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September 30, 2012

Penne Alla Betsy (Pioneer Woman)


I've owned Ree Drummond's cookbook for almost three years and it's become one of my favorites. The step-by-step photos are not only mouth-watering, but helpful to both new and experienced cooks.

The summer before last, my granddaughter and I decided to try Drummond's recipe for Penne Alla Betsy. It was a huge hit and has become one of my favorite go-to meals.




The Pioneer Woman's Penne Alla Betsy


1 lb. penne pasta
1 lb. large shrimp, peeled and deveined
2 Tbsp. butter
2 Tbsp. olive oil
1 small onion, finely chopped
2 garlic cloves, finally chopped
1/2 cup dry white wine (optional)
1-14.5 oz. can tomato sauce
1 cup heavy cream
Milk for thinning
1/4 cup chopped flat-leaf parsley
6 basil leaves, cut in chiffonade (long thin strips)
Salt
Freshly ground black pepper


Bring a pot of lightly salted water to a boil. Cook the penne according to package directions, until al dente. Drain and set aside.

In a medium-sized skillet, melt 1 Tbsp. of butter and 1 Tbsp. of olive oil, over medium-high heat.

Add the shrimp. Stir and cook on both sides until the shrimp is just starting to turn opaque, about two minutes. Remove shrimp to a dish and allow to cool slightly.

In a large skillet over medium heat, add the remaining 1 Tbsp. butter and 1 Tbsp. olive oil. Add the chopped garlic and onion. Stir to combine and cook, stirring occasionally, until the onion is translucent, about 3 minutes. 

Stir in wine and allow it to evaporate, about a minute.





Add the tomato sauce to the skillet and stir to combine. Reduce the heat to low. 

Add the cream, followed by the cooked shrimp, stirring well to combine. 

Add the parsley and basil, followed by the cooked pasta. Stir gently to coat. If the sauce is too thick, add a little milk to thin.



Salt and pepper to taste.

Serve with crusty French bread and a tossed green salad.

Serves 4 to 6
 




Please visit Beth Fish Reads for 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.

September 29, 2012

Ready Player One



Ready Player One by Ernest Cline
Fiction
2011 Random House Audio
Reader: Wil Wheaton
Finished on 8/8/12
Rating: 4.5/5 (Terrific!)




The mystery and fantasy in this novel weaves itself in the most delightful way, and the details that make up Mr. Cline’s world are simply astounding. Ready Player One has it all—nostalgia, trivia, adventure, romance, heart, and I dare say it, some very fascinating social commentary. ~ Huffington Post


From the website:

At once wildly original and stuffed with irresistible nostalgia, READY PLAYER ONE is a spectacularly genre-busting, ambitious, and charming debut—part quest novel, part love story, and part virtual space opera set in a universe where spell-slinging mages battle giant Japanese robots, entire planets are inspired by Blade Runner, and flying DeLoreans achieve light speed.

It’s the year 2044, and the real world is an ugly place.


Like most of humanity, Wade Watts escapes his grim surroundings by spending his waking hours jacked into the OASIS, a sprawling virtual utopia that lets you be anything you want to be, a place where you can live and play and fall in love on any of ten thousand planets.


And like most of humanity, Wade dreams of being the one to discover the ultimate lottery ticket that lies concealed within this virtual world. For somewhere inside this giant networked playground, OASIS creator James Halliday has hidden a series of fiendish puzzles that will yield massive fortune—and remarkable power—to whoever can unlock them.


For years, millions have struggled fruitlessly to attain this prize, knowing only that Halliday’s riddles are based in the pop culture he loved—that of the late twentieth century. And for years, millions have found in this quest another means of escape, retreating into happy, obsessive study of Halliday’s icons. Like many of his contemporaries, Wade is as comfortable debating the finer points of John Hughes’s oeuvre, playing Pac-Man, or reciting Devo lyrics as he is scrounging power to run his OASIS rig.


And then Wade stumbles upon the first puzzle.


Suddenly the whole world is watching, and thousands of competitors join the hunt—among them certain powerful players who are willing to commit very real murder to beat Wade to this prize. Now the only way for Wade to survive and preserve everything he knows is to win. But to do so, he may have to leave behind his oh-so-perfect virtual existence and face up to life—and love—in the real world he’s always been so desperate to escape.


A world at stake.


A quest for the ultimate prize.


Are you ready?



In a word: Fun! Want another? Clever.

