Sunday, December 4, 2016

Life: It Goes On - December 4

What a waste this week has been! I caught a cold Wednesday and have hardly left the house except to go to work since then. I haven't even really felt like reading (insert sad face emoji here). Thank heavens for online shopping - at least I'm getting some Christmas shopping done. With gifts to ship to Milwaukee this year, I need to get their shopping off in the next week. I may, or may not have, ordered a jacket for their dog for his walks. Online shopping may be a little too easy!

This Week I'm:

Listening To: One more week of The Flamethrowers - the jury's still out on this one but now that it's taking fewer side trips, I'm enjoying it more. I'm also dipping my toes into Christmas music but the radio stations who play it this time of year tend to play the same things over and over so it gets old. Also, they tend to forget the reason for the season and I want my religious Christmas music.

Watching: Volleyball, football, The Voice...the usual. But I'm also watching Christmas shows - Rudolph and It's A Wonderful Life. Today I'm finally bringing up the Christmas decorations so I'll likely put on a Christmas movie while I'm decorating.

Sookie's been getting more
reading done than I have
Reading: See above. Which is bad because I've got a lot of commitments, reading-wise, in the coming weeks. I did finish the three plays I was reading and will review those this week. I'm thoroughly enjoying Hidden Figures and when I'm done with that I'll jump into Boys In The Boat for book club. Love that I'm finishing the year strong on nonfiction.

Making: Again, see above. I've largely relied on The Big Guy to feed me this week. I did make some chicken noodle soup last night (and even froze a container) last night and this morning I made cinnamon rolls. If I'm cookin', I must be getting better.

Planning: It's all about Christmas this week. Lots of shopping to get done, Christmas cards to get ready to mail, decorating to do and I need to start baking so I can ship some of that to Milwaukee as well.

Thinking About: How much I miss Mini-me's Sunday visits. I just finished off a pot of coffee. If he were here, we'd be firing up another pot. I know he's very happy where he's at, with Miss S, which helps. But still...

Which brings up something else I've been thinking about: it's now less than seven months until they are married. I can't believe it! And then what do I call her? Mrs. S? Mrs. Mini-me?

Enjoying: Watching the first snow fall of the year. Although it did ruin plans for the day. Now it just needs to hurry up and melt today, as forecast.

Feeling: Frustrated. I don't know about you, but this time of year, I can't afford to not feel up to accomplishing anything for four or five days.

Looking forward to: Hopefully getting to go shopping for my mom with my dad and my sister this week. That's what we were supposed to be doing yesterday but my folks didn't get to come to Omaha thanks to the snow. My dad used to need help shopping for my mom; he doesn't really need the help any more but none of us is ready to do away with that tradition.

Question of the week: Do you still send Christmas cards? A lot of our friends have stopped sending them, now that we are all so in touch with each other throughout the year. I miss them, though!

Wednesday, November 30, 2016

I'll Take You There by Wally Lamb

I'll Take You There by Wally Lamb
Published November 2016 by Harper
Source: my copy courtesy of the publisher and TLC Book Tours in exchange for an honest review

Publisher's Summary:
I’ll Take You There centers on Felix, a film scholar who runs a Monday night movie club in what was once a vaudeville theater. One evening, while setting up a film in the projectionist booth, he’s confronted by the ghost of Lois Weber, a trailblazing motion picture director from Hollywood’s silent film era. Lois invites Felix to revisit—and in some cases relive—scenes from his past as they are projected onto the cinema’s big screen.

In these magical movies, the medium of film becomes the lens for Felix to reflect on the women who profoundly impacted his life. There’s his daughter Aliza, a Gen Y writer for New York Magazine who is trying to align her post-modern feminist beliefs with her lofty career ambitions; his sister, Frances, with whom he once shared a complicated bond of kindness and cruelty; and Verna, a fiery would-be contender for the 1951 Miss Rheingold competition, a beauty contest sponsored by a Brooklyn-based beer manufacturer that became a marketing phenomenon for two decades. At first unnerved by these ethereal apparitions, Felix comes to look forward to his encounters with Lois, who is later joined by the spirits of other celluloid muses.

My Thoughts:
I'm not sure I know where to start. I'm actually not sure exactly how I feel about this book. I agreed to read and review it solely based on Lamb's name with no idea what it was about.

For twenty-seven pages, Lamb had me. And then ghosts. Hmmm. Okay, I decided, give it a chance. At that point, I decided this was going to be a book where we looked back on Felix's life as Lois walked him through films of his life. That worked for me; I could imagine it all leading to a revelation about Felix's life, a lesson he needed to learn.

