Thursday, July 25, 2013

Two fantastic novels

I almost put YA novels because that's the library section I found them in except these books would be good for anyone in high school and adults; they both deserve a much wider audience.

The Miseducation of Cameron Post; a novel 

"The afternoon my parents died, I was out shoplifting with Irene Klausen" is just how this novel begins.  Cameron Post is a very unique character; she's 12, she shoplifts, thinks about girls, and has the wide open space of Miles City, Montana to explore.  Her life doesn't change much after her parents die in a car accident.  She hangs out with Irene and practices for swim meets except now she spends a lot of time in her room watching VHS movies on a television she moved from her parent's bedroom.  You get the sense she misses her parents and she does meet with a school counselor yet she doesn't spend much time grieving.  She doesn't realize until later all that she's lost.

Her mother's sister, Ruth, leaves her home in Florida to move in with Cameron.  Her grandmother continues to stay with her so Cameron is in the same house/town/school she is familiar with and life keeps spinning along.  While she's had a few small romances along the way it isn't until Cameron runs into Coley Taylor at church that that life turns upside down for her.

I want all of you to read the book fresh so I'm not going to say more other than Ms. Danforth has created such an easily read (470 pgs worth) story that you just have to keep reading more and more until you come to the last page and then you still want more.  Her characters are so fully developed that even the bad characters have redeeming qualities.  Two sidekicks of Cameron's, Jamie and Adam, were favorites of mine.  This story will stay with you for a long time with its fine writing;  marvelous wit and brutal honest look at how we try to mold people into what they are not.

A quote:

"She reached around the locker door and grabbed my arm all dramatic-like.  "I'll call Ruth.  I'll do it.  I'll call her and tell her you've being all weirdo loner again and won't come to prom and you know she won't let off you.  She'll have all sorts of ideas about eligible bachelors."

"You're a terrible person and I hate you."

"So who do you want me to ask?"...(131)

When you were here

This one, also about an orphaned child, is very well-written and has a unique look at teenagers as humans; young adults who make mistakes but that can move on and learn.  There is drug use and sex along with death and dying.  

Danny's mother has just died after a five year struggle with cancer.  His father died six years ago in an accident which means Danny is now alone.  He's valedictorian of his class and the only people with him at his graduation ceremony are Kate, his mom's best friend and Kate's daughter, Holland. He feels adrift until he receives a letter from one of his mom's friends in Tokyo. His mom was undergoing a unique treatment in Japan and Danny feels drawn to understand more about her though-process.    Suddenly he has a purpose; he will go to Tokyo, meet this friend, and spend time trying to understand more about his mom through the last places she visited before she died.  Danny's relationship with his mom as well as Holland's relationship with her mom both attest to the idea that kids can screw up and still maintain positive relationships with their parents.  The only drawback to this book is that most teens do not have the kind of money that Danny is given.  It works and it is well-explained but enviable.

A quote:

I press.  "How was she taking care of my mom if she died?" I am sick of beating around the bush. I want to know what all these legends, all this tea and happiness and healing cures, are supposed to mean.  "In case you didn't know, she died.  Okay? There was no cure.  The tea didn't work.  Turns out it's not mystical after all.  She's gone.  Done.  sayonara.  The jig is up."  My voice is caustic, the words corrosive, but inside I just want so badly to know all the things my mom never told me.  (111)

I checked both of these out from my local library.  

Monday, July 22, 2013

Random Recipes + sneaking in some greens

It is pouring rain outside tonight.  The television is off and Groovy Girl is off playing somewhere which means there will be a trail and a mess to clean up.  How do I help her learn to clean up after herself?  This is major life trauma right now.  She's 10 and we've made every kind of challenge, chore chart, and list we can think of.  We've worked with her to show her what it looks like to play and then clean up.  I'm glad she plays, I really am; I just which the second part of playing came easier to her.

When we were in New York City in June Groovy Girl, Greg, and I tried a sample of a Mojito Tea (non-alcoholic) that some tea shop was passing out on the street.  We loved the zingy flavor and we made a list of what ingredients we thought it might have in it.  I have been meaning to whip up a batch of what we thought might be in when I found a recipe in Bon Appetit/August edition that seemed pretty similar to what we thought.  I made it tonight with Groovy Girl's help.  It was refreshingly wonderful and I will definitely make it again.  It doesn't have that mojito flavor we were going for yet so close.  I may play with it to see if I can get any closer.

