Saturday, February 27, 2010

Weekend Cooking... or at Least Weekend Steeping

I love tea. I love the smell of tea. I love the taste of tea. I love the habit of tea. Picking the tea, brewing it, picking a cup to put it in, holding the warm cup in my hand as I drink it.

Did I mention I gave up tea for Lent. Not just tea, but all beverages except water...but it is the tea I miss. I admit...I crave it. Not just the caffeine, although I am also used to the little boost the shot of caffeine can give you. But the tasty tea itself.

Did you know that tea is the most consumed beverage in the world, except water.
"Tea is the most popular drink in the world in terms of consumption. Its consumption equals all other manufactured drinks in the world — including coffee, chocolate, soft drinks, and alcohol — put together.
All tea, all the various types of tea, come from the same plant, leaves of Camellia sinensis. With some minor variations, the newly picked leaves are all the same. The major differences between the types is determined by how it is processed once it is picked.
"Leaves of Camellia sinensis soon begin to wilt and oxidize, if not dried quickly after picking. The leaves turn progressively darker as their chlorophyll breaks down and tannins are released. This process, enzymatic oxidation, is called fermentation in the tea industry, although it is not a true fermentation. It is not caused by micro-organisms, and is not an anaerobic process. The next step in processing is to stop oxidation at a predetermined stage by heating, which deactivates the enzymes responsible. With black tea, this step is executed simultaneously with drying. “

“Tea is traditionally classified based on the techniques with which it is produced and processed.[16]
White tea: Wilted and unoxidized
Yellow tea: Unwilted and unoxidized, but allowed to yellow
Green tea: Unwilted and unoxidized
Oolong: Wilted, bruised, and partially oxidized
Black tea: Wilted, sometimes crushed, and fully oxidized
Post-fermented tea: Green tea that has been allowed to ferment"
I am most fond of black tea, although on occasion I will drink green. Not as an everyday, that would be black. Maybe an Earl Grey, which is a black tea flavored with the rind of the bergamot orange. At work, I usually use tea bags for convenience. Granted tea bags from Ireland, Barry's Irish Breakfast tea, not some nasty Lipton. At home, I usually brew the tea from loose leaves. here is a picture of a few loose teas from my 'collection'.The little pellets, in the front left, are gunpowder tea, green tea from the Guangdong province of China. Gunpowder tea, as the name implies, is made up of leaves hand-rolled into tiny pellets. These resemble gunpowder, and give this tea its distinct name.
Then, going clockwise in the picture, the larger balls are black dragon pearls.Hailing from the Yunnan province, this black tea version of the popular Dragon Pearl is naturally sweet and smooth with a touch of earthiness. Comprised of only the highest quality leaves and buds, expertly rolled into a large pearl-like shape.
The more curly leaves are xue ya ballad, an early spring harvest green with fruit-like, mellow sweetness with a delicate yellow cup color, and last, the straight leaves are kai hua crescendo, one of the top ten most famous teas in China, its name meaning "Dragon Peak", with lovely orchid notes and a light bodied, semi-sweet character. Or so Adagio teas, form which they can says.
And then last, in the front, are some ordinary black tea leaves, this one and Irish Breakfast blend.

I rarely order tea when I am out because Americans do not know, or care to know, how to brew tea. First, for black tea, the water must be boiling, not the less than boiling tea they get from the coffee maker. If it is not boiling many of the tastes are not extracted. But then they use such nasty tea bags it might be best. No, when out I usually order coffee..or nothing.

I was straightening out my various boxes and cans of tea the other day. I admit, I took of the lid of a can or two and sniffed them. If you are curious, here are the teas in the boxes and cans in the pics.
Oh, they smell so nice.

This is my contribution this to this week's Weekend Cooking.
"Weekend Cooking is open to anyone who has any kind of food-related post to share: Book (novel, nonfiction) reviews, cookbook reviews, movie reviews, recipes, random thoughts, gadgets, fabulous quotations, photographs. If your post is even vaguely foodie, feel free to grab the button and link up anytime over the weekend."
Be sure to check out the other entries this week. As always, hosted by Beth Fish Reads.

Thursday, February 25, 2010

a review of "Fireworks Over Toccoa" [14]

Fireworks Over Toccoa by Jeffrey Stepakoff
(St. Martin's Press, ISBN 978-0-312-58158-9)

I had read some reviews that compared this book to the work of Nicholas Sparks. And while I have only read a couple of his books..or was it just one that seemed like a couple...I can't say his books are really my cup of tea. But I also read some reviews that totally loved this book, so I decided to give it a try. Read on to see the outcome....

WWII is just coming to an end and the world is about to change. Thousands and thousands of soldiers will be coming home, often after years away, often very changed by their experiences. But things have not been standing still at home either. The people, their families, their wives, that they left behind have changed in these years as well. Homecoming will not be without problems.

Lily Davis was only 17 when she married Paul Woodward, just weeks before he left for the war. He was the perfect man. At least as far as Lily's mother, Honey, was concerned. Handsome, from a good family, on the fast track at his job at Coca-Cola, where Lily's father is an executive. But now the war is over and in just a few days Paul, a man she realizes she barely knows, will be home after more than three years. Lilly is feeling uneasy, uncomfortable in her place as the daughter of a prominent family in Toccoa, Georgia, not sure that the life that she see ahead, a life very much like her mother's, is what she wants.

