Saturday, June 29, 2013

The Poland reading list!

By the time you see this post, our cats and home will be in the trusty hands of our sitter, and we will be on our way to Poland.  This is a trip we take every other year to visit my husband's parents.  It is a very long flight (layover in Frankfurt), and because the road system in the motherland is so AWFUL, we find ourselves involved doing an inordinate amount of driving every time we get in the car.  Often times we are lost, even with our GPS.  When we are not driving and getting lost, we are spending time with our non-English speaking relatives.  For myself and my children, who are non-Polish speaking, our duty is to smile and look cute.

What this all adds up to is an insane amount of time to read.  INSANE.  And it is a fabulous thing.  I am happy to announce that my new Kindle arrived this past Monday, and I have strategically loaded the books I thought I might have a chance to read, which have been accumulating on a list.  So I thought I would share with you what I have brought with me for entertainment.

In print (in case of Kindle charging issues):

The Wishing Tree - Marybeth Whalen:  Love this woman with all my heart, and her books make me happy.

How To Break a Terrorist - Matthew Alexander:  Loaned to me by BFF's FBI hubby, guaranteed to make my brain buzz.
On the Kindle:

Big Brother - Lionel Shriver:  This author is highly dependable to deliver extremely smart prose and controversy.  Shriver is not the middle-of-the-road kinda gal, this time she tackles obesity.

The Keeper of Lost Causes - Jussi Adler-Olsen:  Rhapsody Jill says that if I am having withdrawal symptoms from Nesbo, this series (in which there are three installments so far) is the answer.  This is book #1.

Life After Life - Kate Atkinson:  Time travel and intrigue...yeah baby.

Poppet - Mo Hayder:  I've read Hayder before and she writes one hell of a book.  Between that terrifying cover and a description that includes words like "gripping" and "dangerous mental patient", I was sold.

The Coroner's Lunch - Colin Cotterill:  #1 installment in a murder mystery series.  I blame Marie

The Shining Girls - Lauren Beukes:  Time travel and a serial murderer...yeah baby.

Friday, June 28, 2013

Weekend cooking: Tequila-Mustard-Glazed Chicken Skewers

So I mentioned last week that I love mustard.  I've been on a bit of a mustard binge here lately so I thought I'd share another recipe that I ripped out of the June 2011 issue of Food and Wine.  It is the perfect easy dinner for summer, when everyone has their grills fired up.  And margaritas in the cocktail shaker.


1/2 cup tequila
1/2 cup light brown sugar
3 TBL olive oil
4 garlic cloves, chopped
1 TBL chopped oregano
1 TBL kosher salt
3 pounds skinless, boneless chicken thighs, cut into 1/2 inch strips

Tequila Mustard

4 large egg yolks
1/4 cup water
1/4 cup malt vinegar
1/4 cup honey
1/4 cup tequila
2 TBL freshly squeezed limed juice
1 TBL dry mustard
1 TBL ground coriander
1 TBL ground cumin
1 TBL chile powder
1 tsp finely grated lime zest

1.  In a large bowl, combine the tequila, brown sugar, olive oil, garlic, oregano and salt.  Add the chicken, toss to coat, cover and refrigerate for 1 hour.

2.  In a saucepan, whisk together the egg yolks, water, malt vinegar, honey, tequila, lime juice, dry mustard, coriander, cumin and chile powder.  Cook over low heat, whisking, until thickened, 5 not boil.  Transfer to a heatproof bowl.  Stir in lime zest and season with salt.  Let cool to room temperature, then refrigerate.

3.  Soak 24 bamboo skewers in water for 30 minutes.  Light a grill.  Transfer 1/2 cup of the mustard to a small bowl.  Thread the chicken onto the top third of the skewers, grill over moderate heat, turning, until browned and almost cooked, 8 minutes.  Brush the chicken with the reserved 1/2 cup of mustard and grill until glazed and cooked through.  Serve the skewers with the remaining mustard.

They paired this dish with either a floral beer (Ithaca Flower Power) or a ripe, full-bodied California Roussanne.

 A few comments:  I can't emphasize how important it is to actually use fresh oregano with this recipe.  It makes all the difference!  Also, the mustard sauce is SPICY, so if you are sensitive to heat, you might scale back on the chile powder.

