Book Talk Tuesday on a Thursday: Best Food Writing 2014

It’s been one of those weeks. But I’m getting in at least one post this week!

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Best Food Writing 2014

It’s a bit daunting to offer a review of a book that is already self-proclaimed as “The Best.”

Good thing Best Food Writing 2014 lives up to its name.
A well curated collection of essays, profiles, and articles, each selection deserves its place in this annual compendium.

The articles range from serious examinations of current events (feeding families on food stamps and food bank handouts) to humorous (choosing homemade ketchup over a longtime friend). There are memories (tomato pie in Rhode Island) and commentaries (beyond the locavore to invasivore and free range gatherers).

I was surprised (although I shouldn’t have been) when what I was reading intersected my real life. I witnessed the lines at Hapa Ramen in San Francisco, shopped the farmers market there. After reading about $4 toast, I began seeing it.

For anyone who appreciates good food, whether it be as a home cook or diner at a fine restaurant, Best Food Writing 2014 has something for you to appreciate.

I received a free advanced e-copy of this book in return for a fair review. I ate it up and am grateful.

 

Food Talk Friday: Home from San Francisco

We’re home from our San Francisco trip and had just as good a time as we expected. Even better, maybe, and we had pretty high expectations to begin with.

Our friend Deb showing off her French Toast Sampler

Our friend Deb showing off her French Toast Sampler

 

 

We did visit Mama’s and loved it. The wait was under an hour and the food was well worth it. I had the Bayshore Shrimp omelet while Stud Muffin had the French toast sampler with orange-cranberry bread french toast and banana nut bread french toast. The service was excellent. Even though the line still stretched around the corner, we never felt rushed or like we couldn’t stay and enjoy a second cup of coffee as long as we wanted.

 

 

 

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The Stinking Rose in San Francisco

The other city “main stay” we visited was The Stinking Rose. It bills itself as “A Garlic Restaurant” and it lives up to that. There’s a far of something that looks like pesto on the table, but it seemed to be more garlic and parsley than basil. Garlic-olive oil is on the table also. I had the Neon Ravioli which were filled with potato and cheese and served in an alfredo sauce. Dave had the fettucine in a garlic, butter, and lemon sauce. Both dishes were tasty. Because we all had plenty of garlic that night, I can’t say how long the aromas lingered the next day but I do know we’re all safe from vampires for quite a while.

Each day we splurged on breakfast, skipped lunch and for dinner either had snacks or went out.

Other restaurant highlights:

  • Drinks at the View Lounge at the Marriott.
  • Dinner at New Sun Hong Kong (very good, a recommendation from a waiter at the View Lounge when Stud Muffin asked where to get good noodles).
  • Breakfast at Sears, a local favorite. I had Eggs Benedict, which is always dicey because I don’t love poached eggs, but these were excellent. Whew! Stud Muffin had the Veggie Omelet.
  • Watching the Giants game at Bartlett Hall. The fries were A. May. Zing. We shared fries and had drinks while watching the game.
  • Breakfast at Dottie’s True Blue Cafe. We needed another breakfast place so I searched for some Diners, Drive-Ins & Dives recommendations in the area and found Dottie’s. So good. Another wait in line, just like at Mama’s but also like at Mama’s, well worth the wait. I had the Fried Egg Sandwich special and it came with fruit! The first fruit I’d seen in San Francisco. Delicious! The egg was just like how Stud Muffin occasionally fixes his fried egg sandwiches: scrambled in a bowl, then poured into a hot skillet and cooked without further stirring, almost like an omelet but without any filling or turning. When the egg is done, he lays it on a cutting board and either cuts out a circle or a long strip that is folded and placed in the sandwich. Dottie’s egg was folded and topped with cheese and avocado, served on a small english muffin. I couldn’t finish it and I mourned leaving some of it on the plate.
  • Dessert at Ghiradelli’s. I had a scoop of chocolate with some peanut butter topping. Stud Muffin can’t have peanut butter, chocolate, or really anything very late in the evening, so he shared a couple bites of mine but didn’t have a dessert of his own. My companions had hot fudge confections and malts and all kinds of yumminess.

We also picked up a flyer for an eating tour of San Francisco. You can tour North Beach/Little Italy, Chinatown, or all off the above. We may have to check that out on our next trip. So much good food, so little time.

 

Book Talk Tuesday: In Your Dreams

It’s finally here! The next installment of Kristan Higgins’s Blue Heron series.

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In Your Dreams by Kristan Higgins

In Your Dreams arrived in my mailbox Friday and I took it on vacation with me. We were so busy, I didn’t do much reading until we were headed home and then I devoured this one in a day and a half.

This is Jack Holland’s and Emmeline Neal’s story. We’ve met Jack before in previous Blue Heron books. His sister Faith was the star of The Best Man and Holland was the heroine of The Perfect Match.

We probably met Emmeline in a prior book too, but truly, I don’t remember her at all. I expected either Jessica or Connor to be the focus of this one.