Meanwhile, the ladies of the town of Toccoa have hired a firework company to put on a huge display on the 4th of July to celebrate the return of the troops. Of course, they will not be the only fireworks in this book. The man who has arrived for the job, with his big truck full of chemicals and mortars, is Jake Russo. He is the son of the owner of the fireworks company, himself just back a few weeks from the war in Europe. And Jake too is a changed man, changed by what he saw in the war.
"And Jake came home. But home wasn't the same, not for Jake Russo. He wasn't the same. Despite what those in Lawrence Country had read and thought they knew, they could never know what was now onside Jake Russo. He returned a stranger."
Seeing some test fireworks being set off in a nearby field, Lily heads off to check it out and the two, very soon-to-be lovers meet, have dinner of risotto and a bottle of wine over a camp stove and the rest, as they say, is history. Of course, there is the pesky matter of that returning husband, flying home in days. So Lily faces a choice...true love or duty.
"What was happening? Yesterday morning her life was perfect. She knew exactly what she wanted, husband and house on the hill. And she had it. She had it all. But that had changed. In a flash, in a few clicks of the minute timer, all her desires had changed and she wanted something else. But how could she be with this beautiful passionate dark-haired man and keep the rest of the world intact? She couldn't and she knew that."
What to do...what to do?

Freeport, Maine, not Toccoa, Georgia
So what is my take on this book? Well, it is mixed. There is quite a bit to like about it. Mr. Stepakoff is a beautiful writer...way better than Mr. Sparks in my opinion. His description of this small southern town, the capture of the culture just as the war is ending, seems perfect. His description of the hot summer days, the fireflys, the Cherokee roses, the kudzu growing over abandoned cabins and the legends of Indian princess are lovely. And his characters are quite good, perhaps my favorite being Lily's parents. There is a lot more I would like to know about those two actually.
I also found the parts about fireworks very interesting. I love fireworks, I admit it it, and would have been happy to have read a great deal more about the history and science of them.

My problem is believing in the "luminous love story", as one blurb describes it. Lily and Jake know each other one day before she decides to start an adulterous affair with a man who, while handsome and charming and no doubt a fine fellow, is really a stranger. What is she going to do, run off with him, living out of the back of that fireworks truck. Hmmmm...sorry, I couldn't quite buy it. Lilly is in many way a child, a spoiled child, who is drunk with the romance of her affair and not someone I could really like, which is usually fatal for me and a book. As she herself says,
"Being so near such ardor gave Lily a heady feeling, as though some kind of intoxicant was flowing into her bloodstream."
That is not love, it's being drunk and when you are drunk you often wake up to reality sick, with a very bad headache.

I think Mr. Stepakoff is a very good writer and I will be anxious to see what he writes in the future. His feeling for the south, for a certain culture, holds great promise, one I did not feel was fulfilled in this story.

This title will be released on March 30, 2010.

A few other, perhaps different, takes on this book...

Tutu's Two Cents
All The Pretty Pages
Educating Petunia
Pop Culture Junkie

My thanks to Amazon Vine for this book.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Wordless Wednesday...In Honor of the Olympics

In honor of the Winter Olympics, being held in the very beautiful city of Vancouver B.C., a few more pictures from last year...

can you find the three boats? always, for more Wordless Wednesday, check these out.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

My Latest E-Book Rant...I Know You Were Waiting.

Those of you that are regular reader here no doubt have noticed that I have issues with e-books. Not any particular e-book, not even with the specific issues of any one software, but with the entire idea.
Yes, I am a dinosaur.
Yes, I am fighting the inevitable.
Perhaps. But I am not alone in my concerns.

Two articles, in the 2/22/2010 Shelf Awareness, focused perhaps my biggest concern. The first, in the New York Review of Books by Jason Epstein, while detailing many of the positives of the digitization of books, his ultimate conclusion is that
“Digital content is fragile. The secure retention, therefore, of physical books safe from electronic meddlers, predators, and the hazards of electronic storage is essential. Amazon's recent arbitrary deletion of Orwell's 1984 at its publisher's request from Kindle users who had downloaded it suggests the ease with which files can be deleted without warning or permission, an inescapable hazard of electronic distribution.”
While he admit his own bias toward printed books...and I have to say I started to fall in love with Mr. Epstein when he talked about his floor to ceiling books...he feels confident that no matter what the positive factors of e-books, the importance of the printed word will remain strong.
“The huge, worldwide market for digital content, however, is not a fantasy. It will be very large, very diverse, and very surprising: its cultural impact cannot be imagined. E-books will be a significant factor in this uncertain future, but actual books printed and bound will continue to be the irreplaceable repository of our collective wisdom.”
From your mouth to God's ear Mr. Epstein, because it is that fragile, changeable aspect of e-books that concerns me the most.

We all are aware of the Amazon event he references, when a book was removed by the company from the e-readers of people, without their permission or knowledge. There was an uproar. The company promised not to do it again. Not that they can't, but that they won't. And certainly we can all trust Amazon...right?
But what of books being changed, sections deleted or certain alterations made, by hackers, cyber-trouble makers...or say, in certain countries, by people in power, as acts of censorship?

The second article, referenced right below Mr. Epsteins, is from the NY Times, and is entitled Textbooks That Professors Can Rewrite Digitally
“Macmillan, one of the five largest publishers of trade books and textbooks, is introducing software called DynamicBooks, which will allow college instructors to edit digital editions of textbooks and customize them for their individual classes.
Professors will be able to reorganize or delete chapters; upload course syllabuses, notes, videos, pictures and graphs; and perhaps most notably, rewrite or delete individual paragraphs, equations or illustrations.”
Ok, so I, the author, write a textbook and it is published...and then any professor out there can make whatever change she or he wants, so that it agrees with what the professor or the school or whoever thinks? Oh my, am I the only one to find this unbelievable and a totally terrible idea. So, how far is it from a little rearranging of a textbook to some teacher or school board removing certain words from Huck Finn that they find offensive or any other sort of censorship. Will there be thousands of 'versions' of "Of Mice and Men" floating around some day? Oh, that will never happen, you might say. Well I say, first we will make it possible and then someone, somewhere in the world, will do it. And perhaps worst, if there are no more books, real books to compare it to, how will be ever know?

