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Saturday, October 24, 2015

Weekend Cooking- All The Stars in the Heavens by Adriana Trigiani

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.

An Adriana Trigiani book is always something to celebrate, and her latest release, All The Stars in the Heavens is no exception. Set during the Golden Age of Hollywood in the 1930's, Trigiani weaves the story of her protagonist, Alda Ducci, a young Italian immigrant who is asked to leave the convent where she had planned to become a nun, with movie star Loretta Young, whom Alda ends up working with as her assistant.

Alda accompanies Loretta to Seattle for a movie shoot, where the male star is Clark Gable. Gable pursues Loretta and an onscreen romance becomes an offscreen one as well, one with far-reaching consequences.

I loved this book, it felt like watching a behind-the-scenes story on Turner Classic Movies. Trigiani takes a old Hollywood tale about Gable and Young and creates a believable and fascinating story that should be turned into a movie itself.
Loretta Young

As always, Trigiani has a few scenes that revolve around food. In her Valentine trilogy, her family dinners left me laughing and drooling over the Italian Roncolli family holiday celebrations. In All The Stars in the Heavens, we have foodie scenes like this one, as Loretta Young opens a box sent to her for her birthday from her family while she filming far away outside of Seattle.
The box was filled with glorious food: cellophane packages of noodles, German cured sausages, wedges of hard cheese, a bottle of olive oil, and a jar of Greek olives. Ruby had mixed dry biscuit ingredients in a mason jar with instructions to add eggs and bake. Another jar held the dry ingredients for chocolate cake. There was a box of See's Candy, Loretta's secret vice. A large square baker's box was nestled in the center; she lifted it out carefully and opened it. As soon as she did, the room was filled with the scent of lemon, rum and butter. Her mother had made her favorite cake for her birthday, wrapped in layers of tin foil: a southern rum cake, an old recipe handed down from her great-grandmother in North Carolina.
Who wouldn't like to get that as a birthday gift? Another great foodie scene is set in an outdoor market in Padua in Italy.
The outdoor market in Padua's grand piazza was a carnival of delicious scents and local delicacies, the harvest of the Italian countryside gathered under the sunny yellow awnings by local vendors. Baskets filled with sunflowers tied in massive bouquets were sold next to silver bins of fresh white mozzarella in icy clear water. A white canopy threw shade over a display of freshly caught silver fish with blue eyes, the catch that brought the most haggling from customers, while salami hung from the overhead beam of the portico like stalactites, marked with their prices. There were braids of fresh bread, bright green bouquets of chicory, basil, and parsley, and a slab of torrone taffy that looked like a giant square of Italian marble. The purveyor cut off pieces and wrapped them in paper as the children of Padua stood in line. The vegetables were works of art: white mushrooms on nests of green, baskets of tomatoes, white onions that looked like pearls, and fruit, blood oranges and pale green pears, sweet and fragrant. Craving sweets, Loretta bought a bag of blood oranges, and as she walked, she peeled and orange and ate it.
After reading that, I wanted to head over to Union Square Greenmarket, just to take in the sights and smells. Trigiani touches all of the readers' senses like no other author I know. Her books are a feast for every sense.

I will post a complete review of All The Stars in the Heavens on November 9th as part of TLC Tours, but you can probably tell already that I am going to give it a rave review.

Visit Adriana Trigiani's website for more information on the book here.

Friday, October 23, 2015

New in Paperback- Lila by Marilynne Robinson

Lila by Marilynne Robinson
Published by Picador ISBN 9781250074843
Trade paperback, $16, 272 pages

Marilynne Robinson's Lila is the third book, following her Pulitzer prize-winning novel Gilead and Home, set in the small town of Gilead, Iowa. In Gilead, elderly Reverend John Ames has a very young wife named Lila and young son, whom he is writing a long letter to which is the story of the novel.

In Lila, we get to know more of Lila, the enigmatic, quiet figure from the periphery of Gilead. The beginning of the book introduces us to the young child Lila, freezing out on a door stoop after someone got tired of her crying. A poor woman named Doll came to her rescue, and takes the severely neglected and abused Lila and runs away.

There is a heartbreaking scene as Doll takes Lila to another house, where the woman there gently cleans up the sick and exhausted Lila. It made me cry and that was just page seven.

Lila has had a hard life and one day while walking through Gilead, she finds herself exhausted and sees a little abandoned house. She stays there for weeks, living on fish and dandelion greens. She wanders into town and ends up at Reverend John Ames' church during services.

After church, she stops by John Ames' home and he invites her in. Watching their relationship blossom, the tender way he cares for Lila and the way she comes to care for him is beautiful, like watching a flower slowly blossom and bloom. Lila works on instinct, and Reverend Ames on intellect, yet they manage to find a way to each other.