I am not a gamer. I didn’t grow up with a Magnavox Odyssey or an Atari 2600. I did, however, play Pong (created by Atari and located in bowling alleys across the U.S. in the late ‘70s), although I can’t say that it became an addiction. By the time Nintendo and Super Mario Brothers rolled around, I was a working parent with no time for such frivolities. Sega hit the shelves, followed by Sony’s PlayStation, Nintendo 64 and Xbox, but I was still clueless. I never got into Dungeons & Dragons or World of Warcraft. It wasn’t until we were visiting some friends that I learned about the Wii and was tempted to get one, but the small room size of our 1930s bungalow wouldn’t accommodate the latest in gaming technology.

So, why in the world would I be interested in this debut novel, let alone become its local cheerleader? One friend wrote: 
The book is fast paced and I would have loved it just for the adventure, but what took it to the next level for me were all the pop culture references. The creator of OASIS grew up in the 80s and was obsessed with it. So the players in the adventure have to immerse themselves in the films, books, TV, music and especially the computer and video games of my favorite decade. You can’t turn more then a page or two without coming across a line from or a reference to classics (?) like “Family Ties”, Monty Python, “Buckaroo Banzai”, Rush, Gundam, Robotron, or “Brazil”. If you are a gamer, a science fiction/fantasy fan, can recite the Castle Anthrax scene, or just love a great adventure, I highly recommend “Ready Player One”. (Lee's Bookshelf)

I kept hearing about the audiobook from other bloggers, but I think it was Trish’s review that finally pushed me to download the book from my library:
I was a bit leery of the sci-fi, cyberpunk thriller premise of the book and have heard many others say the same. This is a common phrase: "This book was not something I'd normally pick up." Or "This book was way out of my comfort zone." But...I've seen very few people dislike it, so really--what are you waiting for? Plus there will be a movie, so why wait...

Bottom Line: If you are remotely interested in cyberpunk, science fiction, 80s trivia, gaming, or fast-paced adventures, this one is worth every bit of the hype it has received. Though this isn't something I would normally ever pick up in book form, I really enjoyed the listening experience.

Yep. That would be me. I’m not a huge sci-fi fan, but I have enjoyed books (and movies) such as Logan’s Run, Blade Runner, The Stand, The Giver, I Am Legend, The Sparrow, Ender’s Game, The Hunger Games and Alas, Babylon. And, I was still (just barely!) a teenager in the 80s, so the pop culture references were great fun to come upon. Even the technological references (TRS 80, Commodore 64, floppy disks, etc.) were familiar, as I worked in the Electronic Publishing division of HBJ Publishers, back in the early 80s, and helped test their software on these dinosaurs. But the movies! Of course I’d seen Airplane, Back to the Future, Blade Runner, The Breakfast Club, Ghostbusters, Risky Business, Short Circuit, Sixteen Candles, Sneakers, The Terminator, War Games and Weird Sciences (to name just a few). And the music? Rush, Oingo Boingo, Wham!, Cindy Lauper, Billy Idol… well, yeah. But Cline doesn’t stop there. He gives a nod to 80s TV (Family Ties, Simon & Simon, Knight Rider), as well as literary references (Adams, King, Card, Bradbury, Tolkien, Gaiman, etc.). This book is loaded with references that any 80s geek would love.

An action-packed, highly entertaining, nostalgic thrill ride through the past combined with the danger and excitement of a not-too-distant future. It marries the fantastical world of Harry Potter with a touch of Orson Scott Card—where fantasy is reality, geeks are cook, and the possibilities are endless. ~ New York Journal of Books

I recommended this book to my husband, a family friend and several co-workers. Most of them agree with me that it’s a highly entertaining and imaginative novel. Three read the print version and my co-worker loved it, but my husband felt that the writing was subpar and the friend thought it was slow to start. I didn’t notice either of these with the audiobook, which, by the way, was outstanding! Wil Wheaton’s performance is one of the best I’ve listened to. I didn’t have any trouble getting or maintaining interest in the characters or the plot. It was such a compelling read, with perfect pacing and at times, hilarious dialogue (I loved the customer service scene so much, I had to share it with several friends who would enjoy it as much as I did), that I plan to seek out more books narrated by Wheaton.

This is Cline’s first novel and his screenwriting background is perhaps just a tad too obvious, but I was ok with that. As a matter of fact, I had no trouble visualizing any of the scenes and I hope someone makes this into a film became my constant mantra. Well, someone is. Let’s hope it doesn’t take as long as Ender’s Game or The Sparrow!

Final Thoughts: This may be better on audio than print, but I plan to revisit Wade’s world with the print version before the movie comes out. It’s an edge-of-your-seat, action-packed debut that you won’t want to miss. I look forward to more by Cline and would be completely thrilled with a sequel.


