Friday, November 30, 2012

Field to Feast Cookbook - Baked Penne with Four Cheeses

 Last week, a few of my blogging friends had a Moveable Blogger Feast that featured the cookbook "Field to Feast:  Recipes Celebrating Florida Farmers, Chefs, and Artisans".  We each took a day and a meal course and cooked some food for you!  Except I wasn't ready to be done with my cooking from this gorgeous book.  So I am back with another recipe that you HAVE TO TRY.

This latest recipe features Dakin Dairy Farms in Myakka City, Florida (near Tampa).  This farm is owned by a multigenerational farming family that is committed to environmentally sustainable practices and state-of-the-art production.  They now even offer tours (road trip!).   

This spin on macaroni and cheese can be made with any combination of cheeses, but the authors love the following selection for the Gruyere's nuttiness, the piquancy of the Gorgonzola, and the saltiness of the pecorino Romano and Parmesan.

Baked Penne with Four Cheeses

2/3 pound penne pasta
1 cup milk
3/4 cup heavy cream
2 tsp unsalted butter
2 tsp all-purpose flour
1 tsp course salt
Pinch grated nutmeg
1 cup freshly shredded Gruyere cheese
3/4 cup crumbled Gorgonzola cheese
1/2 cup freshly grated pecorino Romano
1/2 cup freshly grated Parmesan, divided
1 tsp freshly ground black pepper, divided
1/2 cup fresh breadcrumbs

1.  Heat oven to 475 degrees.  Butter 9x13 inch baking pan, set aside.

2.  In a large pot of boiling salted water, cook pasta 8 minutes, or until al dente.  Drain and return to pot.

3.  While pasta is cooking, slowly heat milk and cream in a medium saucepan to just below a simmer.  Do not boil.

4.  In another saucepan, melt butter over medium-low heat.  Add flour and whisk over low heat 2 minutes.  Slowly whisk in hot milk mixture and continue stirring until mixture thickens and comes to a simmer.  Whisk in salt, nutmeg, Gruyere, Gorgonzola, pecorino Romano, 1/4 cup Parmesan, and 1/2 tsp pepper.

5.  Add cheese sauce to drained pasta, mixing thoroughly.  Cover pot and let stand 3 minutes.  Stir pasta and cheese, then spread into prepared baking dish.

6.  Combine remaining pepper, breadcrumbs, and remaining Parmesan; sprinkle mixture over top of pasta.  Bake 7 to 10 minutes, or until golden and bubbly.  Serve hot.

This stuff was AMAZING.  Now I will admit that when it came out of the oven, the dish was decimated in about 5 minutes by my family and I didn't get a picture of the finished product.  I scoured the Internet to find a picture that resembled what I had before the hungry dogs dug in, and this is what it looked like.  Soul food, I tell you!



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Thursday, November 29, 2012

The Language of Flowers - Vanessa Diffenbaugh (Audio)

Since the day this book came out, many of you have claimed it to be a phenomenal book.  Beyond that, many said it was their favorite read of the year.  Which is a pretty big deal, and something I pay close attention to.

The premise sounds OK, but really seems like it has been done before.  Dysfunction, dysfunction, dysfunction.  A character with big issues.  A character you don't necessarily like.  It was hard for me to get excited about it.  

Well, I should have listened to all of you and read it sooner.  It was wonderful.  But now I struggle in verbalizing WHY it is so wonderful.  What can I tell you that will help set this book apart from all the others?  Thus, this is why I've put off writing a review.  

Synopsis:  Victoria Jones has spent her entire life in the foster care system, and has forever been mistreated, unloved and unwanted.  As a result, she is distant and mistrusting of everyone.  Now 18 and emancipated, she sets out on her own and flounders in the ability to streamline with society...until she realizes that her passion and gift for flowers is what is going to save her.  

It is the chance meeting of a young man, someone from her past, that causes her to reflect back on the path she has taken in her life, and the special woman that took her in and taught her the language of flowers...and of unconditional love.  

But Victoria is no longer a part of this woman's life.  Something went very wrong, and Diffenbaugh slowly reveals to us Victoria's story, past and present.  It is a story of love, loss, forgiveness and rebirth.  A story so real and full of hope that your heart will soar.

My thoughts:  Well, I guess a few of my thoughts and opinions crept into the synopsis.  I loved this book.  All the other reviews were right...Victoria is a piece of work.  She is flawed and frustrating, but she is also capable and worthy of saving.  

What makes this book so special?  Well, I guess it goes without saying that Diffenbaugh has a special talent with words.  Her words flow, and are as beautiful as the flowers she describes.  And I'm not really a flower person...I have a black thumb.  But she makes me want to be a gardener.  She makes me want to bring forth beauty and life from the earth.  

The Victorian language of flowers...honeysuckle for patience, acacia for secret love, asters for patience, daisy for innocence...and the ability to make a magical difference in people's lives through these flowers by using just the right one, is heady stuff.  I compare it to the magic and healing properties evoked with food in the "The School of Essential Ingredients" by Erica Bauermeister.  This delicate charm, matched up with a damaged young woman was an emotional combination.  