Whenever I cook dishes that lend themselves to leftovers, I make extra for my son's lunches.  No go on this night.  They consumed everything I made!  I served it with a Jasmati rice and it was delicious.


Weekend Cooking is open to anyone who has any kind of food-related post to share: Book (novel, nonfiction) reviews, cookbook reviews, movie reviews, recipes, random thoughts, gadgets, quotations, photographs. 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. For more information, see the welcome post at Beth Fish Reads.

Thursday, June 27, 2013

Here I Go Again - Jen Lancaster (Audio)

Before this audio, I'd never read any of Jen Lancaster's books, but boy does she have a reputation!  She is SO loved in the bloggiverse, known for her bawdy humor, relatable women's issues, and laugh-out-loud turn of a phrase.  But the description of this one called out to me...Groundhog Day meets the '80's hair bands?  Hey that is enough for me.

Synopsis:  We all have known a Lissy Ryder once in our lives...worshipped and feared, in equal measure, in high school.  Dated the captain of the football team.  Set all the fashion and hair trends.  Left a path of the walking wounded in her wake.  Bottom line, Lissy was a bitch back then, but then again, so is karma.  Now at 37, she's been fired from her job, her husband is leaving her, and she's been kicked out of her condo.  She is living with her parents, trying to start her own business, and while wallowing in her misery, packing on the pounds from stress-eating.  All the while waking up to the sight of David Coverdale, all oiled and mousse-abused, hanging on her walls.

She hits rock bottom when she attends a class reunion and is shocked to find her successful group of classmates all still harbor grudges against her for the havoc she wrought 20 years ago.  How on earth can she make connections for her new business if everyone hates her?  There is one classmate who has become a new age diva that takes Lissy aside and offers her an opportunity to go back in time and make it things right.

Lissy soon realizes it may be more complicated than just making better decisions in high school.  Because for every action there is a reaction, and a kinder gentler Lissy has disastrous effects on  the lives of those around her in the years to follow.  Plus there is that one boy...the one who got away.  She had obviously missed the boat when she broke up with him and married the football jock that ultimately dumped her.  Is it really possible to ever get it right?

My thoughts:  I've read some reviews from fans that have expressed disappointment for this particular Jen Lancaster offering, but since I have nothing to compare it to, I was thoroughly entertained.  No wait...more than that.  I LOUDLY belly-laughed my whole way through this book.

I mean, let me just say that the premise is ludicrous.  And the plot is obvious from a mile away...there aren't any twists here that will shock you.  But it is just pure, unadulterated fun.  And bonus points for all the 80's references.  The pop culture and particularly the music references were of my youth.  And tell me you don't adore the movie Groundhog Day.  I'm thinking we all look back on our lives and fantasize a "do over" here and there.

So I guess if this is the worst that Lancaster has to offer, I need to read all of her work.  And for anyone who attended high school in the 80's, just do yourself a favor and grab this read for your summer travels (I'm talking specifically to my high school besties Kim and Julie)!

A few words about the audio production:  Jan Lancaster herself narrated this book, and I thought she did an excellent job.  She certainly has comedic timing, and delivers her one liners with flair.  The only strange thing is that Jen's voice does not sound like a "Lissy".  It is a deep, husky voice that would be better suited to the class jock, but that aside, it was a well-narrated romp.

Listening length:  9 hours and 10 minutes (320 pages)

4 out of 5 stars

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

New on the iPod

I received two audios from the library this week, after seeing some compelling reviews recently.  Let me know if you have read or listened to them!  Here is what I added:

Always Watching by Chevy Stevens (recommended by Caite at A Lovely Shore Breeze)

Synopsis:  Dr. Nadine Lavoie, briefly featured in Stevens' first two books ("Never Knowing" and "Still Missing"), takes center stage as she is forced to confront her traumatic childhood while treating a woman who attempted suicide.  Then the unthinkable happens, and Nadine realizes that danger is closer to home than she ever imagined.

Narrator:  Joyce Bean
Listening length:  12 hours and 16 minutes


Tell the Wolves I'm Home by Carol Rifka Brunt (recommended by Melissa at Avid Reader's Musings)

Synopsis:  1987.  Only one person has ever truly understood 14 year-old June Elbus:  Her uncle the renowned painter Finn Weiss. So when he dies far too young of a mysterious illness, June's world is turned upside down.  But Finn's death brings a surprise acquaintance into June's life, someone who will help her to heal - and to question what she thinks she knows about Finn, her family, and her own heart.  As June and this new stranger begin to spend some time together, June realizes she is not the only one who misses Finn, and if she can bring herself to trust this unexpected friend, he might just be the one she needs the most.  An emotionally-charged coming-of-age novel.

