Saturday, August 31, 2013

Weekend Cooking: Summer Recipes

Labor Day Weekend marks the unofficial end of summer.  The kids are back at school, football season kicks off today, and, as my daughter informed me just moments ago, pumpkin spice lattes have returned to Starbucks.

I'm usually not as ambitious or adventurous in the kitchen during the summer, but did stumble upon a few recipes that have earned a spot in the regular rotation.

Southwestern Black Bean Salad from became an instant family favorite this summer.  You just can't go wrong with tomatoes, black beans, avocados, corn, and a delicious cilantro-lime flavor. I've served it both as a side dish at dinner and alone for a light lunch. The photo is from the skinnytaste website.

Another chilled vegetable recipe I've made multiple times this summer is Honey-Mustard Green Beans with Pecans from Real Simple. It's very easy to prepare, but must be done an hour or so ahead to allow time for the beans to chill.

Pan-Seared Tilapia with Lemon and Caper Sauce was also a big hit. This recipe, from Simply Scratch  via Pinterest, would work well with any mild white fish. I plan to make it often! Next time, however, I won't serve it with the honey-mustard beans... the plate looks lovely, but the flavors don't really complement one another.

Finally, I have to share the recipe for this Banana-Sour Cream Cake from Kraft. I'm not generally a fan of recipes that begin with a cake mix, but will make an exception in this case... it's rich and very delicious! Instead of baking it in a 9 x 13 pan and cutting it in half, I used two square pans and adjusted the baking time.

Have you added any new recipes to your repertoire this summer?

Weekend Cooking, hosted at Beth Fish Reads, is open to anyone who has a food-related post to share: Book (novel, nonfiction) reviews, cookbook reviews, movie reviews, recipes, random thoughts, gadgets, quotations, photographs. If your post is even vaguely foodie, feel free to grab the button and link up over the weekend.

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Tuesday Intro: The View From Penthouse B

Since Edwin died, I have lived with my sister Margot in the Batavia, an Art Deco apartment building on beautiful West Tenth Street in Greenwich Village. This arrangement has made a great deal of sense for us both: I lost my husband without warning, and Margot lost her entire life's savings to the Ponzi schemer whose name we dare not speak. 
Though we call ourselves roommates, we are definitely more than that, something on the order of wartime trenchmates. She refers to me fondly as her boarder - ironic, of course, because no one confuses a boarding house with an apartment reached via an elevator button marked PH. In a sense, we live in both luxury and poverty, looking out over the Hudson while stretching the contents of tureens of stews and soups that Margot cooks expertly and cheerfully.
The View From Penthouse B
by Elinor Lipman

My library hold arrived late last week, and I couldn't resist beginning The View From Penthouse B  right away. It's my first Lipman novel - very New York, very 21st century, and thoroughly entertaining.

What do you think of the opening paragraphs? Would you keep reading?

Every Tuesday, Diane at Bibliophile by the Sea posts the opening paragraph (sometime two) of a book she decided to read based on the opening. Feel free to grab the banner and play along.

Sunday, August 25, 2013

The Sunday Salon: Right Now

Time // 8:10 AM

Place // In my favorite chair, with Zelda lounging at my feet.

Eating // Nothing yet, but I'm considering pancakes.

Drinking // Coffee... black

Reading // Right now I’m reading The View From Penthouse B  by Elinor Lipman. My library hold arrived and it's much more suited to my current mood than Half of A Yellow Sun  (which I've put aside after only 60 pages, but plan to pick up again later).

Listening // I have one CD left (of 14) in Salt Sugar Fat  by Michael Moss.... what an eye-opener! TransAtlantic  by Colum McCann is still on my phone, but I haven't listened all week. One third of the way in and I just don't care about any of the narratives, but will keep trying. I hate to waste an audible credit.

Blogging // I have lots of comments to catch up on today, but no motivation to write reviews... sigh.

Loving // Twin A's excitement and happiness as she moved into her off-campus apartment this weekend.. it warms my heart.

Anticipating //  Fall, my favorite season. Bring on the sweaters... and the pumpkin spice lattes!