But I think the most exceptional aspect of the story is the HOPE.  The plot may seem dreary, and there are parts that are very dreary, but it is only there to help us appreciate the rebirth of Victoria, to give us a perspective.  By the end of the story, my heart swelled to its maximum capacity.  

A few words about the audio production:  Our narrator for this audiobook is Tara Sands, who is one of the most gifted voices for young adult characters I've ever heard.  I find it amazing that the woman is 37 but sounds like an 18 year old.  If you look at the word she has done, she has been everywhere.  She made this audio an amazing listening experience for me.

Audiobook length:  10 hours and 50 minutes (352 pages)

5 out of 5 stars


Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Not So Wordless Wednesday: Chicago #1

I feel like I almost have a second residence in Chicago, I visit so much, but every time is an adventure.    On this particular trip, we took the train up from our rental house on Lake Michigan, and saw one of my favorite cities through the eyes of my husband's nephew and nephew's girlfriend from Poland.  With each new city they visited, they declared it their new favorite, but I think Chicago was their true favorite of all.  

These are two shots from Millennium Park, and pretty famous icons of the city.  The top photo is the Jay Pritzker Pavilion (designed by Frank Gehry) where there are outdoor concerts.  The lower photo is the reflection of my son and I in The Bean (officially known as Cloud Gate, designed by Anish Kapoor).  

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry - Rachel Joyce (Audio)

Gentle books and I don't always get along.  I don't like this about myself...that I apparently need excitement and twists and action.  I don't have much time these days to sit, undisturbed, and concentrate on complex issues embedded within a smart literary novel.  I'll put that activity on my list of things to do when my kids go to college!

But this title caught my eye.  Fizzy Jill (after an unsatisfying adventure with the book "Wild") said that "The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry" was the book she wanted "Wild" to be.  Ti called it a gem.  It sounded gentle to me, but I was able to get it on audio from the library so I gave it a shot.

Synopsis:  Harold Fry and his wife Maureen are both in their sixties, retired,  growing old and growing apart.  While Maureen stays busy scrubbing their little home, Harold is going a little crazy without anything to do, and has given up on there being anything but estrangement and bitterness between them.  One day, Harold receives a letter from an old friend and work mate Queenie Hennessey, who he hasn't seen in years.  Queenie notifies him that she is terminally ill, residing in a hospice some 600 miles away, and wants to express her thanks for his friendship and to say goodbye.  Harold pens a note back to her, but instead of dropping his letter in the mailbox on the corner, he keeps walking.  Without a cell phone, in his boat shoes, without food, Harold impulsively decides that if Queenie knows he is walking to see her, she will stay alive and he will save her.

Much of what is hidden in Harold's heart is laid bare throughout this journey. Not only is Harold forced to deal with the physical hardship of exertion and exhaustion, but in the solitude he must face his thoughts and life's memories.  Is it selfish to drain his retirement fund to purchase food and housing along the way?  He misses Maureen, but wonders if she cares if he is gone?  He thinks about his son, who is no longer a part of their lives.  Did he fail the son somewhere, thus causing the escalating behavior issues, the drug abuse, the wayward restlessness and depression?  And then there is the untold story of Queenie that slowly unfurls in his mind over the miles.

Harold meets humanity from all walks of life on his journey.  Businessmen, feminist bikers, drifters, immigrant physicians, teenage slackers.  Some make a huge impression on him, some take advantage of him, some offer moral support or gifts.  But he tucks them all into his heart and takes them with him on this grueling but life-affirming pilgrimage.  

My thoughts:  This book was a very pleasant surprise for me.  I expected to be lulled into a state of fog by the gentleness and lack of action.  Instead, what I got was something extremely emotional and gritty.  There were even a few turns in the plot that shocked and devastated me.  

Was it a downer?  Because I know I'm talking like it was.  Part of it was very visceral - it wrung me out.  Regret at the end of a life is a heavy burden.  Feeling like you have failed a child, who was once a pudgy baby but turns into an angry adult, is a heavy burden.  Failing at a marriage is a heavy burden.  But Harold learns his lessons along the way, learns about himself, and by the end, you have hope for this man.  Ultimately I was uplifted.

And crazy as it seems with a book like this, I found it suspenseful!  Like...will Harold make it?  Will he give up?  Why is Queenie so important to Harold?  Will she live long enough to see Harold one more time?  These are questions that propelled me through to the end.   

Have you ever seen the movie "The Straight Story"?  A precious movie, about an old man who is estranged from his brother.  The old man cannot drive, so he hops on his John Deere lawn mower and heads across several states to make amends with his brother, who has taken ill, meeting mankind along the way.  These two stories were so similar in my mind.  If you liked this book, you should watch "The Straight Story".

