five Borough Book Review
Thursday, August 15th:  Between the Covers
Friday, August 16th:  A Bookish Way of Life
Monday, August 19th:  The Best Books Ever
Wednesday, August 21st:  Patricia’s Wisdom
Thursday, August 22nd:  Bibliophiliac
Monday, August 26th:  Must. Read. Faster
Wednesday, August 28th:  The Feminist Texican (Reads)
Tuesday, September 3rd:  Books in the City
Wednesday, September 4th:  Book Chatter
Thursday, September 5th:  Book-alicious Mama
Monday, September 9th:  Sarah’s Book Shelves
Thursday, September 12th:  Guiltless Reading

Saturday, August 10, 2013

Weekend Cooking- Table of Contents by Judy Gelman & Vicki Levy Krupp

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.

Table of Contents by Judy Gelman & Vicki Levy Knapp
Published by Gelman & Levy Knapp ISBN 978-1440504037
Paperback, $15.95, 287 pages

While strolling through the Library of Congress book shop on a recent visit, I checked out their clearance table and saw a book so perfect for this blog, I could not resist- Table of Contents: From Breakfast with Anita Diamant to Dessert with James Patterson- a Generous Helping of Recipes, Writings, and Insights from Today's Bestselling Authors.

Since I am a book blogger who blogs about food weekly, thanks to Beth Fish Reads' Weekend Cooking meme, this was something I had to peruse. There were so many of my favorite authors in there- Jennifer Haigh, Lisa Genova, Joshilyn Jackson, Elinor Lipman, Meg Wolitzer and of course, Adriana Trigiani, whose newest novel, The Supreme Macaroni Company, publishes in November.

Each author is listed with their most recent books, and a few questions to answer, such as who inspired them, what readers should know, what readers frequently ask, and authors who have influenced them. I found this section to be so interesting as the reader really gets a quick snapshot of what each makes each author tick.

A recipe from the author follows; sometimes it is one of the author's favorites, (Elizabeth Berg chose her favorite meatloaf) sometimes it is a recipe from one of their books (Kathleen's Veal Marengo from Elinor Lipman's The Family Man), and sometimes it a recipe inspired by a character in their books (Enzo's Pancakes from Garth Stein's Racing in the Rain).

There are a lot of ethnic recipes here too: Lisa See's Three Generation Curried Tomato Beef Lo Mein  from China, Adam Verghese's Irachi Ulathu (Mom's Beef Fry) from South India, Monique Truong's Bo` Kho  from Vietnam, and Esmeralda Santiago's Pernil  from Puerto Rico.

The book is compiled by the creators of BookClubCookbook.com, where you can find recipes from authors and ideas for your next book club meeting, and even suggest books for the website. It's a fun book and I can't wait to try some of these dishes; I think Frances Mayes's Summer Shrimp Salad might be first up on my list.

The link for their website is here. Table of Contents is available on Amazon for just $6.38, and you can't even buy lunch for that.

Saturday, August 3, 2013

Weekend Cooking- The Astronauts Wives Club by Lily Koppel

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.

I just finished Lily Koppel's fascinating book about the wives of the original astronauts, The Astronauts Wives Club, and really enjoyed it. I was just born when John Glenn made his historic flight orbiting the earth and my mom wrote about that in my baby book, in the section "Things in the News".

I remember as a child watching Walter Cronkite on TV reporting on all of the flights, and vividly recall all of us sitting around the TV watching Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin walking on the moon. It was so exciting and hard to put it in perspective as a seven-year-old, but I knew that all of the adults around me were mesmerized.

Koppel's book puts you right in the living rooms of the wives of these brave men, and the women's bravery was no less important. They waited and watched with America, hoping and praying that their husbands came home safely, all this while reporters were camped out on their lawns and a Life magazine reporter was embedded in their homes. As Koppel succinctly states, they were the first TV reality stars, way before the Osbournes and Kardashians, only they were actually doing something valuable for society.

The wives got together at the homes of the astronauts in space to support the families, and of course they brought food.
The Astrowives learned that they needed to comfort each other during the agonizing minutes, hours, and days they had to be home for their husbands' safe return to Earth. They brought potluck spreads- Jell-O molds, casseroles, frosted cupcakes stuck with little American flags, lasagna, deviled eggs, pigs in blankets, strawberry angel cake, marshmallow brownies, and homemade "Moon Cake", a coconut cream pie topped with meringue swirled to look like the lunar surface."
Reading that brought me back to the family gatherings, usually at my Great Aunt Jean and Great Uncle Bob's big house, where we all celebrated graduations, had bridal and baby showers or just a family picnic. Everybody brought something, and we had tossed salad, potato and macaroni salad, corn on the cob, burgers and hot dogs and of course, Jell-O salad.

This recipe is one that in my family we call "Nancy and Cindy's Orange Jello Stuff", which is something you will see at every bridal and baby shower, and named after the creators my Mom, Nancy,  and Aunt Cindy.

Nancy's and Cindy's Orange Jello Stuff
3 oz. package of Jello Vanilla Cook and Serve pudding (NOT instant)
3 oz. package Orange Jello
3 oz. package tapioca pudding (NOT instant)
3 cups boiling water
8 oz. Cool Whip

Directions: Put vanilla pudding, orange Jello and tapioca pudding in a large bowl. Add boiling water and stir until completely dissolved ( about two minutes). Cool completely in refrigerator, about a hour but don't let it set. Fold in Cool Whip, stirring gently. Refrigerate until salad is set, about two more hours.

I'm sure if you found your old copy of The Betty Crocker Cookbook, you know the one I mean, the one with the red cover, you would find this and dozens of other similar Jello recipes. Do you have a favorite Jello salad recipe from your childhood? Let me know in comments.

The Astronauts Wives Club  website is here.

Friday, August 2, 2013

The Cast of Giant Performs at Barnes & Noble

The cast of Giant, the off-Broadway show that played a limited run at the Public Theater this spring, came to Barnes and Noble on the Upper East Side to celebrate the release of their original cast recording on August 1st.
The cast of Giant at Barnes & Noble
Creator Michael John LaChiusa spoke to the enthusiastic crowd, talking about how they took a show that clocked in at five hours (in Dallas) and trimmed it to three hours (in NYC). Giant is based on the Pulitzer-prize winning novel by Edna Ferber that tells of the 25 year marriage of Bick and Leslie Benedict set on the huge ranch that Bick's family owns in Texas. Texas is a big character as well.

It's a big cast and there are lots of songs (it's a 2-CD set), and I hope it will be staged on Broadway soon as I missed the original production.

The show opened with the talented Brian d'Arcy James singing Did Spring Come to Texas.

Next, his co-star, the luminous Kate Baldwin (whom I saw singing earlier in the day in the pouring rain at Bryant Park's Broadway in the Park series with Norbert Leo Butz from their upcoming show Big Fish) joined him for Your Texas.

Next up, PJ Griffith (in the role played by James Dean in the film version) sang Private Property. I've never seen Griffith before, and hope to see him soon on the Broadway stage.

Kate closed the show with LaChiusa's favorite song from the show that got cut when the show went from five to three hours- A Stranger. 

The songs were fantastic, I really hope that we see this show somewhere soon.