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Saturday, January 30, 2016

Weekend Cooking- A Diner Food Kind of 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.

I didn't cook much when we were in Longboat Key last week, so I made up for it this week. My husband loves what he calls "Truck Driver Food" or "Diner Food", so I pulled out my old cookbooks and found some things I hoped he would like.

First up was Mr. Food's Oven Beef Stew, which I used to make for the family during those long, cold, Central New York winters. I found the recipe in my old standby cookbook, the St. Joseph's School Cooking With Class Cookbook, which was a fundraiser for my sons' Catholic elementary and middle school back in the day. The convenient thing about that cookbook is that I gave them a lot of my favorite recipes and now I have them all collated in one place for easy reference.

It's an easy dish to make, but it takes a good couple of hours in the oven so this is something I make on my day off.
Mr. Food's Oven Beef Stew (photo from Mr. Food's website)

Mr. Food's Oven Beef Stew
2 lbs. stew beef
4 medium potatoes, cut into 1 inch chunks
6 medium carrots, cut into 1/2 inch chunks
1 medium onion chopped
2 cups of tomato juice
 1 cup of water
1 tsp. sugar
2 tsp. salt
1/2 tsp. black pepper
3 Tbsp. quick cooking tapioca

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Coat a 9x13 pan with non-stick spray (coat well!). In the dish, combine the beef, potatoes, carrots and onion, mix well. In a large bowl, combine tomato juice, water, sugar, salt, pepper and tapioca. Pour over beef and vegetables, cover tightly with foil and bake for 2 hours or until beef and vegetables are tender. (This can be put together ahead of time and refrigerated. Bake 2 1/2 to 3 hours.) You can also brown beef before you put into casserole dish if you prefer. We serve it over rice.
The link to the recipe on Mr. Food's website is here.

On Tuesday I made another standby from the cookbook (but not one that I gave them), Chicken Supreme, which I hadn't made in forever. It was a good dish to make on a workday because it only takes an hour in the oven and the prep time is five minutes. It uses a can of cream soup, which I'm not crazy about, but it works for this dish.

Chicken Supreme
4 boneless, skinless chicken breasts
1 can of cream of chicken soup
1/2 cup white wine
4 slices of swiss cheese
Box of stuffing mix (Pepperidge Farm, Stove Top, etc.)
1/2 cup of butter, melted

Place chicken in a baking dish. Cover each piece with a slice of cheese. Mix wine and soup together, pour over chicken. Put stuffing straight from the box on top of it all, top with melted butter and bake at 375 degrees for one hour.

The last truck driver dish I made this week was a new one- Slow Cooker Salisbury Steak. Again, it was perfect for a workday meal. I stopped on my way home to my favorite grocery store, Agata & Valentina, picked up a container of homemade mashed potatoes,  grilled asparagus and a strawberry millefoglie for dessert and it was simple meal that my husband raved about. There's even leftovers for Saturday's lunch. I found this one on Pinterest, from Saved With Pennies.
Slow Cooker Salisbury Steak

Do you have any diner food recipes you enjoy? Share them in comments below.

Friday, January 29, 2016

On Broadway- Hamilton

The hottest ticket in entertainment is Broadway's Hamilton. Created by writer/director/composer/actor/genius (yes, he won a McArthur Genius Grant so he is an actual genius) Lin-Manuel Miranda, who won a Tony for Best Musical for his In the Heights, it is the most creative, amazing piece of theater I've ever seen.

Miranda read historian Ron Chernow's biography Hamilton while on vacation and thought that it would make a great hip-hop Broadway musical. Some people may have thought he had sunstroke, but his creative mind set to work and the result is a brilliant show that is sure to sweep this year's Tony awards. and go down in history as a game-changer in theater.

Miranda brings to vivid life the historical people most of us barely know much about at the time of the American Revolution. Alexander Hamilton was an intelligent, ambitious young orphan from the Caribbean island of Nevis when he came to America.

He graduated from King's College in New York and became a lawyer. But he was passionate about the coming revolution and after writing many pamphlets and tracts encouraging revolution, he became General George Washington's right-hand man and eventual first Secretary of the Treasury.

In addition to his many accomplishments, we see Hamilton's personal life. He married Eliza Schuyler, the daughter of a wealthy, prominent man, and he had a close relationship with her sister Angelica.

The story is narrated by his frenemy Aaron Burr, whom we know eventually killed Hamilton in a duel.

The cast is amazing, from Miranda as Hamilton to Leslie Odom Jr. as Burr. (He has a stunning voice.) Angelica is portrayed by a luminescent Renee Elise Goldsberry, who captures the stage whenever she is on it. Phillipa Soo stands out as Hamilton's loyal wife Eliza.

