New Fiction Friday: Sweetbitter

9781101875940_p0_v2_s192x300I’ve read three food-related books in the past few months. I just finished reading Sweetbitter a few days ago, and out of the three it’s my 2nd favorite. Overall, loved all three books – but it’s really hard to top Kitchens of the Great Midwest.  In that book, Eva was a chef and an innovative restaranteur. In Sweetbitter, the main character is Tess, a young woman who has just arrived in NYC. She has come from somewhere that seems not just anonymous, but unimportant.  From this place, probably in the Midwest, she arrives in the city – and it’s a welcome shock. Back home she had worked at a small coffee shop. She thinks her first job in the city should be restaurant work. She feels somewhat experienced – though her hometown coffee shop is like nothing in the city. She couldn’t have possibly known what she was getting herself into.

The restaurant is very high end, luxury and unlike she could never have imagined. There’s a quick crash course on the mechanics of the job – she is introduced to a number of different people, “characters”, staff and patrons seem equally interesting. The work, the people, the food, the wine, the hours, are like nothing else. Having read the book I realize I could not do that job – I could not handle the hours or the demands of the restaurant’s customers. She’s on her feet for hours on end, and it seems that no one really goes home after their shifts.

She first learns what a “shift drink” is, the free drink each restaurant employee is entitled to at the end of their shift. This seems fun and exciting – and a welcome treat after a long, fast-paced shift. It’s also a chance to socialize and network with her fellow employees. She gets to know some of them – and two in particular are of special interest to her. Simone is the cool girl, and Jake who is a long-time friend of Simone.  From the shift drink comes the regular appearance at Park Bar at the end of most of her shifts. There she is introduced to other local restaurant workers who turn up there after the city’s restaurants close.  She is also introduced to coke there, along with a host of other “treats”.

Getting caught up in the restaurant drama and nightlife of the city is crazy – and she embraces it. Coming from a small town this is a welcome change. I was kind of surprised by this book. I had heard good things about it – and I really enjoyed it. It made me grateful I’ve never worked in a restaurant – yet made me question every real restaurant I’ve been in. The story makes the restaurant seem incestuous, and she herself is involved with a few of her co-workers.  Overall, it was a great read, and even though I’ve never the type of work she does, I could identify with her struggle just to fit in.

New Fiction Friday: Siracusa

51fhux5or3l-_sx329_bo1204203200_Over the summer, Siracusa was one of the best books I read. Taking place in coastal Italy, it’s about a dream vacation for two couples that goes horribly wrong. I have always dreamed of visiting Italy, but haven’t made it there yet. This summer I finally made it to the Caribbean, a spot I had also always dreamed of visiting. So, like Michael, Lizzie, Finn, and Taylor, the main characters of this book, I had a lot of expectations. There are many spots in Italy that are so beautiful, that are popular tourist destinations.  This is not, however, where they end up spending their vacation though.

Traveling with these two couples is Finn And Taylor’s daughter, Snow. Lizzie and Michael have no children, and though they have all been friends for years this is their fist trip together.  In the beginning they seem like a group of friends setting out on a fun adventure, but it is soon revealed that both couples are both deeply troubled, and this won’t be a happy trip for anyone.  Even Snow, who seems to be caught in the middle of her parent’s drama.  This shapes the trip significantly, and soon it seems that no one can tolerate each other anymore.

Michael and Lizzie have no children, Michael instead devotes himself to his career – though there is a hint of longing on Lizzie’s part to be a mother. He is a writer, a playwright, and won the Pulitzer Prize for the very first play he wrote. Finn and Taylor have Snow, who is at the center of their lives. They live in Portland, Maine, and are the owners of one of the city’s best restaurants. This is a project that they’ve worked on together. Taylor has been working on molding Finn into the perfect husband, and a cultured and talented chef, though there’s nothing that she spends more time on than Snow. Like many parents, this seems to divide them.

All five characters are incredibly complex, even Snow who is only 11. That’s honestly the best part of the book – the depth and complexity of the characters. But the plot is also complex and the ending is pretty surprising. It’s haunting actually, I don’t think I could’ve ever predicted what happens at the end.  And at the end of the book, as much as I love the story, the five main characters are all unlikeable. Yet, the shocking events in Siracusa leave them all unchanged, and after returning home to the states, resume their lives as normal.  While the characters are flawed, the story itself is not.  I think I was caught off guard by this book – but I really loved it!

The Blog Birthday Tag

 

wolf-houndTasha over at The Bookie Monsters recently celebrated a big blogiversary – 3 years of blogging.  To celebrate, she shared the Blog Birthday Tag – which actually originated with Audreywritesabroad.  This year our blogiversary came and went without notice (probably because I forgot), but Kel and I have also been blogging for just over 3 years.  Because we missed our own anniversary, we’ll celebrate with Tasha instead!!