Oh don't worry, I have heard people say, 'There will always be printed books'. Really? Well, I too am biased and I sincerely hope so. But I also know publishing is a business and it is cheaper, in so many ways, to 'publish' an e-book. And cheaper means they make more profit. So their motivation would be....what? No, it will not happen tomorrow. Books that exist today will continue to be out there in circulation for many years. But what will the future of books, for future generations, be?

Bandit Tuesday! He Is Invisible!

I am hiding. Pretend you can't see me!

Monday, February 22, 2010

Musing Monday...and The Best Laid Schemes o' Mice an' Men

Another week...another let's head to Just one more page and check out these week's Monday Musing question...

Today’s MUSING MONDAYS post is about a keeping books.

Do you keep all the books you ever buy? Just the ones you love? Just collectibles? What do you do with the ones you don’t want to keep?

Gosh, this touches a nerve for many of us I think.

Once, in my pre-blogging days, this was a minor issue. Now, I admit, it is becoming a problem. I tried, I have really tried, to cut down on the number of new books I acquire. I have started to use the library more. But still, someone reviews a book that sounds so good and the library does not have a copy...hey, wht is a girl to do? Or a publicist offers a great sounding book, or I see the offer of an ARC that sounds great...really, how can I say no. So now, new books are till coming in and I am borrowing books from the library. To quote Robbie Burns, "The best laid schemes o' mice an' men, Gang aft agley..."

I have shown you photos of the piles before. I have shown you the double stacked shelves on the bookcases. Room, sheer room, is an issue. But more than that, I have some to realize that I have many books I don't really want to keep long term. I have read them, reviewed them in most cases and now they need to just get out of here. Go find themselves a new home. I have told them this...but they seem unmoved, just sitting there in their piles. So, I showed them! At Christmastime, I took these read, reviewed books and put them in a big plastic tote box and put the box in my pantry.
Where they now sit.
This does not really seem like a good plan.
Not to mention I need another box.

I have books I will never part with.
But I have many more that need to get out of here.

In the past I tried Book Mooch. I was not thrilled. Had one set of books sent off supposedly "lost". Had difficultly finding any books I wanted in the available to Mooch lists. I have considered giving Paperback Swap a try but have not done so yet.
Some books, the ones I liked, I have given away to friends or family..and hope, in the vast majority of cases, that thay never find there way back. I guess I could sell them but I don't really know of a used book store around here and doing so online, while possible, does not seem worth the effort.

I have considered making a list of them, posting it and having a huge giveaway here on the old blog. That is still a possibility. And on occasion, someone will make reference in a comment that they would love to read a book I review...and I will send it to them. The book is happy, to go to a home where they are wanted, I am happy for it to be gone and yet to someplace it will be appreciated and with little fuss.

So people, remember, if you like the sound of a book I review, be sure to speak up and say so in a comment and you might get a pleasant surprise!

Saturday, February 20, 2010

Weekend Cooking...Is There a Rule in Blogland About This...Well, I Don't Care

Ok, is reposting cheating? Is there some sort of bloggers list of rules? Well, even if it is against the rules, I am reposting this review that I posted shortly after I started my blog, almost two years ago. But I happened upon it the other day and I remember how much I LOVED this cookbook, what a very attractive book it is and how nice the photographs were. Since it was posted when I think I had two readers...and one was my niece...I though it deserved a bigger audience. Also, I have given up all beverages except water for Lent and without my tea, I can't stay awake long enough after a 12 hour work week to write something else. So, without further ado....

Recipes From A Very Small Island
by Linda Greenlaw and Martha Greenlaw
(Hyperion, ISBN 9781401300739)

Having read all of Linda Greenlaw's, she of "Perfect Storm" fame, other books and having enjoyed them a great deal, I ordered "Recipes from a Very Small Island" to sort complete the Greenlaw set! Well, not least not totally. But I though "it's just a cook book".

So you might be able to imagine my delight when this book arrived and I started to look through it. First of all, the book is just lovely to look at. The photographs of the food by Joseph Deleo and of Isle au Haut, Linda and her parents by Sara Gray are beautiful.

Second, while I admit I have not tested any of the recipes yet, since it just arrived, they look very promising. Many are classics you might expect from a cookbook from 'a very small Maine island' like blueberry pie, chicken pie with herb biscuits, maple flavored baked beans and her mom Martha's famous lobster casserole. But then there are a number of interesting sounding surprises...crab madeleines, braised lamb shanks with dried apricots, grilled salmon with blueberry corn salsa....beef stifado.. Actually, there is not a recipe in this book that does not sound interesting and worth trying.

Another very nice part of the book is that each recipe is preceded by a brief introduction from either Linda or her mother Martha. Sometimes, it is just a few lines and sometimes it is an amusing little story about some incident with the dish in the past. Every one enhances the recipe that follows.

If you are a fan of Ms. Greenlaw's other books, especially "The Lobster Chronicles: Life on a Very Small Island", I think you will find the ten or so short essays throughout the book, filled with Ms. Greenlaw's ever present dry humor, a lovely addition. The subjects range from "The Beginner's Guide to Clambakes or How to Ruin a Perfectly Good Lobster" to an introduction to "The Pie Lady".

