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Sunday, January 29, 2017

Weekend Cooking- Small Admissions by Amy Poeppel

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.

Small Admissions by Amy Poeppel
Published by Atria/Emily Bestler Books ISBN 97815011122521
Hardcover, $26, 384 pages

Once I saw the hilarious trailer for Amy Poeppel's novel, Small Admissions, I knew I had to read it.
See for yourself. (Note- there is language in this that some may find objectionable.)

I'm about three-quarters of the way through the book, and I love it. Kate is a twenty-something young woman who just went through a terrible breakup with her boyfriend. Kate has fallen apart, she has no job, she drinks so much the neighborhood liquor store owner looks upon her with scorn, and her friends and family do not know how to help her get out of her funk.

Kate's sister Angela gets her an interview for a job in the admissions office of the prestigious Upper East Side of Manhattan Hudson School, where to everyone's surprise, Kate gets the job.

I am loving everything about this book. The characters are wonderful, and Poeppel seamlessly weaves the various characters into the story- Angela, Kate's friends Victoria and Chloe, the admissions staff at Hudson, and the parents desperate to get their children into Hudson.

I laughed out loud so many times, mostly at the craziness of the private school admissions process. Poeppel clearly knows this world well and skewers it with a sense of gentle love.

Kate and Angela's parents are professors, "nerdy academics" as Angela calls them. There is a scene at the family home, back when Kate was just about to graduate from college, that applies to Weekend Cooking.

At the house, they convened in the cluttered kitchen over a meal that their mother called "Kaltes Abendbrot" or sometimes "Smorgasboard," depending on the selection, which in either case referred to black bread and things to put on black bread. Sprigs of dill were tucked between tiny shrimp and sliced eggs, not-quite-cooked to hard-boiled, and there was a chunky pate that made Angela wonder, "Chunks of what?"  Kate took off her jacket and pushed up her sleeves, saying "Mmmm, what a spread!" while Angela felt her usual disappointment, wondering what would be wrong with a nice chicken Caesar salad for once.
The four of them together (otherwise known, their parents had taught them, as a clan, or kinship unit, or conjugal family) stood around the butcher-block island to eat, as they had every school night. "Like pigs at the trough," their mother used to say happily. "Standing promotes digestion," their father reminded them. So did the tiny glasses of digestif they always drank after dinner. Lots of words for that too: Obstler or akavit. Kirschwasser or Schnapps.  "Corrupting a minor" was what Angela's friend's mother had called it when she notified the police on the evening of the dinner-balls.
Small Admissions is a gem of a book. If you're looking for a story that will make you laugh and have you rooting for the main character, this is it. People have compared it to The Devil Wears Prada and The Nanny Diaries, but I enjoyed Small Admissions much more than those. I highly recommend it.

Amy Poeppel's website is here.
Reading With Robin interviewed Amy Poeppel on her podcast here.

Saturday, January 28, 2017

Chris Bohjalian at Barnes & Noble

Although this past Tuesday was pouring rain outside, it didn't deter a full house of hearty New Yorkers from joining author Chris Bohjalian to hear about his latest novel, The Sleepwalker, at the 86th St. Barnes & Noble in Manhattan.

Bohjalian began his talk by saying that in the not-too-distant past his book sold briskly only to people with his same last name. He then gave a few examples of book events that he said we designed by the gods to humble him.

 When he arrived at a bookstore signing in Seattle, he didn't see any of his books in the store. Thinking they were sold out (yay!), he found a staff member who told him that they ordered three copies and they were still in the store. He was taken to a dark place in the back of the store, and on a high shelf that only Shaquille O'Neal could reach, were his three books. He asked the staff person if he should sign the books, and was told "No, our readers are very discriminating." Ouch.

At a book signing in San Francisco, a man came up to him and asked him if her had heard that author Robert Parker had died that day. Bohjalian said yes, he had heard. Then the man asked if he knew that J.D. Salinger had recently died, as did Howard Zinn. When Bohjalian told the man he had heard that as well, the man asked him "Are ya worried?"