The Rules:-

  1. Say you’re a champion out loud. (Scream it in the streets for extra Hogwarts Points.)
  2. Write a post in which you answer the questions below. (You can change or add questions if you want to.)
  3. Tag as many blogging champions as you wish so we can all create a huge chain of Champ Happiness and enlighten everyone’s day and possibly prompt a full hour of perfect World Wide Peace.
  4. Let those Champs know you tagged them.
  5. Link this page in your post so I can read everyone’s answers and know more about you!

Q1: How old is your blog?

We started blogging about 3 years ago – our first post was a review of Mitch Albom’s The Time Keeper.  It was posted on July 23, 2013.

Q2: What was your blog’s first words?

When the thought of starting my own blog cropped up in the back of my mind, I wondered what I would I write about.  What did I have to share that other people would be interested in?  I had a ton of ideas, and decided that I didn’t have to focus on just one subject!

Q3: What are you most proud about your blog?

I am most proud of the commitment I made to start and continue the blog.  Blogging is fun – but not always easy.  With a busy schedule, finding time to blog is sometimes a struggle – as is finding time to actually read!

Q4: If you had to describe your blog in one picture what would it be?

IMG_1262

Amy

Q5: What are your hopes for your blog’s future?

I want to keep blogging – reading has always been my favorite hobby.  I love talking about books – and  love connecting with other people who share that love!  I hope to encourage others to read – and do what they love.

Q6: In what Hogwarts House would your blog be and why?

I would have to say Gryffindor – I’d like to believe that there’s a little bit of Hermoine in Kel and me.  Kel is an overachiever and I admit to being a busybody…


I Nominate:

Kelly @ One Educator’s Life

Charley @ Books and Bakes1 

Tonya @ More than a conqueror

 

 

Savoring the Seasons

61gota1lval-_sy439_bo1204203200_One of my favorite parts of Fall is the flavors of the season.  There is so much more than pumpkin spice!  Savoring the Seasons celebrates not just the flavors of fall – but of all the seasons.  Written by Sara Wells and Kate Jones, the ladies behind Our Best Bites, which is a great go-to place for great recipes.  Included in the book are recipes for cakes, appetizers, burgers, muffins – all of which look delicious.  I’ve been following their blog for a while and love cooking along with their recipes.

What I love about the book is that it is divided into sections – with tabbed dividers, making it easy to flip through while cooking.  There are measurement conversions, yields which indicate just how much one recipe will make, add-ins and alternatives – which is helpful for me because I have a track record of not getting everything in a recipe (haha!).  They also share memories with recipes, which make the recipes and the book really personal.

“From the springy smell of Brussels sprouts to unnamed-1grilled recipes that are perfect for a summer barbecue to cinnamon-spiced desserts in autumn to cozy soups and stews for winter, we wanted these recipes to evoke feelings and memories of each season, to inspire you to cook no matter the time of year and to create memories all year long with the people you love the most.”

One of the first recipes I wanted to try is the maple pecan cookies.  I made them this past weekend – and they were perfect for a rainy Fall weekend!  They turned out great – though I have to note that I wasn’t able to find maple flavor, and substituted with maple syrup.

Glazed Maple Pecan Cookies

1 3/4 cups all-purpose flour, lightly spooned into measuring cups and leveled with a knife

1/4 cup cornstarch

unnamed1 cup butter, softened

1/2 cup brown sugar

1 egg yolk

1 teaspoon maple flavoring

1 cup finely chopped pecans, toasted

Glaze:

1 tablespoon butter, melted

1 cup powdered sugar

1 tablespoon real maple syrup

1-2 tablespoons milk

Additional chopped or halved pecans for garnish, if desired

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.  Line baking sheets with parchment paper and set aside.

2. Whisk flour and cornstarch together and set aside.

3. Mix together butter and sugars at medium speed until creamy.  Add egg yolk and maple flavoring, beating until well mixed.  Reduce speed to low and gradually add flour and cornstarch mixture and toasted pecans.  Measure dough by the scant tablespoonful and shape into balls.  Place dough balls on baking sheets and press down lightly with fingers or the flat bottom of a drinking glass until dough is about 1/2 inch thick.  Bake 9 –  12 minutes or until cookies puff and are very light golden brown.

4. For the glaze: Combine butter, powdered sugar, and maple syrup in a medium-sized mixing bowl.  Add enough milk to make a glaze and whisk mixture until smooth.

5. When cookies have cooled, dip tops of cookies in the glaze and allow it to drip down the sides.  Garnish with pecan halves or chopped pecans, if desired.

Enjoy!!