Christopher Jackson plays George Washington as we know him- a large presence and a strong leader who depended on Hamilton and at the same time called him out when Hamilton needed it. Daveed Diggs is fantastic as both LaFayette and has a memorable turn as a Thomas Jefferson who is not as stuffy here as history books make him out to be.

Jonathan Groff should order his tux now for the Tonys as his performance as a petulant King George II brought down the house in each of his four short scenes. He is a shoo-in for Best Supporting Actor and is sure to be up against many of his co-stars.

I'd call Hamilton a hip-hop opera, as it feels like it could be at home at the Met. The subject matter is operatic, and this may well be the future of opera. The show is mostly sung, and the lyrics, using phrases we remember from history class, are ingenious. The performers in this show get quite a vocal workout. (Owning the soundtrack is a must so you can truly appreciate the words. Oh, those words.)

The choreography, costumes and staging perfectly complement this groundbreaking show. Tickets are extremely hard to come by (they are putting a new set of tickets on sale next week for November 2016- January 2017) but I cannot tell you much I loved this show. I loved history class in high school, and Miranda and company bring it to new, exciting, accessible life in Hamilton. If you see only one show on Broadway, this is the one to see.

The website for Hamilton is here.
For more Hamilton fun, check out #Ham4Ham videos posted on YouTube.

Tuesday, January 26, 2016

The Guest Room by Chris Bohjalian

The Guest Room by Chris Bohjalian
Published by Doubleday ISBN 97803855538893
Hardcover, $25.95, 336 pages

What I like about a new Chris Bohjalian book is that you know it's always going to be an intriguing story that tackles an important issue. He's dealt with such topics as mental illness (The Double Bind), domestic abuse (Secrets of Eden), the Armenian genocide (The Sandcastle Girls) and now the global sex slave trade in his gripping novel The Guest Room.

Kristine takes her eight-year-old daughter to visit her mother overnight in New York City while her husband Richard hosts a bachelor party for his n'er-do-well brother in their suburban home. She's not crazy about her immature brother-in-law Phillip and his friends, but Richard doesn't have many friends or go out much, so she hopes this will be a fun night for him.

Phillip's best friend Spencer arranges for two strippers to come to the house, but when they arrive, it's clear that these are the not the kind of women Richard envisioned. The two young women are more than strippers, they are prostitutes.

Things get way out of hand, and Richard ends up in the guest room with one of the young women, Alexandra, about to make a very bad mistake. It turns out that these two women were kidnapped and forced into sex slavery and when the women kill their bodyguards/captors in his house, Richard's life turns upside down.

He has to tell his wife, who has to tell their young daughter. The lurid story is all over the news, Richard is forced to take a leave of absence from his lucrative job and they can't go back into their house as it is a crime scene. It is a nightmare.

The story is also told from Alexandra's viewpoint. After losing her father, she is tricked into leaving her mother, believing she is going to study dance in Russia. The man who was her benefactor became her nightmare. At the age of fourteen she was forced into prostitution. She was beaten and raped repeatedly until she realized there was no way out.

Bohjalian describes in graphic detail the brutality these young women are subjected to. It is horrifying to read on the page, I can't imagine the actual reality of it. For five long years Alex is locked away, forced to service men.

At the age of nineteen, she and three other young women are sent to New York where they can make more money for the Russian mobsters. One of them is killed by their captors, and then they go to the party at Richard's, where Alexandra's friend decides to change her fate.

The story is riveting, and The Guest Room is definitely a page-turning nail-biter. As Alexandra is on the run, trying to avoid the Russian mobsters and police looking for her, and Richard tries to put his life back together, their stories collide.

The ending is shocking and will send you for a loop. The Guest Room is just heartbreaking, and the fact that this goes on right here is mind-numbing. I highly recommend The Guest Room, it combines a sad story with a thriller's pace and you'll race through it. And if your husband asks to host a bachelor party in your home, just say no.