Narrator:  Amy Rubinate
Listening length:  12 hours

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

The Hypnotist's Love Story - Liane Moriarty

A couple of years ago I read "What Alice Forgot" by Liane Moriarty and it rocked my world.  I remember thinking that THIS author got it...what it is like to be newly married and full of dreams, to have kids (and all that brings), to juggle family crisis, to scratch and claw and be beaten down by life, and to have hope for the future.  That book spoke to me.  It IS an Amy Einhorn after all, so of course it spoke to me.

And I was thrilled to hear that Moriarty had a new book out last summer.  I want to thank the sweet, thoughtful Jenners for sending me her copy!

Synopsis:  Ellen O'Farrell is a successful middle-aged hypnotherapist who has never quite found Mr. Right...until she meets Patrick.  Yes he is a widow, and yes he has a child, but they have much in common and he is kind.  He has serious potential.  One night over dinner, Patrick reveals that he is being stalked by an ex-girlfriend Saskia.  He is concerned that it could prevent their relationship from going any further, but Ellen  is actually intrigued.  Call it professional curiosity.

As Ellen and Patrick's relationship develops into something more serious, Ellen hits some road bumps.  Although Ellen has always considered herself ethical, she finds herself making questionable choices in both her professional and personal life.  Patrick actually has some irksome qualities that must be dealt with, like his on-going love affair with his dead wife and his tendency to be a hoarder.  Then there is Saskia, who just won't give up, and is always lurking in the background, intruding on the most personal moments and sneaking into their homes.

We get two points of view in this study of love, obsession, and the ghosts of relationships past.  Ellen tells us her side of the story, but also we get a first person narrative from Saskia, who we should loathe but can't quite help feeling sympathy.  While the plot wanders a bit, readers are still treated with Moriarty's warm and readable prose and interesting characters.

My thoughts:  I'd be lying if I said I loved this book.  It just wasn't up to the standard of "What Alice Forgot".  The writing and insights were there, and is what I love about Moriarty's style.  But as I just said, the plot wandered all over the place and I occasionally wondered where it was all going.  It was all interesting, mind you, just a little unfocused.

I found myself amused at how I reacted to the characters.  I liked Ellen from the beginning.  She was quirky but totally relatable...any woman reader is going to see a bit of herself in Ellen.

But who would imagine that I might actually find a glimmer of kinship or understanding in a stalker?  Saskia wasn't beheading chickens by the light of the full moon.  She was an attractive professional woman who just couldn't let go of Patrick or his son, who Saskia had raised for three years.  She was totally out of line, but I found her redeemable and in need of a friend more than a psych ward.

I wasn't a big fan of Patrick.  He annoyed me, and I didn't trust him.  Until the end of the story, that is, when he offers insight to his actions.  Bottom line, the personalities kept me on my toes and never allowed me to get too comfortable or settled in my opinions.

I think that perhaps Moriarty has gotten a reputation for writing "chick lit", and to a certain extent, yes, her books have a lighter spirit.  But there is always a darker, deeper side to things that touches on our unspoken fears.

Generally, I am glad I read this book because I do hold this author in high esteem, though this isn't the best representation of what she can do.

4 out of 5 stars

Monday, June 24, 2013

Monday Matinee: World War Z (2013)

 My little rule of reading the book before I see the movie seems to have flown out the window.  Seeing that I read almost slower than I did when I had two kids under the age of 2.  So to heck with it.  My entire family really wanted to see this movie, so we grabbed the opportunity when a rainstorm moved in this past weekend at the beach.

And you know, I've been appreciating the merits of Brad Pitt and his acting and screen presence.  We don't need to discuss his taste in women.

Here is what is going on.  The world as it stands now is sliding off into the abyss.  Disease, famine, lawlessness.  The final straw is an aggressive international outbreak of "rabies".  Ex-UN investigator Gerry Lane (Pitt) is sitting in Philly traffic with his family when he witnesses a sudden, terrifying eruption of a zombie attack, where the infected move at an alarming rate and bite anyone they can.  The transformation from human to twitching, bug-eyed killing machine takes all of 10 seconds.  Gerry and his family run for their lives, and are soon whisked away by a UN helicopter because they need him back to fix shit.