The writing is gorgeous, the kind that makes want to re-read passages over again to get a full appreciation of Robinson's poetry and skill, like this one:
So when she was done at Mrs. Graham's house she took the bag of clothes and walked up to the cemetery. There was the grave of the John Ames who died as a boy, with a sister Martha on one side and a sister Margaret on the other. She had never really thought about the way the dead would gather at the edge of a town, all their names spelled out so you'd know whose they were for as long as that family lived in that place. And there was the Reverend John Ames, who would have been the preacher's father, with his wife beside him. It must be strange to know your whole life where you will be buried. To see these stones with your own name on them. Someday the old man would lie down beside his wife. And there she would be, after so many years, waiting in sunlight, all covered in roses.
 Lila is a work of art, a quiet book that will pull at your heartstrings and maybe look at people in a different way. It won many awards last year, including The National Book Critics Circle Award, and made many publications Top Ten Lists. It is a book to contemplate and savor. I give it my highest recommendation.

Wednesday, October 21, 2015

A Bookish Moment on Showtime's The Affair

Showtime TV has some terrific shows, and at this moment, The Affair has captured my attention. Dominic West portrays Noah Solloway, a writer who had one moderately successful novel published. He and his family spend part of the summer with his wife's wealthy (and controlling and obnoxious) parents while he tries to write his second book.

Noah begins an affair with a younger woman, a waitress named Alison played by Ruth Wilson. The first year of the show we saw the incidents in each episode from different points of view- the first half hour was Noah's version, the second half hour from Alison's. It was riveting television.

This year, we add in the perspectives of their spouses- Helen, the wronged and angry wife beautifully played by Maura Tierney, and Cole (Joshua Jackson), Alison's husband who seems to have lost everything in his life and is on a dangerous path. The show has gotten much deeper this year.

In last week's episode, Noah is staying in a cabin at the home of a woman who is in the publishing industry. The wonderful actress Joanna Gleason plays Yvonne to perfection.

In one scene, Noah is looking at a mantel filled with books. Yvonne tells Noah that each of those books were written in the same cabin that he is staying in, and that someday she hopes to see his book there as well.

Of course, these books fascinated me, and I wondered if there is any significance to the books chosen or if their set decorator just chose them at random. I hope I'm not obsessing about this, but I did freeze the frame to get a better look at the books.

According to this, David Baldacci must have stayed there last as his thriller, Memory Man, which was just published, is there. Paula Hawkins blockbuster The Girl On The Train is there too, as is Jonathan Franzen's The Corrections and Jhumpa Lahiri's The Lowlands  and Brad Thor's Act of War. There are some books I haven't heard of, and some that I can't make out the titles.

The Affair won the Golden Globes last year for Best TV Drama, and Ruth Wilson won Best Actress for her role, and so far this year, the show has gotten even better.

You can find more information about The Affair here.

Sunday, October 18, 2015

Weekend Cooking- Cornucopia 2015

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.

In my husband's work, we frequently have to attend fundraising dinners for various organizations. Last night, we went to a fundraiser for Hudson River Healthcare, a provider of primary health care services for over 135,000 men women and children throughout the Hudson Valley and Long Island.

HRHCare is their foundation that provides health care for vulnerable populations, including agricultural workers and their families, and the organization my husband works for, ArchCare, the health care system continuing care provider for the archdiocese of New York, is working with them to provide a mobile health care clinic for agricultural workers and their families next spring.

The fundraiser is called Cornucopia, where harvest and health is celebrated. The event took place at Crabtree's Kittle House & Inn in Chappaqua, New York. The setting was lovely, and Kittle House is known best for for their farm-to-table cuisine.
Kittle House & Inn

Sometimes when I hear farm-to-table, I'm not so excited, as that seems to be an overused term. But the night's meal was so fantastic, starting with the best salad I have ever had. It was a plate of organic greens, featuring a honeynut squash that was the most flavorful squash I've tasted. There was also Asian pear matchsticks, perfectly seasoned spiced pecans and ewe's blue cheese chunks, topped with a maple vinaigrette. I would have been delighted just eating the salad for dinner!

Our main course was a beautifully seasoned organic chicken breast, so tender and tasty. Fingerling sweet potatoes covered in a lemongrass creme fraiche and braised Asian greens accompanied the chicken, with a honey-rye pear sauce on the bottom of the plate. The whole dish worked so well together.

For dessert, we had an Asian pear and almond torte, topped with an incredibly tasty mascarpone gelato. A plate of petit fours was also on the table, and the pear slices dipped in chocolate were irresistible. If I could have figured a way to put those in my purse, I would have.