At another panel discussion, Adriana Trigiani and Alan Tennant were also on the stage. Tennant brought out a falcon and for an hour, everyone was entranced by the falcon. After an hour, Bohjalian finally got a question from the audience, someone asking him how the reviews were for his latest book. When he was about to answer, the falcon pooped on Tennant's arm, prompting the the comment "At least we know what the bird thought."

After these chuckles, Bohjalian got down to business, talking about the research he did for The Sleepwalker. He learned that people sleep-cook, sleep-drive, have sleep-sex, and even sleep-murder, all while having no memory of this at all. People who sleepwalk, their motor activity part of their brain is awake, while the judgement part of the brain is asleep.

He cited a statistic that in the 28 times that lawyers have used the sleepwalker defense for their clients accused of crimes while asleep, 15 acquittals were won. The audience found that fascinating.

Bohjlalian also shared a sleepwalking experience his family had. They were on vacation in Rome, staying at a small boutique hotel. They were awakened in the middle of the night by a breeze coming in their room from the open doors to the balcony. There was their 9 year-old daughter ready to climb on top of the balcony. She was sound asleep, sleepwalking. (Children are more prone to sleepwalking and frequently grow out of it.)

That incident inspired an important scene in The Sleepwalker.

What Bohjalian's books have in common, since he writes about so many different topics, are two things- a sense of dread and characters dealing with regret. His daughter, now a young woman, told him that messed-up women seems to be "his sweet spot", and Bohjalian says that he finds it more interesting to write about women. "Women are better people", he said.

During an interesting Q&A session, in which tote bags filled with Bohjalian's books were given away, he said The Sandcastle Girls, his amazing book about the Armenian genocide of 1915 "was the blessing of his life." He also said that he doesn't outline his books, he prefers for his characters to lead him through the story.

Then we got to my favorite part of book talks- what is the author reading? Bohjalian showed the audience his current favorites:
Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead, which he said deserves every award it has gotten. (I agree.)
American Housewife  by Helen Ellis, which is hilarious (I also agree!). Helen was in the audience as well.
Dead Wake- Erik Larsen's newest book about the Lusitania
Small Great Things- Jodi Picoult's latest book about race
Political Suicide - Erin McHugh's timely books about the crazy things politicians have done
Black Water - a mystery by Louise Doughty
This Was Not The Plan- Cristina Alger's new book (Cristina was in attendance as well)
Blackout - Sarah Hepola's memoir

Bohjalian also mentioned that The Sandcastle Girls will be a movie. The producer has funding and casting has begun, with filming to begin this summer in the Middle East and Spain. That is great news!

He closed by praising bookstores who host author events, and asking the audience to support bookstores by buying books- any book, not necessarily his. I bought two copies of The Sleepwalker and a copy of Jane Harper's The Dry Season  because I have heard such good things.

My review of The Sleepwalker is here.
Chris Bohjalian's website is here.

Wednesday, January 25, 2017

Victoria by Daisy Goodwin

Victoria by Daisy Goodwin
Published by St. Martin's Press ISBN 9781250045461
Hardcover, $26.99, 413 pages

Fans of PBS's Downton Abbey and Netflix's The Crown now have their new fix- Victoria. Author Daisy Goodwin's novel Victoria, about the life of the young Queen of Great Britain who ruled for 63 years, is also the basis for PBS's Masterpiece Classic Victoria, now showing on PBS.

Goodwin also wrote the screenplay for the PBS series, which follows the novel very closely. The novel only covers a few years of Victoria's life, from age 18 until she decides her future husband will be her cousin Albert a few years later. The series, on episode three so far, moves much faster and will clearly cover more of Victoria's life.

Most of the novel deals with the beginning of Victoria's reign. She has a strained relationship with her mother, whose companion, Sir John, wants desperately for Victoria to appoint him as regent and allow him to closely influence her governance.