This all happens in the first 15 minutes or so of the film.  BOOM.  You are in it.  Zero to sixty in the action category, and there is very little build up and no time to get bored.

So Gerry is enlisted to get to the source of this virus, and figure out how the human race is going survive this apocalyptic situation.  Millions are being infected by the hour, and mankind is going down.  He first travels to South Korea so investigate patient zero, then heads off to Israel where they anticipated such a development (which is curious...) and have built a huge wall to protect themselves.  

 Uh, no big spoiler here because it is in the trailer...the wall doesn't work.  The infected crawl over each other like adrenaline-crazed ants.  Like a zombie tsunami.  They are unstoppable.  Gerry encounters more zombies mid-air, which is claustrophobic and surreal and scary, crashes and ends up at a research facility where all apocalyptic movies must eventually arrive.  Tension, risk-taking and zombie avoidance ensues.  But Gerry is awesome, super smart, brave and strong.  If anybody can save us, he can.

Here is what I loved about this movie.  They don't screw around.  Just like the spread of the infection, you almost don't have time to react to the plot and the sudden destruction of EVERYTHING.  And these awful beasts don't stumble around with their mouths hanging open, looking for brains to eat.  They are superhuman FAST, feral, bite and move on.  The swarming river of zombies is horrifying.  It reminded me of a tornado, a mudslide, or a tsunami - you just aren't going to stop the force of it.

The character of Gerry, played by Pitt, was a perfect hero.  He was sporting his long hair and some stubble, he was badass but preferred to stay with his family, he was willing to make sacrifices for the greater good, and he was coming from the science and military perspective instead of the Everyman.  I could find no fault at all in his performance.  

My only irritation was that while the ending was left fairly open (which is cool in my book), there were aspects of that last half hour that were a little too convenient.  Small quibble, really, for a couple hours of great entertainment.

They certainly made great efforts to keep this a PG-13 rating.  Absolutely no sex, very little language (With masses of zombies chasing and trying to bite you?  Really?), and little blood despite lots of shooting.  The real issue here for smaller kids is just the psychological tension and visual horror throughout.  My son, the master connoisseur of zombie-slaying and zombie films in general, would have preferred a bit more outrageous blood splatter when taking out these creatures, aka 28 Days Later, George Romero flicks or Walking Dead.  His opinion is if you are doing zombies, you should go for it.  It didn't bother me quite as much as it did him.  Just to put it into perspective for those of you that scare easy, we had our friends' 9 year old grandson with us and he wasn't the least bit disturbed.  He loved it.

4 out of 5 stars  

Sunday, June 23, 2013

Sunday Salon: Birthdays and Zombies and Vacations, Oh My!

 So I am sending all my well-wishes this morning from a gorgeous sunrise view of the Atlantic.  My family spent the weekend at New Smyrna Beach at some friends' condo to celebrate my 47th birthday.  There is no better way to toast another year of being alive.  I really could care less how old I am.  The only downside of it all was a particularly pesky stomach bug/flu thing that plagued me for most of this week.  But by yesterday I was starting to feel a little better.  Just in the nick of time.

Because next Friday, the cat-sitter moves into Casa Nawrot and my family will fly off to Poland for a couple of weeks.  Is it crazy that I'm JUST as excited about all that flying and driving time (aka undisturbed reading) as I am about the destination?  Long, quiet periods of reading time just don't happen in my day-to-day life so I have big expectations with a Kindle chock-full of good stuff.  But more on that in a minute.  In addition to spending time with my husband's family, we are planning on seeing Warsaw, Prague, and more.  Anyway, while I am away, the blog shall be going dark, and I'll turn the light back on again on the 15th.  I shall miss you!

So back to that Kindle topic.  Last week I went looking for my Kindle so I could load it up with all the books on my humongously long and continuously growing WANT LIST...and I couldn't find it.  Anywhere.  I generally only use it when I travel, so I went through all my suitcases, purses, etc. and the thing has disappeared.  Panic ensued.  My mom had given me Amazon money for my birthday, so I just decided to get a new one.  I couldn't be messing around, I've got books to read.  So hopefully by early next week, I'll be good to go.

