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Showing posts from June, 2013

Book Review: Bread & Wine

I really wanted to like Shauna Niequist’s new book, Bread & Wine. I love cooking, dinner parties, and fellowship and these are just the things Niequist writes about for 250+ pages. Her writing style is lovely and she has included several of her favorite recipes interspersed among her personal essays. I just felt that something fell flat for me here; there was nothing that drew me in and deeply engaged me. A good book, like a good date, requires chemistry and emotional impact. Perhaps it is because many of her essays focused on motherhood and pregnancy and miscarriages and I don’t have those shared experiences to bind us. Although this book doesn’t quite hit the right notes for me, I’ll be passing a recommendation for it it along to those I fellowship with who are mothers. I suspect they will better appreciate Niequist’s perspective.

Canning and Preserving 101

Canning and preserving: our mothers did it, our grandmothers did it, and many of us wistfully dream of capturing the best of every season ourselves. But it seems a bit intimidating at first glance.
Before we can begin, we must assemble our equipment.
First we start with our pressure canner, a necessity for canning many foods and a time saver for all foods. If you've got a modern flattop ceramic stove, pay close attention and make sure to buy a canner approved for ceramic tops (the selected canner MUST have a completely flat bottom) like the Presto 16 quart aluminum one that we own.

You’ll also need equipment to handle the jars during the canning process and both Presto and Ball make a nice 7 piece kit that includes a funnel, jar holder, and other items.

Of course you’ll need canning jars, and I recommend, at minimum, a set of half-pints (for jam), pints (for salsa, bbq sauce, pickles, and fruit in syrup), and quarts (for tomato sauce). If you’re going to be giving away your pres…

Book Review: A Fatal Likeness

How many of you know anything about the author Mary Shelley, who wrote Frankenstein? Me, I knew next to nothing about her prior to this week; I’ve never even read Frankenstein. I can now say however, I know a significant amount about Ms. Shelley, her husband, her step-sister Claire, and their private torrid affairs. This is because I just finished A Fatal Likeness by Lynne Shepherd which, although a work of fiction, details many of the factual elements of Shelley’s life and relationships. The blended (part truth, part fiction) history of Mary Shelley unfolds as our protagonist and detective, Maddox is immersed in a she-said he-said she-said case that has him confused and flip flopping back and forth in his estimations of who is telling him the truth. The overly controlling daughter-in-law of Mary hires him to investigate a woman who they believe may be holding documents regarding Mary that may prove unsavory to her reputation. They wish Maddox to determine whether this woman, Claire, …

Book Review: The Boy Who Could See Demons

Wow.

The Boy Who Could See Demons by Carolyn Jess-Cooke is quite extraordinary. I could not put this book down once I started it.

Alex is a young and troubled boy, growing up impoverished under the care of his mother, Cindy, in Belfast, Ireland. His father has abandoned them through a sudden and traumatic event that is slowly teased out of Alex's memory as the novel progresses; meanwhile his mother wrestles with depression and self-harming tendencies. Cindy's most recent suicide attempt brings Alex under the lens of the local authorities, and Anya Molokova takes over as his primary psychiatrist. Soon Anya discovers that Alex believes himself to be surrounded by demons and one of them, Ruen, has established a particularly close and disturbing relationship with the boy. As Anya gets pulled deeper into Alex's life and bonds with the boy in an attempt to properly diagnose him she asks the important questions: 

What does Ruen represent for Alex? 
Is Ruen a manifestation of schizop…

Book Review: Enon

Paul Harding, the Pulitzer Prize-winning author of Tinkers has written a new novel titled Enon. It hits bookstores in early September, but interested readers can pre-order the book now at Amazon.com.


While rich in its prose, Enon is one of the most depressing books I've ever read. Our protagonist, Charlie Crosby, looses his daughter in a terrible accident and it causes his entire life to unravel. For some there is a voyeuristic pleasure in observing, from a safe distance, the depravity of a lost soul and novels (like this) and movies (I point you to American Beauty) that feed this appetite satisfy. For others, watching hurt and damaged people wrestle with demons to no avail in an agonizing dance that continues long after the music stops is painful and horrifying. I am in the latter grouping and so this book is not for me. Not for me at all. In short: do you find enjoyment in reading about drug addiction, overwhelming penetrative grief, isolation, and despair? In turning page af…