I didn't get any photos, but I took a photo of the menu card, which listed the local farmers where the ingredients came from. It was an unforgettable meal, and I would love to visit Crabtree Kittle House & Inn again for dinner.

One of the night's honorees was Mimi Edelman of I & Me Farm in Bedford Hills. Mimi is committed to natural, sustainable, organic and humane farming, and she was still in her fields at 5pm on the evening of the event. The organic greens for our salad came from her I & Me Farm.

As we left, we received gift bags with a bottle of pear liqueur and four pears, which was so lovely. It was a beautiful evening and a worthwhile organization to support.

You can find more information about HRHCare here.
You can find more information about Crabtree's Kittle House & Inn here.

Saturday, October 10, 2015

Weekend Cooking- Chick-fil-a Comes to NYC

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.

So the big news in NYC last week was that Chick-fil-a opened up their first stand-alone restaurant in Midtown. Our family in Pittsburgh turned us onto the deliciousness that is Chick-fil-a and every time we see one when we are traveling, we try to stop there.

The lines for Chick-fil-a are crazy long, but these people know what they are doing. I found myself in Midtown and saw all these people walking up Sixth Avenue carrying Chick-fil-a bags and for some reason it reminded me of The Walking Dead, except these zombies wore business suits and looked really happy.

I got to the store and was directed down 37th Street where there was a line of at least 100 people. But I remained undaunted. I had time and at certain points in the line, there was a sign that said things like this:

I got in line at 12:07pm at the 30 minute mark sign. There were friendly Chick-fil-a staff members at several points in the line, handing out menus and answering questions.

I made into the restaurant by 12:11pm, and an employee took my order on an Ipad, asked my name and gave me a tag that said "Red Register".

I was sent to the Red Register by a line expediter, where I walked up to a cashier who said "Diane?" and then read me back my order, and asked if I wanted ketchup and dipping sauce and anything else. My food was ready and I headed upstairs to the seating area.

There is a big communal table where eight people can sit and lots of two and four-seat tables, with fresh flowers on them. A young lady cleaned the table I chose and then I sat down with my chicken strips and waffle fries and Dr. Pepper. 

I enjoyed my hot, delicious lunch and when I was ready to leave, another young lady came over and said that she would take my trash for me. I was out of there by 12:27. My only complaint was that the waffle fries were not salted and there wasn't any salt packets in my bag.

Chick-fil-a knows how to run a restaurant and this was the most impressive restaurant launch I have ever seen, and my husband and I owned and operated two fast food restaurants so I know of where I speak.

I read an article in Racked that said that at 5000 square feet, this is their largest restaurant, and they brought the operators of their four largest restaurants in to advise them. It is three floors, with a basement kitchen, the second floor has four teams classified by color where the food is put together and a register for each color, and the top floor is seating.

They have an electronic dumbwaiter that brings the supplies up and down, and trash compactors that are sensor operated. 

My sons can't wait to try it and now when I'm in midtown, I'll have a new go-to lunch place. And next time, I'm getting a handspun milkshake to go.

Tuesday, October 6, 2015

Carrying Albert Home by Homer Hickam

Carrying Albert Home by Homer Hickam
Published by William Morrow ISBN 978-0-06-232589-1
Hardcover, $25.99, 432 pages

Carrying Albert Home: The Somewhat True Story of a a Man, His Wife and Her Alligator tells the story of Homer Hickam's parents, Homer and Elsie, and their journey from West Virginia to Florida with their alligator Albert during the Great Depression.

Young Homer is watching his favorite TV show, Davy Crockett, when his mother walks in the room and says "I know him. He gave me Albert.", pointing at actor Buddy Ebsen on the television. Homer is flabbergasted that his mother actually knows someone on TV and when she tells him that Albert was an alligator, Homer is even more confused. Elsie tells him that she will tell him the whole story, but not now.

The story of Albert is doled out to Homer over many years. Elsie had been living in Orlando, Florida, where she met a young Buddy Ebsen and fell in love. They dated and then Ebsen moved to New York to try and make it as a dancer and actor.

Elsie moved back home to West Virginia, married Homer Hickam and became the wife of a coal miner, something she did not want to be. Buddy Ebsen sent Elsie a wedding gift- a baby alligator she named Albert.

Albert became her best friend, and she treated him as if he were her child. After four years, Albert became too big and when he chased her husband into the yard without his pants, Homer told her Albert had to go.

Elsie reluctantly agreed, but only if they would drive Albert back to Orlando to release him. Homer loved his wife, although he believed that she was still in love with Buddy Ebsen, and he wanted to make her happy, so he agreed.