Yesterday, after we'd hung at the beach for awhile, we showered and stormed the theater to see "World War Z".  What fun!  Brad Pitt and zombies, baby.  I'm not sure if I'll get a chance to write it up, but I will tell you it was definitely worth the price of admission.

So as far as reading while living in reality, it has been slow going.  I did finally finish Khaled Hosseini's "And the Mountains Echoed" on audio, and am now about halfway through "Lost in Shangri-La" by Mitchell Zuckoff.  In print, I did finish "Metro 2033" after reading it for nearly a month!  I admit it was worth it.  Now I am working my way through an ARC of the third installment of the Red River Mystery series by Reavis Wortham called "The Right Side of Wrong".  He writes such enjoyable books!  I am hoping to have that finished before I leave on my trip.

So I will bid you adieu for now.  I won't be back with my Sunday Salon until July 21st, and I'm sure I'll have lots of news to report.  Have a great Sunday!

Friday, June 21, 2013

Weekend Cooking: Herb and Garlic Roast Pork Loin with Honey Mustard Sauce

 Let it be known here that I am a sucker for any recipe that contains the ingredient of MUSTARD.  I hated the stuff as a kid, but now I revel in finding homemade exotic mustards hidden on the shelves of my grocery store or better yet, in farmers markets.  If I am ever browsing for a good recipe and it has mustard in the title, I'm sold.

That is how I stumbled across this one.  I had a pork roast in the freezer that needed to be used, and I started Googling and there you go.  This one comes from the Entwine partnership between Food Network and Wente Vineyards, which create perfect food/wine pairings (check it out here).


1 1/2 pounds boneless pork loin
Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper
2 TBL olive oil
2 TBL unsalted butter
1 TBL chopped fresh thyme
1 TBL chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley
1 1/2 tsp minced fresh rosemary
1 clove garlic, minced
1 cup panko
1/3 cup plus 2 TBL Dijon mustard
2 whole heads garlic
2 TBL honey


1.  Preheat the oven to 375 degrees.  Sprinkle the pork with salt and pepper.  Heat a large, ovenproof skillet over medium-high heat.  Add the oil, add the pork and cook turning occasionally, until browned on all sides.  Transfer the pork to a cutting board.

2.  Return the skillet to medium heat.  Add the butter, thyme, parsley, rosemary and garlic.  Cook, stirring until fragrant, about 1 minute.  Stir in the panko and 1 tsp salt.   Cook, stirring, until the panko is golden, about 2 minutes.  Transfer breadcrumbs to a piece of wax or parchment paper.

3.  Brush the pork with 2 TBL of the mustard and roll in the toasted breadcrumbs to coat.  Return the coated pork to the skillet.  Halve the garlic heads crosswise and add to the skillet.  Roast until an instant-read thermometer inserted into the center of the pork registers 145 degrees, about 45 minutes.  Transfer pork and garlic to a cutting board and let rest for 10 minutes.

4.  Meanwhile, place the skillet over medium-low heat.  Add the honey, remaining 1/3 cup mustard, and 1/4 cup water and stir until combined.  Simmer until the mixture is slightly thickened, about 2 minutes.  Slice the pork and serve with the roasted garlic and the mustard sauce.

They've paired this dish with a Chardonnay, but my husband drank it with a Pinot Noir and thought it was all delicious.  My boys always provide unsolicited feedback, and they determined this one was a keeper.


Weekend Cooking is open to anyone who has any kind of food-related post to share: Book (novel, nonfiction) reviews, cookbook reviews, movie reviews, recipes, random thoughts, gadgets, quotations, photographs. 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. For more information, see the welcome post at Beth Fish Reads.

Thursday, June 20, 2013

A Place Called Wiregrass - Michael Morris

Late last year, I had the privilege of meeting the very Southern, charming and humble Michael Morris at SIBA, and then read his book "Man in the Blue Moon" in connection with the She Reads Book Club.  When our paths crossed again at the UCF Book Festival this past spring, we had a chance to talk more in-depth, and we learned that we both have a passion for the Florida panhandle, particularly St. George Island.  Michael's face lit up when I mentioned my favorite vacation spot EVER, and he said "Well you HAVE to read my book 'A Place Called Wiregrass'!  Part of the book takes place on St. George Island!".  He also told me this was his first book, and was quite a challenge because the protagonist was a woman.  Michael promptly sent me the book, and I dove in head first.