Monday, January 25, 2016

The Forgotten Room by Karen White, Beatriz Williams and Lauren Willig

The Forgotten Room by Karen White, Beatriz Williams and Lauren Willig
Published by NAL ISBN 9780451474629
Hardcover, $26, 384 pages
Reprinted from the Citizen:
Writers Karen White (“The Sound of Glass”), Lauren Willig (The “Pink Carnation” series of historical fiction) and Beatriz Williams (“Along the Infinite Sea”) are all successful romance novelists on their own. Recently, they teamed up to write a book together, “The Forgotten Room,” in which the authors each take a different time setting then connect their stories together. 
It begins in 1944, where young Dr. Kate Schuyler races to an incoming ambulance to find a seriously injured soldier. Capt. Ravanel was injured in Europe in the war and placed on a boat to set sail for New York City to a hospital there for better care.
The hospital on East 69th Street that Dr. Schuyler works in used to be a family’s mansion during the Gilded Age, when money flowed freely until the Great Depression hit, and the family’s mansion was sold and eventually became a hospital.
Capt. Ravenel is delirious with fever, calling Dr. Schuyler by the name Victorine, and recognizes the ruby necklace that Kate wears around her neck. Kate doesn’t know Capt. Ravenel, although his last name sounds familiar.
In 1892, we meet young Olive Van Alan, who works as a maid in the mansion on East 69th Street for the wealthy Pratt family. While it appears that Olive is just another poor young working class woman, she has ulterior motives.
Olive’s father was the architect who built the Pratt mansion. It was his masterpiece, a showcase that he hoped would make his career and get him many more jobs. But Mr. Pratt was a dishonest man, and he refused to pay Olive’s father for his work, bankrupting him and resulting in her father’s death.
Olive was determined to find vindication for her father in Pratt’s paperwork. She would find proof that her father’s work was not unacceptable and poor, as Pratt claimed. She would get justice for her father.
But Olive didn’t count on falling in love with Pratt’s artistic son Harry. Olive was warned to stay away from the young master of the house, that it would only mean trouble for everyone, but Harry became infatuated with Olive, and a torrid affair began.
In 1920, Lucy Young takes a room in the attic of a mansion on East 69th Street, the former Pratt Mansion. She secures a job at the firm that handles the affairs of the Pratt family. The junior partner in charge of the Pratt account is the stepson of Prunella Pratt, the last remaining member of the famous Pratts, and sister of Harry.
Before long, Lucy is now working closely with Phillip Schuyler, Prunella’s stepson. Lucy can’t believe her luck. She got the job at the firm hoping to get an answer to a very important question: Could Lucy be the illegitimate daughter of Harry Pratt?
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Harry Pratt disappeared a long time ago, and his family had no idea where he went or if he was still alive. Lucy hopes that if she can find Harry Pratt, she can find the answer to her real heritage.
Lucy becomes Phillip Schuyler’s valued assistant, and when he asks her to entertain a client, a Mr. Ravenel from Charleston, we have a connection that will be repeated in 1944, in the Pratt mansion that is now a hospital.
White, Williams and Willig do a masterful job creating three distinct worlds that intersect in the end. Each takes a storyline, and immerses the reader in their time period. We can feel the distinct delineation between the classes in Olive’s story, as the opulence of the Pratt family contrasts with Olive and her widowed mother, who tries to marry Olive off to the nice bakery owner.
Lucy Young is a career woman living in a room in a woman’s boarding house in 1920 under the watchful eye of a woman who deems it her goal in life to keep her boarders' virtue intact. Lucy came from a family who owned a small shop, but she uses her education to make a better life for herself.
And then we get to Dr. Kate Schuyler, a doctor in 1944, an unusual occupation for a woman at that time. Kate has to put up with the sexual harassment of her boss, and back then the only method to handle that was to avoid the man at all costs.
The way the authors seamlessly weave their stories together is beautifully done, and when the resolution to the story comes, it is a satisfying conclusion. “The Forgotten Room” is the perfect book to curl up with on a snowy day and lose yourself in a wonderful story.
Grade- A-

Saturday, January 23, 2016

Weekend Cooking- Two Sarasota Area Restaurants

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.

The weather is very bad back in New York City, but we are safe and (slightly) warmer in Sarasota. We had two sets of visitors at our vacation home in Longboat Key this week, and we tried two new restaurants that were both winners.

Mediterraneo is an authentic Italian restaurant in the Historic Downtown District of Sarasota, right across the street from the beautiful Regal 20 Theaters. Two of our friends who live here in Sarasota highly recommended Mediterraneo, so we decided to try it and we were so happy we are returning again tonight with our new visitors.

I started with a Spinach salad, which had pears, pecorino cheese and toasted walnuts on top. The waiter brought the table a bottle of balsamic vinegar and a bottle of olive oil to dress the salad individually. It was very fresh and light.
Spinach Salad 

For my entree I chose the Spaghetti alla Gricia, which had pancetta and cheese mixed in with the pasta water to make a sinfully delicious dinner. I savored every bite. I could only eat half it was so filling. One of our dining companions chose the lamb shank, and he was the envy of many in our group.

The service was wonderful, our server was friendly and knowledgable, able to answer all of our questions and provide some terrific suggestions. The room was a little noisy, it reminded me of a Manhattan restaurant in that regard, and the tables were pretty close together as it is a smaller dining room and a very popular restaurant. I highly recommend Mediterraneo.

Last night we stayed on Longboat Key and tried Euphemia Haye, a local landmark. The restaurant stands out from the road with its beautiful landscaping filled with lovely tiny white lights. That is continued into the restaurant, located in an historic old cottage. It's perfect for a romantic evening out.