But Victoria doesn't trust Sir John, instead turning to Lord Melbourne, the Prime Minister. Lord Melbourne becomes fond of the young Queen, and Victoria is besotted with Melbourne. Their relationship consumes much of the novel, and Rufus Sewell and Jenna Coleman, who play them in the series, have a wonderful chemistry onscreen. (And Coleman is luminous as the young Queen.)

The series portrays more downstairs activity with the servants, perhaps to appeal more to fans of Downton Abbey.

I truly enjoyed seeing some of the more cinematic scenes from the novel come to life, such as the costume ball, where Victoria goes dressed as Elizabeth I. The ballroom and the costumes are just so stunning, especially Victoria's crown.

I'm glad I read Victoria before watching the series, I felt I had a better sense of the many characters and their relationships and motivations. The book really puts you in the head of Victoria, and what it felt like to be an 18-year-old young woman, who had led a sheltered life in Kensington before ascending to the throne.

Masterpiece Classic Victoria continues on Sundays on PBS and I will be glued to my seat, as by the end of episode three is where the book ends but Victoria's fascinating story continues on. I highly recommend both Victoria the book, and Victoria the series.

More information on Victoria  on PBS is here.

Tuesday, January 24, 2017

The Sleepwalker by Chris Bohjalian

The Sleepwalker by Chris Bohjalian
Published by Penguin Random House ISBN 9780385538916
Hardcover, $26.95, 304 pages

Chris Bohjalian chooses fascinating topics for his novels, and then pulls the reader into these worlds that one gets lost in for a few hours. His 2012 novel, The Sandcastle Girls,  about the 1915 Armenian genocide in Syria, a story that sadly resonates too much today, is a novel I frequently recommend to shoppers at the Book Cellar where I volunteer.

A Light In The Ruins takes us to Italy during WWII, with a family caught up in the crosshairs of war.  His novels set in contemporary times, like the brilliant The Double Bind, which deals with a young woman violently attacked on bike ride, and The Guest Room, about a bachelor party host who gets involved with a young woman forced into sexual slavery, have twists that leave you gasping.

Bohjalian's newest novel, The Sleepwalker, takes on a topic not frequently dealt with in fiction. A woman prone to sleepwalking disappears from her home while her husband is out of town. Her two daughters, college-aged Lianna and 12-year-old swimmer Paige, were home that evening and heard nothing.

As searchers look for Annalee Ahlberg's body in the nearby river, we slowly find out more about her life. She only sleepwalks when her husband is out-of-town, but why that is remains a mystery. The girls, particularly Lianna, feel guilty about what happened.

The Ahlberg family is falling apart. Dad Warren retreats into his job as a professor at the local college and drinks himself into oblivion at night. Lianna takes a leave of absence from college, smokes weed all day, and gets side jobs as a magician while caring for her sister Paige.

One of the police officers on the investigation becomes involved with Lianna. She discovers that he and her mother met at a clinic that deals with sleep disorders and they became a kind of two-person support group. But was that all they were to each other?

The Sleepwalker has a very eerie quality to it, and as Bohjalian slowly unwinds more information about Annalee's disorder and her relationship with her husband and the cop, an uneasy feeling overcomes the reader.

There is a shocking twist at the end, but upon reflection, Bohjalian gives a few clues that could be picked up on by a careful reader. The Sleepwalker would make a fabulous movie, as it has a very cinematic element to it. The characters are intriguing, the story moves briskly, and watching this family fall apart is heartbreaking.

I highly recommend The Sleepwalker, both for fans of mysteries and of family stories. If you read Celeste Ng's Everything I Never Told You, you'll want to put The Sleepwalker on your list.

Chris Bohjalian's website is here.

Monday, January 23, 2017

Books About Celebrities

Reprinted from the Citizen.

Books by and about celebrities have a built-in audience. People are curious to read more about their favorite stars, how they got to be where they are, who influenced them and yes, even for some good old gossip.

Three recent books by and about celebrities have published, all different and interesting in their own way.