On their way from West Virginia to Florida, with Albert lying in a tub in the backseat and a rooster who tagged along, the foursome made their way down the coast. The adventures that awaited them would have made Forrest Gump proud.

They found themselves in the middle of a bank robbery (that Albert foiled), met author John Steinbeck, got involved with a coal miners strike, kidnapped by bootleggers, Homer played baseball while Elsie became a nurse to a wealthy man, they acted in a Tarzan movie, and they met Ernest Hemingway during a terrible hurricane. And at each turn, two bad men, Slick and Huddie, kept humorously turning up like bad pennies.

At least these are the stories they told their son Homer Jr. through the years. The stories are fascinating and funny, but the most interesting part of the story is the marriage of Elsie and Homer Sr.

Homer tried his best to make his capricious wife happy, but Elsie always seemed to want something more, some new adventure that he found himself dragged into. Elsie was very unhappy, she "always felt that her life was like a jigsaw puzzle with no picture on the box to show her how the puzzle pieces should fit together."

All Homer wanted to was be a coal miner and good husband, but he had a difficult time competing for his wife's affections with a movie star. And Elsie wanted to be anything but a coal miner's wife, yet there she was.

Hickam does a wonderful job with these characters, and we feel their pain. Marriage isn't always easy, especially when the spouses appear to want different things in life.

I tore through Carrying Albert Home, and it felt like a 1940's movie you might find on the Turner Classic Movies channel, or maybe a Saturday matinee serial that you would return week after week to see what would happen to Homer, Elsie and Albert next.

I'm sure young Homer wondered over the years what stories were true, which ones were exaggerated, and which ones were just plain fiction, but it doesn't really matter. Carrying Albert Home is such an enjoyable, crazy journey, and that is all the truth the reader needs to know. I highly recommend it.

Homer Hickam's website is here.

Thanks to TLC Tours for putting me on Homer Hickam's tour. The rest of Homer's stops are here:

Homer’s Tour Stops

Tuesday, October 6th: bookchickdi
Thursday, October 8th: Man of La Book
Friday, October 9th: Books and Bindings
Monday, October 12th: Raven Haired Girl
Tuesday, October 13th: Books on the Table
Wednesday, October 14th: Ms. Nose in a Book
Thursday, October 15th: The many thoughts of a reader
Monday, October 19th: Sara’s Organized Chaos
Tuesday, October 20th: Kahakai Kitchen
Wednesday, October 21st: Lit and Life
Thursday, October 22nd: Cerebral Girl in a Redneck World
Friday, October 23rd: 5 Minutes For Books

Monday, October 5, 2015

Five Books Featuring Women At A Crossroads

Reprinted from the Citizen:

Novels that feature women facing a crossroads in their lives make for interesting stories, and this month I have five good ones to review.
Michelle Huneven follows up her last deeply moving novel, “Blame,” about a woman who spends time in prison after killing a mother and her young daughter while driving drunk, with another brilliant book, “Off Course.” In 1981 we meet Cressida, who has come to stay in her parent’s rustic cabin in the California Sierra Mountains. 
Off Course
Cressida is there to finish to her dissertation in economics, but malaise sets in and she ends up falling in love with a married man. She loses her way, and can’t find her footing in either love or her career. Huneven excels in creating unforgettable characters, and I found myself thinking about Cressida months after finishing this astonishing novel. I also loved the setting of this isolated mountain community.
Laura Dave’s novel “Eight Hundred Grapes” is also set in California, in the wine country of Sonoma. We meet Georgia, wearing her wedding dress and driving from L.A. to her family’s vineyard nine hours away. She has just found out that her fiancĂ© has a young daughter he has not told her about.
Eight Hundred Grapes
She runs home to find that her brothers have a serious issue between them, her mother is dating another man and her father is selling the vineyards he has put his whole life into to a hated corporate entity.  
Georgia’s fiance follows to convince her that he loves and wants to marry her. Meeting his lovely daughter gives Georgia something to think about, as does meeting the girl’s mother, a hot British actress who wants to rekindle the flame.
Learning about running a vineyard and harvesting the grapes was extremely interesting, especially as there are so many in our area. And I liked that we weren’t really sure what Georgia would decide to do until the very end.
Melissa DeCarlo’s debut novel, “The Art of Crash Landing,” starts off strong, as 30-year-old Mattie finds herself pregnant and homeless after she leaves her boyfriend. She gets a letter from a lawyer telling her that she has an inheritance from her grandmother. She heads to the small town of Grandy, Oklahoma, where she finds out things about her dead mother that she didn’t know, including why her mother left home suddenly at 17.
The Art of Crash Landing
I especially enjoyed the small-town feel of this novel, getting to know the Grandy residents, like the librarian, her snarky niece and the wheelchair-bound lawyer who help (and hinder) Mattie in her quest. The humor and humanity shine through in this delightful debut. 
Patricia Park’s “Re Jane” takes us into the world of Jane Re, a Korean-American who lives with her uncle’s family in Queens, where she works at their small grocery store. Jane’s mother died when she was young and her father was an American soldier she never knew.
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Feeling like an outsider in her family (being only half-Korean and not looking like everyone else, and treated like Cinderella), Jane gets a job working for a Brooklyn family as a nanny to their adopted Chinese daughter, and finds herself drawn to the father.
Re Jane
Jane runs away to South Korea, where she ends up with her mother’s family and gets a job teaching English. She loves spending time with her aunt and even finds a great boyfriend, but Jane still doesn’t feel like she completely belongs in South Korea. Will she stay or return to America?
Park does an amazing job dropping us into these disparate worlds of Korean-American Queens, yuppie Brooklyn and South Korea. Her complicated relationship with her uncle is so well-done, and just when you think he doesn’t care about Jane, he shows another side. 
“Re Jane” is a clever retelling of “Jane Eyre,” and I recommend it to anyone who loved that story.
Stephanie Clifford’s “Everybody Rise” has an Edith Wharton-type quality to it. Evelyn has been raised by her mother to want to be a part of high society, something she herself could not attain. She sends Evelyn to a fancy private school in the hopes that Evelyn will impress the “right people.” 
Everybody Rise