A few words about the audio production: The narrator for this story was Jim Broadbent.  I've not heard him before, but it tickled me to see that he narrates Winnie-the-Pooh stories.  He has a charming, kind, British accent that is perfect for Pooh and for Harold.  He was a pleasure to listen to.

Audiobook length:  9 hours and 57 minutes (336 pages)

4.5 out of 5 stars       

Monday, November 26, 2012

Monday Matinee: Skyfall (2012)

 After having watched more than a dozen of them, there are certain things I have come to expect from a Bond movie.

Insane, unlikely chase scenes with daring leaps and big explosions, all in a well-tailored suit.

Hot women.

Hot cars.

Cool gadgets.

A stereotypical bad guy that oozes evil.  

A rocking theme song.

Every film has these elements, and generally the movies don't stand out in your mind because of them.  It just makes them FUN.

But when Bond is accidentally shot by his own agent, falls thousands of feet into a waterfall and dies, all before the opening music sequence, you get a niggling feeling in your stomach that this one might be a little bit different.  (And by the way, the opening music sequence?  Amazing.  Like jaw-hanging open amazing.)

Well obviously Bond isn't dead, else what are we going to be doing for the next two hours but eat popcorn?  But Bond is changed.  He is aging.  He has been permanently wounded.  He is depressed and has lost some of his mojo.  Suddenly our man is fallible.  He and M make a team of has-been, antiquated spies fighting a war that is fought with computers by faceless enemies.  Perhaps it is time to pass the baton over to those younger, stronger, more clever in the ways of the new world.

This alone sets "Skyfall" apart from most other Bond flicks.  But there is more, and for the Bond enthusiast, it feels like being a kid in a candy shop.

We get more time with M (Judi Dench).  In the past, she is always the mastermind that gives Bond his directives, always the badass mother-figure that lives in the shadows.  We pry back the brittle, titanium exterior to see a little of her history, a little of what makes her tick.  

We also, for the first time ever if I'm not mistaken, get a peek into Bond's tragic childhood.  With an epic finale filmed at a Scottish castle, Bond's family home.  This movie is all about roots.  It is more dark and more thoroughly developed that any of its predecessors combined.   

So then let's talk about our token evil dude, Raoul Silva, played by the most incredible Javier Bardem.  Bardem isn't just a hot guy, he is one hell of an actor.  He has played a gay poet, a terminally ill father, a sexy love interest, a stone cold psychopath, and a quadriplegic fighting for his right to die.  He has been nominated multiple times for Oscars and scored one as well.  So you just knew he was going to bring it.  And he did more than bring it.  He owned it.  He took the role of a cyberterrorist, a deeply damaged, psychotic meglomaniac and made him the highlight of the show, and probably the best Bond villain to date.  

Do we want to have a discussion about who is the best James Bond?  No!  I happen to love most of them, and maybe have a slight favorite in Sean Connery.  But Daniel Craig is no slouch.  He's ripped, he's smooth, he's attractive, he can act, he looks good in a tux, and well, what else do you want?  I'm quite satisfied with the franchise in his capable hands.

To summarize?  Best Bond film yet.  Best Bond villain yet.  Best opening sequence yet.  If you have the LEAST bit of interest in the franchise, I would implore you to see it.

5 out of 5 stars  

Sunday, November 25, 2012

Sunday Salon: The Thanks Without the Cooking

Hi there!  Have you come out the other side of this holiday unscathed?  I have for sure.  I do see all the posts about the family gathering to cook meals together and such, and worry that I have deprived my kids of this tradition this year.  But I'm not sure they care.  My daughter cringes at anything that was once breathing and is now on our plate.  My son will not allow any form of a potato pass his lips.  So we used a gift certificate for the Marriott World, escaped to a place that felt like vacation, and ate our big dinner out at a restaurant.  See my Un-Thanksgiving post here.

I'm not sure what happened before we got to the resort though.  A run or two?  Some Andre time?  Oh yeah, I took the kids to a corn maze!  Whatever.  Our eyes were on the goal, and that goal was escaping reality for several days.  The way we did this, beyond going to a hotel and eating out every meal, was to see movies.  Holy cow, the movies out these days!  So many to choose from.  So I picked my top three, convinced my family that they needed to see them too, and we went for it.  On Wednesday night, we all saw "Skyfall", being the Bond lovers that we are.  On Thursday, after our Thanksgiving meal, my hubby and I saw "Life of Pi" and the kids saw the last "Twilight".  (My son wasn't pleased, but has to do these things to keep the peace with his sister.)  On Friday, we were determined to see "Lincoln".  We actually had to go to three theaters to find one NOT SOLD OUT.  At 3:00pm in the afternoon.  But we did find one.  All three movies are worthy of the effort.  I have labored to write all three of them up for you over the next three Mondays.