Leslie Bennetts “Last Girl Before Freeway”: The Life, Loves, Losses, and Liberation of Joan Rivers” is the lone biography here. Bennett covers Rivers’ entire life, where she was Joan Molinsky, to her rise as a stand-up comedienne, her successes and failures, to her eventual death in September of 2014 during what was supposed to be a simple surgical procedure. 

The book is comprehensive, and with a subject such as Rivers, who accomplished so much in her life, it flies by quickly. Joan Molinsky grew up in a household where her doctor-father, a kind and hard-working man, never made enough money for his wife, who feared poverty and always tried to keep up with the Joneses. 

Joan was one of the first successful female stand-up comediennes, and the book is filled with anecdotes from younger female stand-ups who sing the praises of Joan’s generosity, even though Rivers often resented being called a mentor. She always wanted to be hip and relevant, and her fearless stand-up routines, which she continued weekly even up to her death, reflected that.

The early sections of the book rely on material from Rivers’ own writings (she wrote several books, including two memoirs), but once Bennetts interviews people who worked with Rivers, who knew her well, the book gives the reader a better overall picture of this complicated woman.

Rivers was driven, and her many self-reinventions, rising from the ashes of her failed Fox talk show after her very public falling out with Johnny Carson to become not only a successful stand-up comic but also a hugely successful businesswoman designing and selling jewelry in the fledgling QVC network, are an inspiration to anyone who has been knocked down in life.

Actor Bryan Cranston’s “Life in Parts” tells his story of a journeyman actor, where he began as a soap opera actor on “Loving” and became famous as the goofy dad on “Malcolm in the Middle”, and then hit the stratosphere playing high school science teacher-turned-drug-kingpin Walter White on “Breaking Bad”.  

“Life in Parts” recounts his childhood, with a father who wanted to be a successful actor but failed, and then takes you through the life of an actor trying to make it. Cranston is successful because he treats acting as a craft, something to be finely honed. 

He shares stories from his early days on “Loving”, including how he found out he was fired, and there is a little good gossip here. He speaks fondly of his days on “Malcolm in the Middle”, and there are a few chapters on “Breaking Bad”, with some interesting inside information for fans.

For anyone who loves the craft of acting, “Life in Parts” is wonderful book. Cranston has such a reverence for the work of acting, and reading about his process, about how much he cares about doing good work, is fascinating. 

Trevor Noah is best known as the new host of “The Daily Show”, but his book “Born a Crime: Stories From A South Africa Childhood” is about his life growing up as the son of a black African woman and white Swiss man in South Africa. 

Noah is a terrific writer, and he grabs your attention right from the beginning. He grew up when apartheid was ending, after Nelson Mandela was freed from prison, but things didn’t get easier for South Africans right away. There was a strict caste system, and black Africans were pitted against colored Africans, and since Noah was half-white, he didn’t fit in anywhere.

“Born A Crime” gets its title from the fact that it was illegal for blacks and whites to marry, so his parents had to hide their relationship, and Trevor was never allowed to walk next to both of his parents.

The book is a really a love letter to his mom, who pretty much raised Trevor alone, although Trevor spent a lot of time with his grandmother. His stories of childhood are touching, funny and sad.

Anyone who likes a good memoir will enjoy “Born a Crime”. It gives the reader a look at a place many of us are unfamiliar with, yet his story of a mother who worked hard to give her son a better life is universal.
Last Girl Before Freeway” by Leslie Bennetts-A 
Published by Little Brown
Hardcover, $28, 433 pages

A Life in Parts” by Bryan Cranston- A-
Published by Scribner
Hardcover, $27, 289 pages

Born A Crime” by Trevor Noah- A+
Published by Spiegel & Grau

Hardcover, $28, 304 pages

Sunday, January 22, 2017

Weekend Cooking- Four Hits and A Miss On Pinterest

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 tried a few new recipes these past few weeks from Pinterest; four were hits and one was a big old miss.