Visit Cline's website here and learn more about the book here.

Watch a video interview of Cline here and find more information about the film here.

September 26, 2012

Wordless Wednesday













Remember October 2009 
and wishing for just a little bit of moisture...


For more Wordless Wednesday photos,
 go here.




Click on photos for larger view.

September 24, 2012

Monday Mailbox



I'm very fortunate to receive a lot of ARCs at work, so in an effort to keep my stacks under control (and in an attempt to read some of the older books that have been languishing on my shelves for years!), I'm more hesitant to accept publisher requests for review copies. But, of course, when it comes to a favorite author, I can't resist! I loved The School of Essential Ingredients (as well as Joy for Beginners), so it was a wonderful treat to find this gem in my mailbox last Friday afternoon! Thanks so much, Erica! I can't wait to return to the Pacific Northwest and Lillian's restaurant.



The Lost Art of Mixing by Erica Bauermeister
Publication Date: January 24, 2013


From the publisher: 

In this luminous sequel, return to the enchanting world of the national bestseller The School of Essential Ingredients.

Lillian and her restaurant have a way of drawing people together. There's Al, the accountant who finds meaning in numbers and ritual; Chloe, a budding chef who hasn't learned to trust after heartbreak; Finnegan, quiet and steady as a tree, who can disappear into the background despite his massive height; Louise, Al's wife, whose anger simmers just below the boiling point; and Isabelle, whose memories are slowly slipping from her grasp. And there's Lillian herself, whose life has taken a turn she didn't expect...

Their lives collide and mix with those around them, sometimes joining in effortless connections, at other times sifting together and separating again, creating a family that is chosen, not given. A beautifully imagined novel about the ties that bind—and links that break—The Lost Art of Mixing is a captivating mediation on the power of love, food, and companionship.


"Erica Bauermeister mixes gorgeous prose, luscious detail, and heartfelt characters—new friends and old—to reveal just how colorful and warm life in the rainy Pacific Northwest can be."
~ Laurie Frankel, author of Goodbye for Now.

You can find my review for The School of Essential Ingredients and Joy for Beginners here and here. Please visit Erica's website for more information regarding her books, schedule of events, recipes, and favorite reads.


Welcome to Mailbox Monday, a meme started by Marcia and hosted this month by Kristen of BookNAround.

September 22, 2012

Trisha Yearwood's Strawberry Salad



We eat a lot of salads around here, so when I discovered this recipe as I was flipping through one of my favorite cookbooks, I knew it would be a great addition to our weekly menus. It's super easy to put together and has been a big hit with our friends and family.




Strawberry Salad

1 package ramen noodles, crushed, flavor packet discarded
1/4 cup sunflower seeds
1/4 cup sliced almonds
1/4 cup (1/2 stick) butter, melted
1 head romaine lettuce, washed and dried
1 5-ounce bag baby spinach
1 pint strawberries, hulled and thinly sliced
1 cup grated Parmesan cheese

3/4 cup sugar
1/2 cup red wine vinegar
2 garlic cloves, minced
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon paprika
3/4 cup vegetable oil

Preheat oven to 350°F.

In a small bowl, mix the ramen noodles, sunflower seeds, almonds and melted butter. Transfer to a baking sheet and toast in the oven, stirring occasionally, until browned, about 10 minutes. Remove from the oven and set aside to cool.

Tear the lettuce and combine with the spinach, strawberries and Parmesan cheese in a large salad bowl.

Dissolve the sugar in the vinegar. Combine the garlic, salt, paprika and oil. Add to the sugar-vinegar mixture. Mix well and store in the refrigerator until ready to serve.



Just before serving, sprinkle the crunchy topping over the salad greens and toss the salad with enough dressing to coat the greens.

Serves 4 to 6

My Notes: Any lettuce combination will work and 1-2 tablespoons of poppy seeds make a nice addition to the dressing. I've also included sliced cucumbers, radishes, tomatoes and avocados in the salad. Add some chunks of roast chicken and you've got a meal. Oh, and there's plenty of crunchy topping for a couple of large salads (as long as you hide it from your family!).

I'm trying to convince myself that the healthy nuts, spinach and berries outweigh the unhealthy butter, oil and sugar. So far, that's working. ;) 



Please visit Beth Fish Reads for 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.

September 17, 2012

Love Anthony


Love Anthony by Lisa Genova 
Fiction
2012 Gallery Books
Finished 8/12/12
Rating: 4.75/5 (Terrific!)