Synopsis:  Erma Lee has had a rough life.  She works in a dead-end factory job, her mother is bitter and mean-spirited towards her, her daughter is in prison and she's raising her granddaughter Cher, while trying to keep the drug-addict father from making contact.  When Erma Lee's husband beats her and cheats on her for the umpteenth time, she decides it is time to move to a new city...a new state start over.

In Wiregrass, Alabama, Erma Lee puts down stakes.  She meets a widowed mechanic that makes her tingly, gets a job in the school cafeteria, and finds a side job as an assistant to an elderly  socialite named Miss Claudia who has recently fallen and injured herself.  Erma Lee and Miss Claudia form an instant bond, despite their age difference.  But just when Erma Lee starts to feel hope for the future, her past comes calling, and with Miss Claudia's help, she must resolve it once and for all.

My thoughts:  This book is everything that you want and love in a Southern novel.  There is heartbreak, but there is love.  There is hardship, but there is laughter.  There are strong women.  There are fish fries and dancing, there is iced tea, there's drinkin' and shootin' and hollerin'.  (And there is St. George Island and a hidden body as a bonus!).  This is Joshilyn Jackson territory folks, but this little beauty is written by a man.

I'm thinking that Michael must have been raised by a strong, positive woman, or is married to one, or both.  Because he gets it.

I loved the dialect and the not-so-grammatically-correct English.  It is easy enough to understand but this is how folks talk in the deep South.  I could almost hear their drawls in my head.  The characters were authentic and flawed and gritty and courageous.

I particularly enjoyed the relationship between these two little pit bulls, Erma Lee and Miss Claudia.  On the heels of reading "Orphan Train", I couldn't help but be reminded of the unlikely friendship between Molly and Vivian.  Their strength to overcome the odds truly touches the heart.

So if you love a classic Southern story, if you love Joshilyn Jackson, you really need to seek out this novel.  You will not be sorry!

4.5 out of 5 stars

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

The Dinner - Herman Koch (Audio)

I follow many blogs, as most of you do, and will pick up a recommendation from just about anyone. But there are a few people who, when they love something, make it virtually impossible to ignore the plea.  Marie at Boston Bibliophile is one of them.  She reads smart books, and she is discerning, so her rave reviews cause me to take notice.  "The Dinner" was one such review.  It took a good solid three months for me to get it on audio from my library, so obviously Marie wasn't the only one in love with it.

Synopsis:  Two couples meet for an extravagant dinner one evening in Amsterdam.  One of the couples is Paul Lohman, our narrator and a retired school teacher, and his wife Claire.  The other couple is Paul's brother Serge, the next Prime Minister of the Netherlands, and his wife Babette.  Paul feels a great amount of disdain for his brother and sister-in-law, primarily for their success and the public flaunting of such, in a restaurant like this where it takes three months to obtain a reservation...unless you are Serge, that is.  But annoyance aside, the couples are there for a reason:  to discuss the issue of their 15 year-old sons.

As the two couples make their way through the excruciating courses of the meal, we receive the back story of each couple and their kids, as well as experience the explosive dynamics between the members of the group.  The facts are hesitantly and slowly revealed by Paul, who, as time passes, becomes more and more unreliable.

All in the time it takes to eat a four-course meal, we are subjected to a mosh pit of envy...envy between siblings, envy between spouses, envy of youth, envy of wealth and power.  What lengths would a parent go to protect their child?  How much will you sacrifice for a career?  What are our biases and secret prejudices?

My thoughts:  Consider me gobsmacked.  I love it when I read a book and never know what the HELL is going to come around the corner.  This is probably why "The Dinner" is being compared to "Gone Girl".  Our narrator is not to be trusted, and with every chapter, he lets a thing or two slip that causes you to do a double-take.  But really that is where the similarities end.

Beyond the twisty-turny psychotic blow-by-blow of this dinner, there is a depth that causes you to stop and think.  When I first started the story, I was drawn into the dark, satiric commentary on the pretentious lives of the rich.  It made me laugh.  It was clever.  But then Paul got his freak on, and we went a little deeper.  Racial prejudice.  Parental competition.  Violence.  Politics.  Mental illness.  Genetic disposition.  I could go on and on.  Book clubs will have a hay day with this one.  I was disturbed, I was entertained, I couldn't stop listening.