We are drawing near the end of kids' sports for a little while.  My daughter is going to run a Half Marathon next Saturday with her track coach, and should have no trouble.  Oh, to be 14.  She ran 10 yesterday and wasn't even tired.  My son has one more track meet next Saturday, and has been doing much better than last year, thanks to Andre.  After that, we will have some time to get back to basics with Andre-training before my daughter's track season and my son's volleyball season.  Oy.  But I've learned that keeping them active is the key to many issues.

After months of whining about my lack of time for reading and writing reviews, I've come up with a plan.  I'm going to take Friday's off in December, as well as Christmas week.  This should give me time to catch up.  I'm always nutty-busy in December and so is everyone else, so I don't think it should matter.

So, reading.  I've been really dragging my way through "The Light Between Oceans" in print for my book club, which meets next Wednesday.  I doubt I will have it finished in time, but am enjoying it nevertheless.  On audio, I've been listening to Linda Castillo's "Gone Missing" (the Kate Burkholder Amish crime series) and should be through it soon.  Did you know that Neve Campbell will be playing Kate Burkholder in a two-hour TV special production of "Sworn to Silence", the first in the series?  

I've been so taken with the movie trailers of "Les Miserables".  I get all emotional and weepy every time I see it.  I've seen the stage play in London, which blew me away, but have never read the book.  Should I?  I know some of my blogging buddies have.  Please weigh in.  I realize this would be a project of sorts.  I'm just so tempted.  

So today I have committed to taking my daughter holiday shopping AGAIN (we dabbled yesterday and it was chaotic and awful) but whatever makes her happy.  I will go for a run this morning once it gets out of the 40's.  And I will get my head around another busy week, in which starts with some repairs to my car, continues with a banquet for my daughters Cross Country season, a haircut, and ending with a few days in NYC.

Before I sign off (I know this is a long one, I SO apologize, really), I just want to pay homage to a woman who has been a part of my family since the mid-1980's.  A woman who has been a stand-in grandmother to me and a great-grandmother to my kids.  She died the day before Thanksgiving at the age of 97.  She was a fighter, a cancer-survivor, and someone who never let any moss grow under her feet.  Honestly?  We all thought she would live forever.  Up until just a year or so ago, she lived on her own, drove a smoking-hot red Cadillac sports car, and loved to pull in a Big Mouth Bass now and again.  While I am at peace with the idea that her body just ran out of steam the last few months, her presence in our lives will be missed.  May she rest peacefully today in God's loving arms.      

Friday, November 23, 2012

The Un-Thanksgiving

Happy day after Thanksgiving!  I hope everyone had a wonderful day of food and family yesterday.  I'm pretty sure I told everyone that our Thanksgiving plans were going to take a detour this year.  So I figured I'd show you.

First of all, my parents couldn't get down here for Thanksgiving.  If I have four hungry adults that love most foods, I will cook.  I love to cook.  But two hungry adults and two very picky teenagers don't seem to warrant the effort of two days of cooking.  In addition, we had a gift certificate (something we won at a raffle somewhere) to two nights at the Marriott World Resort in South Orlando that expired at the end of 2012.  My husband and I looked at each other, shrugged our shoulders, and thought why not?

The first order of business was getting an upgrade from one room to two.  Four of us sharing a room used to be standard, but not anymore.  Everyone's happier if there is more space.  We were going to eat Thanksgiving buffet at the hotel, but apparently it was "rape the tourists" day, because the buffet was $65 per person.  Ha!  I think not.  I couldn't eat $65 worth of turkey if I starved myself for two days.  

So we made reservations at a nearby restaurant called "Hemingways".  Nestled on a perch over the pool and golf course at the Grand Cypress Hyatt, this place has wonderful seafood with a Floridian flair.  We've been here a number of times before.  We knew we wouldn't be disappointed.

Our reservation was at 2:15pm so we were starved.  I ordered a Key Lime Ceasar Salad (sans anchovies).  I dug in and decimated the beautiful presentation before I remembered I was supposed to take a picture.  The salad came with romaine, caramelized pecans, shaved asiago cheese, and fresh Key Lime juice with the dressing.  

Oh yeah, and we ordered a bottle of Cava.

After that we all ordered our main entrees.  I like turkey and mashed potatoes, but I have a hard time passing up a grilled Mahi Mahi with white shrimp and creamy antebellum sweet corn grits.

My son the carnivore, ordered the cast iron Ribeye with black garlic butter and fried onion rings.  He requested the kitchen keep the asparagus to themselves.

My husband and daughter went traditional, ordering the Thanksgiving plate, which included roasted turkey, mashed potatoes, dressing, cranberry salad, asparagus and sweet potatoes.  Everything was homemade and tasted incredible, according to the two of them.  $29 all you can eat.  Much better deal than the $65.

I was the only one who opted for dessert.  I HAVE to have pumpkin pie on Thanksgiving.  I will never have a pie quite like my late grandmother's but I still must partake.  In a pathetic move of gluttony, I scarfed it down before I remembered to take the picture.  Here is what was left. 