Available September 25th





Publisher’s Blurb:

With more than one million copies of her New York Times bestselling novels in print, Lisa Genova has captured a unique place in contemporary literary fiction, writing stories that are equally inspired by neuroscience and the human spirit.

Olivia Donatelli’s dream of a “normal” life shattered when her son, Anthony, was diagnosed with autism at age three. Understanding the world from his perspective felt bewildering, nearly impossible. He didn’t speak. He hated to be touched. He almost never made eye contact. And just as Olivia was starting to realize that happiness and autism could coexist, Anthony died.

Now she’s alone in a cottage on Nantucket, separated from her husband, desperate to understand the meaning of her son’s short life, when a chance encounter with another woman facing irreparable loss brings Anthony alive again for Olivia in a most unexpected way. In a piercing story about motherhood, autism, and love, Lisa Genova offers us two unforgettable women on the verge of change who discover the small but exuberant voice that helps them both find the answers they need.

Next Tuesday, Lisa Genova’s third novel, Love Anthony, will hit the shelves in bookstores across the country. Fans of her immensely popular Still Alice and Left Neglected are in for another remarkable story. I was fortunate to receive a copy of Love Anthony early this summer, but resisted the temptation to drop what I was reading and begin Genova’s latest book. Choosing to postpone reading until I could do so without interruption or distraction, I held off until after my granddaughter’s visit and the completion of my current read. I also decided to wait until closer to the release date, so my impressions would be fresh in my mind when it came time to compose this review. That shouldn’t have been a concern, as this novel, about a mother’s love and heartbreak for her autistic son, is one I won’t forget for a long time.

It is always with great trepidation that I begin a new novel by a beloved author. On one hand, I am excited to return to a favorite author’s style and prose, knowing her previous works have been among some of the best books I’ve ever read. On the other hand, I’m nervous and a tiny bit concerned that the new book won’t live up to its predecessors and I’ll be forced to write a less-than-glowing review. Unlike recent disappointments by a couple of my favorite authors, I can assure you that this is not the case for Lisa Genova’s new novel, Love Anthony. Once again, Genova, a neuroscientist (with a doctorate from Harvard), educates her readers about another brain condition, much as she did with Still Alice (Alzheimer’s) and Left Neglected (Hemispatial neglect, aka “left neglect” syndrome). Other than what I’ve seen in the news or a reference here or there in article I might have read, I basically know nothing specific about autism. Nobody in my family is autistic and none of my friends have an autistic child, so it was enlightening to read Genova’s story, knowing that the descriptions and details of Anthony’s condition would be based on her professional knowledge in the study of the brain.

As with most exceptional books I read, I have many pages marked with Post-It flags. I don’t wish to spoil the narrative, so I’ll limit my examples to just a few.

On hope:
Applied-behavioral-analysis therapy, speech therapy, Floortime, sensory integration, metal chelation, gluten-free diets, casein-free diets, B12 shots. Pediatricians, neurologists, gastroenterologists, occupational therapists, physical therapists, energy healers. From the mainstream to the alternative to the practically voodoo, Olivia doesn’t remember much of any of it being covered by their health insurance. David worked more and more hours. They refinanced the houses. They emptied their IRA nest eggs. Because how could they retire with money in the bank and a son with autism, knowing that there was a therapy out there that might’ve helped him but they didn’t try because it was too expensive.

On communication (or lack thereof):
My life right now is all about communication, or rather, the lack of it. I spend all my waking hours demanding communication from Anthony. Anthony, say JUICE. JUICE. JUUUUICE. Say the word. Tell me what you want. Say I WANT JUICE. Say SWING. Say I WANT TO GO OUTSIDE AND SWING ON THE SWING. Please. Look at me, Anthony, and tell me what you want. Tell me what you’re feeling. Tell me why you’re screaming. I can usually tell if it’s happy-excited screaming or frustrated-panicked screaming, but right now, I’m too tired, and I can’t figure it out. Why are you screaming? How can I help you if you won’t tell me what you want?

I can’t begin to imagine the overwhelming challenge of raising a child with autism, but through Genova’s prose, I not only see that life through a mother’s eyes, but I get a glimpse through the child’s eyes, as well. Genova masterfully depicts the thoughts and impressions of Anthony, capturing his “voice” with such credibility that, like Still Alice, I had to remind myself that the book is a work of fiction.
I’m always hearing about how my brain doesn’t work right. They say my brain is broken. My mother cries about my broken brain, and she and my father fight about my broken brain, and people come to my house every day to try to fix my broken brain. But it doesn’t feel broken to me. I think they’re wrong about my brain.