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Tuesday Intro: Half of a Yellow Sun

Master was a little crazy: he had spent too many years reading books overseas, talked to himself in his office, did not always return greetings, and had too much hair. Ugwu's aunty said this in a low voice as they walked on the path. "But he is a good man," she added. "As long as you work well, you will eat well. You will even eat meat every day." She stopped to spit; the saliva left her mouth with a sucking sound and landed on the grass. 
 Ugwu did not believe that anybody, not even this master he was going to live with, ate meat every day. He did not disagree with his aunty, though, because he was too choked with expectation, too busy imagining his new life away from the village. They had been walking for a while now, since they got off the lory at the motor park, and the afternoon sun burned the back of his neck. But he did not mind. He was prepared to walk hours more in even hotter sun. He had never seen anything like the streets that appeared after they went past the university gates, streets so smooth and tarred that he itched to lay his cheek down on them.He would never be able to describe to his sister Anulika how the bungalows here were painted the color of the sky and sat side by side like polite well-dressed men, how the hedges separating them were trimmed so flat on top that they looked like tables wrapped with leaves."
Half of a Yellow Sun
by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

I started this book over a week ago for The Backlist Book Club, but have read only 60 pages. The writing is wonderful, the story is interesting, and although I have had little time to read, I still hope to finish before the end of the month.

What do you think of the opening paragraphs? Would you keep reading?

Every Tuesday, Diane at Bibliophile by the Sea posts the opening paragraph (sometime two) of a book she decided to read based on the opening. Feel free to grab the banner and play along.

Sunday, August 18, 2013

The Sunday Salon: Even the Best-Laid Plans...

I suppose I should have known better. Summer reading, at least for me, is a myth. I wish for long relaxed hours reading outdoors, but historically I read much less during the summer months. It seemed like things might be different this year. July was a great month, thanks in part to some unexpected travel, but August is shaping up to be more typical. Here we are at the midpoint and I've finished only one book. It was longish, but still...

Remember my stack of planned reading from a couple of weeks ago? I doubt most of it will happen over the next two weeks. Here's how things stand now:

Flight Behavior by Barbara Kingsolver: Finished. A solid 4 stars... can't wait to discuss it with my book club.

Half of a Yellow Sun by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie:  On page 66 after two short reading sessions. I really like the beginning of this book. The writing is lovely, and I'm using a cheat sheet to keep track of unfamiliar African names.

TransAtlantic by Colum McCann: 33% done. I was listening to this on my iPhone, but have also downloaded an ebook from the library to make it a read/listen combination. I like it, but it hasn't really captivated me the way Let the Great World Spin  did. At least not yet.

Salt Sugar Fat by Michael Moss: Listening to CDs (on #8 of 12) in the car. This wasn't even on my August list, but Joy's three posts convinced me to borrow it from the library. The book is fascinating, yet maddening.

Since planned reading really doesn't work all that well for me, I've decided there will NOT be a list for September. However, Audrey and I are planning to read The Age of Innocence by Edith Wharton. You're welcome to join us!

How's your summer reading going?

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Author Birthday: John Galsworthy

From today's Writer's Almanac:

It's the birthday of Nobel laureate John Galsworthy (books by this author), born in Surrey, England (1867). He's the author of the Forsyte Saga, a series of novels that satirically portray British upper-middle-class families. 
He won the Nobel Prize in literature in 1932, and he used the prize money to help establish an international organization for writers, PEN. It's an acronym they chose for the group after someone pointed out that the words for "Poet," for "Essayist," and for "Novelist" in most European languages have the same initial letters (P-E-N). He refused knighthood, saying that he didn't think that writers should take titles. In 1967, his Forsyte Saga was adapted into a BBC TV mini-series, which was hugely popular in England.

I remember reading The Forsyte Saga over the course of one snowy week in January 2004, when PBS's Masterpiece Theater was rebroadcasting the season 1 mini-series prior to unveiling season 2. It was a reading experience that stands out just as much as the novel itself. The snow fell continuously, the wind howled, the roads were treacherous... and I sat by the fire, drinking endless cups of tea, lost in the drama of late Victorian and Edwardian England. It was bliss.

My edition included three novels and two interludes: The Man of Property (1906); the interlude (short story) "Indian Summer of a Forsyte" (1918); the novel In Chancery (1920); the interlude "Awakening" (1920); and the novel To Let (1921).

After reading The Writer's Almanac and remembering how enjoyable the novels were, I searched amazon and found the complete collection - all 9 novels and 4 interludes, and 2650 pages - for just 99 cents. I plan to "Buy now with 1-Click" momentarily.

While poking around, I also found this 2012 article from the New York Times  describing The Forstye Saga series as "the bodice-ripper that started it all". The "it", of course, being Downton Abbey. [Currently 144 days, 12 hours, and 4 minutes until season 4 premiers in the US]

Have you read The Forsyte Saga  or watched the series? If you're a die-hard Downton fan like me, it might be a good project for the next 144 days.