I am sure this will be a treasured book in my library, not just for the food but for another of Ms. Greenlaw's charming views into life and family on a very small island on the beautiful coast of Maine.

and now, as a reward for reading an old review...I will include one of her favorite recipe. And also because I love lobster.

my mom's famous recipe:

My mom taught me how to make this one: "I've never made this for less than six, so you'll have to cut it down. Cook and pick twelve lobsters, or sixteen if they are very soft. Linda, do not boil lobster in my large Le Creuset." Oh, you mean the one in the sink? The one that I have been soaking for two days to get the burned spaghetti out of? The one that I may have to take to Billings' to be sand-blasted? "In fact, do not use abrasives on any of my good pots and pans. I told you that before, right?" Oh, you mean like scraping with a metal spatula? Too late. Somewhere, through all of the marching orders and in the midst of many asides, I managed to pull a list of ingredients from my tight-jawed mother, but had to guess at amounts and temperatures. She was certainly less than forthcoming. The following is what I ended up with, but lacked the confidence to actually try by the time my mother was done with me:

* 8 tablespoons butter
* 8 tablespoons flour
* 4 cups light cream
* a couple of egg yolks
* 1 handful minced onion
* 1 generous splash Madeira
* a little fresh minced parsley
* some salt
* some pepper
* 1 tablespoon celery seed
* 1 good dash cayenne pepper
* 12 cups lobster meat, sautéed
* 4 cups fresh bread crumbs
* Parmesan cheese

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Melt butter, and blend flour, cooking over low heat. Add cream and stir until thick. Remove from heat and whisk in egg yolks. Add onions, Madeira, parsley, and other seasonings. Add lobster meat that you have previously sautéed in butter. Pour into large casserole dish and sprinkle with bread crumbs and cheese. Place dollops of butter on top and bake uncovered until you think it's done (about 20 minutes at 400 degrees).

This is my contribution this to this week's Weekend Cooking.
"Weekend Cooking is open to anyone who has any kind of food-related post to share: Book (novel, nonfiction) reviews, cookbook reviews, movie reviews, recipes, random thoughts, gadgets, fabulous quotations, photographs. If your post is even vaguely foodie, feel free to grab the button and link up anytime over the weekend."
Be sure to check out the other entries this week. As always, hosted by Beth Fish Reads.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

a review of "Blacklands" [13]

Blacklands- A Novel by Belinda Bauer
(Simon and Schuster, ISBN 978-1-4391-4944-7)

About 18 years ago, little Billy Peters went out to the store in his village and was never seen again. His mother waited by the window, waiting for the return that would never happened. It was presumed he was another victim of the serial killer that was caught and convicted of the death of several young boys and girls, their bodies buried in the nearby moor, but Arnold Avery never admitted that he had killed Billy and his body was never found.

While Billy's mom still waits at the window, her family is fracturing around her. So, 12 year old Steven decides he will find the body of his uncle, end his grandmother's vigil and bring his family back together. At first, he decided to wander around the moor in his free time, digging holes, hoping to be lucky and find the bones. In time though, he realizes how hopeless that idea is and decides upon a more direct approach. He decided to write to the killer, Avery, in prison and ask him where the body is buried. After almost two decades in prison, as a child rapist and murderer on the bottom scale of even the worse prison, at first Avery in amused and entertained by the notes he receives in the mail, signed only with "SL", asking for help in finding "WP", William Peters. For Avery, it is just a game, a game that feeds his sick fantasies about the murders.
"Avery could almost smell the moor. The rich, dap soil and the fragrant heather, combined with the faint odor of manure from the deer and ponies and sheep.
He thought first of Dunkery Beacon, where all his fantasies centered, before spreading like bony tendrils across the rounded hills. From there he would almost be able to identify the individual gravesites- not from the newsprint graphics but from the actual memory, the memory that had sustained him throughout his imprisonment and which still had the power to feed his nighttime fantasies. The thought alone brought saliva to his mouth, and he swallowed audibly."

But when Steven accidentally reveals a vital piece of information, the game takes on a much more frightening and deadly aspect.

This is Bauer's debut novel and a fine debut it is. It is not a complex book, not so much a mystery as a thriller following this one, obsessive idea. Bauer writes, in an "Author's Note" at the end of the book, that this novel grew out of the idea for a short story, of how a crime like a murdered child, could effect a family for years, even lifetimes. But what if someone in that family tried to break the bond that killer had on the family..and suddenly the whole thing just spirals out of control. That is the story of Blacklands, of a great character, young Steven, smart and brave, but still just a little boy, who, in an attempt to heal his family, sets a deadly chain of events into action, culminating in a taut and frightening ending.
I will certainly be watching for more of Bauer's work in the future.

My thanks to the reviews of Bibliophile By The Sea, Farm Lane Books and Scribbles, whose that, no doubt, you will want to check out as well...led me to this book.
And to my local library that loaned it to me to read.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Wordless Wednesday..A Snowy Day in Ocean City, NJ

A little different than the view on a summer day...

 always, for more Wordless Wednesday, check these out.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Happy National Pancake Day!

As I am sure you know...well, you do is National Pancake Day and in honor of this event, I broke out the mixing bowl and a few frozen blackberries from last summer's garden and made a wee batch of wee pancakes. Complete with a little pitcher of warmed maple syrup. National Pancake Day pancakes deserve real maple syrup.

So why, you may ask, is today National Pancake Day? Well, because today is Shrove Tuesday, the day before Ash Wednesday, which marks the beginning of the 40 day season of Lent, a time of fasting and self denial for many Christians. So, to quote Wikipedia, people would often celebrate this day, also know as Fat Tuesday, by cooking tasty treats like pancakes. "Making and eating such foods was considered a last feast with ingredients such as sugar, fat and eggs, whose consumption was traditionally restricted during the ritual fasting associated with Lent."

Sadly, IHOP, who in the past has offer free pancakes on National Pancake Day, has decided this year to celebrate it on 2/23...which sort of misses the point. But you can still get your free short stack that day if you wish. Free makes things extra tasty! :-)

Bandit...Will You We Mine??

Maybe a day or two late, but you know I love you Bandit! You have stolen my heart!!

Monday, February 15, 2010

Musing Monday..Amo, Amas and Amat.