Our server here was also friendly and gave us an overview of the menu, such as the dishes they are best known for, including a Crisp Roast Duckling whose presentation was pretty spectacular. (Two neighboring tables ordered it.)

The banana bread on the table was so fabulous, I had two pieces. I chose the appetizer special, Quattro Formaggio, a small slice of a savory cheesecake of ricotta and three other cheeses, topped with bacon, sour cream and green onions, served with a side of greens. It was delicious!
Quattro Formaggio

The other diners had a Caesar salad, which was very good, and a Waldorf salad that looked great too. I chose the Gamberetti with Capellini, shrimp with garlic and herbs in a white wine sauce over egg pasta. It was very light and refreshing after my heavier appetizer.

My husband had the Filet Mignon, served on a potato pancake that he enjoyed. For dessert, we shared a Banana Cream Pie and our other diners shared a Chocolate Mousse that they raved about.

Chef Ray Arpke came around to each table to greet everyone, which is such a nice touch. The ambience is so relaxing, and next time we will be sure to visit the Haye Loft upstairs, which serves lighter fare and has live music each night.

Both restaurants were winners, and we will be visiting them often. Reservations are recommended for both.

Mediterraneo's website is here.
Euphemia Haye's website is here.

To all who are in the path of Jonas, please stay safe and warm.

Tuesday, January 19, 2016

The Restaurant Critic's Wife by Elizabeth LaBan

The Restaurant Critic's Wife by Elizabeth LaBan
Published by Lake Union Publishing ISBN 978-1477817766
Hardcover, $24.95, 306 pages

Writers are told to write what they know, and Elizabeth LaBan has taken that to heart in her novel The Restaurant Critic's Wife.  Like her protagonist Lila, LaBan is married to the food critic for a large Philadelphia newspaper. (Luckily, LaBan says that the character of the critic is much crazier than her actual husband.)

Lila is a high-powered executive for a large hotel chain. She specializes in crisis management and public relations, traveling the globe and solving problems with aplomb. After she breaks up with her long-time boyfriend, she finds herself in New Orleans for work when she meets Sam.

Sam and Lila fall deeply in love. Lila becomes pregnant and they decide to marry. They are very happy together, and then Sam gets the opportunity he has been waiting for- a job as a restaurant critic at a Philadelphia newspaper.

By now, Lila and Sam have two young children- Hazel, a toddler, and baby Henry. Sam is totally engrossed in his job, taking it very seriously. He is overly protective of his anonymity, believing that if anyone knew who he was, he could not do his job properly.

This unfortunately extends to Lila and the children. He doesn't want Lila to befriend any neighbors in case they own a restaurant. Lila's high school friend Maureen lives in town and also has two young children, but her husband owns a restaurant, so they cannot be friends.

He also doesn't want Lila to go back to work for the hotel, which Lila desperately wants to do. She felt in charge there, and being stuck at home and not allowed to have friends begins to frustrate her.

The one friend she makes is a waiter from a fancy restaurant, Sebastian. He is kind to Lila, and helpful with the children. But Sam flips out when he discovers their friendship because he feels Sebastian may be using Lila to get information.

It seems to me that Sam is too controlling and not very understanding of what he is asking of his wife. He acts like he works for the CIA, and that his identity must be protected for national security reasons.

The story was really captivating, especially for anyone who is a foodie; the descriptions of restaurants and the food are mouth-watering, and I liked the snippets of Sam's reviews that open the chapters. The characters are interesting and well- developed and I really adored Lila and rooted for her. Even the kids were engaging characters, which is sometimes difficult to do.

LeBan also does a wonderful job writing about marriage and parenthood, and the many compromises that must be made to make it all work. Her description of Lila's C-section and its aftermath were dead-on as well.

The one thing that felt a bit odd was that Lila was in a few gossip columns, outed as the restaurant critic's wife. How boring are things in Philadelphia that the restaurant critic's wife is constant fodder for gossip columns?

I recommend The Restaurant Critic's Wife to anyone who likes a good story about the compromises of marriage, as well as anyone who would like a peek into the world of restaurants.

Elizabeth LeBan's website is here.

Thanks to TLC Tours for putting me on Elizabeth LeBan's tour. The rest of the stops are here:

Elizabeth LaBan’s TLC Book Tours TOUR STOPS:

Monday, January 4th: A Lovely Bookshelf on the Wall
Tuesday, January 5th: Why Girls are Weird
Wednesday, January 6th: All Roads Lead to the Kitchen
Thursday, January 7th: Bibliotica
Monday, January 11th: Kahakai Kitchen
Tuesday, January 12th: Chick Lit Central – author guest post
Wednesday, January 13th: Thoughts on This ‘n That
Thursday, January 14th: A Chick Who Reads
Friday, January 15th: Kritter’s Ramblings
Monday, January 18th: Books a la Mode – author guest post
Tuesday, January 19th: Bookchickdi
Wednesday, January 20th: I’m Shelf-ish
Thursday, January 21st: Patricia’s Wisdom
Friday, January 22nd: From the TBR Pile
Monday, January 25th: Read. Write. Repeat.
Tuesday, January 26th: Read Love Blog
Wednesday, January 27th: Mom in Love with Fiction
Thursday, January 28th: View from the Birdhouse
Monday, February 1st: Just Commonly
Wednesday, February 3rd: Thoughts from an Evil Overlord
Friday, February 5th: Satisfaction for Insatiable Readers

Saturday, January 16, 2016

Weekend Cooking- The Chef Next Door by Amanda Freitag with Carrie King

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.