True to the legacy of Hemingway, there were cats all over the resort, some that were peeking through the screen while we were eating.  (They were not Hemingway cats, though, with the extra toe.) Sweet little babies DID get a little turkey.  

We left our lunch and promptly went to the movies, because there are only about 5 incredible things to see this weekend.  (Wednesday night we saw "Skyfall"...stay tuned on a little chat about that one.)  Yesterday though, my hubby and I saw "Life of Pi" and the kids went to see the last installment of "Twilight".  (My son only went to appease the daughter, but was grumbling by the time he came out of the theater.)

So.  That is what an Un-Thanksgiving looks like.  Not bad if I say so myself.    

Thursday, November 22, 2012

Happy Thanksgiving!

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Not So Wordless Wednesday: Lake Michigan #3

This was our sunset view from our rental house deck at Lake Michigan.  Just to put you in the right frame of mind, it was probably about 105 degrees when this was taken.  That cold lake water never felt so good.

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

City of Women - David R. Gillham (Audio)

I have a long and beloved relationship with Amy Einhorn books.  95% of the ones I've read have been five star reads for me (and the other 5%...well that's OK.  We can't love everything).  This lady has a gift for picking books that will change your perspective, rock your world, haunt your dreams.  She sniffs out the gems.

This was a highly-anticipated release for AE and for me.  Anytime I hear the words "WWII" and "Resistance", my antennae start to cautiously twitch.  I love the time period, and I love stories about the ordinary person doing extraordinary things, but because of this, I've become picky.  Just any old WWII story won't do.  It has to stand out.  Well, this one did.  

Synopsis:  Sigrid Schroder appears to be your model German frau.  She is married to a banker-turned-soldier, she works long hours at a patents office, she suffers her live-in mother-in-law, she isolates herself from the horrors occurring around her in 1943 Berlin.  Prying back a layer, however, allows us to discover that her marriage is loveless, particularly after her miscarriage.  She is lonely and adrift.

One day, while at the cinema, she has a sudden, passionate encounter with a man who becomes her lover.  In a city of women, where most of the men are fighting for the Fuhrer, this has been known to happen.  The problem is...her lover is a Jew.  Sigrid also befriends a 19-year-old woman who is acting as a nanny for a family in the her apartment building, only to find that this women is part of a complex network of a resistance movement...the blind man on the corner, a taxi driver, a pornographic photographer, a doctor, a Nazi general...all individuals willing to take life-threatening risks to do what is right.

As Sigrid gets pulled into this underworld, she begins to learn things about herself she never appreciated.  How far she would go for love, or for friendship, or to save innocent lives.  How she can no longer turn her head when brutality occurs.  But the trick is figuring out who can be trusted.

My thoughts:  This was certainly a WWII book that stands apart from the rest.  The general plot is one we have heard before.  Where it differentiates itself is in the characterization of these women.  These are not shrinking violets.  These are steely, ball-busting women who carry cyanide pills and revolvers in their purses.  

In fact, I was taken aback by the masculine spirit of the story.  Two other fitting adjectives would be "gritty" and "dark", which are words I usually throw out when I'm talking about the damaged-homicide-detective-chasing-serial-murderers kind of book.  There was a lot of sex, and it wasn't glamorous or romantic.  It was needy, urgent attempts at pleasure in the back of a movie theater, in seedy motels, or back alleys.  I was also a little alienated by the easy way these women hop from man to man, irregardless of who is married and who is not, for the purposes of passion or an agenda.  It was all very feral and debauched.  

But the story is one of incredible bravery and the belief in doing right by those who have been victimized.  There is fear, exhilaration, and violent painful deaths of those who are caught.  It is hard to say I loved this book.  It was too harsh for love.  But it is a story that will stick in my mind for a long time.

A few words about the audio production:  Our narrator for this book was Suzanne Bertish.  She does not have many audios on her resume, but I believe she was a good choice.  She has a very harsh, gruff, accented voice, which normally is not what I enjoy, but this was exactly as Sigrid should have sounded.  Bertish is a British actress that has enjoyed roles on television and the stage.

Audiobook length:  13 hours and 10 minutes (400 pages)

4 out of 5 stars    


Monday, November 19, 2012

Monday Matinee: The Perks of Being a Wallflower (2012)

 Full disclosure:  I HAVE NOT READ THIS BOOK!  Do you know how disturbing this is for me?  But my daughter really wanted to see this movie and a sliver of time opened before us on a Saturday night, so I cringed and went for it.  It goes against all my rules.

My expectation going in?  Fluffy, slightly angsty, high school drama.  I figured I'd walk out having been mildly entertained.  However, I do love Emma Watson.  She is just so darned cute.  And Ezra Miller is...intriguing.  He played such a chilling, cold-blooded sociopath in "We Need to Talk About Kevin", he is hard to ignore.  Dude can't help but stand out. 

The result?  I LOVED this movie.  Probably even more than my daughter, which seems unlikely but true.

So, I suppose that the 97% of you that HAVE read the book will need no synopsis.  But for the three of you that know nothing about the plot, let me fill you in.