(image source)
Here is the recipe:

Honeyed Lemon-Mint Iced Tea

4 cups water
4 bags green or black tea (we used green)
1 bag mint tea
1/2 of a can of 12-oz can frozen lemonade or limeade concentrate, thawed
1/3 cup honey
ice cubes
fresh mint sprigs or leaves
thin lemon slices (we used lime)

1. In a saucepan, bring the water to boiling.  Remove from heat.  Add tea bags.  Cover and let steep for 10 minutes.  Discard tea bags.  Add lemon or lime concentrate and honey, stirring until honey dissolves.  Cool thirty minutes.

2. Transfer tea to a 1 1/2 quart pitcher.  Cover and chill for several hours.

3. To serve, pour tea over ice cubes in tall glasses. Garnish with mint and lemon/lime wedges.  

Makes 6 servings.

You could easily add a splash (or two) of alcohol to this for an adult beverage.  In the heat here, right before the rain came down, we gulped it down as is.

Our garden is beautiful this year with cucumbers just about ready, tomatoes heavy on the vein, basil beginning to bush out, and many zucchinis!  Groovy Girl does not like this delicious squash and will do anything to avoid it.  Tonight I decided to disguise it in a curry soup.  She likes curry!

Also from August edition of Bon Appetit:

Curried Squash Soup
4 servings

Heat 3 T. vegetable oil (I used coconut) over medium high heat.  Add two chopped large summer squash, 1 chopped small onion, and 1 tsp of curry (I used 1 T.); season with salt and freshly ground pepper.
Cook until tender, 8-10  minutes.  Add 4 cups chicken broth. Bring to a boil, reduce heat and simmer until tender, 25-30 minutes.  Puree until very smooth.  Serve soup warm or chilled, topped with sour cream, cracked pepper, and cilantro sprigs.

When I got to the 3rd paragraph of this I frantically searched for veggie broth paste in my refrigerator and came up empty handed.  There were some old beef cubes from a chili recipe my husband made like two years ago but  I didn't want to use them.  So I added just water, upped the amount of curry powder, a little more sea salt and pepper and hopped for the best.  

I pureed it using my Braun hand-held immersion blender which I adore-I've had it for about 12 years and I have no idea what i'm going to do when it stops working. I am pretty positive that the second one I get will not be as good or as inexpensive.  This one I bought after watching Emeril use it on his early shows on the Food Network.  (I wonder if I should pre-prepare myself by buying this exact replica i found on Etsy)

The soup was not perfect but again I plan on trying it again with good broth and kicking it up a notch or two.  Groovy Girl ate about half a bowl with a dollop of sour cream stirred in.  She asked me twice what kind of soup it was and I said simply, "curry soup", which was true.  She did not say "Ewwww" or even use the zucchini word so I think I got away with my disguised soup recipe.  I think once I play with the recipe she will enjoy it more.  She never needs to know the main ingredient is sautéed squash.

I spent the better part of my day reading The Miseducation of Cameron Post by emily m. danforth.  I'm half way through and am wowed by her writing.  This is the first truly lazzzy day i've spent this summer and I'm pretty happy with it.  And because I was taking it so easy Groovy Girl stayed in her pajamas for the day.  We have a busy rest of the week so it was good to relax.  

Thursday, July 18, 2013

The Yonahlossee Riding Camp for Girls by Anton Disclafani


It is 1930, the midst of the Great Depression.  After her mysterious role in a family tragedy, passionate, strong-willed Thea Atwell, age fifteen, has been cast out of her Florida home, exiled to an equestrian boarding school for Southern debutantes.  High in the Blue Ridge Mountains, with its complex social strata ordered by money, beauty, and girls' friendships, the Yonahlossee Riding Camp for Girls is far remove from the free-roaming, dreamlike childhood Thea once shared with her twin brother on their family's citrus farm-a world that is now lost.
As she grapples with her responsibility for the events of the past year that led her here, and what they will mean in the grand scheme of her life and her relationship with her family, Thea also finds herself enmeshed in a new order at Yonahlossee.  Her eyes opened for the first time to a larger world, she must navigate the politics and competition of friendship as well as her own sexual awakening, and come to an understanding of the kind of person she is-or wants to be.  Her experience will change her sense of what is possible for herself, her family, and her country.