The Chef Next Door By Amanda Freitag with Carrie King
Published by William Morrow ISBN 9780062345837
Hardcover, $35, 299 pages

I had not heard of chef Amanda Freitag until I saw her one day on an episode of TV's The Chew.  Host Michael Symon made a visit to her tiny New York City kitchen, where she proceeded to whip up some delicious recipe.

I was amazed that she could create something so lovely looking in such a small kitchen. And then I hoped my husband never saw this, because my excuse is that my kitchen is too small to be truly creative.

Freitag, along with Carrie King, has written a fabulous cookbook, The Chef Next Door. The book is beautifully presented, with heavy stock pages, and gorgeous photos of finished dishes inside.

Flipping through it, I saw lots of recipes I wanted to try. The recipes are for basic dishes that every cook should know, and I was surprised to find that most of the ingredients are things that most cooks have on hand. It frustrates me when I find a recipe I want to try, only to discover there are ingredients I need that I don't have and probably won't use again.

Some of the ones I want to try include:

  • Sweet Summer Corn Sauce- I may have to wait awhile for this one
  • "Lusty" Lemon Chicken- she uses a rind of Parmesan cheese in it
  • Pop's Beer-Braised Bold Beef Stew- made with red wine and 2 bottles of beer!
  • Orzo Pasta Salad
  • Impressive Dark Chocolate Mousse
I like the layout of the recipes. There is a paragraph describing the recipes, then an ingredient list. She includes a separate "prep" section, which lists everything you need to do to get ready. This is very helpful, and I haven't seen this very often. 

Finally, the step-by-step numbered directions. Sometimes there are handwritten notes with extra information, and at the end of the recipe you can frequently find suggestions to pair with the dish. 

The end of the book has a Menu section, which gives you ideas for celebrations such as Sunday Supper, Easter Dinner and Mother's Day Brunch, using recipes from the book. I find that very handy. 

The Chef Next Door is definitely a keeper for me, it feels like a book that I can refer to and use over and over again. You don't need to be a gourmet to use this book, anyone who likes to cook would find it useful. I recommend it.

Amanda Freitag's website is here.

Friday, January 15, 2016

On Broadway- A Gentleman's Guide to Love and Murder

I tried two times to see the 2014 Tony Award-winning musical A Gentlemen's Guide to Love and Murder. The first time I bought a ticket, the brilliant Jefferson Mays, who plays nine roles in the show was out with a back injury. The second time I tried to buy a ticket, I found that the regular Wednesday matinee was cancelled because they added an extra Sunday evening show on Columbus Day weekend.

Just when I thought I wouldn't get a chance to see it, I saw that the Actor's Fund was selling tickets to the show a few days before it closed. I guess the third time is the charm.

The show was fabulous, so funny and charming, and the performances were fantastic. Bryce Pinkham plays Monty, a young destitute man in 1909 who discovers that he is 9th in line to be an heir to a fortune. If only the eight ahead of him were dead...

The rest of the show is Monty scheming to murder the eight, all played brilliantly by Jefferson Mays in a phenomenally physical performance. He is just a comic genius!

Pinkham is fabulous as well, and what a wonderful singing voice he has. The musical highlight of the show is a song he sings as he strives to keep his mistress and fiancee from discovering each other. Scarlett Strallen as the mistress has the showier role and she makes the most of it. Catherine Walker also shines as the fiancee.

Pinkham and Mays were both nominated for Tonys and it is clear why. I loved this show, it was a perfect anecdote to the winter blues and it was clear that the rest of the audience agreed with me.

If A Gentleman's Guide to Love and Murder comes to your town on tour, go see it. You won't regret it.

Here is the video from their Tony performance.

Thursday, January 14, 2016

Spending the Holidays With People I Want to Punch in the Throat by Jen Mann

Spending the Holidays With People I Want to Punch in the Throat by Jen Mann
Published by Ballantine Books ISBN 978034554990
Trade paperback, $16, 224 pages

I was sorry that I didn't post a review for Spending the Holidays With People I Want to Punch in the Throat before the holidays because it was such perfect antidote for those of us who feel that the holidays can be a bit overwhelming and we somehow don't do it as well as everyone else.

