20 August 2019

Today's Read: Carnegie Hill by Jonathan Vatner

review of Carnegie Hill by Jonathan VatnerWhat would you do if you finally realized that just because you didn't have to work or be productive, you actually needed some direction in life? That's one reason 33-year-old Pepper decided to join the co-op board of her new building, after she and her fiance move into together.

Here's how Pepper's story begins:

Unsure of the proper attire for a co-op board meeting, Pepper decided to err on the side of stuffiness. She settled on a heather-gray skirt-suit with matching cloche, a raw-silk blouse, nude hose and heels, and a three-carat diamond choker that Rick at given her the past Valentine's Day, two months after they met. He was possibly the most successful asset manager under forty in New York, and he loved to spend money on her. She didn't need it, but she also didn't mind it.
Carnegie Hill by Jonathan Vatner (Thomas Dunne, Aug. 20, p. 3, advanced reader copy)

Quick Facts
  • Setting: New York's Upper East Side
  • Circumstances: Pepper Bradford hasn't wanted for anything, except maybe a life path. When she moves into an Upper East Side apartment with her hot-shot financier boyfriend, Rick, she soon discovers they're by far the youngest residents. With nothing better to do, Pepper decides to join the co-op board, thinking of it as a way to meet her neighbors and get a step up on adulting before her wedding. She sees the older couples as possible role models for her life with Rick, until she discovers that outward appearances aren't always a mirror of the truth. In this coming-of-age story, Pepper finds a surprising (to her) example of a good relationship and must face the hard facts and possibilities (or not) of her own new marriage.
  • Genre & themes: contemporary fiction, women's fiction; relationships, marriage, life inside a hoity-toity apartment building, generation gap, LBGTQ+
  • Why I want to read it: Sounds like an easy summer read that hits on a few deeper themes. Reviewers have mentioned the fun and charm of this debut novel.
  • Extra things to know: Vatner is an award-winning journalist. Booklist gave Carnegie Hill a starred review. Town & Country says it's a must-read. Goodreads gives the book a 3.5 rating.
  • Acknowledgments: Thanks to St. Martin's Press for the review copy of Jonathan Vatner's Carnegie Hill.

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17 August 2019

Weekend Cooking: Musings

Weekend Cooking: random thoughts I'm pretty sure you're not supposed to start your blog posts off with an apology, but that's what I'm doing today. I was slammed with work this week, and although I cooked (from scratch) each night, I don't have much left in me to write a thrilling Weekend Cooking post. *shrug*

By the way, this is my 504th Weekend Cooking post. It's not 504 weeks in a row, though, because Deb from Kahakai Kitchen hosted for me last August when I was out of the country. Still . . . that's almost 10 years of hosting!

Enough digression. Almost three years ago, I wrote about Beth Moncel's Budget Bytes cookbook and blog. At the time I was lamenting how much money Mr. BFR and I spend on food each week. I truly don't know how families manage, and I feel bad for anyone who has teenage boys.

Earlier this summer, I was going through my cookbooks and spotted Budget Bytes on my shelves. I revisited Moncel's website, still liked what I saw, and signed up for her email newsletter. Two of our dinners came from the cookbook this week: a zucchini pasta bake and a chicken and potatoes sheet pan supper. Both were delicious, inexpensive, and really easy to throw together after a long day of editing. I recommend the site and the book for both vegetarians and meat eaters.

Summer applesMy cooking plans for this weekend include making my first batch of tomato sauce for the freezer and a batch of peach chutney. I don't have a particular sauce recipe -- I just cook down the tomatoes with herbs, garlic, and onions until the sauce is thick and then I use the immersion blender to smooth it out. Sometimes I add vegetables or hot peppers.

My chutney recipe is here. It's still too early for the prune plums, which makes my all-time favorite chutney, but I use the same recipe for peaches and nectarines. Currently, we're eating the summer apples out of hand, but later in the fall I'll make and freeze applesauce.

Do you preserve the summer harvest? I used to can all kinds of sauces, jams, and vegetables, but now I rely on my freezer and concentrate on sauce, tomato jam, chutney, and applesauce. I guess I got lazy in my old age. Or maybe it's because we no longer have a vegetable garden.

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Weekend Cooking hosted by www.BethFishReads.comWeekend Cooking is open to anyone who has any kind of food-related post to share: Book reviews (novel, nonfiction), cookbook reviews, movie reviews, recipes, random thoughts, gadgets, quotations, photographs, restaurant reviews, travel information, or fun food facts. If your post is even vaguely foodie, feel free to grab the button and link up anytime over the weekend. You do not have to post on the weekend. Please link to your specific post, not your blog's home page.

NOTE: Mr. Linky sometimes is mean and will give you an error message. He's usually wrong and your link went through just fine the first time. Grrrr.
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14 August 2019

Wordless Wednesday 539

August Flower, 2019


Click image to enlarge. For more Wordless Wednesday, click here.