What I liked:  The mountain setting is as beautiful as Thea's look back at her life in Florida and her family stories.   I enjoyed learning more about the Depression from this unique viewpoint as a few of the wealthy young ladies were affected and were forced to leave the camp.  I enjoyed Thea's love of horses and riding. Disclafani's distinction of "bad girls" vs. "boys will be boys" was well played and reflects what still exists today all though probably not AS bad.  I enjoyed the twist of how her notion of what was originally meant to be punishment turns out to be her saving grace.

What I didn't like:  Thea was a tough character which made it hard to love her.  I can't say more without revealing important elements of the story that are best kept secret until you pick it up to read it. While she wasn't easy to like there was much to enjoy in this story.

A sample:

I slipped away to the barn one afternoon, when all the other girls were studying at the Hall.  Now instead of bird-watching, botany, and painting we had history, literature, and home economics; math and science didn't seem to exist in this mountain enclave.  We didn't have much homework, either, or nothing that took very much time.  I like literature, unsurprisingly, taught by bland Miss Brooks.  She became impassioned, though, when referring to books she loved, and watching her I sometimes thought, isn't that always the way?  A dull girl charmed by a book? (119)

Find her here Anton Disclafani's website and on twitter.

Sunday, July 14, 2013

Dinner; A Love Story

My friend Janice gave me this book, Dinner, A Love Story by Jenny Rosenstrach, at the end of the school year.  After reading many positive reviews about it I'd looked for it at the library (always out) but I didn't want to shell out 30 some dollars at our Barnes and Noble for the book.  Now if I'd actually gone to the bookstore, sat down and started reading I would have fallen in love with Jenny's writing and walked in a lovely trance to the check-out counter.  Lucky for me, Janice did that for me!  Thank you dear friend!

She knew this book would appeal to me as I work hard to make dinner for my family every night because I think it is really important to sit around the table and eat together. It's more than just eating, even when there is complaining.

I have not finished reading this book but I did cook my first recipe from it yesterday.  And just like the whole Julia Child trend a few years ago I started with the very first recipe, chicken cutlets.  As a former full-time vegetarian it is still always startling to my family when meat is on my menu.  They used to only get meat on Thursdays when my husband was in charge of meals and then (usually) only turkey burgers.

I liked Rosenstrach's first story of her mother going back to school and that this is what was the go-to meal she taught her husband to make as she hurried off to law school.  I grew up in a busy household like that; my dad's go-to meal though was scrambled eggs.

The chicken cutlets turned out fantastic and everyone finished their plates.  There are only three of us now at the table as College Boy made his big move to Colorado.  We had the cutlets, corn on the cob, salad, and beets (fresh from the farmer's market).  It was a delicious summer time meal.  Groovy Girl ate her entire chicken breast and couldn't finish two of her beets because she was full.  She LOVES beets so this was a major change of events.

The veg head that lives permanently in my heart and soul knows the beets are better for her but she seems hungry for meat as well.  I found my happy chicken breasts at Target.  On short notice I can't find organic chicken breasts here in my little town anymore. It is very important to pay attention to where your meat comes from so where it says chicken in this recipe I recommend organic or farm-raised breasts if you can.  If the package says "natural" it doesn't really mean what you think it does.  I do have three farm-raised whole chickens on order from my favorite farmer though.

Here's Jenny's recipe:

Breaded Chicken Cutlets
(aka Grandma Jody's Chicken)

total cooking time: 25 minutes

A few generous glugs of olive oil (5-6 T.) more if necessary but remember you are not deep-frying here.
2 eggs, lightly beaten
3/4 cup all-purpose flour
1 1/2 cups plain bread crumbs or Kellog's corn flake crumbs that have been salted and peppered
4 boneless chicken breasts (about 1 1/4 lb), rinsed and patted dry and pounded like crazy

Add the oil to a large skillet set over medium-high heat.  Set up your dredging stations:  one rimmed plate for the eggs, one plate for the flour, and one plate for the bread crumbs.  Using a fork, coat your chicken pieces first in the flour (shaking off any excess), then in the egg, then in the crumbs, pressing the chicken into the crumbs to thoroughly coat.

Fry each breast in the oil for 3-4 minutes on each side.  I did all three in my large skillet with no problems.  The cutlets are cooked when the chicken is firm to the touch but not rock hard.  I used my meat thermometer and they were at 120 degrees.

Remove and drain the chicken onto a paper-towel lined dinner plate tented with foil if you have more pieces to fry.  Add more oil to the pan and fry the remaining breasts.  