My friend Jackie told me about a Stuffed Pepper Soup she made that she and her husband just loved. I'm not a big stuffed pepper fan, but my husband is so I made it for him last weekend. He loved it! He even had two helpings for dinner that night and said that he'd eat the leftovers for his Sunday lunch. (He's not big on leftovers, so that is a big deal.) The recipe is from Cooking Classy.
Photo from Cooking Classy

My younger son stopped by and he had a bowl too and raved about it. This one will definitely be in the winter rotation.

My only Pinterest miss came earlier this week. I wanted to have a slow cooker recipe ready for when I got out of work on Tuesday. I chose a Balsamic Chicken recipe that was simple. I asked my butcher for two whole bone-in chicken breasts, split in two, so four half-breasts total. I didn't look at the chicken until I got home and was ready to cook it. It was two half chicken breasts that he halved, so they were tiny pieces of chicken. I mixed together the balsamic vinegar, brown sugar, garlic, chicken broth and spices and placed in the slow cooker. It didn't turn out well, mostly because the chicken pieces were too small. I also found the sauce too vinegary and thin.

I tried to rebound this past Friday and made three new recipes for dinner. I started with a Creamy Chicken Mushroom Soup, which was perfect- not too thin, not too thick. Goldilocks would approve.
The recipe is from Damn Delicious.
 Photo from Damn Delicious

With that, I made a French Onion Chicken Slider sandwich that was super simple. Caramelize the onions, cook chicken cutlets cut in half, top with swiss cheese and place on a slider roll with dijon mustard and lettuce. This was very flavorful and paired well with the soup. It's from Creme de la Crumb. 
Photo from  Creme de la Crumb

For dessert, I tried a Bananas Foster Bread Pudding recipe from the New York Times that was inspired by the dessert at the famed New Orleans restaurant Brennan's. The pudding was delicious, but the sauce called for 1/2 cup of rum, which I thought was too much. I ended up adding more cream to the sauce to cut the rum and it turned out fine. Add some vanilla ice cream on the side, and you've got a mighty fine dessert. The recipe is here.
Photo credit- Sarah Ann Ward from the NY Times

So overall, I batted .800, which would mean I had a good week. Or more to the point, my husband had a good week, haha.

Did you make any good recipes this week? Share them in comments.

Thursday, January 19, 2017

Loner by Teddy Wayne

Loner by Teddy Wayne
Published by Simon & Schuster ISBN 9781501107894
Hardcover, $26, 202 pages

A friend whose taste in books I truly respect told me I must read Teddy Wayne's Loner. So of course I did.

Told from the perspective of 18-year-old David Federman, an intelligent, but socially inexperienced, freshman just starting at Harvard. David wasn't popular at his middle class New Jersey high school and was looking forward to being with people he had something in common with at the prestigious university.

He hangs out with a group of people who were much like he was in high school- on the fringes, not the cool kids. Then David meets Veronica, a self possessed, beautiful young woman from a wealthy Manhattan family.

David makes it his goal to date Veronica. He decides that to get closer to her, he would date her roommate Sara, part of his group of friends. Sara is sweet, smart and hardworking, and close to her family.

Veronica seems to be the kind of girl who gets by on her looks, but how she got into Harvard seems to be a question in my mind. She gets David to write a term paper for her, and it appears that she is using David, but he believes she will come to see him for the great man he is.

As the story progresses, David's obsession with Veronica grows and you get a sinking feeling in your stomach that something is going to go wrong here.

Wayne writes beautifully, and his characters are very well drawn, even as Veronica and David are not quite what they appear to be. Wayne also takes on the charged atmosphere on college campuses today, with the timeless issues of belonging and wanting to fit in clashing with the sexual politics of today.

Loner is a quick read, only 200 pages, but the story will stay with you a long time. I recommend it.