What Lies Beneath

Hubby and I spent our time over the weekend with my brother-in-law (we shall call him BIL for short and he is hubby’s brother)  and his family out in Colorado Springs.  BIL is a twenty one year veteran of the US Air Force. Soon after hubby and I had just begun dating in college, BIL was heading off to his first Air Force assignment out in California. In fact, my first visit to hubby’s house in college involved meeting BIL and BIL’s friends (wherein they gave hubby a lot of ribbing over having a girlfriend) as they were getting together for some final celebrating before BIL moved away. In this way, BIL will always be tied up in my memories of those first few weeks with hubby and I look back on them, and him, fondly. Over the years BIL and his family have moved around the country as he progressed in rank and we’ve always enjoyed dropping in to see them wherever they were stationed. Because I was there at the time of his send off into the military it seemed fitting that I should be there…

Book Review: Anonymous Sources

Just finished an advanced reader’s copy of Anonymous Sources by Mary Louise Kelly. Overall, it’s an enjoyable read offering suspense, intrigue, and a fast paced plot. I like to think of it as a chick lit version of a Tom Clancy novel as it’s a bit softer and less gritty or coarse in its language and plot sequencing. The protagonist, Alexandra James, is a American newspaper reporter living in Boston who covers the higher education beat. Her latest assignment takes her to Harvard to report on the mysterious death of a former student on campus and eventually it takes her far outside the bounds of her ordinary job and across the Atlantic ocean to England. Along the way she falls into danger, into the bed of a sexy graduate student, and into the middle of a terrorist plot involving Pakistan scientists, the CIA, the FBI, and the president’s staff in the White House. Mary Louise Kelly’s prose is generally well written but Alexandra was presented as a bit too dense for my liking. I take forev…

Book Review: Three Lives of Tomomi Ishikawa

Ben Constable has written a book about, well, Ben Constable. In Three Lives of Tomomi Ishikawa we are treated to a dark and psychologically gripping story of our protagonist, Ben Constable, and his friend Tomomi (who goes by the nickname Butterfly). The novel opens with Ben and Butterfly exchanging letters about a book that Ben plans to write. The rest of the novel details the experiences of Ben after he is notified of Tomomi’s death. The dialogue is clever and draws the reader in to the heart of the suspense and action. The revelation that Tomomi has committed suicide sends Ben off on a wild goose chase of a scavenger hunt that was set in place by Tomomi herself. Soon it becomes clear that not everything is as it seems and that Ben never really knew Tomomi or what she was capable of.  As Ben questions his relationship with Tomomi and asks himself what kind of darkness may have been hidden in her heart, he begins to realize, as does the reader, that he may be in grave danger. Will he …

Book Review: Skinny Bitch in Love

Kim Barnouin is a successful author, speaker, and lifestyle coach who has guided many women to healthier eating through her ‘Skinny Bitch’ lifestyle books and associated cookbooks. Skinny Bitch in Love is her first foray into full length fiction and it’s a success. Barnouin spins a delightful and upbeat tale of romance in her new novel. Clem is a vegan chef who aspires to open her own restaurant. Just when she’s picked out the perfect locale, a cocky yet charming fellow leases the lot out from under her for his soon-to-be-opening steakhouse. Drama, hilarity, and passion ensue. While Barnouin’s tale follows the “sworn opposition drawn together by passion” trope, she doesn’t lay out all the cards on the table and deliver a predictable story arc. Instead, she keeps the reader guessing right to the end of the novel, using the push-pull dynamic of Clem and her love interests (there are multiple suitors) to build suspense. Whoever you’re rooting for Clem to choose is likely to change a few …

Book Review: Secrets of the Red Lantern: Stories and Vietnamese Recipes from the Heart

I received Secrets of the Red Lantern by Pauline Nguyen as a Christmas present a few years ago from my mother-in-law; it has become one of my most treasured cookbooks. And it’s so much more than just a cookbook – Chef Nguyen has woven the stories of her family’s history into the pages of recipes and it makes for great reading curled up on a chair with a warm cup of tea. Here is a family that risked everything to escape Vietnam during the war and rebuilt their lives in Australia. Here is a family that set food as its centerpiece with each member of the family involved in restaurant operations. Here is a family, broken and bruised, held together at times only by their shared history and cuisine. Aside from the compelling storytelling, Nguyen’s cookbook stands solidly on its authentic and well crafted recipes. All the traditional Vietnamese favorites are found within its pages and the flavors are bright and delicious. Some of my favorites include Nguyen’s family Pho recipe, Green Papaya …

