Short Reviews of Long Books

So the summer definitely took me away from the computer.  I did not post nearly as often as I had intended (though, to be fair, I had grand aspirations about daily posts), but I read far more than I thought possible.  This bookworm was apparently verrrrry hungry.

Here’s the thing.  I would love to do a beautiful, happy post for every book read or movie viewed over the summer, but I’m not going to.  It’s too overwhelming.  In fact, it has kept me quiet for the past week as I struggle to even begin talking about my summer.  Instead, I will give you a description of the book or movie in under 11 words or less and my thoughts in 20 words or less.  Feel free to add more ideas in the comments.

The Piano Teacher: A Novel by Janice Lee.

Summary: Sad woman and sadder man have affair in Hong Kong.

Thoughts: This historical backdrop (Hong Kong during WWII) was intriguing, but I didn’t like any of the characters.  Meh.

The Twilight Saga Collection by Stephenie Meyer

Summary: Bella must choose between creepy vampire and not-as-creepy-but-still-superhuman werewolf Jacob.

Thoughts: It teaches teenagers that the best kind of love is obsessive, controlling, and dangerous.  No thank you.

Witches Abroad by Terry Pratchett

Summary: 3 witches, one a fairy godmother, must stop a happy ending.

Thoughts: Hilarious.  This is my first Pratchett novel and I now want to read the entire Discworld series.

The Lotus Eaters by Tatjana Soli

Summary: 3 photographers and their relationships as they photograph the Vietnam war.

Thoughts: Well-written and intricate storylines.  The background and the characters are fascinating.  I want to study photography, or go to Vietnam.

Sweet Valley Confidential: Ten Years Later by Francine Pascal

Summary: Sweet valley twins, 10 years later.  Sex, betrayal, and swearing.

Thoughts: So bad.  I read it because I loved the series.  It makes no sense and I hated both twins.

Corelli’s Mandolin by Louis de Bernieres

Summary: Love triangle in Greece during WWII.

Thoughts: Loved it with 15 pages to go.  Then almost threw it across the room.  Still love it.

Firefly Lane by Kristin Hannah

Summary: Follows two friends through school, love, and duplicity.

Thoughts: I may have used up an entire tissue box on this.  Read it if you want a good cry.

French Women Don’t Get Fat by Mirielle Guiliano

Summary: The title pretty much says it all.

Thoughts: Commonsense advice aside from drinking leek broth for three days and purchase enough champagne to have at every dinner.

Nineteen Eighty-Four by George Orwell (for the fifth time, at least)

Summary: Big brother knows all.

Thoughts: Love it.  Love it.  Love love love love it.  It gets better with every read.  Read it.

 

Phew!  Now that I have those out of the way, I can get back to posting on what I am reading right now!  Trust me, I have an awesome one coming up 🙂

Lunch in Paris: A Love Story with Recipes

The chocolate centre flows like dark lava onto the whiteness of the plate. The last ounce of stress drains from my body…. I have discovered the French version of Death by Chocolate.’ Part love story, part wine-splattered cookbook, Lunch in Paris is a deliciously tart, forthright and funny story of falling in love with a Frenchman and moving to the world’s most romantic city – not the Hollywood version, but the real Paris, a heady mix of blood sausage and irregular verbs. From gutting her first fish (with a little help from Jane Austen) and battling bad-tempered butchers to discovering heavenly chocolate shops, Elizabeth Bard finds that learning to cook and building a new life as a stranger in an even stranger land have a lot in common. Along the way she learns the true meaning of home – and the real reason French women don’t get fat … Peppered with recipes to die for, this mouth-watering love story is the perfect treat for any woman who has ever suspected that lunch in Paris could change her life.

– Back Cover

Now, if you have been reading at all lately, you will have noticed two important things.

  1. My posting speed is slowing to a trickle.  I suppose the reason for that is this pesky problem called “life.”  I have started taking night classes so I now officially work full time, take night classes, maintain my blog (meaning that I have to continue reading and cooking), and keep up some sort of social life so that I don’t go completely insane.  I decided I would rather have fewer posts of quality that I can be proud of, rather than many icky posts.
  2. I have already posted about my dining experiences in Paris.  What do I have to talk about now?

Well, I’m going to tell you. Continue reading

Living The Sweet Life in Paris

Croque Madame: Ham and cheese, more cheese, and an egg on top!

A few weeks ago, I spent some time in my favorite city in the world (so far): Paris.

I had been there twice before, once for a high school trip and the other for a more extended study-abroad program.  I adored it both times and dreamt of a time that I could return.

Last August, I decided that since I actually had my life planned far enough ahead of time to book plane tickets, I would schedule my Parisian adventures for my school’s April break.

While I have seen all of the “touristy”  parts of Paris, I wanted to tackle all of the hidden gems that the locals know about and keep secret from us foreigners.

Nutella Crepe for the Latin Quarter

I turned to David Lebovitz, American expatriot in Paris, who has authored several cookbooks as well as the man behind the popular blog davidlebovitz.com.

Like me, he has a keen interest in food and has explored Paris by following his nose to the best bakeries, pastry shops, and bistros.

When I am not in Paris, I live vicariously through him.  When I am there, I follow his recommendations.

A few years back, he penned the book The Sweet Life in Paris.  In this book, he spins tales of Paris, its people, and (perhaps best of all) its food.  I love this book.

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In My Mother’s Kitchen

Mothers show their love in many ways.  They tuck you in at night, hold your hand when you have bad dreams, and nurse you back to health when a tummy-ache arrives.