It's Monday, yes again, so let's head over to Just one more page and check out these week's Monday Musing question...

Today’s MUSING MONDAYS post is about a reference material.

Do you keep reference books on your shelves at home? What’s your first port of call when you need information – the internet or a book?

Do I keep reference books on my shelves? Yes.
Do I use them? No, not really.
But, of course, the answer is not quite that cut and dry. :-)

Folks, I am old enough to remember the world before the Internet. Yes, there really was a world before the internet, a world full of reference books, and trips to the library to look things up. Imagine that...having to actually leave the house to go to a library to find the answer to your questions.
Unless you were lucky enough to have a set of encyclopedias. I can remember the day my mother made the not insignificant financial investment to buy my brother and I the set. I can remember the world of information it opened to us, conveniently located right there in our house. I could book at them for hours and hours. I believe it was the Encyclopedia Americana, a 30 volume set, that surprisingly is still in print. It had it's own little bookcase...and I have no idea what happen to it. I guess at some point, in some move, we gave it away.

But that was often just the starting point for research, for a school paper or whatever. The encyclopedia was a starting point but after that it was off to the library, searching through those huge card catalogs, in the big wooden cabinets with all the little wooden drawers, with thousands and thousands of individual paper cards listing each book. Gosh, I wonder what happen to those cabinets..I would love to get my hands on one of those. Then off to the stacks, or more rarely, to the reference section, where the librarian would carefully hand you the book, the book that could not be removed from the reference room. You would take it to the big tables they always had in libraries, where you would sit and copy the needed information by hand into your notebook, because yes, it was before copy machines too!

Now, you just boot up the laptop and type your question into the Google thingie on the toolbar and the answer is your in seconds.

So are reference books a thing of the past? No, I am not sure they are. Granted, I never use the dictionary or thesaurus sitting on my shelves. The internet is way faster for that. But I do still use books for some things. Gardening, for example. I have a fair number of books about gardening subjects and I do use them. Unlike the internet, books offer the big picture, in a form that is easy to 'page' through. And for me, with a visual subject, nothing beats the photographs in a book.
Lighthouses are another subject I frequently use books for. For a quick question, yes the internet is fine, but for something more in depth, I find a book...or several books..easier to get the needed information from.

Then, maybe I am just a dinosaur.
Maybe I am a holdover from the last generation of people that remembers doing research without the internet and retains a certain fondness for it. Or maybe there actually is an advantage that a book can offer over the computer screen in some cases. I would argue there is. Or maybe I just like to argue.
Either way, as I have said before, they will have to pry my books out of my cold, dead, fingers.

Amo, amas, amat? Don't know what it means? Well, look it up! I will lend you my Latin/English dictionary. A real paper book dictionary. Or you can Google it I guess...

Saturday, February 13, 2010

a review of "Service Included" [12]

Service Included- Four Star Secrets of an Eavesdropping Waiter by Phobe Damrosch
(Harper, ISBN 978-0-06-122814-8)

I must say, I had great hopes for this book. I watch the Food Channel, I watch Top Chef. I find all that behind the scene restaurant stuff of great interest..not to mention I love good food. Restaurants, and kitchens in particular, seem places fraught with conflict and drama...not to mention great food. So when the author, Ms. Damrosch, promises to reveal to the reader the "sometimes shocking experiences in the fascinating, frenetic, highly competitive world of fine dining", the hook was set. Add to that the silver label on the cover, from the NY Times, calling it "A Notable Book of the Year" and I was all ready to love it. Sadly, for me, these promises were not really fulfilled.

Ms. Damrosch, a graduate of Barnard College, with an MFA from Sarah Lawrence, finds she hates working in an office and gets a job working in a neighborhood coffee place and then a few restaurants, working her way up to the job of waiter. Finally, after a relatively brief time, she snags a job at the very famous and very expensive, four star Per Se restaurant, that the famous chef Thomas Keller was opening in NYC. For me, that was the most interesting part of the book. The training of the staff, the classes, the tests, was all much more than I every would have expected. Some of the few glimpses we get at the steps to designing and setting up such a restaurant were entertaining, if presented in a rather dry and even detached way.
But when the author diverts off to long and involved discussions about her love life, including her romance with a sommelier from the restaurant, I am afraid she lost whatever interest I had. The fact that he was living with another woman during most of their relationship did not give me great hope for their future either.

One always hear that restaurants, behind the scenes, are high pressure places, full of a lot of passion and drama, but we see very little of that in this book. Everyone seems to get along just fine, the conflicts are few, problems all nicely worked out. She has only great things to say about the owner, Mr. Keller, the training is wonderful, most of the people she worked with are helpful professionals. Sure, there are a few problem customers, but it seems she is very unwilling to name names..or even give any hints...about their often very rich and very famous customers. It seems Ms. Damrosch did not want to burn any bridges or upset anyone she had worked with or worked for, which I guess is understandable. But then don't promise "shocking" behind the scene details. In fact, maybe you shouldn't decide to write a book at all.

Per Se sounds like quite the restaurant, very beautiful, with a level of cuisine that might just be beyond something I, or most people, can appreciate. Paying in the range of maybe $500-$1000 for a meal, per person, just seems a bit too much. Meals for four that go as high as $20,000...yes, $20,000, as Damrosch mentions several times, is just more than I can take in. Does that come with a car or something? Actually, it strikes me a rather obscene, no matter how wonderful the food is and how well trained the waiters are.

Parts of this book were rather interesting. The description of the training, the various jobs that employees and wait staff in a restaurant of this level hold and how they all interact was something I had no idea was so complicated. The chapter about all the preparation and concerns over the expected visits to the new restaurant from the NY Times restaurant reviewer were sometimes amusing. But the nice description of the review and his visits did make me wonder about a possible connection to that "Most Notable" label on the cover that the NY Times provided. Am I too cynical?