**Note:  Feel free to add any of the following to the bread crumbs; a pinch of cayenne, a tsp of dry mustard, fresh thyme or oregano leaves, some ground flax or sesame seeds, or freshly grated Parmesan.

There is a whole sidebar on pounding the chicken-which I needed being a newbie meat pounder.  I even had to borrow a mallet from my husband's tool bench.  The important part is to put chicken between two sheets of waxed paper on a cutting board, and pound away to flatten chicken for even cooking.

This post is linked to Beth Fish Reads Weekend Cooking meme.  Click her link to find many more food-related posts.  I love the new look!  Happy healthy cooking!

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Code Name Verity by Elizabeth Wein

Wow.  This book stunned me.  What a fascinating look at WWII.  There are so many fiction stories from a variety of viewpoints and I've read quite a few from this time period but this is the first one that gave me insight into the role women played in the war.

I have a terrible summer cold and my chest hurts and I smell like Vick's-this book helped me get through a few sleepless nights.  I'd read a little then try to go to sleep, fail, then read a few more sections.  Invariably something would completely hook me and I'd have to read just ONE more section.  And then I wake up super groggy and still smelling like Vick's.

A sample:

We weren't allowed to talk to the pilots, either.  I made three jumps that week-the women do one less training jump than the men, AND they make us jump first.  I don't know if that's because we're considered cannier than men, or braver, or bouncier, or just less likely to survive and therefore aren't worth the extra petrol and parachute packing.  At any rate, Maddie saw me twice in the air and never got to say hello.
I got to watch her fly, though.
You know, I envied her.  I envied her the simplicity of her work, the spiritual cleanness of it-Fly the plane, Maddie.  That was all she had to do.  There was no guilt, no moral dilemma  no argument or anguish-danger, yes, but she always knew what she was facing.  And I envied that she had chosen her work herself and was doing what she wanted to do.  I don't suppose I had any idea what I "wanted" and so I was chosen, not choosing.  There's glory and honor in being chosen.  But not much room for free will.  (140)

Elizabeth Wein created an enviably strong friendship between these two young women characters and weaves an amazingly, intricate tale around them.  I know many have already read this one but if you haven't you must and it is best to read it fresh without a lot of blah-blah from reviewers/bloggers.

Find Elizabeth on twitter @EWien2412  and at her website.  Wein's new title, Rose under Fire, was released in June.

Friday, July 5, 2013

Navigating Early by Clare Vanderpool

Name recognition works because as I scanned the new book section at our library Clare Vanderpool's name popped out at me like it had bright lights flashing around it.  Remember the wonderful historical fiction Moon over Manifest?  See my review here.  She won the Newberry medal for her debut novel.  Now she's written another amazing story featuring two new characters,  Jack Baker and Early Auden.

From the inside panel:

After his mother's death at the end of WWII, Jack Baker is suddenly uprooted from his home in Kansas and placed in a boys' boarding school in Maine.  There he meets Early Auden, the strangest of boys, who reads the number pi as an unending story and collects clippings about sightings about sightings of a black bear in the nearby mountains.

Feeling lost and adrift, Jack can't help being drawn to Early, who refuses to believe what everyone accepts to be the truth about the great Appalachian bear, timber rattlesnakes, and the legendary school hero known as the Fish, who was lost in the war.  

When Jack and Early find themselves alone at school, they set out for the Appalachian Trail on a quest for the great black bear.  Along the way, they meet some truly strange characters, several of them dangerous, all lost in some way, and each a part of the pi story Early continues to reveal.  Jack's ability to be a steadfast friend to Early will be tested as the boys discover  things they never knew about themselves and others.  

Like Moon over Manifest Vanderpool combines plucky characters with an amazingly tale that contains both historical fiction with magical realism.  My library copy was filled with sticky notes as I marveled over her magical way with words.