Jen Mann's mother goes all out for Christmas, with multiple themed trees in every room. It takes her weeks to get all of her decorations out and weeks to put it away. She never throws any holiday decoration away, and adds more to it each year.

Perhaps as a reaction to all of this holiday merriment, Jen has an aversion to all of the holiday hoopla. She does buy Christmas gifts throughout the year for her two kids, and hides them so well she thinks she should create a treasure map because when the time comes to wrap them she has no idea where they are, and sometimes they are not found in time. (Been there, done that.)

Jen's young daughter has inherited her grandmother's joy of Christmas, so she has been given hand-me-down decorations much to Jen's utter dismay. Jen also shares the panic all of us parents have faced as our children's Christmas list change at the very last moment and the hunt for that ultimate gift is on.

I loved Jen's descriptions of conversations between the mommies who spend all day at yoga class as they describe the gift of cosmetic procedures bestowed on them by their husbands, and their un-ironic Christmas letters sent with all of their family members' brilliant achievements. Needless to say, Jen's letter is completely different.

If the holidays were just too much for you, Spending the Holidays With People I Want to Punch in the Throat may just be the cure for you. I laughed a lot at it. (Note- the language is a little salty for some.) People who like Jenny Lawson and Jen Lancaster will enjoy this. I recommend it.

Jen Mann has a website- People I Want To Punch in the Throat and it can be found here.

Monday, January 11, 2016

Make 'Em Laugh by Debbie Reynolds and Dorian Hannaway

Make 'Em Laugh by Debbie Reynolds and Dorian Hannaway
Published by William Morrow ISBN 9780062416634
Hardcover, $25.99, 288 pages

The subtitle of Debbie Reynolds' book Make 'Em Laugh is Short-Term Memories of Longtime Friends and it aptly describes this book; it's filled with short anecdotes about Reynolds and the people she met in her long and storied career.

While reading it, I felt like I was sitting next to her on her couch in her beautiful home while she flipped through a scrapbook, sharing memories of the many famous people she has met and known.

Reynolds is hilarious, as anyone who has seen her on a talk show or award show knows. She has a sharp, quick wit that is well on display here. She also has some funny stories to share about her family, including daughter Carrie Fisher who inherited her mom's sense of humor.

Carrie opens the book recounting the evening that her brother Todd accidentally shot himself in the thigh with a blank from a gun. Debbie called a cab to take him to the hospital because "ambulances can be so loud", and when Debbie was brought to the police station to be fingerprinted, Debbie gave them one finger to be printed. And we're off.

Reynolds shares that she likes to do talk shows, The View and The Talk being two of her favorites. She really loved being on Craig Ferguson's show, saying that no matter what she said, he was right there with her.

She was one of Joey Bishop's first guests on his talk show in the 1960's and recalls demonstrating on Regis Philbin (Joey's sidekick) the proper method taught to Girl Scouts to put out a fire. She jumped on him and he came out of it bruised and scraped, while she split her dress. She was a hit, making the front page cover of New York Sunday News.

Reynolds talks about her visits to the White House, sitting next to Prince at the Oscars, who was wearing a purple lace shawl over his head, dancing the night away with Belgium's bachelor King Baudouin and having her rear end pinched by both Prince Philip (Queen Elizabeth's husband) and Robert Kennedy.

Jonathan Winters and Jimmy Stewart were favorite dinner party seat mates, Milton Berle, whom Reynolds called "obnoxious", was not. Neither was Shelley Winters, "a pain in the ass." She shares a tale of dumping a bucket of ice and water over a drunken Elaine Stritch's head when Stritch was talking through an entire cabaret performance of a friend of Reynolds.

One anecdote she shares is one I was there for. She recounts attending the first preview for Bette Midler's Broadway show about agent Sue Mengers. She was seated near Liza Minelli, and I was sitting across the aisle from them and was so excited to see both of these superstars.

If you are a fan of Debbie Reynolds, Make 'Em Laugh is a book you'll enjoy. It would make a lovely gift for the Turner Classic Movie aficionado in your life.

Sunday, January 10, 2016

Weekend Cooking- Veal Stew with Pear Salad

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.

December is always such a blur, with so many things to get accomplished. I had to purchase and wrap close to 100 gifts, write out 80 Christmas cards, decorate the house, plus my hours spent volunteering at the Book Cellar, a new and used bookstore at my local branch of the New York Public Library (which I love!)

Then we spent a long weekend in Longboat Key, Florida at our new vacation home, and I went home with my sons for a few days before Christmas to visit my family five hours away. Add in there the myriad Christmas parties that we had to attend for my husband's work and we were not home many nights in December, resulting in my not cooking dinner most of the month.