It doesn’t feel like my knee when I fall outside in the driveway and break the skin, and the broken skin bleeds and hurts and sometimes turns pink and white or blue and purple. When I fall and break my skin, it hurts and I cry, and my mother sticks a Barney Band-Aid on my broken skin. Sometimes the Barney Band-Aid loses its sticky in the tub and comes off, and the skin is still pink and broken, and I’ll get another Barney Band-Aid. But after a few tubs, the Barney Band-Aid will come off, and the broken skin will be fixed.

My brain doesn’t hurt, and my brain doesn’t bleed. My brain doesn’t need a Barney Band-Aid.

And

My brain is made up of different rooms. Each room is doing a different thing. For example, I have an Eyes Room for seeing thing and an Ears Room for hearing things. I have a Hands Room, a Memory Room (it’s like my father’s office, full of drawers and folders and boxes with papers), a New Things Room, a Numbers Room (my favorite), and a Horror Room (I wish this room would be broken, but it works just fine).

The rooms don’t touch each other. There are long, looping hallways in between each room. If I’m thinking about something that happened yesterday (like when I knocked over the white coffee mug), I’m in my Memory Room. But if I want to watch a Barney video on the TV, I have to leave the Memory Room and go into Eyes and sometimes Ears.

Sometimes when I’m in the hallways traveling to a different room, I get lost and confused and caught In Between and feel like I’m nowhere. This is when my brain feels like maybe it’s a little broken, but I know I just have to find my way into one of the rooms and shut the door.

But if too much is happening at once, I can get into trouble. If I’m counting the square tiles on the kitchen floor (180), I’m in my Numbers Room, but if my mother starts talking to me, I have to go into my Ears Room to hear her. But I want to stay in Numbers because I’m counting, and I like to count, but my mother keeps talking, and her sound is getting louder, and I feel pressure to leave Numbers and go inside my Ears Room. So I go into the hallway, but then she grabs my hand, and this surprises me and forces me into Hands, which isn’t where I wanted to go, and she’s talking to me but I can’t hear what she’s saying because I’m in my Hands Room and not in Ears.

And

The sound of my own voice screaming is the only thing that can rid of everything else.

My voice makes screams and sounds but not words. But this isn’t a broken room inside my brain. I talk to myself with words inside my brain just fine. I think I might have broken lips or a broken tongue or a broken throat. I wish I could tell my mother and father that my voice is broken but my brain is working, but I can’t tell them because my voice is broken. I wish they’d figure it out on their own.

Not since Emma Donoghue’s “Jack” (Room) have I encountered a child’s voice so utterly genuine and heartbreakingly tender. Not only does the author put a face on autism, she shows her readers how “normal” an autistic child feels, in spite of his limitations.

Final Thoughts: Genova has written another winner! I loved her compassion for both women, but mostly I loved Anthony. While some readers may have trouble with the (perhaps literally) incredible coincidences that occur in this novel, I was willing and able to suspend my disbelief, not only appreciating Genova’s intelligent depiction of a child with autism, but also the love between family and friends. And now, once again, I can’t wait to see what she comes up with next time around! Kudos, Lisa! I loved it.

Go here for my review for Still Alice and here for Left Neglected.

Go here to learn more about Autism.


September 16, 2012

Linda's Greek Chicken Pasta


I got this delicious recipe from a good friend who just threw it all together on a whim one evening. It's become a favorite of Rod's and mine. Last summer my granddaughter helped me make it for dinner. It's quick and easy, and the leftovers make for a yummy lunch.



1 pkg. of boneless, skinless chicken breasts
Greek Feta salad dressing
¼ cup of olive oil
3 minced cloves of garlic
½ each zucchini and yellow squash

2 tomatoes, chopped
8 oz. button mushrooms, sliced
1 Tbsp. Italian herbs
8 oz (half a box) of bowtie (Farfalle) pasta
Parmesan cheese
Feta cheese (I used Basil & Sundried Tomato Feta Cheese), cut into cubes or crumbled
Sliced black olives

Marinated artichoke hearts
Salt and pepper



Marinate chicken breasts in Greek Feta (or Italian) salad dressing for 20-30 minutes. Grill over medium-high heat for approximately 6 minutes per side. Remove chicken from grill, allowing it to rest for a few minutes before cutting into large chunks.


While the chicken is cooking, start the water for the pasta. Cook pasta according to the manufacturer’s directions.