Fall Preview

unnamedSo Fall is officially here.  We have already purchased our first pumpkins, feasted on some Halloween candy, and enjoyed a few pumpkin spice lattes.  I’m glad we made it to the pumpkin patch last weekend – Hurricane Matthew kept us inside all weekend.  Last year around this time we had just lived through Joaquin – and he was no match for Matthew.  There are power lines down, still a lot of flooding, and downed trees blocking roads everywhere.  This type of weather makes me want to hibernate under a blanket with a good book.  Luckily, with a recent trip to the library, and some great new books out this fall, I’m prepared!  These are some of the books we’re looking forward to this Fall:

We Gon’ Be Alright – Jeff Change

The Six: The Lives of the Mitford Sisters – Laura Thompson

Razor Girl – Carl Hiaasen

Thanks For the Money – Joel McHale

Born to Run – Bruce Springsteen

Two by Two – Nicholas Sparks

Crimson Death – Laurell K. Hamilton

News of the World – Paulette Jiles

Hungry Heart: Adventures in Life, Love, and Writing – Jennifer Weiner

Hope you’re enjoying Fall so far.  What are you looking forward to?  The candy, the cooler weather, the books??

New Fiction Friday: Harry Potter and the Cursed Child

9781338099133_p0_v5_s192x300What ever happened to Harry Potter after he left Hogwarts? Or after he finally defeated Voldemort? Of what he would be like as an adult? After J.K. Rowling put the Harry Potter saga to rest in her last book, Potterheads have always wanting more. Just recently, this summer, with the release of Harry Potter and the Cursed Child, their wishes came true.  Instead of a book which continues Harry’s story, Cursed Child is actually a script for a play that premiered in London over the summer.  I’ll take it though, this little part of Harry’s adult life is great. I’ve said before that I will read anything that she writes, and this is no exception.  She co-created the story with John Tiffany and Jack Thorne.

Who exactly is the cursed child? Certainly, given the 7 books in the series, it could be Harry himself. It could also be Albus, his youngest son. Harry married Ginny Weasley, and in this story, which is supposed to pick up 18 years after the last book left off, they now have three children. At the beginning of the story, Albus (who is obviously named after Dumbledore) is just starting out at Hogwarts. As Harry’s son, he certainly has big shoes to fill. And that where the story really begins.

Upon entering Hogwarts, Albus makes an unlikely friend. His parents are still really close to Ron and Hermoine, who themselves have a young girl who also attends the school. Their daughter’s name is Rose, and though the familes are close, Albus is drawn to Scorpius, who happens to be Draco’s son. Draco almost makes an appearance, and he and Harry are forced to put aside their difference to help their sons when they get into trouble.

Albus and Scorpius are on a mission, and though Harry now works for the ministry of magic, they still manage to get themselves into trouble.  Albus and Scorpius are looking for a way to change the past, and in a way, change the present.  What’s at stake is time travel, and though the ministry has banned the use of certain time travel magic, they still manage to travel to several different parts of Harry’s past.  Through time travel, a few characters that had been lost in the series make an appearance, which is satisfying for fans. What’s not satisfying is the length of the story – I definitely wanted more.  I would love to see this play, though throughout the story I kept wondering how this would work on stage.

This is just a tiny piece of Harry, but I’m satisfied!!

 

Eat Pray Love Made Me Do It

9780399576775_p0_v2_s192x300When Eat Pray Love came out, it was almost an instant success. I remember it being one of the first books my book club ever read. I read it along with every one else, but I also wanted to find out what all the hype was about. I read the book and just didn’t get it. I’m not a fan of memoirs, though I’ve read a bunch. At the time, I just couldn’t understand why she needed to go on this journey, and couldn’t connect to any of the feelings she had. Overall, I felt the book was self-indulgent. I couldn’t imagine walking away from life, leaving it all behind, in search of self-discovery.  And there was incredible privilege that Gilbert had, not everyone can step away from life and afford an around the world trip.

After reading the book, I dismissed it, though its popularity continued to grow. I did watch the movie – and actually really loved it. There was something Julia Roberts did to the 9780143038412_p0_v16_s192x300character that made her endearing, and I think I understood Elizabeth’s quest a little more. The popularity of the book is not just because of Elizabeth’s story, it’s because of this incredible trip that she went on, which turned out to be a transformation.

After seeing Eat Pray Love Made Me Do It at the library, I knew I had to read it. It’s a collection of short stories, testimonials, women sharing their experiences with the book, and how the book changed their lives. From traveling around the world, leaving bad relationships, going to back to school, embarking on a new career, each women shares a personal story, and how their lives were changed after reading the book. They were really inspired by Gilbert. I can’t say that I was similarly inspired, but having read their tales, I can connect to the original book in a way that I hadn’t before.

Gilbert herself wrote the book’s foreward, which ties together these individual stories of love, adventure, and self-discovery.  She describes her surprise of the book’s popularity, and some experiences she had while meeting some of the book’s fans.

“Both had stepped out of their tired old selves – from one moment to the next – and walked forward into completely new lives. And Eat Pray Love, incredibly, had helped them do that. This is what my book is really about. It was never really about eating pizza in Italy or meditating in India or falling in love in Bali. It wasn’t about travel or spirituality or divorce. No, Eat Pray Love was about what happens when one human being realizes that her life doesn’t have to look like this anymore – that everything (including herself) can be changed. After that realization occurs, nothing will ever be the same again.”

There are stories of moving on, moving out, and exploration, and I liked it so much more than the original.  It also gave me a great appreciation for the original book.  I think I finally get it now.