Tuesday, August 30, 2011


Veronica is the first work by Mary Gaitskill that I've read. I'd heard a lot of praise and recommendations for both the novel itself and for Gaitskill as a writer, so it had been on my To Read list for a while.

I had a somewhat strange reaction to the book, because I started out really disliking it. I couldn't shake the feeling that the author was trying too hard to force profound meanings onto incongruous details. I stuck with it, though, and soon became too wrapped up in the interesting structure of the story to pay too much attention to my initial complaint.

The narrative follows Allison, a middle aged woman suffering from hepatitis, as she leaves her house and goes about a mundane day. Different moments in her present trigger memories, during which we get the parallel narrative of her life as a young model in New York during the 1980's. Those flashbacks themselves jump among different time periods, from when Allison first runs away from home as a teenager to when she later develops an unlikely friendship with an older coworker, the Veronica of the title. I never really warmed up to any of the characters, but the story was so interestingly constructed and so skillfully juggled that I couldn't help but admire it.

Have you ever done an about face and changed your opinion in the middle of a book?

Saturday, August 27, 2011

Cherry Tomato Crisp

When I picked up a container of cherry tomatoes from the farmer's market, I decided to use them to make a fresh, summery meal of tomato crisp. In the past I'd tried a similar recipe from Martha Stewart's Everyday Food cookbook, but that version involved making bread crumbs from scratch and baking it in the oven. I decided to improvise a simpler version to make it a more appealing dish for a warm summer evening.

Cut the tomatoes in half and spread them in a small baking dish. In a separate bowl, mix bread crumbs, Parmesan cheese, chopped fresh basil, and a drizzle of olive oil. Spread the mixture over the top of the tomatoes and microwave for two minute intervals. Keep checking it until the tomatoes just start to soften and release their juice (I don't think it took me more than five minutes total).

Thursday, August 25, 2011

The Weird Sisters

Any book that's populated with a family of bibliophiles is bound to win some points with me. The Weird Sisters by Eleanor Brown is just such a book, with an engaging story to boot.

It tells the tale of three adult sisters, the product of a Shakespearean scholar father and a daydreaming mother who's prone to wandering off with her nose in a book while dinner burns. They simultaneously find themselves all living back at home in the small college town they grew up in, each trying to flee a problem of her own while caring for their ill mother and trading quotes from Hamlet and King Lear. Though the characters are eccentric, the story had a nice, realistic depth to it. One or two scenes stood out as being a little stereotypically drawn, but they faded into the background of the whole. And a passage on pages 70-71 that describes the deal-breaking effect of a dislike of literature is in itself worth the price of admission.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Summer So Far

Does anyone else feel shocked that the last few weeks of summer are here already? Every year I seem to fall into the same trap. I start out the season with a high level of anticipation, as excited as if I had the entire summer off. Then July 4th comes and goes and in the blink of an eye it's nearly Labor Day, with cooler mornings that hint of the fall to come.

This summer, I had planned to take tons of pictures and share some posts about the real Jersey Shore. Now there's just a couple of weeks left to the season and I still haven't gotten around to that. Maybe I'll have to change my plan and do something about the locals-only, off-season at the shore. In the meantime, here are a few of the pictures I have managed to take while at the shore. (You'll see that I didn't make it far beyond my mom's garden.)

Is there anything left on your summer To Do list?

Monday, August 22, 2011

Vaclav and Lena

Vaclav and Lena by Haley Tanner may just be my favorite book of the summer. It's one of those rare finds: literary fiction that kept me racing through it while I was reading it on the beach, and left me sorry to leave the the world of the story when I finally came to the end.

The novel follows two Russian immigrant children- Vaclav, the only son of old fashioned and overprotective parents, and Lena, daughter of an unknown mother and product of a much bleaker upbringing. They grow up together and develop a friendship against the Brooklyn backdrops of Coney Island and Brighton Beach. Lena disappears under mysterious circumstances one day, forcing each to lead separate lives until they are just as suddenly reunited years later. It's really a lovely story that somehow manages to seem like a modern day fairy tale while still taking a thoroughly unsentimental view of its characters.

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Swooning Again

Once again, jcrew has left me smitten. With their entire fall line in general, but more specifically with another collection of art deco inspired jewelrey.

With more reasonable prices than the last collection that had me swooning, I think it's safe to say that I'll end up with one of these in the near future. (I'm talking to you, ivory crystal bangle.)