The descriptions of the menu and some of the dishes were at times intriguing. But they also became at times rather bizarre. Is it really necessary to know the breed of cow the cheese was made from and what grasses and grains the cows eat or the range of the "free-range" chicken? Do customers really ask this sort of thing? Well, maybe for $20,000 they do. But I am afraid they lost me along the way. And when she move on to great detail about her personal life and loves in the second half, she lost me all together.

If Damrosch had delivered on the story she promised, an amusing, eye-opening, and sometimes shocking behind the scene view of a major four-star restaurant, it could have been a great book. As it is, "Service Included" is at best a quick read that gives a fairly interesting story of the training of the staff of a very high end restaurant and a glimpse of a world I certainly do not live in.

This is my contribution this to this week's Weekend Cooking.
"Weekend Cooking is open to anyone who has any kind of food-related post to share: Book (novel, nonfiction) reviews, cookbook reviews, movie reviews, recipes, random thoughts, gadgets, fabulous quotations, photographs. If your post is even vaguely foodie, feel free to grab the button and link up anytime over the weekend."
Be sure to check out the other entries this week. As always, hosted by Beth Fish Reads.

Friday, February 12, 2010

a review of "From The Notebooks of Melanim Sun" [11]

From The Notebooks of Melanin Sun by Jacqueline Woodson
(Scholastic, ISBN 0-7807-7292-X)

For thirteen year old Melanin Sun, life is pretty darn good. He has his two close friends, Sean and Ralph, palling around their Brooklyn neighborhood and a budding crush on his schoolmate Angie, that might develop into something if he can ever get up the nerve to actually talk to her. He is a good student, if considered a bit of a nerd because of his habit of writing all his thoughts in the notebook diaries he keeps. At home, he has a very close relationship with his mother, who has raised him alone. There have been a few men that she has gone out with over the years, but no one who ever lasted more than a date or two, which is really just fine with Mel.
But things are about to change and Mel's life is about to be turned upside down.

His mother tells him that she is inviting a friend home to dinner and wants Mel to meet her guest. To his surprise, it is not a new boyfriend but someone she met as a law student, a white woman named Kristin. Everyone that Mel knows and has ever dealt with, except a few teachers, is black, so he is not very comfortable with their guest. When his mother tells him the next day that Kristin is not just her friend but the person she is in love with, his reaction is explosive. His mother, the person he considered his best friend, has done something he finds total unbelievable. Not only is she a "dyke", as he calls her, but has fallen in love with a white woman. Soon, it is the talk of the neighborhood, his friends desert him, he even questions his feeling for Angie and, maybe worse of all, he can't talk to the one person he always went to with problems, his mom. All he has left is writing about it in his notebooks.

Regular readers here will know that I totally loved the previous two books by Jacqueline Woodson that I read, "I Hadn't Meant To Tell You This" and "Lena. I can't say enough good things about these two books. The writing was beautiful, the emotions of some very difficult situations so perfectly expressed. But for me, the key was that the characters in these two books were so clearly painted, so clearly that they became truly real people to the reader. And that is why we cared so very much about what happened to them and why their stories effected.

Awww..but what about our book here today, "From The Notebooks of Melanin Sun"? For me, Woodson was not quite as successful here. Don't get me wrong. This is a good book that tackles some difficult subjects, like homosexuality and race and self perception in those difficult teenage years. And it is a book that presents a lot of different points, maybe points we are not comfortable with, points that will make us think. Once again, in this book, Woodson is a beautiful writer that is able to express a great deal in a small book. But the difference for me is that in this book, I was not able to connect with the characters as much as I could in the other two. For me, this is the difference between great and good. Mel, yes Mel, we get to know and understand fairly well, mainly through the excerpt from his notebooks that we read. But his mother, Kristen, his friends Sean and Ralph remain, remained for me, rather unknown players on the edge of the story, characters that I never connected with. And that makes the ending of the story not totally believable for me. And not a story that had as much of an emotional connection.

This was a good, if not great, book for me. It is a book that raises some interesting issues, presented from a unique and different point of view, that of this young, black teenager, Mel. These are timely topics that are of interest to both adults and the intended YA audience, presented in a enjoyable way and I think this would be a good book to be shared and discussed by a parent and teenager, whatever you views on these issues might be.
Bottom line, it was not my favorite Woodson book, but quite a good book nevertheless, and one I would recommend.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Wordless Wednesday- Winter Sunrise

...for more Wordless Wednesday, check these out.

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Bandit is One of Us!!

Now what do you think he might be reading? Any ideas? Walter, The Farting Dog? Travels With Charley? Yes..that might be it.

Monday, February 8, 2010

Musing Monday...Just Rest Over Here Awhile Little Book...I'll Be Right Back

Today’s MUSING MONDAYS post, from Rebecca at Just one more page, is about a random book.

I’ve seen several bloggers mention reading multiple books this week. Do you frequently read more than one book at a time? Do you try to limit this to a certain number? Do you have different books for different purposes/topics?

Well, I would like to say that I only read one book at a time, because it sounds like the adult, mature thing to do. But I can't really. And I don't have the very acceptable excuse of having a book of poetry or essays that I am sort of reading on the side. You are not necessarily meant to read a book of poetry straight through are you? I don't think so. But, you can't use that excuse, so I just have to admit it.

For me, rather than having a couple of active books, maybe a book on the bedside and a book at work and a book next to my recliner, I tend to have an active book and a couple of inactive, sidelined books. Orphan books if you will.
Have you ever heard the quote, from JFK, that “Victory has a thousand fathers, but defeat is an orphan.” Well, I feel like that about some of these inactive books. The big, popular best sellers have lots of people but some books are all alone...and I don't want to leave then all alone. So just sit over here, my little sidelined tomes, and I will come back to you.