 Charlie is entering his freshman year of high school with some baggage.  Yes, he is bookish and shy, but his best friend also recently committed suicide.  And there are some older demons rattling around in his brain from his childhood.  He is painfully but doggedly attempting to streamline himself into the real world, and belong.

Enter Patrick and Sam (Ezra Miller, Emma Watson)...step-siblings, seniors, worldly misfits.  They sense Charlie's desperate need for a friend, and they see in him as a kindred spirit.  They pull him into their pot brownie-eating, Rocky Horror Picture Show-performing, mix tape-loving band of misfits.  They embrace Charlie for who he is deep inside, faults and all.  They do not judge.  And while the group appears to not have a care in the world, they are each suffering in different ways.  

There were so many things that blew me away about this movie.  It transcended the typical high school movie about fitting in and crushes and mean girls.  These were not your cookie-cutter teenagers.  One was a Buddhist, one compulsively stole jeans from the mall, one was battling a reputation of promiscuity, one was gay.  Issues of drugs and alcohol, mental illness, sexual orientation, and sexual abuse were addressed, but it never seemed to get bogged down.  Despite the very serious issues, most of the time I had a shit-eating grin on my face because I loved these kids.  

The closest thing I could compare this to is a smarter, edgier, hipper The Breakfast Club.    

The performances of Emma Watson and Ezra Miller were outstanding.  They were irrepressible, visceral, and exhilarating to watch.  They made a great movie unforgettable.  There has been some rumbling about this movie with regards to the Oscars...probably long-shots, but the fact that it has been mentioned makes my heart happy.  There is no doubt in my mind that I must read this book, and I must own this movie.  

5 out of 5 stars  

Sunday, November 18, 2012

Sunday Salon: Catch-up

 A fine morning to you all!  I come to you from a subterranean pit of despair and self-realization.  Once upon a time, I was an organized soul.  I am not anymore.  I miss teacher appreciation days.  I forget early pick-up days.  And I might just blow my Xmas cards if I'm not careful.  I've always mailed my Xmas cards on the day after Thanksgiving.  As of right this minute, I have nothing...not a picture (kids won't pose dammit), not a letter, not a mailing list.  Only the next week will tell if I will be able to get my act together.  

I also have only one week of posts pre-scheduled.  After that?  Who knows.  I have my little encouragement elves that tell me I could post about the Thanksgiving meal I'm not going to cook.  Or the books I WANT to read but never will.  The biggest issue I have is not things to post about, but the time to DO them.  

This week was all about playing catch-up with the havoc wreaked from last week in Boston.  I also had a monthly Home and School meeting that went late, a fundraiser golf tournament, a dirty house, and a Cross Country meet in Tallahassee.  (Tallahassee is four hours away from me, by the way.)  Not much was accomplished for the entire week.  I'm sorry, I do love you my blogger friends.  But there wasn't a day that left me in peace where I could hang out with you.  

As far as reading, let me tell you what I accomplished.  I did finish the very short and hilarious graphic novel "Drinking at the Movies".  If you aren't afraid of a few vulgar words, this book is a winner and I totally enjoyed it.  I am now reading "The Light Between Oceans" for my book club and while I am enjoying it, I haven't made much progress (hard to read while you are driving.)  On audio I did finish "The Forgotten Garden" which will NO DOUBT be one of my favorite books of the year.  After that, with an 8 hour round trip facing me, I listened to "Atlantic" by Simon Winchester, an audio that has been on my iPod forever.  Probably not the best book for a road trip but I finished it, then started the latest in the Linda Castillo series "Gone Missing".  

It is my intent, with one child on Thanksgiving break this entire week (and the other off for three days), to get caught up on my posting.   And coming by to see what you all are up to.  I'm not sure if I told you, but I decided TO HELL with cooking a Thanksgiving feast in 2012.  My daughter is vegetarian and my son will ONLY eat meat.  We are using a free two night stay to the Marriott World near Disney and hanging out on Thanksgiving at this resort, and will eat whatever they feed us on turkey day.  Relaxing and family bonding, after three or four crazy months, is on the agenda.

It will be another week or two before I figure out whether I will be going black in December.  Might not be a bad idea!  Hope you all have a WONDERFUL Thanksgiving holiday!! 


Friday, November 16, 2012

Man in the Blue Moon - Michael Morris

My first exposure to Michael Morris and his latest book "Man in the Blue Moon" was at SIBA this past September.  Michael was a featured speaker one morning at breakfast, and he quickly had the entire room under his spell.  A good old Southern boy, he explained to us in his friendly, slow drawl that he wasn't even that great of a student growing up.  He just loved to tell a good tale.  The premise of this book, about a man that arrives hidden in a crate intended to hold a clock, was one told by his grandfather.  The fact that the story takes places in Apalachicola FL, one of my favorite places on earth?  A place I have visited at least a dozen times?  Well, I just had to find time to slip this one into my reading agenda.