Meanwhile, heat 1/4 cup olive oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add zucchini, squash and mushrooms and sprinkle with 1 tablespoon of Italian herb seasonings. Cook until vegetables are just tender. Add tomatoes and diced feta cheese, but not until a few minutes before serving so they don’t overcook.



When the pasta is finished cooking, drain and add to the vegetables in the skillet. Add the cut-up chicken, sliced black olives, and artichoke hearts.

Season with salt and pepper, if desired.

Garnish with freshly grated Parmesan cheese and serve with crusty French bread.

The quantity of all the ingredients can be increased or decreased depending on how many servings you need. This is one of those dishes that doesn't require exact measurements. Also, I like to bring the feta to room temp, so it doesn't take too long to heat through when I add it to the skillet with the tomatoes.


Please visit Beth Fish Reads for 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.

September 14, 2012

Audiobook Slump Over!


Finally! Ever since I finished Ready Player One (one month ago -- yes, I'm behind with my reviews), I haven't been able to settle into a new audiobook. I've tried all of these:

A Dog's Journey by W. Bruce Cameron

Blue Nights by Joan Didion

Calico Joe by John Grisham

Elegy for Eddie by Jacqueline Winspear

My Name is Mary Sutter by Robin Oliveira

The Beginner's Goodbye by Anne Tyler

The Sandcastle Girls by Chris Bohjalian

I'm not just talking about listening for a few minutes or a couple of hours. I've listened to most of these for at least a couple of days! It's been very frustrating to not be able to get engrossed in a good audiobook, especially since this has been a banner year for me. I've listened to so many wonderful books so far (15!), and find that I'm a bit lost when I don't have one to listen to while I drive to and from work, while working around the house, or in those first two hours at the store before we open.

So what has pulled me out of this slump, you ask?

The Passage by Justin Cronin!!! Oh. My. Gosh! This is so good!! (Yes, I just used a ridiculous number of exclamation points!!)

I have the printed version of Cronin's novel in my stacks, and I'm sure I'll refer to it to mark a page here and there, but the audio is exceeding my expectations. As with another fantastic audio production (The Help by Kathryn Stockett), there are three readers for this novel: Scott Brick, Adenrele Ojo and Abby Craden. I've only listened to the first twelve chapters, but the suspense is amazing. Cronin is proving to be a marvelous storyteller and I find I have to remind myself that this is not a Stephen King novel. However, King is most certainly a fan:


"Every so often a novel-reader's novel comes along: an enthralling, entertaining story wedded to simple, supple prose, both informed by tremendous imagination. Summer is the perfect time for such books, and this year readers can enjoy the gift of Justin Cronin's The Passage. Read fifteen pages and you will find yourself captivated; read thirty and you will find yourself taken prisoner and reading late into the night. It has the vividness that only epic works of fantasy and imagination can achieve. What else can I say? This: read this book and the ordinary world disappears."--Stephen King
I made sure to download the unabridged version. All 36 hours and 49 minutes of storytelling. 

I have a feeling it won't be long enough. 

Not to worry.

This is a trilogy.

The Twelve is due out on October 16th. 

With regards to the list of my earlier attempts, are there any that I should try again? Any winners in the bunch?

September 12, 2012

Wordless Wednesday

Rain!!!!!!!!




For more Wordless Wednesday photos,
 go here.
Click on photos for larger view.

September 11, 2012

R.I.P. VII


It's been several years since I participated in Carl's R.eaders I.mbibing P.eril (aka RIP) challenge. I was dumbstruck when I saw the first posts about this year's challenge. Has it really been 7 years since this all began? Really? Bravo, Carl!! And thanks for the nudge to join in on all the fun, even at this late date.



Knowing full well that I tend to make huge lists and fail miserably, I'm going to aim for a more reasonable goal here. Two books. Yep. Just two. The first is quite a chunkster, but I'm listening to it on audio, so maybe it will go quickly. It's certainly got my attention and I'm constantly looking for an excuse to listen.


The second will be for Heather and Andi's readalong, which I hope to start as soon as I finish The Passage. I'm already late to the party for that discussion, but I still want to read it.




Looking back, I see that I only participated in two RIP challenges. I'm not sure how that happened, as this is such a great chance to read some creepy books. One of my favorites selections, Joe Hill's Heart-Shaped Box, was discovered during the RIP II (five years ago!). And then there was The Brief History of the Dead, back in 2008 for the RIP III. I'm not very far into The Passage, but I already have a strong feeling that my choices for this year's event will become favorites, as well.