Now that we are in solidly in January, I'm glad to be getting back in the swing of cooking, although I feel like I am out of practice. And when I get out of practice, the first few meals back are not usually my best.

The Book Cellar is closed on Fridays, so I made a conscious effort to work really hard on making a good meal. I turned to one of my husband's favorites, Veal Stew and added one of my favorites, Mesclun Salad with Roasted Pears.

I had my butcher at Agata and Valentina cube up some really good veal cutlets for the stew, which makes a big difference. The stew takes about two hours total to prepare, so I popped on some music from the Monkees and began the prep work. I'm not sure where I got the recipe from, I've had it so long, but here it is:

Veal Stew- serves 6
1 1/12 lbs veal cubes
4 slices of bacon
16 oz. beef broth
2 cloves minced garlic
1/2 cup finely chopped onion
16 oz. can stewed tomatoes (I use diced)
6 oz. sliced mushrooms
1/4 cup flour
salt and pepper to taste
3 egg yolks
 2 Tbsp. lemon juice

Directions: Fry bacon. Remove and add veal cubes to brown. Remove veal, add garlic and onion to pan and fry until tender. Sprinkle veal with flour, salt and pepper in a casserole dish.  Add the beef broth, onions and garlic to the veal. Cook in a 350 degree oven for 1 to 1 -1/2 hours.
Mix egg yolks and lemon juice. Take broth from the stew 1 Tbsp. at a time and add to the egg yolks, stirring after each addition (4-5 Tbsp.) Add egg yolks and mushrooms to casserole and cook through. Serve over rice or noodles.

Pear Salad

Mesclun Salad with Roasted Pears- serves 8
3 Tbsp. olive oil, divided
4 large Bosc pears (2 lbs), peeled, cored and sliced 1/4 inch thick
1/2 tsp. kosher salt
1/4 tsp. fresh ground pepper
1/4 cup sherry vinegar
1 Tbsp. finely minced shallots
2 tsp. honey
1/2 tsp. kosher salt
1/4 tsp. fresh ground pepper
1/2 cup olive oil

2 bags mesclun salad
6 oz. crumbled blue cheese

Heat oven to 425 degrees. Line jelly roll pan with foil. Arrange pear slices on pan, brush each side with 2 Tbsp. olive oil. Combine salt and pepper, sprinkle evenly over slices. Roast 30 minutes until edges are brown. (Keep a close eye so as not to burn the slices.)
Dressing: Whisk together vinegar, shallots, honey, salt and pepper in a medium bowl. Gradually whisk in oil. Arrange greens on plates, add pear slices and blue cheese. Top with dressing.

Dinner was a big hit, and there were enough leftovers for lunch the next day. Let's hope there are more good meals ahead- at least that's my husband's wish.

Friday, January 8, 2016

Don't Jump by Vicki Abelson

Don't Jump by Vicki Abelson
Published by Random Content ISBN 978-0-9915368-3-2
Trade paperback, $19.99, 377 pages

Once in awhile I'll read a book that I haven't heard much about by an author I don't know and be pleasantly surprised. Reading Vicki Abelson's roman a clef Don't Jump- Sex, Drugs, Rock 'n Roll... And My F'ing Mother knocked me out.

Abelson begins her novel with her protagonist Andi, a 50-something woman who calls herself "a narcissistic blowhard with low self esteem" who felt that she should be somebody, like Julia Roberts maybe. But life doesn't work out that way...

Andi is feeding her two young children dinner and dealing with her mother Cookie who drives her crazy when her husband calls to tell her that he has been called into the HR office at his place of work, a late-night talk show (think David Letterman) where he is a writer. He has been fired- and we're off and running.

We flashback to Andi's life story. She is the daughter of divorced parents, and when her brother goes to live with her father, Andi becomes a latchkey kid whose mother works long hours and when she is home, is too exhausted to deal with Andi.

Andi's big love in life is smoking pot, which she does with gusto. She wants to be an actress and ends up working as waitress in a restaurant in New York popular with professional athletes and actors. She becomes very friendly with a married tennis superstar, and since her marriage to a drunken emotionally abusive man isn't working out, she thinks that maybe something can come of this flirtation.

Andi tries to become a standup comic, in an era when women were not standup comics. She becomes successful as a nightclub promoter, moving from one venue to another and this was most fascinating part of the book.

I didn't know much about the club scene in 1980's New York, and Abelson drops us right smack in the middle of this crazy scene- the music, the drugs, the drinking, the sex and the hard work it took for her create a career while dealing with crazy bosses and capricious musicians.

Besides Andi's career, we learn much about her love life. Andi becomes involved with a few men, most of whom are no good for her, but she longs to be loved. Then she meets the man whom she will marry, someone she has known for awhile and while he begins a career as a comedy on a succession of TV comedy/talk shows, she becomes a wife and supermom.