I was wrong. And I was really confused about what Lamb was trying to say for most of the rest of the book. Here's one case where I would have been better served to have read the publisher's summary before reading the book. Had I known going in that Lamb's purpose was to focus on the women, I might better have understood when things seemed to become disjointed.

So here we have a book about women, written by a man, with a man as the central figure. It's not that Lamb didn't do a respectable job telling the women's stories. Verna's story, in particular, was well told. Maybe Lamb's purpose of using Felix to tell the story was to show the effect of these women on a man, but that wasn't clear to me. Perhaps I'm touchy right now; my feminist core is a little tender. But if we're going to tell women's stories, why can't they be centered around a woman?

In the end, my initial concern about the ghosts as a device turned out to be valid. For me, it was a gimmick that didn't really work and one that cause the book to feel more disjointed than to tie the pieces together.

But Lamb is a formidable writer, no doubt about it. The relationships between Felix and Aliza and Felix and Frances were wonderfully written and Lamb managed to tell a lot of women's stories in one book. The Miss Rheingold competition was an actual competition, one Lamb used throughout many of the stories and I wondered if might have been able to use that as the device to spin everything out from rather than the ghosts/films. I liked a lot about I'll Take You There but I came away feeling like I could have liked it more.

But that's just me. For more opinions about this book, check out the full TLC Book tour here. Thanks to the ladies at TLC for including me on the tour; no matter how I end up feeling about a book, they always make sure I'm pushing myself and that's a good thing.

Wally Lamb is the author of four previous novels, including the New York Times and national bestseller The Hour I First Believed and Wishin’ and Hopin’, a bestselling novella. His first two works of fiction, She’s Come Undone and I Know This Much Is True, were both number-one New York Times bestsellers and Oprah’s Book Club selections. He lives in Connecticut with his wife, Christine. The Lambs are the parents of three sons.

Find out more about Wally at his website, and connect with him on Facebook.

Tuesday, November 29, 2016

Butter: A Rich History by Elaine Khosrova

Butter: A Rich History by Elaine Khosrova
Published November 2016 by Algonquin Books of Chapel Hill
Source: my ecopy courtesy of the publisher through Netgalley

Publisher's Summary:
It’s a culinary catalyst, an agent of change, a gastronomic rock star. Ubiquitous in the world’s most fabulous cuisines, butter is boss. Here, it finally gets its due.

After traveling across three continents to stalk the modern story of butter, award-winning food writer and former pastry chef Elaine Khosrova serves up a story as rich, textured, and culturally relevant as butter itself.

From its humble agrarian origins to its present-day artisanal glory, butter has a fascinating story to tell, and Khosrova is the perfect person to tell it. With tales about the ancient butter bogs of Ireland, the pleasure dairies of France, and the sacred butter sculptures of Tibet, Khosrova details butter’s role in history, politics, economics, nutrition, and even spirituality and art. Readers will also find the essential collection of core butter recipes, including beurre manié, croissants, pâte brisée, and the only buttercream frosting anyone will ever need, as well as practical how-tos for making various types of butter at home—or shopping for the best.

My Thoughts:
You know I totally judged this book by its cover when I requested it on Netgalley. But almost as soon as I downloaded, I began to have my doubts. Just how much history can butter have? How can anyone write an entire book about one ingredient and keep it interesting?

I hadn't even read the summary before I started reading. Which, once again, proved to be a good thing because I kept being surprised. Turns out butter really does have a rich history.

Khosrova starts the book with the story of a Bhutanese family who still operate their dairy "farm" operations just as their long ago ancestors would have. This story might not suck all readers straight into the book but it did for me. The Bhutanese people are near and dear to my heart ever since my son spent a year working with refugees from that country who, literally, treated him as one of their own when it was time for him to move. And then, too, it is the perfect bridge between the earliest records of butter and the ways it was made to today's modern factory settings.

And just what did Khosrova teach me?

1. There's a "slow butter" revolution going on as the demand for local goods and artisan products grows. Smaller, independent dairys are making butters that have all kinds of flavors other than that perfectly acceptable version we can buy every day. I'm on the prowl now to find places near me where butter making is a craft.

2. Oh, so much science! From the way in which a vegetarian animal manages to produce a product that is so full of fat to the reason butter is yellow but the cream it is made from is white; from the physics of making flavor to the science between margarine versus butter. Not since Henrietta Laks have I been so fascinated by science.

3. Butter has actually played a part in the history of a number of world religions. Seriously. Druids, Celtic pagans, Hinduism, Buddhism, and Christianity all feature butter in rites, celebrations, and as a means for control of believers. The Catholic church's demand that its followers abstain from butter during fasts caused a far greater hardship on those in the north who didn't have ready access to the olive oil that those in the south did during the Middle Ages, resulting in a Queen begging for permission to eat butter.