Book Review: The Food & Cooking of Russia

My previous encounters with Russia cuisine in the United States have left me disappointed. That is why I was so surprised to find myself enjoying the food that was served throughout Moscow on my first trip to Russia earlier this year. I was especially enamored with Chicken Kiev and mashed potatoes with mushroom gravy and I went hunting on Amazon.com as soon as I returned home from my trip, hoping to find an authentic Russian cookbook to recreate those flavors in my own kitchen. The Food & Cooking of Russia by Elena Makhonko has received nothing but positive reviews so I settled on it as my cookbook of choice and ordered it. It’s a lovely hardcover book with beautiful illustrations and opens with a great section on general information about Russia, festivals and Russian celebrations, and classic ingredients in Russian cuisine. The recipes are organized by course in an easy to follow layout. I made the salted cucumbers from the chapter on appetizers and although I did not have vodka…

Mama’s Postcard Collection

My paternal grandparents were French and they traveled throughout the world. As they did so, they casually collected postcards from every hotel or restaurant that offered them. These cards collected dust in Mama and Papa’s (as we called them) possession as they were moved from apartment to apartment and home to home but never used. I get a lot of pleasure now from pulling out these old cards and researching the locations depicted to see if they’re still around. Sadly, most of them of have been demolished or have undergone major renovations. One of my favorite cards from the collection was a postcard from LaGuardia airport in the 1950s. The caption on the back wrote that soon LaGuardia might surpass 1 million passengers a year. In comparison, last year 23 million people flew out of the airport. I’m working on my penpal postcards this week and so I’m browsing through the cards to select one for sending. I’ve just come across another great card in their collection: The Virginia House Res…

Can you hear me now?

I’m driving down a long and winding road in the back hills of Virginia. My GPS can’t identify my location, my cell phone has no coverage, and I’m really not concerned. I’ve got the top down on my convertible, the bluegrass music playing, and I feel full and happy.Wait a minute, back up here. The bluegrass music? The bluegrass music!I have enjoyed the small snippets of bluegrass music I’ve been exposed to over the years. So I finally decided to fully immerse myself in the genre by attending a bluegrass festival. My friends in the know who keep up with the music scene told me that the Graves Mountain Festival of Music is the best bluegrass festival in our region. I put the word out on Facebook and Twitter and casually asked around among my friends to drum up support for a group to go together but no dice. I have friends who I can call on in an emergency, friends who will pray with me, friends who will drop everything and fly to London for dinner, but apparently no friends who are intere…

Book Review: The Liars’ Gospel

The Liars’ Gospel by Naomi Alderman is a “creative” retelling of life in Israel under Roman occupation and early on centers on Jesus. Alderman’s crafting of words is superb so it’s quite disappointing that she put her talent to work slandering a public figure in such an offensive manner. In the novel we are exposed to the viewpoints of Mary, Barabbas, and Judas as imagined by Alderman. I can get behind historical fiction wherein we take a real place or course of events to set the scene and slide in imaginary characters to build a plot. Likewise I enjoy a twist on a known public figure that shows another side of them that is faithful to their overall historical presence but adds a new dimension of storytelling. But I really have a problem with a convenient retelling that absolutely butchers the essence of a character we’ve come to know through history. Jesus punching his father in the face and the other nonsense that goes on in The Liars’ Gospel is disgusting and the character sketch o…

Book Review: Questions of Travel

I finished reading Questions of Travel by Michelle de Kretser this morning. Rarely have I been so eager to reach the end of a novel to get it over with. De Kretser exhausts over 500 pages attempting to make a profound statement about travel and I’d be lying if I said I understood what exactly she was trying to convey. It’s clear she also has something to say about the internet and the advance of technology but I can’t figure out that message either. To quote one of my favorite movie lines, “what we have here is a failure to communicate”. Questions of Travel introduces us to Laura and to Ravi, two characters who inhabit the same novel but never cross paths until near the end of the novel and even then have no real impact on each other’s lives. Laura’s story is rambling, dull, and rather depressing as it recounts her aimless days doing this, that, and nothing in between bits of travel and sleeping with almost any hard luck case or loser that comes along. Ravi’s story is the stronger of …