Although Evelyn initially rejects her mother’s attempts, she is seduced by the lifestyle and finds herself falling deeper into debt as she works hard to become one of the “beautiful people” with disastrous results. Evelyn is not a character you always root for, but she sure is intriguing. “Everybody Rise” is one of the best novels of the year.

If you read

“Off Course”: B+
“Eight Hundred Grapes”: B+
“The Art of Crash Landing”: A-
“Re Jane”: A-
“Everybody Rise”: A

Sunday, October 4, 2015

Weekend Cooking- Fabio's American Home Kitchen

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.

Fabio's American Home Kitchen by Fabio Viviani
Published by Hachette ISBN 978-1-4013-1284-8
Hardcover, $30, 265 pages

One of my favorite contestants on the Food Network's Top Chef is Fabio Viviani. His Italian accent, good looks, charming way and bromance with fellow contestant Richard Blais made him a true fan favorite. Viviani owns several restaurants and his latest cookbook Fabio's American Home Kitchen  had me drooling as I was perusing all of the recipes.

As I read the introduction, I could hear Fabio's heavily accented voice in my head. He begins with a page of Kitchen Notes of "assumptions and some common sense", including "Mayonnaise is also always preferably homemade, though nothing will happen to you if you use store-bought." Whew, good to know!

Each chapter starts with a page, like the Appetizers section, which he calls the "first kiss of your meal". I love that description of appetizers.  Again, these one page introductions include Fabio's trademark sense of humor.

The recipes are generally one page each, and are geared towards people who have some familiarity in the kitchen. Reading it, I felt like I was in a good friend's kitchen and he was explaining what he was doing as he was cooking. The instructions felt conversational, which I liked.

The Soups and Sandwiches chapter was my favorite, and I've bookmarked many pages there. I'm not a big tomato soup fan, but his Tomato Soup and Grilled Cheese, made with Dijon mustard, is one I will be making for lunch for my husband and me on a rainy, cold Sunday.

I also want to try:

  • Chilled Corn Soup with Parmesan-Basil Corn Salad
  • Fresh Tuna Salad Sandwiches (he says it's time we Americans learn how not to use canned tuna)
  • Rare Beef Pasta Salad
  • Pasta Salad with Walnuts, Gorgonzola and Mozzarella
  • Penne with Creamy Mushroom Medley

Naturally, his Pasta chapter has lots of wonderful recipes, all made with fresh ingredients like his Italian grandma taught him. He has a Quick Chicken Parmigiana recipe where he tells us that we should never serve pasta on the side- no chicken with pasta! I've never heard that before.

He also recommends buying Parmesan cheese with the rind on it and grating the rind because it has very little moisture inside and works well in the oven. 

At the end of the book, Fabio has Menus for Special Occasions, like a Winter Holiday Meal, and Elegant Dinner Party and  Sunday Family Supper using recipes from the book. 

I can't wait to cook from Fabio's American Home Kitchen, I will post the results in a future Weekend Cooking post. 

Fabio Viviani's website, with lots of recipes, is here.