4. "Because dairying was closely identified with female rites of fertility, birthing, and lactation, strong cultural taboos against men handling milk existed for centuries around the world, and so the business of butter making free up squarely on the shoulders of hearty pastoral women." And so, butter making became the first real money-making, important job that women did.

5. The evolution of butter making is truly an amazing story. From what was likely an accidental discovery, to dairymaids  (Marie Antoinette even had her own aristocratic dairy operation), to the industrial revolution (beginning with the cream separator), and the fall and rise again of butter, I was surprised to see what a big role butter played in history.

6. The battle between margarine and butter came about in no small part because of faulty research which claims a definite link between the fat of butter and heart disease. Unfortunately, the initial push to do away with butter was based on research from only seven countries. Seven. That original study entirely ignored the research available from fifteen other countries, including France and Holland, countries with a high consumption of dairy fat and low rates of heart disease. It also did not take into account any other possible reasons people with a high fat diet might also be more likely to suffer from heart disease. Soddy research like that gives science a bad name. And that lead to...

7. Laws. About butter and margarine and the color of both. How crazy is that?

8. And back to science - the actual science of how butter impacts other foods and what happens to foods that are baked with it. Which lead to...

The recipes. The reason I now have to pay for a book that I just read for free. Also, because I know so many other people who will want to read this book!

Sunday, November 27, 2016

Life: It Goes On - November 27

Hoping you've all had a lovely holiday weekend! Did you celebrate with family or did you have a Friendsgiving? Do any Black Friday or Small Business Saturday shopping?

We've had something of an unusual Thanksgiving this year. Mini-me and Miss S couldn't make it down (first time I've ever had a holiday without one of my kids with us - I'm not a fan!), many of our nieces and nephews and their families couldn't be with us, and neither of The Big Guy's brothers made it back. Sure was quiet without the usual raucous crowds!

It was a beautiful day out yesterday, so BG has gotten the Christmas lights out; but I'm not quite ready to do the indoor decorating. Too many other things that needed to get done this weekend, including a fair amount of shopping and a  Gilmore Girls marathon.

  This Week I'm:

Listening To: Well, now that Thanksgiving is over, I did turn on the Christmas music radio channel...briefly. Then I decided it was too soon.

Watching: Miss H and I spent all of today devoted to watching the four new episodes of Gilmore Girls. Sure, it's only a total of three hours of programming, but first we had to make a grocery run for some of the foods we needed. Then there was a break to run to eat hamburgers and another break for pizza. If you're a Gilmore Girls fan, you know why.

Reading: Finishing Wally Lamb's latest, I'll Take You There tonight and I'm about done with all of the plays for the Classics Club spin. Then I'll probably start The Boys In The Boat for book club. Unless I have another book I need to read for review before then. I'll have to check later.

Making: My job for Thanksgiving was the salads (one was a salad that was nicknamed "purple goo" by an Australian friends thirty years ago and the other was the Granny Smith/Snickers salad). Today was chocolate chip cookies. Otherwise, lots of leftovers during the weekend.

Planning: Bringing up the Christmas decorations this week. Before that could happen, I wanted to get the giant file cabinet that was in my living room emptied and moved to the basement so the tree can go where it was at. It only took all day to find a home for everything that was in it so that it's still available if BG needs it. Now I know why we hadn't gotten that done yet!

Thinking About: All of the things that need to be done in the next few weeks!

Enjoying: Time with family, including Black Friday shopping. My niece couldn't be with us this year and it was here idea for us to hit Starbucks before we start shopping every year so we found a way to take her with us. BG and I also enjoyed downtown Omaha's holiday festivities last night, including some Small Business Saturday shopping. It was so nice out that families where taking advantage of the big outdoor slides on the mall.

Feeling: Sad to not have Mini-me and Miss S with us for Thanksgiving but happy to get to Face Time with them and seeing them so happy and enjoying making their own Thanksgiving (vegetarian) meal.

Looking forward to: Getting back to regular food. Oh sure, I did it to myself. But c'mon, if there are leftover sweet potatoes, pumpkin pie, cranberries, you know you're going to keep eating it. But now my stomach is telling me that it wants to have yogurt or a salad or soup.

Question of the week: What are you most looking forward to doing in December?

Thursday, November 24, 2016

Happy Thanksgiving!

I hope that those of you in the U.S. are able to enjoy this day surrounded by family or friends, mindful of all we have to be thankful for on this and every day.