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Top Ten Tuesday: Seaside Settings

Top Ten Tuesday is a weekly feature hosted by The Broke and the Bookish. This week we're listing ten favorite books featuring a setting of our choice.

This is an easy one for me. I've had an affinity for water for as long as I can remember. From the swimming pools of my youth, to beach vacations, and eventually a lakeside home, water calms me and centers me. Naturally, I am drawn to books set near any body of water - ocean, sea, lake, river - and will admit to a special fondness for Maine. My list this week features both fiction and nonfiction, from beach reads to highly discussable book club selections.

by J. Courtney Sullivan

by Stewart O'Nan

by Anne Rivers Siddons

by Pat Conroy

by Anita Shreve

by Cathleen Schine

by John Banville

 by Ian McEwan

by May Sarton

by George Howe Colt

That's ten, but my list could go on and on. How about a few honorable mentions?

Read this year:
Violets of March by Sarah Jio
The Unfinished Work of Elizabeth D. by Nichole Bernier
The Good House by Ann Leary
Hotel du Lac by Anita Brookner

Old favorites:
That Old Cape Magic by Richard Russo
The Falls by Joyce Carol Oates
The Sea, The Sea by Iris Murdoch

 What are your favorite waterfront books?
Visit The Broke and the Bookish for more Top Ten Tuesday posts.

Sunday, August 11, 2013

Sunday Sentence: Flight Behavior

Sunday Sentence highlights the best sentence(s) I've read this past week, out of context and without commentary.

"He'd said good night as if they were friends parting ways, then rolled to his side and slept the sleep of a mountain range while she stared at the black air, dividing the river of her desperation into rivulets until some of them seemed navigable." 
Flight Behavior
by Barbara Kinssolver
Loc 6538 (85%)

Friday, August 9, 2013

The Woman Upstairs by Claire Messud

by Claire Messud
Knopf, 2013
272 pages

Character likability is getting a lot of buzz these days, but it never factors into my reading. I think a truly good writer can make the reader (at least this reader) care about characters they don't particularly like. A character like Nora Eldridge, for example. She is the woman upstairs.
We're not the madwomen in the attic - they get lots of play, one way or another. We're the quiet woman at the end of the third-floor hallway, whose trash is always tidy, who smiles brightly in the stairwell with cheerful greeting, and who, from behind closed doors, never makes a sound. In our lives of quiet desperation, the woman upstairs is who we are, with or without a goddam tabby or a pesky lolloping Labrador, and not a soul registers that we are furious. We're completely invisible. I thought it wasn't true, or not true of me, but I've learned I am no different at all. The question now is how to work it, how to use that invisibility, to make it burn.  
As we learn in the novel's opening paragraph, she is angry.
I'm a good girl, I'm a nice girl, I'm a straight-A, strait-laced, good daughter, good career girl, and I never stole anybody's boyfriend and I never ran out on a girlfriend, and I put up with my parent's shit and my brother's shit, and I'm not a girl anyhow, I'm over forty fu**ing years old, and I'm good at my job and I'm great with kids and I held my mother's hand when she died, after four years of holding her hand while she was dying, and I speak to my father every day on the telephone - every day mind you, and what kind of weather do you have on your side of the river, because here it's pretty gray and a bit muggy too? It was supposed to say "Great Artist" on my tombstone, but if I died right now it would say "such a good teacher/daughter/friend" instead; and what I really want to shout, and want in big letters on that grave, too, is FU@K YOU ALL.
In a nutshell, this novel is about Nora, who has come to understand her position as "the woman upstairs", falling in love with an entire family (each member individually and the three of them as a group), and the eventual consequences. I loved it.

Messud's novel satisfies on many levels and was truly an extraordinary reading experience. Every character is fascinating and, Nora especially, is quite deep. My book club could spend hours discussing her. As the plot slowly unfolds, it becomes obvious that this is a novel of substance. It's both intelligent and insightful. The writing is superb. In fact, I'll stop right here and leave you with a few more quotes.
"I thought I could get to greatness, to my greatness, cleaning up each mess as it came, the way you're taught to eat your greens before you have dessert. But it turns out that's a rule for girls and sissies, because the mountain of greens is of Everest proportions, and the bowl of ice cream at the far end of the table is melting a little more with each passing second. There will be ants on it soon." 
"It doesn't ever occur to you, as you fashion your mask so carefully, that it will grow into your skin and graft itself, come to seem irremovable."
"It's the strangest thing about being human: to know so much, to communicate so much, and yet always to fall so drastically short of clarity, to be, in the end, so isolate and inadequate. Even when people try to say things, they say them poorly, or obliquely, or they outright lie, sometimes because they're lying to you, but as often because they're lying to themselves."
"Above all, in my anger, I was sad. Isn't that always the way, that at the heart of the fire is a frozen kernel of sorrow that the fire is trying - valiantly, fruitlessly - to eradicate." 
My rating:

source: borrowed from the library

Tuesday, August 6, 2013

Tuesday Intro: TransAtlantic by Colum McCann

The cottage sat at the edge of the lough. She could hear the wind and rain whipping across the expanse of open water: it hit the trees and muscled its way into the grass. 
She began to wake early in the morning, even before the children. It was a house worth listening to. Odd sounds from the roof. She thought, at first, that it might be rats scuttling across the slate, but she soon discovered that it was the gulls flying overhead, dropping oysters on the roof to break the shells open. It happened mostly in the morning, sometimes at dusk.
by Colum McCann

TransAtlantic by Colum McCann is my current audiobook, but I've also requested a print copy from the library. After the first thirty minutes, I'm enjoying both the writing and the narration in this Mann Booker nominee. It will be interesting to see how McCann will tie the various story lines together.

What do you think of the opening? Would you keep reading this novel?

Every Tuesday, Diane at Bibliophile by the Sea posts the opening paragraph (sometime two) of a book she decided to read based on the opening. Feel free to grab the banner and play along.

Monday, August 5, 2013

A Most Embarrassing Morning

The scene: Monday morning, sipping the all-important first cup of coffee, reading blogs, and catching up with goodreads

The idea: Isn't "Blogger X" already my friend on goodreads?

The action: I'll send a friend request

The reality: friend request mistakenly sent to every  twitter follower with a goodreads account

The effect: instant mortification

The benefit: lots of  new goodreads friends (though I thought I was already friends with most of you)

Note to twitter followers: My feelings won't be hurt if you ignore the request.

Note to self: Always  consume at least one cup of coffee before logging into any social media

Sunday, August 4, 2013

The Sunday Salon: August Reading

Good Morning and Happy August! July passed in a flash, but it was actually a very good reading month for me. Assuming this summer reading frenzy will spill into August, I've gathered an optimistic stack of books for the coming weeks.

From the top:

TransAtlantic by Colum McCann (audio on my iPhone) - I loved the audio version of Let the Great World Spin and am hoping his latest, a Mann Booker nominee, is just as good. I'm also on the library hold list for a print edition.

Flight Behavior by Barbara Kingsolver (on my kindle) is for book club. I'm really enjoying this book and think it's Kingsolver's best since Prodigal Summer.

Wild Strawberries by Angela Thirkell  - High Rising was SO good and I've been searching, with no success, for the second book in the Barsetshire series for months. This arrived a few days ago from Lisa at TBR 313 (the highlight of an otherwise stressful week) and I can't wait to read it.

Tigers in Red Weather by Lisa Klaussemann seems like a perfect summer read. It's been on my wish list for a couple of years and I couldn't resist an impulse purchase at the wholesale club this week. Besides, it was the only copy!

Half a Yellow Sun by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie is the August pick at the Backlist Book Club. It's been on my shelf for years and this kind of feels like a now or never situation...

The Whole Fromage by Kath Lisson - a review book I really meant to read in July.

Mansfield Park by Jane Austen - As part of Adam's Austen in August event, Melissa is hosting a Mansfield Park Readalong.  It's not my favorite Austen, but I'm thinking it deserves a reread and sure hope I can fit it in this month.

I'm not an especially fast reader and a book a week is all I can realistically expect to finish. Obviously, I won't make it thought the entire stack, but it sure will be fun trying. What books are you looking forward to this month?

Friday, August 2, 2013

The Last Runaway by Tracy Chevalier (audio)

The Last Runaway
by Tracy Chevalier
Narrated by Kate Reading
Penguin Audio, 2013
9 hours and 51 minutes
source: review copy provided by publisher

Publisher's Summary:

In New York Times best-selling author Tracy Chevalier’s newest historical saga, she introduces Honor Bright, a modest English Quaker who moves to Ohio in 1850, only to find herself alienated and alone in a strange land. Sick from the moment she leaves England, and fleeing personal disappointment, she is forced by family tragedy to rely on strangers in a harsh, unfamiliar landscape.