It may be a book I started and could not get into, or one I just did not feel like reading at the moment when I picked it up. And so it joins the inactive mini-pile. A pile that will be revisited at a near future day. Because, as I recently discussed in a comment on a blog elsewhere, I hate to give up on a book and as long as it is in the 'inactive' pile, I have not given up on it. You are not an orphan, just sort of sent off to boarding school for awhile.

As is true of many a reader of books, of many a person who loves books and has received countless hours of pleasure from reading, I greatly admire the people that have given me those books...the authors. I have said it before, but authors are my rock stars. I can only imagine all the work and love, yes, love that they have poured into their writing and to read a few pages and dismiss the book just seems so wrong. It's like telling someone their baby is ugly.
Granted, there are bad books, poorly written books, out there but usually, I blame myself rather than the book. That I just not in the mood for it at the moment...and so it goes in the inactive pile. That I don't want something so serious...light...real the moment, so I will come back to it. Right after I finish this great book that I am reading.

Really, I will! Really....

Saturday, February 6, 2010

Pretty in Pink....Weekend Cooking

Today, I am in the mood for an easy, sweet treat, so here is a very nice cupcake recipe from one of my favorite Food Network cooks, Giada De Laurentiis. Of course, the glaze is pink, so it will be perfect for a little girls birthday, to celebrate the first day of Spring or your next tea party. But if you look carefully at the photo, you will see that I actually made them at Christmas, because they are delicious whatever the time of year.

Now, the recipe calls for making them in mini-cupcake pans but personally I used regular cupcakes liners and a regular cupcake pan and baked them about 3-4 minutes longer than the recipe calls for.

Mascarpone Mini Cupcakes with Strawberry Glaze

Prep Time: 15 min
Inactive Prep Time: 15 min
Cook Time: 20 min


* 8 ounces mascarpone cheese (about 1 cup), softened
* 2 egg whites
* 1/4 cup vegetable oil
* 1 box white cake mix
* 1 cup water
* 1/3 cup frozen strawberries, thawed and drained
* 2 1/2 cups powdered sugar
* Special equipment: 4 mini muffin tins and 48 mini muffin paper cupcake liners


Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Line the mini tins with paper liners.

In a large bowl, combine the mascarpone cheese, egg whites and vegetable oil. Using a hand mixer, beat the ingredients until combined and creamy. Add the cake mix and water and mix until smooth, about 3 minutes. Fill the mini cups to just below the rim and bake until puffed and golden, about 18 to 20 minutes. Remove from the oven, let cool slightly in the tin then transfer the cupcakes to a wire rack.

Meanwhile, puree the strawberries in a blender or small food processor. Place the powdered sugar in a medium bowl. Pour in the strawberry puree and whisk until smooth. Top the cooled cupcakes with the strawberry glaze. Let the cupcakes sit for a few minutes for the glaze to firm up, then serve.

This is my contribution this week to Weekend Cooking. Be sure to check out the other entries this week. As always, hosted by Beth Fish Reads.

Friday, February 5, 2010

a review of "The Pure in Heart" [10]

The Pure in Heart by Susan Hill
(The Overlook Press, ISBN 978-1-58567-928-7)

Chief Inspector Simon Serrailler is back in this, the second in the series, and a very worthy follow up to the first, "The Various Haunts of Men", it is. As the book opens, Simon is on vacation in Venice, pursuing his other great love in life, his drawing, and trying to deal with the events that concluded the first book. Then a phone call from his father convinces him to fly home at once. His younger sister, a extremely severely handicapped young woman, appears to be on the verge of death. His father, in his ever charming way, say that if he wants to see her alive, he better come at once.

But as this is not enough for Simon to deal with, he arrives back just as a terrible crime comes to light. A young boy has disappeared as he stood at the front gate of his house, waiting for his ride to school. There are no witnesses, no clues, seemingly no avenues of investigation to follow, just a family left behind, a family that is falling apart in front of our eyes.
And lastly, in a third story line, there is a young man, an ex-con just released from prison, who wants to go straight, but is being pulled back, from every side, back into a life of crime.

In the first book in the series, The Various Haunts of Men, we were introduced to Simon and a few members of his family but actually did not find out a great deal about our chief inspector. In this book, we learn a great deal more about the family and come to realize that some of our first impressions may have been mistaken. Not everyone is the person we may have first thought, for good and bad. But I must say, where as in the first book I was not that fond of Simon, he is starting to grow on me as we learn more about him. He is certainly not with out his flaws, but we start to see them is some perspective and see why he is the man, and police inspector, that he is.

And then there is our central crime. This is a very character driven book, at times the plot taking a slightly secondary role even, which may leave a few mystery readers a little wanting. I just warn you that if you are one who wants everything all neatly tied up by the last page, you may not be happy. This seems to be a characteristic of this series, to leave us with questions, to leave us wondering a bit...perhaps questions to be answered in the next book.
But if you are a reader who wants to really get into the middle of a crime, really into the mind of those involved, this is a series you will like. As in the previous book, different chapters are written from the various points of view of different characters and I must say, for example, that getting inside the thoughts of the mother whose son had disappeared was so very well written and so truly heartbreaking.

This book could, I suppose, be read as a stand alone, but really I think this is one series best read in order for maximum enjoyment. I found this a compelling read, one of those books you really feel you are a part of, with characters that seem more like real people than just words on a page.
Of course, I already have the third in the series in my greedy little hands, to continue on the journey.