"Monday morning came like a cool Kansas shower on a hot, humid day.  In other words, it was a relief.  Because now at least I had a schedule.  I knew that history came first, followed by Latin, English, and math." {14}

"Finally, I pulled the Sweetie Pie along the dock with a scraping noise that sounded like a cat on a midnight prowl.  Preston, Sam, Robbie Dean, and the others all watched with pained grimaces on their faces, waiting for the boat and the noise to come to a stop.  I stood up and felt the evil Sweetie Pie pitch left, then right, and before I could say Jack Tar, I was upended in Wabenaki Bay." {43}

"We walked a ways in silence.  Early looked up at the night sky as the clouds cleared and found the constellation Ursa Major, the Great Bear.  We followed it into the darkness, in search of another great bear-this one on the Appalachian Trail.  My feet were heavy, and the woods closed in around us.  There was only darkness and danger in front of us.  And now there were dogs and pirates behind us. Early's quest had gone on long enough.  It was time to turn back.  I opened my mouth to say so, but Early spoke first." {187-188}

I can tell you Early does not plan on turning back...

Vanderpool can turn a phrase, can't she?  I feel like there's a little Bluegrass music playing in the background as Early and Jack explore the Appalachian Trail finding more than just adventure.

NY Times article about Navigating Early
Clare Vanderpool's website.

Wednesday, July 3, 2013

My Vacation Reads

We just spent 15 days traveling and I can chart our journey by the books that I read.  First up Strange but true by John Searles.  I sat in the back of our Vue and loved the heck out of this thrilling book while I mentally thanked my husband and son for doing such a fine job of driving. Before leaving on our road trip I'd finished Boy still missing (his first book) which made me steal Strange but true right off my husband's to-read book pile.  I'm impressed with Searles' creativity.  His stories lean toward the bizarre and twisted yet are believable and oh, so crafty.  If you have not picked up any of his books yet please do-you won't be disappointed.  He has a new book coming out in September, Help for the Haunted.  I want an ARC of this book so much I would jump up and down to get one as I would be the perfect person to read and review it.  Who do I have to beg...?

Next I read the historical fiction story The Sandcastle Girls so I could participate in my mother-in-law's book club which gave me a reason to see Donna's beautiful house.  My review of Sandcastle Girls.

On the trip from DC to NYC I listened to my Audible downloaded copy of Tina Fey's BossyPants.  The last weeks of school I listened to this in my car and then summer hit and I let it slide.  I've got to get used to working around my house holding on to my phone as I listen but as I've yet it's more of a car activity for me.  My son looked at me with his pitiful teenage eyes, shaking his head at me because I laughed out loud on the bus, subway, and street corner as we waited, rode, and walked.  Laughed Out Loud.  Now I want to go back and watch more 30 Rock and Saturday Night Live segments that feature her and Amy Poehler. I learned a great deal and found Fey's life stories energizing and of course hysterical.  Also she narrates which makes all the difference!  I successfully clicked the finish button as we drove through Ohio on Monday.

College Boy read Mr. Penumbra's 24-Hour Bookstore by Robin Sloan while we lounged in Silver Spring.  He read it quickly because he was engaged (a challenge...) and turned it over to me.  This amazing tale combines the love of books with 21st Century  technology and stirs them together with a great story. Clay Jannon, main character extraordinaire, finds a job at Mr. Penumbra's book store where things are a bit weird and not many books are sold.  Clay takes a closer look at the books in the back of the shop to discover why and with his quirky cast of friends ends up shaking up poor Mr. Penumbra and his bookstore!  Excellent story!

Random Quote:

"To run Mr. Penumbra's 24-hour Bookstore around the clock, one owner and two clerks divide the circle of the sun into thirds, and I get the darkest slice.  Penumbra himself takes the mornings-I guess you'd call it prime time, except that this store doesn't really have one of those.  I mean, a single customer is a major event and a single customer is as likely to show up at midnight as at half-past noon." (21)

I finished Sloan's book and moved quickly into Sara Gran's film noir mystery Dope.  We swap books in this house like others share toothpaste.  My husband read it on the way out to DC while College Boy drove, College Boy read it from DC to Penn Station and I read it on the car trip home.  It's only 243 pages long but packed with a slew of interesting characters and a gritty, intense story that takes place in 1950 NYC.

It begins like this:

Maude said my name flatly, like I was dead or she wanted me to be.  I sat across from her at a booth in the back of the bar, where the daylight never reached and the smell of stale beer and cigarettes never cleared.  Maude had been the mistress of a gangster back in the thirties and he'd bought her this bar to set her up with something after he was gone.  It was on the corner of Broadway and West Fourth, and if you'd never been there before it would take a minute to notice that there wasn't a girl in the place, other than Maude. {1}

And that's it!  This is why it is important to have good, long, wonderful vacations-to READ lots of great books (and to see a few amazing sights).