Wednesday, January 18, 2017

The Wicked City by Beatriz Williams

The Wicked City by Beatriz Williams
Published by William Morrow ISBN 9780062405029
Hardcover, $26.99, 384 pages

The first thing you notice about Beatriz Williams' new novel, The Wicked City, is its striking cover. A woman wearing a vibrant red dress dress under a red umbrella, walking in what looks like 1920's Times Square in New York (the cars are the key clue to the time frame).

Immediately a reader would pick this book up off a shelf to check it out. Reading the back cover, you discover that a character from Williams' last novel A Certain Age, society maven Theresa Marshall's son Billy, has a role in this novel.

One of Williams' strengths in her novels is the connection between characters in her previous books. The Schulyer family has been prominent in several of her most recent books- One Hundred Summers, The Secret Life of Violet Grant, Along The Infinite Sea, and The Forgotten Room- and they have a role here as well.

The story begins in 1998 with Ella Hawthorne moving into an apartment at 11 Christopher Street in Greenwich Village in New York City. She has just left her husband after finding him cheating on her. Her lifestyle takes a dramatic turn, from living in a gorgeous condo to moving into a tiny apartment in a small, older building.

She meets an intriguing (and handsome) man, Hector, in the laundry room basement, who gives her the lowdown on the building and its tenants. She hears music coming from the the other side of the wall, from the building next door. Hector tells her that it used to be a speakeasy, back in the days of Prohibition.

And then the story takes a turn to the 1920's where we meet Gin Kelly, a real-life flapper, who spends her time at the speakeasy drinking illegal alcohol after working at her job as a typist at Sterling & Bates. Gin is a real dame, the kind of woman Barbara Stanwyck would have played in a the movies.

Gin is dating young rich college boy Billy Marshall, who has fallen hard for her and wants to marry her. She is also being pursued by Anson, a federal Prohibition agent who is leaning on Gin to help him shut down the flow of illegal moonshine, coming from the man Gin ran away from- her stepfather, who has become a powerful alcohol distributor in Maryland.

Gin's story intrigued me more than Ella's did, perhaps because there was more physical action and more of a sense of danger. There is a powerful scene near the end of the story that had me at the edge of my seat, with Gin and Billy and Anson and Gin's stepfather; it was incredibly harrowing.

Beatriz Williams'  writes characters you care about, and her ear for the 1920's dialogue felt very much like watching an old movie on TCM and even put me in mind of HBO's Boardwalk Empire, the Prohibition-set TV series.

She is also very clever at weaving her characters' stories and histories together, and their connection to the Schuyler family gave me a warm, fuzzy feeling seeing some of my old friends again. If you are a fan of Williams' previous novels, The Wicked City is a must-read, and if you haven't yet read any of her books, this is a good one to start with; I guarantee you will be running to grab her previous novels to catch up with what you have missed.

Beatriz Williams' website is here (with a handy family tree for the Schuyler family!)

Thanks to TLC Tours for putting me on Beatriz' Williams tour. The rest of her stops are here:

Tour Stops

Tuesday, January 17th: Girls Just Reading
Wednesday, January 18th: bookchickdi
Thursday, January 19th: West Metro Mommy
Friday, January 20th: A Chick Who Reads
Monday, January 23rd: Books and Bindings
Tuesday, January 24th: Kritters Ramblings
Thursday, January 26th: 5 Minutes For Books
Friday, January 27th: BookNAround
Monday, January 30th: I Wish I Lived in a Library
Tuesday, January 31st: Thoughts On This ‘n That
Wednesday, February 1st: Literary Lindsey
Thursday, February 2nd: The Book Date
Thursday, February 2nd: Reading Reality
Friday, February 3rd: View from the Birdhouse
Monday, February 6th: StephTheBookworm
Tuesday, February 7th: Tina Says…
Wednesday, February 8th: Reading to Distraction
Thursday, February 9th: A Bookish Affair
Friday, February 10th: Life By Kristen
Friday, February 10th: Library of Clean Reads

Saturday, January 14, 2017

Weekend Cooking- Cooking Light Recipe

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.