Again, thank you to my local library for the loan of this book

Thursday, February 4, 2010

a review of "Payment in Blood" [9]

Payment in Blood by Elizabeth George
(Bantam Books, ISBN 0-553-05701-4)

At the Scottish manor house of Westerbrae, in the middle of a winter storm, a group of theater folk from London have gathered to rehearse for an upcoming new play. The author, the actors, including several that are national legends, the wealthy, powerful producer and the small staff of the house are all gathered, isolated by the extremely remote location and the terrible weather. So when, the next morning, the beautiful playwright is found brutally murdered, there is no question but that the murderer is still there in the house.

Local police arrive, but within hours, for reason that are not immediately clear, Scotland Yard Inspector Thomas Lynley and his assistant, Detective Sergeant Barbara Havers are called in from London to take over the investigation. Under the circumstances, this is very unusual and it seems that there may be something else going on here besides a simple murder investigation. Soon Lynley realizes, not only must he attempt to solve this crime and find the murderer, but he must also try to figure out what other issues are in play here and how his own career may be in jeopardy. Luckily, he is not alone but accompanied by his friend, forensic scientist Simon Allcourt-St. James and DS Havers. In this, the second book in the series, Havers and Lynley have been working together for 15 months and not without problems. For Havers, almost all
"life's central problems- from the crisis in the economy to the rise in sexual diseases- all sprang from the class system, fully blown and developed, a bit like Athena from the head of Zeus."

Especially since her boss is not only Scotland Yard Inspector Lynley but is also Lord Lynley, the eighth Earl of Asherton, this has caused some problems in their working relationship. Still, it seems she is starting to warm up to him....and he will be very happy that she is watching his back.

"Barbara heard Lynley laugh, saw him lean against the car, fold his arms, and take a moment to engage the group in friendly conversation. How like him, she thought. He's had all of three hours sleep in the last thirty-three, he's facing the fact that half of his world may be as good as in ruins, and still he takes the time to listen to children's chatter. Watching him with them- fancying from this distance that she could see the lines of laughter round his eyes and the quirky muscle that crooked his smile- she found herself wondering what she might actually be capable of doing to protect the career and integrity of a man like that
Anything, she decided, and began her walk to the Tube."

In a way, this book has two very distinct parts. The first, when all are isolated in the manor house, and the police interviewing all the suspects, has almost the feel of an Agatha Christie mystery. Unfortunately, not one of Christie's best, since George is not quite able to pull it off. There is a large and rather confusing cast of characters, all introduced at once, with connections that are not always clearly explained. With that many people, I think it is very important to clearly paint each person and that does not happen. For example, at one point I realized that we did not get a physical description of a major character until page 130, but which point I was rather confused by the whole cast.

The second half of the book, when the investigation moves back to London and out to various part of the countryside, improves, but I am afraid for me it was a bit too little, too late. I was still interested enough in who had committed the crime to soldier on to the end of the book but it was a rather long and wordy path and I admit I skipped over some bits.

On the other hand, the series introduces an appealing cast of characters in Lynley, Havers and St.James, with an interesting and rather unusual relationship that I would like to check out in another book in the series. So while I can't say that I loved this book, for that reason alone, I have not given up checking out another.

As an aside, I first became aware of this series from watching a few DVDs of this series which played on British TV. Which I enjoyed a good deal and may also be another reason I be willing to try another one of the books. But what I find so interesting is that the actors in the TV version have NO similarity to how the characters of Lynley and Havers are described in the book. St. James actually changes gender, being portrayed as a woman in the TV version, which totally changes the friendship with the Inspector. I just hate when they do that and I just wonder why they do it....

Any other readers of this series out that that might have a different opinion?

My thanks to the local library system for the loan of this book.

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Wordless Wednesday...a Magical Place

Magic in The Daytime...

Magic in The Nighttime...

...for more Wordless Wednesday, check these out.

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Little Prince Bandit Celebrates Bandit Day!!

Little Prince Bandit Sits on His Special Pillow, Awaiting His Fans, Who Will Pay Homage. Or So He Thinks...

Oh, I Wanted a Tour!!

Seriously, do you think they give tours. It looks like great fun!

My thanks to Letters on Pages for this one.

Monday, February 1, 2010

Musing Monday...and Why I Have Lust in My Heart.

Today’s MUSING MONDAYS post, from Rebecca at Just one more page, is about a random book.

Go to your bookshelf and pick a random book. No cheating now, just reach out and pick one. Now tell us about it – where did you get it? Why? Was it a gift? Does it hold any special memories? Did someone recommend it to you? etc.

Go...let's see...and the winner is...The Hobbit by J.R.R. Tolkien.
The Hobbit is a favorite book, certainly one of Tolkien's that I love. It is a wonderful introduction to the Shire and the world of hobbits, and, let's face it, a lot more accessible than the much more complex Lord of The Rings. LoTR Lite perhaps.

Now this particular edition is not the first that I owned. In fact, my original copy, that I read in high school, was a paperback and I still have it. I also still have my original three book paperback edition of LoTR. But I always wanted a better copy, a really nice copy. So for years I used to look at the lovely editions put out by the Easton Press. Acid free paper, sewn pages, leather covers, gold edging, moire endsheets, lovely illustrations. Then one day, a few years ago, I sprung for it and bought the 5 volume set, with The Hobbit, the three volumes of the Lord of The Rings and The Silmarillion. Since then I have gone on to buy a few more Easton books, usually on eBay, just because they are so very nice.

See, this is why for people like me, people that 'suffer' from the book sickness, the e-book will never fulfill our book lust. And that is what it lust. A book that I really love, I need to own. For the best of the best, I want to own a really nice edition. A nice hard cover, maybe with some beautiful illustrations, a book that will exist long after you and I have given up the ghost, "when we have shuffled off this mortal coil", as my buddy Hamlet said.
For those everyday, ordinary books that past through our lives and, while entertaining, will soon be forgotten, a paperback, a book borrowed from the library, is fine.
But special books, loved books, deserve special editions.

"O yes my precious, very nice."