And now to publish this post before I decide to search for more books in my stacks to add to my list. Books like Something Wicked This Way Comes byRay Bradbury or The Woman in White by Wilkie Collins (both of which were of both lists for my previous challenges!).

September 9, 2012

Oven-Puffed Pancake with Berries


I discovered this tantalizing recipe over at Two Tarts (a marvelous blog with creative recipes and gorgeous photographs) earlier this spring. I quickly pinned it to my Kiss the Cook board over at Pinterest and promptly forgot all about it. That is, until my favorite (and only) granddaughter came to visit last month. If you've seen the recent photos from her visit, you know that we spent quite a bit of time in the kitchen, as she loves to cook just as much as I do. When I showed her Dulcie and Sarah's recipe, she quickly said, "Nanny, we have to make that today!" Since we already had the fresh berries, and the remaining ingredients are staples of my pantry and refrigerator, it was a no-brainer.

Two Tarts says:
I'm all for pancakes in the morning, but I am not a fan of standing at the stovetop endlessly pouring and flipping. The oven-puffed pancake (a.k.a., Dutch baby, Dutch pancake, German pancake) is the solution. Pour it in, bake it, and you are ready to go in a flash. Plus, with the dramatic puff as it emerges from the oven -- and then the warm custardy center -- this pancake has a whole lot more pizzazz than the usual flapjack.

This is such a quick and easy recipe! Perfect for a budding chef to tackle by herself.









Oven-Puffed Pancake with Berries

From Hay Day Country Market Cookbook
 
  • 3 tbs unsalted butter
  • 3/4 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 3 eggs
  • 1 cup milk
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • 1 cup blueberries, raspberries, or blackberries (or combination), fresh or frozen
  • powdered sugar, for sprinkling

1. Preheat the oven to 450 F. Place the butter in a 10-in oven-proof skillet (preferably cast iron), and place it in the oven.

2. Combine the flour and salt in a large mixing bowl. In another bowl, whisk together eggs, milk, and vanilla. Add this to the dry ingredients, and whisk until combined and smooth.


3. Wearing an oven mitt, remove the hot skillet from the oven (the butter should be bubbling), and pour in the batter all at once. Sprinkle the berries evenly over the top, and return the skillet to the oven. Bake until the pancake is nicely browned and puffed around the edges, 12 to 15 minutes.
 

4. Remove the pancake from the oven (don't forget that oven mitt!). Carefully transfer to a serving platter, and sprinkle with powdered sugar.

And the verdict?



Be sure to check out Two Tarts here. I'm planning to try their Ricotta Pancakes with Blueberries later this week, as fall temps have me craving breakfast for dinner!

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September 8, 2012

Paris in Love



Paris in Love by Eloisa James
Nonfiction – Memoir
2012 Random House
Finished on 8/4/12
Rating: 4.5/5 (Terrific!)
Paris in July Challenge #2




 
This morning the snow was coming down fast in rue du Conservatoire, slanting sideways and turning the gray slate roofs the color of milk. I leaned against my study window, idly thinking about how passionately children love snow, when I realized that I was peering down at a group of Parisian women in the street below, engaged in the rapid-fire kissing of a wintry hello. Growing up on the farm, we’d braved snowstorms in puffy coats; these women wore dark coats belted tightly around their slim waists. As they bent toward each other, pecking like manic sparrows, their scarves flashed magenta, lavender, dull gold. From my vantage point, far above them, they looked like inhabitants of a different world.

Publisher’s Blurb:

In 2009, New York Times bestselling author Eloisa James took a leap that many people dream about: she sold her house, took a sabbatical from her job as a Shakespeare professor, and moved her family to Paris. Paris in Love: A Memoir chronicles her joyful year in one of the most beautiful cities in the world.

With no classes to teach, no committee meetings to attend, no lawn to mow or cars to park, Eloisa revels in the ordinary pleasures of life—discovering corner museums that tourist overlook, chronicling Frenchwomen’s sartorial triumphs, walking from one end of Paris to another. She copes with her Italian husband’s notions of quality time; her two hilarious children, ages eleven and fifteen, as they navigate schools—not to mention puberty—in a foreign language; and her mother-in-law Marina’s raised eyebrow in the kitchen (even as Marina overfeeds Milo, the family dog).

Paris in Love invites the reader into the life of a most enchanting family, framed by la ville de l’amour.