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12 August 2019

Stacked-Up Book Thoughts: Fiction and Nonfiction to Read Right Now

3 short book reviews for August 2019Good morning! I hope your week is already off to a good start. I love the cooler temperatures and blue skies of late, even though I'm in a work crunch until after Labor Day and can't get outside much.

The county fair is starting soon, and I'm looking forward to seeing the exhibits (quilts, photography, farm products) and animals (including the horse show). The best part, though, is eating our way through the fair. All the really bad for you but so, so delicious food. We never miss the fair.

As far as reading, I realized the other day that I totally failed on my goal of reading a short story every week this year. Thus I'm not quite sure why I'm starting a new goal, but here goes. I was going through my bookshelves and book piles and saw so many books I really, really wanted to read but never got to. My new goal is to try to read at least two books a month from my personal back list -- whether it's a print book, a digital book, or an audiobook.

Do you also get drawn in by the new and shiny? I hope I'm not alone.

review of Marilou Is Everywhere by Sara Elaine SmithMarilou Is Everywhere by Sara Elaine Smith (Riverhead, July 30). I was attracted to this book because it takes place in Pennsylvania and features socioeconomic issues that are often overlooked in contemporary fiction. Cindy and her older brothers are on their own after their mother abandons them (yet again), leaving no word of her whereabouts. The family didn't have much to begin with, but now food is scarce and the electricity is turned off. When her brother Virgil's girlfriend fails to return after a girls' camping weekend, everyone assumes she simply ran away, leaving behind her half-crazy, alcoholic mother (Bernadette) and rural, nowhere town. Cindy gets her first glance at another kind of life, when she starts to look after the wealthy Bernadette. Soon Cindy begins to feel more at home at the big house--enjoying hot baths, fancy foods, good music, and a full home library--than she does around her brothers. At 14, though, Cindy's choices are self-serving, and she eventually must face the consequences of her behavior. Marilou Is Everywhere is about a young girl who is ultimately forced to do the right thing and the surprising things she learns about herself, her family, and the possibilities of the world. If you like coming-age-stories, you'll like this. The unabridged audiobook (Penguin Audio; 6 hr, 45 min) is wonderfully read by Kristen Sieh, a new-to-me narrator. Her expressive delivery nicely captures all of Cindy's moods, from her dreams to her fears to her everyday getting on with a hard life. (digital and audiobook editions provided by the publisher)

Review of The Lager Queen of Minnesota by J. Ryan Stradal The Lager Queen of Minnesota by J. Ryan Stradal (Pamela Dorman; July 23). I don't what I expected when I started this story of two Minnesota sisters who stopped speaking to each other when their widowed father left his entire farm to Helen (the younger), who sold the land to fund her dream of starting a brewery. Helen and her husband grew rich producing light beer in the typical American style, though the company has a hard go of it in the new millennium, as the big producers merge, as the economy sags, and as the craft beer movement takes hold. Edith (the elder) struggled all her life, along with her husband, to make ends meet and raise their children. Edith finds a little success when the pies she bakes for a nursing home win statewide acclaim. However, after her husband dies, and then her daughter, she struggles once again to feed and raise her orphaned granddaughter, Diana. Thanks to the generosity and faith of an IPA brewer, Diana is saved from a juvenile criminal record and discovers her true passion and talent. The story is about how the three women carve out a place for themselves, find redemption and hope, and stay true to their very different natures. Despite the heavy-sounding themes of loss, grief, ambition, and betrayals, The Lager Queen of Minnesota is, ultimately a charming and engaging novel with believable characters whom you want to help and root for. I highly recommend it, even if you aren't a beer lover or a pie eater. The unabridged audiobook (Penguin Audio; 11 hr, 13 min) was read by Judith Ivey, whose performance is terrific. I loved her characterizations and subtle Minnesota accent. (digital copy provided by the publisher; audiobook provided for a freelance review)