A few words about the audio production:  This audio was narrated by Clive Mantle, a new voice for me.  It appears he narrates children's books, which caused me to chuckle.  Well, Mr. Mantle certainly has a darker side!  He was an absolute delight to listen to.  He has a pleasant, melodic British accent but it is laced with snark and sarcasm and duplicity.  Fabulous.  I'd love to hear him again.

Listening length:  8 hours, 55 minutes (304 pages)

5 out of 5 stars

Monday, June 17, 2013

Monday Matinee: This is the End (2013)

As I sit here thinking back on this movie, I am clueless about how to describe it.  But there is one thing for sure...I HAVE to tell you about it.  As a strong recommendation?  A dire warning?  Maybe both.  All I know is that a couple days have passed and we are still quoting the movie and breaking out into stupid maniacal laughing over it.

First of all, this core group of actors who are at the center of the story are real-life friends and have worked together on multiple projects...think Pineapple Express, Hot Tub Time Machine, Superbad, Tropic Thunder.  In fact the entire movie is like a giant game of Six Degrees of Separation.  Seth Rogan and Evan Goldberg, who wrote and directed this film, have pulled in anyone and everyone they know for a gigantic party.

The basic premise is that childhood friends Seth Rogan and Jay Baruchel, playing themselves, have gotten together at Seth's place in LA for a weekend of debauchery and bonding.  After smoking weed, eating junk food and playing video games all day, they decide to go to James Franco's housewarming party at his new mansion.  The party is a coke-snorting, ass-grabbing mosh pit of Hollywood actors.  In the middle of all the fun, the apocalypse occurs.  Casualties abound (Michael Cera gets speared by a street light and Rihanna falls into a hellpit).  A core group of guys barricade themselves in Franco's house and try to survive the end of days.  But the gang has baggage.  There is a history of bad blood, jealousy and hurt feelings that go way back.  Just the thing you need when a demon is trying to eat you.

I read in an interview that at least once during the filming of this movie, every actor protested against something they were asked to do.  Except James Franco (which makes me love him even more).  Whether it is playing soccer with a disembodied head, being raped by the devil, peeing in one's own mouth because of a water shortage, being a cannibal, or things even more unspeakable...this film is so full of outlandish, over-the-top tastelessness, it is guaranteed to offend you at some point.  (My husband and I are pretty teflon-coated, but I snuck a peak at him at one stage, and his face was a total twisted mask of revulsion but was laughing at the same time.)

All of the actors play themselves, but as part of the fun, their characters are a combination of their true selves and something completely OPPOSITE of their true selves.  Michael Cera, who is apparently the quietest, more diminutive guy, plays a complete obnoxious drugged-out chauvinist.  Emma Watson becomes an ax-wielding booze-thief.  Channing Tatum is an S&M sex slave!

And that is just the thing.  IF (big if) you are not easily offended, this movie could possibly be something that you will be quoting for the next 20 years.  Like The Big Lebowski or Caddyshack.  It is that damn funny.  My stomach hurt when I walked out of the theater.  It isn't like most comedies where the funniest parts are spoiled in the trailer.  There are so many moments of pure hilarity here, there are too many to count.

Or you could totally hate it.  I don't think it is possible to fall somewhere in between.

You have been warned.  Just...leave your proprieties at the door, and don't judge me for loving it!

5 out of 5 stars

Sunday, June 16, 2013

Sunday Salon: Happy Father's Day!

 I'm flipping through the mental sticky notes of my week, and I can't say that I have much to talk about.  But you know me, if I start typing, I'm sure I'll come up with something.  I'm feeling the need for bullet points.

*  It was my first full week with my son at home all day with me.    Certainly changes the structure of my schedule, but I do like having him around.  Of course, I could let him sleep until noon and life would be grand but I cannot abide by this.  I got him up to work out with me at Andre's, we knocked out some doctor appointments, and watched some movies that he deemed "excellent but disturbing".  (Good Lord, I'm not even going to admit what these were.)  He had some time with friends.  It was all good.

*  My daughter's first half of summer school is done.  She's been running with her cross country team for summer training, but has caught the summer crud.  She really needs her vacation to start soon, poor thing.  She suffered through a full day of volunteering at the animal shelter yesterday though.  She is determined to accumulate 500 volunteer hours before she starts applying for colleges in a couple of years.  Girlfriend has got her goals, that is for sure.