I was incredibly pleased, then, when I heard it was the She Read selection for November.  Sometimes that is exactly what it takes to ensure I am able to read a book!

Synopsis:  Ella Wallace and her three sons are just managing to scrape by.  While the rest of the US fights its battles in World War I, she is focused on keeping her land out of foreclosure, the debt a little "gift" left to her when her drug-addicted gambler husband abandoned them.  But the local banker has a score to settle, and seems determined to ruin them.  

Then a stranger a crate Ella THOUGHT was to contain a clock from the Blue Moon Company.  The man claims to be Ella's husband's cousin, and he brings with him a story of a scandal and murder in Georgia.  And he prefers to lay low.  Ella distrusts the guy, but when he volunteers to help her cut timber from her land to pay off the bank, she delays the decision to send him on his way temporarily. But the man begins to charm Ella and her boys, and there is also this special gift he has that cannot be explained...

With a satisfying mixture of raw characters, the syrupy-rich atmosphere of the undeveloped South, blanketed in faith and mystery, Morris weaves a tale that will not soon be forgotten.

My thoughts:  I'm not sure if I qualify as a Southerner.  But I've lived in Florida since 1991, so I certainly FEEL like one, and I gravitate towards books that celebrate everything I love about the South...particularly Old Florida.  I have had a love affair with Apalachicola and St. George Island since my first visit up there 12 years ago.  I was thrilled that my little corner of heaven was the location of all the action in this book.  

And even though the story took place in WWI, I recognized some of the landmarks. One of the restaurants mentioned, the Owl Cafe, is still there today!  I felt as if I were back there.  Morris does an excellent job of bringing this familiar place to life on the page.  

The characters were extremely well-drawn.  Ella was a strong woman, a momma bear willing to do anything to protect her kids, and willing to work hard to save her property.  Her sons were not token figures in the story either...they got their piss and vinegar from their mother.  Morris also draws a complex web of small town pettiness, gossip and hidden agendas...sometimes it is comical and sometimes it is a nasty business.

There is an element of religion and faith in the story, but nothing more than you would expect to find in a small Southern town.  Even though I am a religious person, I rarely enjoy too much of it in my fiction. But this was really a wonderful touch, what the author created.  Magical and beautiful.  I wouldn't have changed a thing.

It did take me longer to read than it should have.  Perhaps the action was slow in ramping up, or it took me some time to invest in the characters.  I'm not completely sure.  But ultimately, it was a very satisfying read.

4 out of 5 stars

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Beautiful Ruins - Jess Walter

I'll just lay this out there...I am scared to review this book.  I've been putting it off, and putting it off.  I'm not going to be able to describe it.  Well, yeah sure, I'll TRY, but I've been swishing it around in my head and nothing works.  

And the crazy thing is...I did not see this coming.  I have read one of Walter's books "The Financial Lives of the Poets", and I LOVED it.  It was really a breathe of fresh air in the land of family dysfunction and women finding themselves and all that.  It was creative and snarky and grounded in an inch or two of real life.  And when this little guy popped up, I never heard a bad word.  And that cover!  So vintage.  But it still knocked me down on my ass.  OK so here goes... *holding breath, and hitching up my britches*

Synopsis:  It all starts with a young man, working the family "Hotel Adequate View" in a small coastal fishing village wedged in the crack of a hill, in 1962 Italy.  Pasqualle, nursing a broken heart, has come home from college to pick up where his deceased father left off, and he is bored and isolated but with big plans.  Then a beautiful, tragic American actress shows up to hide away from the world, and the wheels are set in motion.

We travel to modern day Hollywood, where a scruffy, loser-who-thinks-he's-a-winner-who-lives-in-his-parents'-basement is pitching a movie idea to a distracted assistant to the famous director Michael Deane.

There is an aspiring author who stays at the Hotel Adequate View annually, but has only written one chapter in all the years he has spent there, drinking wine and dispensing advice to Pasqualle.

There is a talented musician who has squandered his gifts by sleeping with groupies, abusing drugs and alcohol, and consistently failing his one true love and his mother.  

We read Mr. Scruffy Loser's movie script.

We read the aspiring author's chapter.

We read a snippet of Michael Dean's memoir.

There is Richard Burton and Liz Taylor.

And everyone is connected in a glorious, ironic, sweeping, humorous kind of way.

My thoughts:  So there you go.  That is all I can really say, because the genius of this book is in the unencumbered meandering of this epic story.  It bucks the normal, expected template of a fictional book.  You pop your head into what seem to be random points in time, in various people's lives, then you pop out and read a screenplay.  You cross oceans and decades and languages.  You wade through love, greed, passion, ambition, helplessness, resignation, faith, hope.