Emmeline is one of the three-person police department of Manningsport, New York. Jack Holland is the scion of the Holland family and the winemaker at their family vineyard.

Her ex-fiance is getting married in California and she needs a date for the wedding. As horrible as attending the wedding will be, not attending will be worse. Jack is struggling with issues of his own after saving some teenagers from drowning after the car they were in crashed in front of him. Plus his own ex is in town and a weekend in the sun sounds like a good deal.

What neither Jack nor Emmeline expects (though of course, all romance readers know it’s coming) is the feelings that develop between them.

This is Higgins’s longest book yet and I was skeptical that she could hold my attention the whole way, but I loved it. There’s more backstory inserted into this one, but it didn’t slow the present story down at all, and it answered the questions Higgins so skillfully raised.

I’m a huge Kristan Higgins fan and I’m only sorry that I still have to wait for Jessica and/or Connor’s stories.

This one is great and well deserves all the raves and accolades it is sure to receive.

Media Monday: Miss Fisher’s Mysteries

This one has been on my I’ll-Get-Around-To-It-Someday list for quite a while.

It’s an Australian series set in the 1920s and is quite enjoyable.

Miss Phryne Fisher of Miss Fisher's Mysteries

Miss Phryne Fisher of Miss Fisher’s Mysteries

 

Miss Phryne (pronounced Fry’ nee) has returned to Melbourne after a long absence touring the world. In the first episode, she’s drawn into a thrust into a  … she forces her way into the investigation of her friend’s husband’s murder. Along the way she meets a pair of communist taxi drivers, a maid afraid of electricity, and the local constabulary.

In the second episode, Phryne investigates a death on a train and picks up a ward named Jane (also the name of Phryne’s missing (dead?) sister. The death of the sister is the overarching plot and is why Phryne is compelled to investigate and help others in peril.

The writing is fine, although the first two episodes aren’t really challenging to an experienced mystery reader/watcher. I knew the culprit of the first murder fairly early and the second episode took me only slightly longer to guess.

I’ll continue to watch Miss Fisher solve her mysteries.

Food Talk Friday: San Francisco Eateries

I’m writing this a few days before we head to San Francisco. It’ll be posting the day after we get home.

I’m so conflicted.

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I know there are great restaurants in the city that we will try. In fact, I know there are far more great restaurants in the city that we will be able to try.

Sigh.

 

For sure on our agenda is Mama’s. We’re going with friends who have been raving about this place for years. Literally, years. So I’m excited to see what the fuss is all about.

When we watch Diners, Drive-ins & Dives, I make note of places that sound especially yummy and are in cities I might visit. My San Francisco list is pretty extensive.

Sigh. Again.

Next week, I’ll write about where we went, what we ate, and what we thought. And what we’re sorry we missed and what we’ll be going be back for.

Because you know we’ll be going back.

Book Talk Tuesday: Not Marked

I’ve been casually acquainted with Mary DeMuth for a few years now and we have several friends in common.

NOTMARKEDsmallerAlthough I don’t know her well, I’m familiar with Mary’s story. I’ve read her memoir and most of her novels.

Not Marked: Finding Hope and Healing After Sexual Abuse is a must read. Not just for survivors of sexual abuse. Not just for spouses of sexual abuse victims. It is a must read for everyone.

Because, statistically, we all know a sexual abuse survivor.

DeMuth shares her own story with frankness and authenticity but without appealing to anyone’s prurient interests. She gives practical help for those working for healing and for those walking along their side. Her husband, Patrick, has also written several portions of the book giving his perspective as a spouse of a survivor.

I passed my copy of this book on to a family member with instructions to send it on to another. I ordered a copy and had it sent to a friend. This is a book that everyone needs to read.

Did I say that already?

Well, it bears repeating.

Get it.

Read it.

Pass it on.

Media Monday: Unknown

I’ve long been a Liam Neeson fan, but it was his 2008 movie TAKEN that moved him into Stud Muffin’s viewfinder. We both thought TAKEN was outstanding and although TAKEN 2 didn’t quite measure up, it was still pretty good. Except for the whole narrowing down the location with explosions thing. I didn’t buy that at all. 

Anyway, I read good reviews for UNKNOWN, Neeson’s 2011 release, and it finally popped to the top of our Netflix queue earlier this week.

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It had all the elements we love in a Liam Neeson action adventure:

  • Intrigue

  • A layered plot

  • A clear objective

  • Liam scowling

It’s hard to really critique this one without spoiling the twists along the way.

But I’ll try.

The major twist involved a character  a circumstance  an assassination a killer who

Nope, can’t do it.

So, I’ll just say that the twist didn’t quite work for me because of the careful groundwork laid by the writers, director, and actors. There wasn’t enough foreshadowing or hints.

I get that they wanted the twist to remain a deep secret, but in this case, it was too deep. Even an askance glance would have done it.

Other than my own private quibble, UNKNOWN is a great way to spend an evening with a howling storm outside and a glass of wine and popcorn inside.