Wednesday, August 17, 2011


I went into Swamplandia!, my book club's latest pick, prepared to completely love it. Somehow, it just didn't live up to the expectations I had built up in my head. Not that there was anything wrong with the writing. In fact, there were many moments that were quite lovely. I think my main problem was that I started the book under a misapprehension of what it was about, largely due to all of the hype and glowing reviews I had read about the book. For some reason, blurbs like "wonderfully imaginative" and "a lushly written treat" made me think that it would be a quirky, somewhat magical tale of a young girl's unique family and her adventures through the Florida swamplands. Turns out, it's much, much darker than that.

I don't want to give too much away, but in case anyone else has read it, I just have to say:

The Bird Man!?! Oh my goodness. My stomach was tangled up in sour knots of dread for the whole second half of the book, just waiting for the inevitable.

If you've read it, let me know what you think. I can't wait until my book club's meeting to see if anyone else felt the same way.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Classics On Air

You've probably figured this out by now, but I'm officially the prime marketing target for Penguin Classics. I was browsing their site the other day, on the prowl for new deluxe editions to add to my wish list, when I stumbled across Penguin Classics On Air.

It's an ongoing series of podcasts that feature discussions of literary topics ranging from Jane Austen and Elizabeth Gaskell to the history of vampires in literature and the Swedish equivalent Gone With the Wind (which I immediately added to my To Read list).

Wouldn't one of these be perfect to listen to while cooking dinner? Much more enriching background noise then, say, Access Hollywood. (Or so I've heard. I never turn that on myself, of course.)

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Train Reading

You've heard of Train Reading, right? It's the lesser known, yet actually more important cousin of Beach Reading. I'd much rather be caught bookless on a beach than on a train. Let's face it, most of the time I only get through a page or two on the beach before I give up to nap in the sun instead.

When I got a free copy of The Last Summer (of You and Me), which was touted as a Beach Read by its jacket blurbs, I actually thought it would make a perfect Train Read during by recent trip to Boston. I was right. Set on beachy Fire Island, it's full of family drama, secrets among friends, and a romance (but not as cheesy or melodramatic as you might think). Quick but compelling, it was the perfect book for my train ride.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Self Portrait with Glasses and Dog

Today I wanted to do a little show and tell post about my glasses. I decided to pull Millie into the shots for some gratuitous cuteness. I should have know better than to try and take them during her antsiest time of day. After much fidgeting and wiggling (on my part alone!), these are the best I could come up with.

First are my newest glasses, which actually aren't new at all--they're a vintage pair that I found on Etsy and had made up with my prescription. They're similar in shape to Ray Bans, but a light golden brown color.

Next is my older pair, which I've had for about a year and still love. They're brown tortoise on top, clear plastic on the bottom. I've gotten quite a surprising number of compliments on them (including once at a jcrew store, which I'm pretty sure is the equivalent of two compliments anywhere else).

I'm really liking having a wardrobe of glasses and may have to start keeping my eyes open for a third pair. A cat's eye shape, perhaps?

Monday, August 8, 2011

In Vino Veritas

I've never considered myself to be much of a wine fan. Though I'd drink a glass if one materialized in front of me, I never seemed to go out of my way to have some. I'm certainly no connoisseur--I don't know much about the different types of wines or what any good brands are. And to make matters worse, my palate is not exactly a discerning one. I'm pretty much just as happy with some Arbor Mist as I am with a fancier variety. So I was pleasantly surprised when I recently discovered a specific brand that I'm partial to- Cupcake Vineyards (and no, it's not just because it says "cupcake" in the name).

I made my discovery when I ended up with quite a few leftover bottles of wine after I hosted my book club. One of them was Cupcake's Pinot Grigio and, let me tell you, it was delicious. Since the Cupcake wines go for about $10 a bottle and are available at the grocery store, I picked up a few more to try- a pretty good Riesling and a really good red wine that they called "Red Velvet". (Okay, maybe I was swayed by the cupcake reference with that last one.)

I think I've finally found a wine that I can be loyal to. So what if it's only a few rungs up the ladder from Arbor Mist?

Are you a wine fan? Do you have any favorites?

Friday, August 5, 2011

A Long Way Down

I've always been a fan of Nick Hornby's writing, though I hadn't read anything by him lately. I recently caught up with one of his older novels, A Long Way Down.