 
Paris in Love is a charming, honest read filled with both touching vignettes (her chapter on grief and Kate Braestrup’s memoir, Here If You Need Me*, tugged at my heartstrings) and laugh-out-loud tales of life in Paris. I love the way this book is organized. Some anecdotes are shared in two- or three-page “chapters” and others are a single paragraph. This is perfect for those like me who can barely keep their eyes open for more than 15 minutes while reading in bed. I would love to include each and every passage I marked with (24!!) Post-It flags, but that would spoil the fun of discovering your own favorites. Here are just a few:

Parlez-Vous Francais?

I walk through the streets and enjoy listening to wild chatter in French with the same level of understanding that one has hearing a row of sparrows crowded on a telephone line. Are these people really talking, or are they just singing to each other? They look far too elegant and sophisticated to be uttering the half-assed things people say to each other in New York.
On Books:

Anna spent last evening rearranging her room. She’s divided her shelves into “books with girls in them,” “books in which bad stuff happens” (mostly fairy tales), and “books for every day” (Junie B. and Enid Blyton). I took a look at my bookshelves. I have “books with happy endings” and “books telling me how to be happy.”
and

Anna had a tough time at school today with Beatrice’s gang of mean girls, who took possession of the mats during gymnastics class and demanded a password (which, of course, they wouldn’t share). On the way home, we talked about friends and how complicated they are, and then on the Metro Anna grinned and said, “I have a friend,” holding up the fifth Harry Potter book. I remember those days very well. I had friends too: Anne of Green Gables, Dorothy Gale and Toto, Nancy Drew.
And then, of course, there’s the food. Oh, the food! Like Julia Child in Julie & Julia, Eloisa loves her French food.

Between six thirty and seven o’clock in the evening, every other person on the street swings a long baguette partially wrapped in white paper. Suddenly, the world is full of crusty bread.
and

We discovered yesterday that our beloved covered market, not to mention the local fishmonger and butcher, is closed on Monday, which left our cupboard bare. For lunch I had a hunk of an excellent Camembert, with a boiled potato sprinkled with coarse sea salt, followed by a leftover apricot tart. Life is good.
and

There is a bakery down the street from Anna’s school, on avenue de Villars, where there is always a line. They specialize in little fruit tarts. The most beautiful one has figs sliced so thin as to be translucent, then dusted in sugar. Luca’s favorite looks like a tiny version of the Alps: small strawberries, each one sitting upright and capped in a drop of white chocolate. My personal favorite has sliced apricots arranged in overlapping patterns, like crop circles in an English field.
On poetry:
When I went to college I stopped memorizing poetry, thinking that I would pick it up when I had more time. But as I lay in the dark thinking about how soup foamed into soap, it occurred to me that I may not have world enough and time to memorize the rest of even a very small canon. My grandmother was diagnosed with dementia, and was silent the last decade of her life; my father, my darling father [Robert Bly] of a thousand poems and more, has taken to watching leaves fall from their trees. Rather than knit those leaves into words, he simply allows them to fall. It’s a cruel fate: to watch without recounting the fall of the leaf; to grieve without creating anew; to age without describing it.

In the last year, as I’ve watched him struggle with the way age is stealing his words, it occurred to me that I should memorize some more poetry, as ballast against my possible inheritance of that good, wordless night. Here, in its entirety, is the poem with which I resumed my memorization: W. H. Auden’s “Their Lonely Betters.”
As I listened from a beach-chair in the shade
To all the noises that my garden made,
It seemed to me only proper that words
Should be withheld from vegetables and birds.

A robin with no Christian name ran through
The Robin-Anthem which was all it knew,
And rustling flowers for some third party waited
To say which pairs, if any, should get mated.

Not one of them was capable of lying.
There was not one which knew that it was dying
Or could have with a rhythm or a rhyme
Assumed responsibility for time.

Let them leave language to their lonely betters
Who count some days and long for certain letters;
We, too, make noises when we laugh or weep:
Words are for those with promises to keep.


I enjoyed Eloisa’s writing so much that I decided to check out some of her romance novels, but after a few cursory glances, I decided to pass and await her next memoir. I do hope there’s another. Or maybe a novel. I’m not really into the bodice-ripper type stories.

Final Thoughts: I’ve never been to Paris, or anywhere in France, for that matter. Ms. James’ memoir has me longing to visit (maybe even more so than Italy) and I think it would be a great reference guide for my first trip to Paris--hopefully, before I turn 55!

And, a comment from my husband: 
Boy, she's a very good writer! "It’s a cruel fate: to watch without recounting the fall of the leaf; to grieve without creating anew; to age without describing it."
Yep. I'd have to agree!




Go here to read more about Eloisa James (Mary Bly). Her website can be found here.

*Click here to read my review for Braestrup's memoir.