Nineteenth-century America is practical, precarious, and unsentimental, and scarred by the continuing injustice of slavery. In her new home Honor discovers that principles count for little, even within a religious community meant to be committed to human equality.

However, drawn into the clandestine activities of the Underground Railroad, a network helping runaway slaves escape to freedom, Honor befriends two surprising women who embody the remarkable power of defiance. Eventually she must decide if she too can act on what she believes in, whatever the personal costs.

A powerful journey brimming with color and drama, The Last Runaway is Tracy Chevalier’s vivid engagement with an iconic part of American history.

My thoughts:

The Last Runaway  offers its reader a glimpse into 1850's Quaker life, the workings of the Underground Railroad, and one young English woman's perspective on the strangeness of life in America. The story is told with no-frills language in a very straight-forward manner, and the inclusion of Honor's letters to family and friends back home in England provides a better understanding of her character.

"I feel very confused now. I am in a part of the country where there is much movement, and yet I do not know where to move myself. And America is such a peculiar country. It is young and untested, its foundations uncertain." 
Quilting is also prominently featured in the narrative. There is a good deal of discussion about patterns, styles, and technique which may seem tedious to the reader with no prior knowledge or interest in the subject. However, it was a plus for me.

Finally, after a string of books with ambiguous endings, the tidy resolution of this story proved very satisfying.

A note on the audio production:
Kate Reading's list of audio credits is extensive, but this was my first experience with her narration.  Her adopted tone and manner were perfectly suited to Quaker speech and enhanced my overall enjoyment of the book. 

Read or listen?
Listen, definitely.

My rating:

Bottom line : 
Not quite as strong as Chevalier's previous novels, The Last Runaway is still a good read. Recommended.

Thursday, August 1, 2013

A (Virtual) Moveable Blogger Pub Crawl: Bread

Leopold Bloom, possibly anticipating a Dublin pub crawl
(from the Ulysses Seen graphic novel)

It all started with Jill's Bloomsday post. Several of us commented that Ulysses  would never figure into our reading plans, but the idea of a pub crawl certainly sounded appealing. So this week, four bloggers join forces to take you on a tour of beer, wine, cheese, and bread...our own virtual moveable pub crawl. The tour started Tuesday with a post on beer by Kathy of BermudaOnion. Yesterday Jill at Rhapsody in Books tempted us with cheese, and today I'm baking bread. Tomorrow it's all about wine with Sandy at You've GOTTA Read This!

So, bread...

It's a fact, I love bread. Any grain, any flavor, any shape, any texture. I also love to bake, and our recent cooler temperatures inspired me to pull out  my "baking bible" and turn on the oven. For our pub crawl, my focus quickly narrowed to flatbreads, crispbreads, and crackers. There were easily dozens of recipes that would pair well with cheese and a nice glass of wine or a cold craft beer. Eventually I settled on Lavash, an easy-to-make unleavened crispbread.

from King Arthur Flour

3 1/2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
3/4 teaspoon sugar
1/4 cup shortening
1 large egg
1 cup milk (I used whole milk)
1/2 cup sesame seeds, toasted, or a combination of other small seeds (I used chia seeds)

In a large bowl, whisk together the flour, salt and sugar. Cut in shortening. Beat the egg and milk together and stir into flour mixture, mixing well.The dough will be firm. Cover and let it rest for 30 minutes.

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees.

Divide dough into four pieces and roll each to 1/16 inch thickness on the back of a lightly greased sheet pan or on a piece of parchment paper. Brush the lavash with water and sprinkle the tops with seeds. Go over the dough once more, lightly, to press the seeds into the surface.

Bake for 12 to 15 minutes, until browned and crisp. Break into pieces and serve with butter or your favorite spread.

The recipe was simple, but it seemed weird rolling out the dough and baking it on the wrong side of a cookie sheet.

It came out of the oven browned and crisp. 

I served the lavash with a Caprese Salad and chilled chardonnay. I wonder what kind of wine Sandy will be serving tomorrow...

This post will be linked to this Saturday’s Weekend Cooking, hosted by Beth Fish Reads. Weekend Cooking is open to anyone who has a food-related post to share: Book (novel, nonfiction) reviews, cookbook reviews, movie reviews, recipes, random thoughts, gadgets, quotations, photographs. If your post is even vaguely foodie, feel free to grab the button and link up over the weekend. You do not have to post on the weekend. 


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