The premise is that on New Years Eve, four strangers meet when they find themselves atop a London building, all intent on jumping. With their resolve faltering, they agree to postpone their suicides until Valentine's Day, and a motley group is formed. Hornby does a great job of using cause and effect to move his story along. It seems like it could be a hard task to propel a group of suicidal strangers into enough action to fill a novel when they have little in common and don't even like each other all that much. The plot devices Hornby uses to get around this are somewhat obvious but still work really well, most likely because he simultaneously manages to reveal new bits of information about the characters' pasts. What could have been scenes of superficial action are turned into meaningful, nicely illuminating scenes. I officially remain a fan of his.

Thursday, August 4, 2011

I Miss My Dog!

Millie has been staying with my mom and dad for the past two weeks so that they could watch her while I went on my baking road trip. I'm getting very excited to pick her up this weekend. My week has seemed so dull without her around. No happy greeting when I come home from work, no excuses for going on multiple walks per day...I think it's true what they say- having a pet really does help relieve stress and improve your quality of life.

I've gotten a few photo updates this week and it looks like she's having a good time on her vacation, though, aside from one scary thunderstorm that made her hide under a pillow near my grandma.

Other than that, I think she's been catching up on some reading....

(I swear I didn't stage that last picture. She just fell asleep in that pose. All I did was hold the camera.)

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

One Pot Wonder

I always feel proud of myself when I come up with a dish all on my own, no recipe in sight. I'm even prouder when said dish involves an unexpected ingredient and only requires one small saucepan to make (a necessity for me a few weeks ago, when the heat wave we were having coincided with my dishwasher being on the fritz).

Let's call this dish Gnocchi with Peas in a Creamy Pesto Sauce, shall we?

I cooked frozen gnocchi according to package directions, adding a few handfuls of frozen peas into the boiling pasta water for the last few minutes.

I drained the pasta and peas and, back in the same pot, heated a few spoonfuls of pre-made pesto (I used Giada's brand, available at Target). I added in some grated Romano cheese and some skim milk to turn it into a light cream sauce. To thicken the sauce just a bit, I added some spoonfuls of plan Greek yogurt- not the most traditional of pasta ingredients.

I combined it all together, garnished with some fresh basil from my back stoop, and ate!

Monday, August 1, 2011

We Made Bread

What do you get when you combine two friends, three days, four states, and six loaves of bread? Another action-packed weekend for my friend Lara and me, of course.

After meeting up with Lara in Boston, we headed up to Stonewall Kitchen in York, Maine, where they have a cooking school along side the headquarters of their gourmet food company.

We saw a baking demonstration by Joanne Chang, cookbook author and owner of the Flour bakeries in Boston.

The demo was great. She shared some good tips and personal anecdotes as she demonstrated how to make a few different desserts, all of which we got to taste.

The chocolate cupcake:

The controversial homemade oreo- it was my favorite of the three, but Lara's least favorite.

The homemade pop tart. Delicious- I liked it so much more than I was expecting to.

She made all of the desserts seem fairly simple and not at all intimidating. I'm definitely going to try making these myself.

We hung around Stonewall after the class, spending a little time in their garden and browsing in their store.

Our original plan of hunting down some Maine lobster rolls changed as soon as we saw that the Stonewall cafe had lobster tacos on the menu. So good. (If you notice that this picture looks a little bit different, that's because I had to take it with my phone...after I got yelled at for taking pictures inside the store!)

After lunch, we hit the road, heading across New Hampshire. Next desination: Vermont and the King Arthur Flour baking school.

Since there isn't too much to do in the Vermont countryside on a Saturday night, we found our way back across the border (with very little help from the GPS) to the tiny town of Hanover, New Hampshire, for a look around Dartmouth's pretty campus.

The next day, it was back to baking. Like Stonewall, King Arthur Flour's headquarters encompass a store, a bakery, and a school. The store looks exactly how you would imagine a classic Vermont general store to be, only filled with every kind of baking supply and ingredient you can image. Happily, it was also much more camera friendly.

I may or may not have walked out of there with $70 worth of goodies. Suffice it to say there's a good chance you'll be seeing one or two baking posts from me in the future.

The class we took here, Bread 101, was a hands-on experience. We measured, mixed, and kneaded our way through two loaves of white bread, one loaf of semolina, and a batch of scones. By the time the day was done, I had gotten over my fear of working with yeast. I even bought some to take home with me (part of the aforementioned baking loot) so I can make some more bread on my own.

Back at Lara's house, we admired our handiwork...

...but had to put everything away quickly before the squirrels got to it.

(Hey, it was a long day.)


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