The characters are quirky and make you laugh, which is a gift that Walters uses to his full advantage.  He is clever and sardonic, this one, with a turn of phrase that makes you shake your head in amazement, or chortle at the raunch.  Examples are required here!  When the director's assistant describes sex with her boyfriend as "the first two minutes like an exam from an autistic gynecologist, the next ten a visit from the Roto-Rooter man".  HA!  But he never lets his snark completely take over.  In fact, there was much in this story to cause one to pause and reflect.  So many quotables here.  Take these:

"There are only two good outcomes for a quest like this, the hope of the serendipitous savant - sail for Asia and stumble on America - and the hope of scarecrows and tin men:  that you find out you had the thing you sought all along."

"But I think some people wait forever, and only at the end of their lives do they realize that their life has happened while they were waiting for it to start."

By the end of the book, a feeling of warm, happy contentment washed over me.  Like after a very fulfilling, 6 course meal with wine pairings and an unobtrusive strolling guitarist named Francisco.  (Can you tell what this book did to me?)  Sated and filled to the brim, I wanted for nothing more.  Except maybe to stay at Hotel Adequate View in Porto Vergogna Italy.

5 out of 5 stars

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Not So Wordless Wednesday: Lake Michigan #2

I've always called my daughter the cat whisperer, but when we were staying in our rental house on Lake Michigan (which was located in a protected dune area) she whispered this little guy.  I suspect he was looking for a handout.

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Field to Feast: A moveable blog feast - Appetizers

So you are back for more!  If you didn't catch my post yesterday, and the story that goes with this cookbook, here is the link.  On day 2 of the Moveable Blog Feast, I'm offering up an appetizer!  (I actually had to make the Baked Penne with Four Cheeses, but I'll save that for another post!)

Before I share, I have to make a distinction between this cookbook and many others out there.  First, this gorgeous recipe collection is a tribute to all the wonderful farmers and restaurants out there in my home state of Florida.  The authors Heather McPherson, Katie Farmand (my partner in crime at the Reading Between the Wines event) and her mother Pam Brandon have compiled an eclectic and wholesome of dishes that celebrate the beauty of what Florida has to offer.  The pictures are gorgeous, the recipes easy to follow and delicious.    

Left to right:  Authors Heather, Katie and Pam

My chosen recipe is the Creamy Wild Mushroom Soup from Chef David Gwynn at the Cypress Restaurant in Tallahassee.  David opened his restaurant eleven years ago, and his mission from the start was to contribute to the local economy.  He gets his food from smaller farms, which provide higher-quality produce because they care deeply about what they do.  He finds inspiration in the Panhandle bounty, including the shiitake mushrooms used in this recipe.  They are grown in carefully shaded oak logs at Turkey Hill Farm.  He suggests drizzling it with truffle oil (which I did) or topping it off with a spoonful of crabmeat or cornbread croutons.

Creamy Wild Mushroom Soup

Wild Mushroom Stock

4 cups wild mushroom stems
1 cup roughly chopped onion
1/2 cup roughly chopped celery
1/2 cup roughly chopped carrot
6 garlic cloves
2 bay leaves
1 tsp dried or 2 tsp fresh thyme
1 tsp black peppercorns
1/4 cup fresh parsley, leaves and stems

Creamy Wild Mushroom Soup

2 tsp plus 2 TBL unsalted butter, divided
2 stalks celery, diced
2 garlic cloves, minced
1 medium onion, diced
1 pound shiitake mushrooms, stems removed, roughly chopped
1 pound oyster mushrooms, stems removed, roughly chopped
1 tsp fresh thyme
1 bay leaf
1/2 tsp coarse salt, plus additional to taste
1/4 tsp ground black pepper, plus additional to taste
1 quart wild mushroom stock
1/4 cup heavy cream

Make the Stock

1.  Combine mushroom stems, onion, celery, carrot, garlic, bay leaves, thyme, peppercorns, and parsley in a stockpot and add just enough water to cover.  Bring to a boil, then reduce heat and simmer for 1 hour, skim foam from surface periodically.

2.  Strain stock through a fine-mesh sieve into a large saucepan.  Set aside.

Make the Soup

1.  Heat 2 tsp butter in a 4-quart stockpot over medium-low heat.  Add celery, garlic, and onions.  Cover and cook until vegetables are softened but not brown, about 6 to 8 minutes.

2.  Add mushrooms, thyme, bay leaf, 1/2 tsp salt, and 1/4 tsp pepper to pot and stir well.

3.  Cook over medium heat, stirring often, until mushrooms are cooked down and most of the liquid is gone, 20 to 30 minutes.

4.  Add stock and bring to a boil.  Remove pot from heat, discard bay leaf.

5.  Working in 2 batches, carefully transfer soup to a blender and puree until smooth.

6.  Return soup to pot over low heat.  Add cream and remaining 2 TBL butter.  Cook until flavors are combined, about 2 minutes.  Add additional salt and pepper to taste.

OK I'll grant you, the picture in the cookbook is much prettier, but I made this!  (That is a garlic breadstick on the plate with the soup, and it was the perfect thing to dip.)

The main course is coming tomorrow over at Heathers (Book Addiction).  Please visit!