Flipping through the January/February edition of Cooking Light, I bookmarked several recipes that looked tempting to me.

The first one is a Pumpkin Soup with Almonds and Sage that looks similar to Rachael Ray's Pumpkin Soup recipe that I made for Thanksgiving; it was a big fan favorite. I may try this one to see which we prefer. The recipe is here.

Next is a Turkey and Swiss Sloppy Joe Sandwich that I may pair with the Pumpkin Soup for a Sunday lunch. The recipe is here.

My husband wants to eat more vegetables this year, so we decided that soups would be a good way to accomplish this as he is not a big vegetable fan overall. There is an Immunity Soup recipe with onions, carrots, celery, mushrooms, kale, chickpeas and chicken that looks like it will fit the bill. The recipe is here.

I tried brussel sprouts for the first time on our Florida vacation (I know, I know) and liked them, and the Broiled Flat Iron Steak with Brussel Sprouts and Sweet Potatoes is a recipe I might have avoided but now will try. The recipe is here.

Pork tenderloin is a good weeknight meal because it is a quick cooking meat, and that makes the Pork Tenderloin with Mushrooms and Onions recipe that takes 23 minutes one I will be making on a workday. The recipe is here.

My husband loves beef stroganoff, so to mix it up, I will try the Chicken Stroganoff recipe. That recipe is here. He likes Chicken Cacciatore and I like slow cookers (another good weeknight meal), so the Slow Cooker Chicken Cacciatore is also going to get a look. The video for that dish is here.

I did manage to make one recipe from the magazine this week- BBQ Beef-Stuffed Potatoes. It was pretty easy, but I did have an issue. You make a brown sugar/tomato paste rub for the boneless chuck roast and place baking potatoes wrapped in parchment paper on top and cook for 8 hours.
BBQ Stuffed Potatoes- from Cooking Light 

I have never cooked baking potatoes in the slow cooker and I think my potatoes may have been too large because they were not cooked enough after 8 hours. Next time I may cook the potatoes in the microwave.

The dish was tasty, full of flavor and at only 385 calories, it's a terrific lower-calorie dinner. You top the potatoes with the beef that you shred, shredded cheese, sour cream, and green onions. It's similar to the Taco Potato we used to sell at our Taco Maker restaurant. We'll have it again. The recipe is here.

Did you try any new recipes this week? Let me know in comments.

Monday, January 9, 2017

All the Time In The World by Caroline Angell

All The Time In The World by Caroline Angell
Published by Henry Holt ISBN 978-1-62779-401-5
Trade paperback, $15, 321 pages

There is nothing so exciting as discovering a debut novel.  Caroline Angell's first book, All The Time In The World, brings to life the world of the Upper East Side of New York City, as seen through the eyes of Charlotte, a young woman who is working as a nanny to the two young Maclean boys.

Charlotte is also a music composer who is trying to come to terms with why she is not working in the music business. She finds herself distancing herself from her college friends, and her friends and family worry that she is becoming too attached to the Maclean family and forgoing her own dreams.

She adores Matty and George, the two young boys she cares for. She and Gretchen, the mom, get along well, and she doesn't see Scotty, the dad who works long hours in the finance industry, very often.

When a tragic event occurs that threatens to tear the Maclean family apart, Charlotte is thrust into a different role; she becomes the glue that holds them together. It is up to her to get the boys to school, to deal with their teachers, run the household, and help them understand a world that no longer makes any sense to them.

Charlotte is very close to her sisters and they are becoming more worried for her, afraid that if she doesn't get out and begin her own life now that she never will. But Charlotte loves Matty and George and feels an obligation to them.

I loved the character of Charlotte, and even though I am years older than her, I related to her a great deal. Her sense of responsibility to the Macleans was something I understood in my heart. Her relationship with her sisters felt so true-to-life, I'm sure that Angell must have sisters of her own.

Her connection with Matty and George was so sweet, and yet frustrating as well. I have two sons of my own and I smiled with recognition, thrust right back to the days when they were little guys as I read of Charlotte trying to corral them in their everyday lives.