*  I just have to say that Skull Candy headphones are the way to go.  My son, daughter and I all use them, and we consistently break them.  Without fail, with a minimum of fuss, they replace them over and over again.  I am and will be a life-long customer.  (Random gush.)

*  Back to my running regime.  I'm still not running a lot of miles but man does it feel good.  I feel like I've sprouted some new wings.

*  After a miscreant upstairs toilet blew up and screwed up the ceiling in my kitchen, we finally got it all fixed.  The final step was the drywall people on Friday.  I hate having to fix things.   This particular nightmare cost me into the four figures.  I'm seeing the wisdom of renting down the road.

*  Still reading "Metro 2033" in print.  I believe I should be a few days away from finishing if I stay vigilant.  I don't know how long I've actually been reading it, but it is an amazing book.

*  On audio I'm still making my way through "And the Mountains Echoed" and still loving it.  I do love Hosseini, but he does have a vague formula for his books.  I'm just trying to figure out exactly how this one is all going to come together.  I was temporarily waylaid when my Mongo iPod crashed on me, and had to make do with my old dinosaur iPod Mini.  Once I let my regular iPod run out of charge, and recharge it, I was fine though.  Every possible kind of reading is moving slow these days.  Hey, if I run out of reviews, then I will just have to go away for awhile.  I'm not worried.

* Saw "This is the End" last night at the movies.  EW totally loved this movie, and it had a high Rotten Tomatoes rating.  And I did laugh the entire way through it, and I WILL write it up when I get a chance, but I'm going to need to be very careful about how I recommend it.  It was unlike anything I'd ever seen.  Hilarious, but TOTALLY over the top and often in the worst taste one could possibly imagine.  Which of course is right up my alley.

*  I'd like to wrap up today by offering a toast to all the dads out there.  They often get pushed aside and rarely get pampered, but today is the day.  We are going to be attending church, then escorting my husband to Tommy Bahama's for a little shopping spree and a tasty lunch.  At that point, I'm thinking that he will want to crash in his man-cave and watch the end of the US Open, and doggone it, we will let him.

Everybody have a wonderful Sunday!

Friday, June 14, 2013

Weekend Cooking: Cheesy Burgers with Soy-Spiked Ketchup

 We generally try to avoid eating much red meat, but once in awhile YOU HAVE TO HAVE A BURGER!!!  It is a law of the universe.

A few years ago, I was over at my friend's house and they served me one of the best burgers I'd ever had.  The secret, my friend told me, was that you imagine everything that you would want to put ON the burger, and you put it IN the burger...ketchup, mustard, onions, relish, etc.  Whoa!!!  From that point on, whenever I threw together burgers, I used this philosophy.

This recipe has the same idea.  I quickly ripped it out of the recent June 2013 Food and Wine and made these, and they are so good.  And that soy-spiked ketchup!  Wooo!  I saved it and was dipped everything in it for a week.


1/2 cup plus 2 TBL ketchup
1 1/2 TBL soy sauce
1 TBL hoisin sauce
1 TBL fresh lime juice
1 1/2 tsp ancho chili powder
1 1/2 pounds ground beef chuck, preferably 80 to 85 percent
1/2 cup shredded Colby cheese
1/4 cup minced red onion
2 TBL minced kosher pickles
2 TBL dry bread crumbs
3 garlic cloves, minced
1/2 tsp Tabasco
Canola oil for brushing
Kosher salt and black pepper
6 potato hamburger buns, split and toasted
Mayonnaise lettuce and sliced red onion for serving

1.  In a medium bowl, whisk 1/2 cup of ketchup with soy sauce, hoisin, lime juice and ancho chili powder.
2.  In a large bowl, combine the ground beef with the cheese, minced red onion, pickles, bread crumbs, garlic, Tabasco and remaining 2 TBL of ketchup.  Knead gently until thoroughly mixed.  Form the meat into six 4-inch patties, about 1/2 inch thick.
3.  Light a grill or preheat grill pan.  Brush the burgers with oil and season with salt and pepper.  Grill over moderately high heat, turning once, until lightly charred outside and medium-rare within, about 3 minutes.

They pair these burgers with a peppery, fruit-forward California Zinfandel.

FYI I love a bloody steak, but I prefer my burgers cooked more medium so we left these on the grill a bit longer than 3 minutes.    We also passed on the mayo.

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