They also show their love in the food they make for you and the relationship with food that they create in your home.

The book, In My Mother’s Kitchen, is a collection of short memoirs written by prominent figures ranging from Maya Angelou to Dorie Greenspan, on the lessons that they learned while in their mothers’ kitchens.

Each shares a unique and beautiful tale, exploring how baking a cake or separating eggs teaches us about cooking and about life.

I would not change one word, punctuation mark, or idea in this book.  I was drawn into it and could not stop reading until I had finished it.

In honor of Mother’s Day, and my mother, I thought I would share a moment in my mother’s kitchen and the lessons that I learned from it.

One dish that we make almost every winter is fudge…pounds and pounds and pounds of fudge.  And then we eat it all!  Just kidding.  We give almost all of it away.    Our fudge is not just any fudge.  It is a smooth, silken, melt-in-your-mouth ambrosia that will win over people who don’t even like chocolate all that much.

We have a very intricate system, that has been honed and developed to a fine point over the years, to make this candy. 

I measure and mix most of the ingredients into the large pot and proceed to heat and stir until it is a uniform substance of sugary, creamy deliciousness.  When I was little, I would ask my mom if we could make batches of this fudge base for me to take to school as “soup.” 

At this point, the real tricky part comes into play.  My mom takes over the stirring, we turn the heat up and I am in control of the candy thermometer.  Our thermometer is not digital, but a well-worn, practically antique device that has worked for us for a number of years, so we stick with it.  Along with having to keep a close eye on the temperature, as we have to get it to a certain temperature at a certain time (stressful yes?), I have to keep the steam from the fudge from condensing on the thermometer and obscuring my vision.  In order to help me with this, every year, I fashion a wooden skewer with a paper towel tied around one end to serve has my mini squeegee. 

Once we get to that temperature, then the real fun starts.  We have to frantically throw more ingredients in, stir as fast as we can (that’s mom’s job) and then pour it into the prepared pans before the fudge starts to set.  Whew! 

Then, we must find a place to keep the pans as they are setting because if they are too cold, the fudge is crumbly, too warm and the fudge is sauce. 

We have had our fair share of failures in this endeavor.  Full pans of fudge have ended up in our trash unless my dad manages to step in and save some as ice cream sauce while we are in the midst of our tirades.  It takes a brave man to do that.

We have made grocery store trips to restock on ingredients.  We have muttered and yelled and cut pieces out of the fudge while holding or collective breath in hopes that it worked.  We will never give out less-than-perfect fudge as gifts.

Once we have completed this arduous task and sorted the fudge into tins, we rest, exhausted, and slightly uncomfortable from the amount of sugar we have had to eat to “test” the fudge.

When someone asks for our recipe, we look at each other, knowing that even if we were to divulge the recipe in its entirety, it would not end up like ours.  We have put too many years into perfecting our techniques and no one person can recreate the love that we put into each batch.  We smile at each other and laugh, knowing that we both fully intend to make our way to the kitchen the next year and endure this process again. 

So what lessons have I learned from our yearly fudge ritual?

  1. If it is hard, then it is worth doing.  Always challenge yourself and test your limits.
  2. Perfect is what you make it.  You will have to make quite a few mistakes before you really know how to do something.
  3. We all make mistakes and experience hardship.  It is how you handle those times of trouble that defines you as a person.

Around the holiday season, you can expect to see a post on our fudge.  I probably won’t give you the recipe, but I will certainly give you some pictures to drool over.

Happy Mother’s Day to my mom and to every other mother out there!

What about you?  What have you learned in your mother’s kitchen?

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Joining Beth at Beth Fish Reads for her fun Weekend Cooking Party. Every weekend. It’s open to anyone who has any kind of food-related post to share! Go on over and see some fun posts.

Why Does Every Best-Selling Book Have to Become a Movie?

Rating: Plum for the book
Apple for the movie

I found myself in a movie theater a few months ago, using a straw to drink from a water bottle, watching Eat, Pray, Love.

Let me back up even further.  A few years ago, I purchased the book Eat, Pray, Love by Elizabeth Gilbert for my mom as Mother’s Day present.  To go with that, I also made a bookmark for her.  Personally, I think choosing a book for someone else is one of the most meaningful gifts that you can give.  As a result, when gift-giving time comes around, I head for a book store and read the backs of books to my heart’s content… all in the name of buying an appropriate gift of course.  I chose Eat, Pray, Love for my mom because it is about a woman who goes on  a journey (both physical and spiritual) to discover the secrets to happiness, harmony, etc.  I think every mother deserves the chance to go on a similar journey.  Perhaps not a year-long fling to Italy, India, and Indonesia, but a chance to get away and take care of herself, instead of always taking care of everyone else.  I have not yet experienced motherhood, but I know that I have moments when I need to be by myself and take care of my own thoughts.  Many times, I find peace in reading and writing.  I thought that the book would help my mom take a few moments to find her own peace and quiet and, for that short time, find a reprieve from  the rest of us and whatever antics/problems/issues we have.

I didn’t read the book until my mom and I set a date to see the movie.  The date was set for a Friday and on the Wednesday before, I thought it might be wise to actually start reading it.  So, I spent the 6 hours that I was proctoring a test reading about delicious food, spiritual healing, cute guys, and gorgeous beaches.  By the time I could leave, I had just finished the Italy section and a marvelous description of Naples pizza.  Man, was I hungry!

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