Charlotte also has a complicated relationship with Scotty, the boys' dad, and Patrick, Scotty's slightly irresponsible playboy brother.

Angell writes some powerful, emotional scenes, such as one set at a hospital that just tore my heart out. All The Time In The World is the kind of book that worms its way into your heart, and you will feel so many different emotions reading it. Charlotte is a woman you will not easily forget. I highly recommend All The Time In The World.

Caroline Angell's website is here.

Sunday, January 1, 2017

The Night I Sat Across The Aisle From Debbie Reynolds

This post is a review of Debbie Reynolds' last book, Make 'Em Laugh, and I was there for one of the anecdotes- read through until the end. The world was a more interesting place because Debbie Reynolds was in it.

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.

The Day I Met Carrie Fisher

This post is from 2009, the day I saw Carrie Fisher's  howlingly funny one woman Broadway show, Wishing Drinking. The world was a more colorful place because Carrie Fisher was in it.

Carrie Fisher turned her funny book Wishful Drinking into a stage production and it's now on Broadway at Studio 54.

I enjoyed her book and her first (autobiographical) novel, Postcards from the Edge, which was turned into a brilliant movie starring Meryl Streep and Shirley MacLaine, so I looked forward to seeing the show.

Fisher engages the audience right away, tossing gobs of glitter on the front row as she wanders among them. She involves a few of them in her show, and it definitely enhanced the experience.

The show is about Fisher's life- her family, her iconic role in Star Wars, her marriages (first to music icon Paul Simon and then to a closeted gay man with whom she has a lovely daughter), her addiction to pills and eventual diagnosis of bipolar illness.

She starts out right away talking about her gay male friend who died in her bed right next to her. She explains the circumstances and finds some humor in what was a horrible experience for her.

Carrie Fisher outside the stage door
The funniest part of the show occurs when a board of photos descends and she uses it to show how she explained to her daughter, who wanted to date Elizabeth Taylor's grandson but feared that they were related, how the family tree worked.

She explained that Debbie Reynolds (her mom), Eddie Fisher (her dad) and Liz were the Jennifer Aniston, Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie of their day. She shows how Debbie had terrible taste in men, which Carrie seemed to inherit, and how Eddie's wives got progressively younger as he aged. She involved Greta, an audience member, in this howlingly funny explanation. She calls it Hollywood Inbreeding 101.

Her impression of her mother is so delightful, and it is sweet that they live right next door to each other in California. Carrie has clearly inherited her mother's sense of humor and survival.

Also enjoyable were the stories she told of working with George Lucas in

Star Wars. She pokes fun at her infamous hairstyle that highlighted her pudgy cheeks, the merchandising juggernaut and how George Lucas owns her likeness and so she appeared as dolls, shampoo bottles, soap, and a Pez dispenser. A life-sized concrete likeness of her (with enhanced breasts) that is sold as a sex toy on Ebay comes down from the ceiling to emphasize her discussion.

Fisher uses several photos as backdrops, including a photo of her in Princess Leia regalia that is in a textbook on mental health, illustrating the Bipolar Disorder chapter. At the end of the show, tabloid headlines about her and her family fly across the screen behind her as Fisher sings "Happy Days Are Here Again" in a lovely, strong voice. She sings as well as she writes, and that's saying something.

The show is very funny, and touching as well. Fisher lays bare her life- her successes, her failures, her frailties- for all to laugh at and empathize with. That she made it through and is able to laugh at it and make us laugh at it, is a gift. If you want a good laugh, go see Wishful Drinking before it closes in December.

I waited outside the stage door to get my copy of her book signed, but was disappointed when Fisher's people told us that she would sign only the stage program or ticket. She came out right away after the matinee, but seemed much more reticent towards the handful of people waiting for her than she was onstage. I guess I'll chalk it up to the fact that she just spent two hours talking onstage and had to come back in a few hours and do it all over again.