Her husband's career is nothing like Rob Petrie's from the old Dick Van Dyke Show though. There is no kicking it with Sally and Buddy, having fun everyday and then going home to Laura and little Robbie. A comedy writer gets hired on a successive thirteen week basis. If he does well for thirteen weeks, her gets another thirteen weeks of employment, unless the show gets cancelled. It is a stressful existence. (Side note- Don't Jump is published by an imprint started by Carl Reiner, the creator of The Dick Van Dyke Show.)

We see the difficulties of the business and the personalities. Part of the fun of this book is picking out the thinly veiled famous people- Letterman, Jay Leno, Bill Maher and Ray Romano among them.

This is the first book I read in 2016 and the year starts out strong. Don't Jump is smart, funny, profane, original, fascinating- everything you want a book to be. I felt like I was sitting on a stool at my favorite bar and this interesting chick sits down next to me and starts telling me her intriguing life story. I didn't want it to end and I give it my highest recommendation- READ THIS BOOK.  If you liked Carrie Fisher's Postcards From the Edge, you'll love Don't Jump. (And by the way, HBO or Netflix should pick this up pronto- it is tailor-made for them.)

Wednesday, January 6, 2016

New in Paperback- Inside the O'Briens by Lisa Genova

Inside the O'Briens by Lisa Genova
Published by Gallery Books ISBN 9781476717791
Trade paperback, $16, 368 pages

Reprinted from auburnpub.com

Author Lisa Genova’s debut novel, “Still Alice” described the devastating effects of early onset Alzheimer’s Disease on the lives of a Harvard professor and her family. It is an emotional, heartbreaking book, and the movie version won an Oscar for Best Actress for Julienne Moore for her brilliant performance last year. 

Genova followed up her success with two other novels- “Left Neglected” about a stressed mom who suffers a traumatic brain injury, and “Love Anthony” about a young boy with autism. Genova excels at putting the reader square in the shoes of people who have to live with a tragic health issue, getting us to feel their pain and be amazed at their strength and resolve.

Her latest novel, “Inside the O’Briens”, tackles a deadly disease that many people have never heard of- Huntington’s Disease. Huntington’s is a neurodegenerative disease that causes a person to lose control of movements, speech, and eventually the ability to eat. There is no cure or treatment for it.

One of the most devastating aspects of Huntington’s is that the children of a person with Huntington’s each have a 50% chance of contracting the disease as well. That means that entire families have been destroyed by Huntington’s, and the decision about finding out whether one has the Huntington’s gene is uppermost in the mind of anyone with the disease in their family.

Genova introduces us to the Irish Catholic O’Brien family. Patriarch Joe is a 44 year-old proud Boston city cop. He and his wife Rosie own a large three story home and have four adult children- son JJ and his wife Colleen live on the second floor, daughters Katie and Meghan share the third floor apartment, and son Patrick lives with Joe and Rosie on the first floor.

JJ is a fireman, Meghan is studying to be a professional ballerina, Katie is a yoga instructor and Patrick is a troubled bartender who drinks too much. They are a close family, some would say a little too close and too involved in each other’s lives.

Joe lost his mother as a young child, he was told she died due to alcoholism. The truth was that she had Huntington’s Disease, and when he starts to exhibit symptoms that he can no longer ignore, he sees a neurologist who gives him the bad news. 

Joe and Rosie are stunned by the diagnosis, and when they find that their children each have a 50% chance of having the Huntington’s gene, it is almost too much for them to bear. Joe feels guilty for bringing this on his family, and Rosie is afraid she will have to watch her entire family die a horrible, painful death. She even begins to question her strong religious beliefs.

Genova drops us into the O’Brien’s lives, and we watch as each of the children must struggle with the decision to get tested for the gene. If they have the gene, they will eventually get Huntington’s, typically within ten years, and they will die from it. 

You can’t help wondering as you read this, what would I do? Do I live my life not knowing, just going on as usual? Or, do I get the test and go from there? If I’m married, do I have children, knowing that if I do have it, they could get it too? 

Telling this story through the O’Brien family, and that proud, strong Joe is the one who will die from it, is a powerful choice. Joe has always been the strong family leader, and now he will need someone to care for him. Watching him come to terms with his new life is emotional.

The story is told from Joe and daughter Katie’s points of view, and we watch as young Katie must struggle with a decision to get tested or not. She has a new relationship with a great guy, and she must decide whether to pursue it and go for happiness or live with doubt.

We watch Joe work to stay as healthy as he can, becoming increasingly frustrated with his new limitations and his role in the family. This is a loving, close family, and many readers will understand the family dynamics here, especially the sibling relationships.

“Inside the O’Briens” is, like “Still Alice”, an emotional ride of a book, and just like real life, there aren’t always clearcut answers.

rating A