Review of The Ghosts of Eden Park: The Bootleg King, the Women Who Pursued Him, and the Murder That Shocked Jazz-Age America by Karen AbbottThe Ghosts of Eden Park: The Bootleg King, the Women Who Pursued Him, and the Murder That Shocked Jazz-Age America by Karen Abbott (Crown; Aug. 6). Jazz Age, bootlegging, and true crime? Yes, please. Abbott's newest nonfiction account is primarily set in southern Ohio and begins with the Volstead Act and how George Remus, a one-time lawyer, positioned himself to be one of the major dealers in the whiskey trade, making millions selling booze all over America to day laborers, famous politicians, and everyone in between. The story of Remus and his double-crossing wife goes well beyond a single marriage. Their story (and that of the Prohibition Era in general) had far-reaching effects on the U.S. attorney general's office, government agents, law enforcement, criminal justice, plea bargains, and criminal defense. I was surprised to learn that much of what happened to Remus foreshadowed the fates of more famous Prohibition mobsters of later years. The Ghosts of Eden Park introduces us to a host of real-life characters, including U.S. Assistant Attorney General Mabel Walker Willebrandt, the highest-ranking woman in the federal government at the time; a young J. Edgar Hoover; and several presidents and their families. Abbott's sense of drama, accessible writing style, and natural storytelling ability brings this well-researched account of Remus's rise and fall to life. I read this book practically in one go.  As a side note: I had a great-uncle who served in Leavenworth for rum running. I got a small thrill when I read that Remus had runners from Toledo. I wonder if my great-uncle (who, I'm told, drove a yellow Cadillac convertible in the early 1920s) was one of Remus's boys. (copy provided by the author)

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10 August 2019

Weekend Cooking: What We Ate Last Week

Review of Skinnytaste Sheet Pan Pork TenderloinWhen working on my meal plan last weekend, I was feeling totally uninspired, but finally came up with a two-pronged approach. I wanted to cook with seasonal vegetables I could get at the farmer's market, and I decided to stick with trusted recipe sources.

First up was from Skinnytaste One and Done (personal collection). I made the Garlic-Dijon Roasted Pork Tenderloin with Potatoes and Green Beans. The scan of the finished dish is from the book. The pork, green beans, garlic, and potatoes were all sourced locally, and the rosemary came from my own plantings. The only thing I did differently was to add in some cabbage (also locally grown), which I wanted to use up.

I didn't find the recipe on the Skinnytaste website, but this is basically a sheet-pan super. You coat the pork in a sauce made with mustard, lemon, garlic, olive oil, and rosemary. You toss the potatoes and beans in oil, rosemary, and garlic. Salt and pepper all to taste. The veggies are given a head start in oven (at 425F) and the tenderloin is added after about a half hour. Roast until everything is cooked, slice the pork, and serve. I made a simple cucumber and tomato salad to serve on the side.

Review of The Dinner Plan by Kathy Bennan and Caroline CampionNext I turned to one of my very favorite cookbooks, Kathy Brennan and Caroline Campion's The Dinner Plan (which I received as part of the Abrams Dinner Party). I made the Eggplant and Tomato Pasta (recipe below with my photo). This was delicious! Eggplants and tomatoes are abundant at the farmer's market and the recipe is dead easy to make. The surprise? My husband, who is not a big fan of eggplant, really loved this dish. Total win!

The authors didn't think the sauce would heat up well, but I disagree. This meal was just as good the second day. The only change I made here was to throw in a red bell pepper. Also note that I used fresh yellow tomatoes instead of red, because they are just so darn good right now.

We almost always have a bean dish every week, and tonight I'm making white beans with rosemary, collards, and more of those lovely yellow tomatoes. Of course I'll use onions and garlic too. I'll quick-soak the dried beans this afternoon and then throw everything into the pressure cooker with some chicken broth and will cook for 23 minutes. I plan to make focaccia for soaking up the broth.

Review of King Arthur Flour's Light-As-Air Seed BreadEarlier in the week I was in a baking mood, and when the King Arthur Flour email hit my inbox with a recipe for a semolina seed bread, I couldn't resist. I didn't have the exact seed mix called for in the recipe for Light-As-Air Seed Bread, so I simply sprinkled on poppy seeds and sesame seeds before baking. This was delicious and really was light. The angle of my photo makes it look as if the bread didn't rise much, but it really did. You'll have to trust me. I take my bread out of the oven when the internal temperature is about 200F, even if the crust could be darker. To my taste, the bread is always perfectly done at that point. I had avocado toast for lunch and almond butter toast for breakfast. Yum.

Note that the KAF recipe calls for a covered stoneware bread baker, but I baked mine in a regular (9-inch) loaf pan until the temperature was right. If you have a stoneware bread pan, lucky you -- give it a try for this recipe.

Eggplant and Tomato Pasta (Serves 4-6)

Click image to enlarge. The photo is mine (and, yes, I know I forgot to garnish the dish with the extra herbs).

Review of Eggplant and Tomato Pasta from The Dinner Plan
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Weekend Cooking hosted by www.BethFishReads.comWeekend Cooking is open to anyone who has any kind of food-related post to share: Book reviews (novel, nonfiction), cookbook reviews, movie reviews, recipes, random thoughts, gadgets, quotations, photographs, restaurant reviews, travel information, or fun food facts. If your post is even vaguely foodie, feel free to grab the button and link up anytime over the weekend. You do not have to post on the weekend. Please link to your specific post, not your blog's home page.

NOTE: Mr. Linky sometimes is mean and will give you an error message. He's usually wrong and your link went through just fine the first time. Grrrr.
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