Food Talk Friday: Comfort Food …

Our family’s go to comfort food is an old casserole, Chicken Divan. The recipe we follow was given to me by a long time friend. She got it in high school home economics class. I’ve seen other versions and even tasted a few, but none compare to ours.

We had a bit of a stressful day early this week and our younger daughter had a very stressful day. We were helping her out and her father decided to make Chicken Divan for her and her daughters for their dinner that evening.

The basics of Chicken Divan

The basics of Chicken Divan

We went shopping for the ingredients:

  • Chicken (3 large half breasts, baked or roasted and cut or torn into bite-size chunks)
  • Broccoli (1 bunch, blanched, or 1 bag frozen, steamed)
  • 1 can Cream of Mushroom soup
  • 1 can Cream of Chicken soup
  • Mayonnaise (1 cup)
  • Cheddar cheese (about 2 cups, reserve some for the top)
  • Rice (the usual amount you cook for your family)
  • 1-2 teaspoons curry

When I make this, I layer the cooked broccoli in the bottom of a 9 x 13 casserole dish, then add a layer of chicken. I combine the remaining ingredients except some of the cheese then spread it over the broccoli and chicken. Top with reserved cheese and some crushed saltines or breadcrumbs. We serve it over rice. It is not healthy or light or in any good for you except that it has broccoli and is supremely delicious and no matter how bad your day/week/month/year was, a couple spoonfuls of chicken divan over rice will redeem your day. I guarantee it.

Stud Muffin and I figured Beautiful Younger Daughter would have the curry and crackers or bread crumbs also needed.

We headed to her house.

I napped on the couch, since I’d been up at five that morning and needed a few minutes siesta.

He put the casserole together in the kitchen.

But he didn’t realize I was napping, and kept hollering questions at me (“How much cheese?” “Mix everything together?”). He thought I’d “get the hint” and come in the kitchen and help him.

I did not.

I hollered the answers back without even opening my eyes (“About two cups, save some for the top.” “Yes.”).

He put the dish together, covered it with foil and left it in the fridge for BYD to heat at dinner time. As we were saying good-bye, he noticed the mayo on the counter. He’d forgotten it. Oops.

Later, he got a text from BYD that he’d also forgotten the curry.

Oops again.

She knows he intended to leave her Chicken Divan, not Shadow of Chicken Divan.

I think it goes to show that sometimes, even though we tried our best and our best wasn’t good enough, we have to be satisfied that our intentions were loving and leave it at that.

Book Talk Tuesday: Bittersweet

Bread & Wine by Shauna Niequist

Bread & Wine by Shauna Niequist

I enjoyed Cold Tangerines by Shauna Niequist and I loved Cold Tangerines: The Play produced by Little Candle Productions in South Pasadena in June.

So I bumped Bread & Wine to the top of my Kindle’s TBR file.

Like Niequist’s first book, Bread & Wine is a collection of essays but is also much more. It’s part memoir, part commentary on the lost art of food and conversation, and part cook book.

Many of the included recipes sound delicious and I can’t wait to try them. Which is what, I believe, prompted Niequist to include them: so we’d be inspired to cook a little and invite someone over to share the meal and the conversation.

It’s obvious Niequist loves to cook but not just for cooking’s sake. She loves to cook for her family and loved ones. She enjoys making a meal an occasion to slow down, eat with enjoyment, and share conversations.

For the last several months, we’ve been sharing dinner every Wednesday night with a friend. I’m inspired to either broaden our net a little and add some other people around the table, or to add another weekly evening for sharing meals and conversation. Some of our favorite vacation memories are the conversations shared around the dinner table, whether the meal was around the campstove or a 5-star restaurant table. Although, there have been far more campstove meals than 5-star restaurants.

But that’s kind of the point. The meal doesn’t have to be fancy. It just needs to be shared.

Bread & Wine is a fairly quick read, and I enjoyed it a lot.

Media Monday: The Armchair Adventurer

The Amazing Race cast, Season 25

The Amazing Race cast, Season 25

I didn’t watch Season 1 of The Amazing Race, but I’ve seen all the other seasons. Number 25 just started last week.

I’ve seen the contestants race around Europe, and Asia, and Africa. I’ve watched them shave their heads, dare to confront their fears by jumping out of planes or off buildings, and eat some truly disgusting stuff.

I’m an armchair adventurer, hear me whimper.

My daughter, the Lovely Oldest, and I have applied to be on the show but they keep losing our paperwork.

We don’t live in the same house any longer, and we DVR the show but we often text back and forth about it.

Someone finding our phones would think we were speaking in secret code.

ME: #1 rule?

LO: READ THE CLUE!

Me: Shank it.

LO: No, Rank it.

And on it goes.

While I would love that kind of adventure, another part of me knows that I’d be cast as the fat, old, non-athlete who’d likely be eliminated at the end of the first leg.

But I can dream. Which I will do all during this season. We left the teams Friday night in the US Virgin Islands, dripping wet, but eager to continue the adventure.