Saturday, October 12, 2013

Dewey's 24 Hour Read-a-Thon - Hour 1 and 12

Update Hour 12

I honestly thought I'd post and check Twitter more than I did. But I didn't BECAUSE I WAS READING! I'm engrossed. I thought I would get antsy and put on a movie by 8pm but I don't want to. I know I won't last until 8am but I'm going to try! (I'll probably make it until 1 am if I'm lucky but whatevs.)

References in my books that have encouraged further reading, culture, growth, and other cool stuff.

My first book referenced:

- Valerie Solanos which has made me want to finally watch I Shot Andy Warhol

- my alma mater, the School of Visual Arts in NYC. These references always make me feel a little famous or important or something.

- the film Vivre Sa Vie by Godard which makes me want to check it out and get back into more challenging films. Fancy!

My second book made me:

- look up the word obfuscating which just means to make obscure or confuse. Which I got from the context but I've never heard it and I've probably never read before either. I'm a teeny bit smarter!

- call my mom! It's so heavy on the mother/daughter stuff it made me call her and make a date to hang out tomorrow.  Aw.


- the mini challenge on black out poetry, although I didn't try it today, makes me want to try it soon. It seems really satisfying - whittling away words instead of trying to find them.

- I made this bitchin' bread recipe. It was a snack and turned into a grilled cheese sandwich for dinner. So good. (Plus reading the recipe totally counts!)

Still on my second book.


Introductory Questionnaire

1) What fine part of the world are you reading from today?

Upstate New York. Specifically I'm laying in the bed in a big ol' sun beam with my cats!

2) Which book in your stack are you most looking forward to?

This is a hard one...but I think Monuments Men. I've been meaning to read it for a long long time. Today's the day!

3) Which snack are you most looking forward to?

Beverages, ice coffee now, seltzer later then tea, maybe cocoa. I'm also contemplating buying some wine on my walk later to enjoy during my evening reading. ; )

4) Tell us a little something about yourself!

My book stack says a lot about me. I love art and a good story.

5) If you participated in the last read-a-thon, what’s one thing you’ll do different today? If this is your first read-a-thon, what are you most looking forward to?

This is my first read-a-thon. I'm looking forward to reading/discover other people's book blog and finding some good recommendations. I'm also excited about being part of that community.

Now, back to reading! I'm really loving Gabrielle Bell's The Voyeurs. I'm reserving her other books form the library right now.

Thursday, October 10, 2013

Read-a-Thon Plans!

I'm taking part in Dewey's 24 hour Read-a-Thon on Saturday! I am really looking forward to this. Especially after a long week, I haven't felt well and I've experienced ups and downs at work. One full day of reading and falling into whatever story I feel like being immersed in sounds really really great right now.

This week has been nothing but beautiful fall weather, bright sun, cool temperatures and chilly nights. I love pulling out the heavier blanket, scarves and sweaters. On one of these beautiful fall days I took a stroll to the library and stocked up on books I've been meaning to read, graphic novels, and a spur of the moment pick.

24 Hour Read-a-Thon Adventure Reading List!
The Monuments Men: Allied heros, Nazi Thieves, and the Greatest Treasure Hunt in History by Robert M. Edsel (Movie coming out in December 2013!)

Seating Arrangements by Maggie Shipstead - A "social satire, set on an exclusive New England island over a wedding weekend in June, provides a glimpse into the lives of the well-bred and ill-behaved."
Where We Belong by Emily Griffin - This is my go-to light and easy read. I've never read the author before but she was recommended to me by a few different friends for beach-type reading. I'm not posting a synopsis because I do not know what the book is about and I do not want to know until it unfolds as I read.

Graphic Novels
The Voyeurs by Gabrielle Bell - "The Voyeurs is a real-time memoir of a turbulent five years in the life of renowned cartoonist Gabrielle Bell. It collects which she travels to Tokyo, Paris, the South of France, and all over the United States, but remains anchored by her beloved Brooklyn, where sidekick Tony provides ongoing insight, offbeat humor, and enduring friendship."
The Underwater Welder by Jeff Lemire - "As an underwater welder...Jack dives deeper and deeper, he seems to pull further and further away from his young wife and their unborn son. Then one night, deep in the icy solitude of the ocean floor, something unexplainable happens. Jack has a mysterious and supernatural encounter that will change the course of his life forever."

Learning about new book blogs to follow and the books other participants are reading. I always love to find good book recommendations.

Eating lasagna soup, homemade bread, and salad.

Hoping to finish the graphic novels, one of the fiction novels, and get at least a third of the way through The Monuments Men.

I will report back. Happy Reading!

Monday, October 7, 2013

My First Read-a-Thon!

Sunshine and books

I'm taking part in Dewey's 24 hour Read-a-Thon this Saturday, October 12, 2013. Start time 8am! What a great excuse to lay around and read all day. I am beside myself with anticipation.

Can't clean...reading.
Can't shop...reading.
Dishes?!?!?! Reading!

The day is devoted to reading, listening to audio books, reading to others, checking in on other readers' blogs, blogging and tweeting about our read-a-thon adventures, and participating in (or skipping) hourly mini-challenges. If you choose to participate in a mini challenge you can enter to win a prize. Who doesn't love a prize? The mini challenges are hosted by different book bloggers, they keep the readers engaged with the read-a-thon and with each other. They also help to break up the long day of reading. During the last read-a-thon there were also random prize winners announced every hour. Exciting!

I am going to take this week to gather up the books I'm going to read on Saturday. I will post a list on Wednesday along with all my other Read-a-Thon prep plans (this mainly involves food).

To this first timer Dewey's 24 hour Read-a-Thon seems to be a large book blogger community effort. I am so happy to have found it and I can't wait to spend the day reading like it's my job. But no, I will not stay up for a full 24 hours. There is no way I could do that. I need my Zs! It will be a miracle if reading all day doesn't lead to a mid-afternoon nap.

Here is the FAQ page if you are interested in participating and want to learn more.

Saturday, October 5, 2013

More Quality T.V. Shows with Large Female Casts

On Monday I wrote about some shows with large female casts. Here are three more enjoyable shows to add to your list.

More Quality T.V. Shows with Large Female Casts
Bunheads is a show with a terrible name but a great cast. It is written by the creator of The Gilmore Girls and has the same snappy dialogue. It is a family show about a ballerina turned Vegas showgirl who winds up in a small Californian town teaching dance with her mother-in-law.
The best part: The dancing. There the most beautiful awe-inspiring dance scenes on this show. Also a great thing: the lead is played by Tony-winning Sutton Foster.

Orange is the New Black was adapted from the book of the same name by Piper Kerman. It is an autobiographical novel about her time in a federal prison. The women she shares the prison with, and their stories, are heartbreaking, uplifting, and at times, laugh out loud funny. We also get to see Piper's priorities, relationships, and coping skills evolve during her time in prison which is fascinating.  
The best part: The diversity. These aren't women we normally get to see on T.V. From older Russian immigrants, to Latina mothers and daughters, to transsexual women, we learn a lot about why they ended up where they are.

Girls, you either love this show or hate it. I love it! The characters are young, naive, and self-involved, but they are also smart, funny, and sympathetic. It's not just the female characters that make this show worth watching. The male characters on this show are also well written and well acted. They deal with the world differently than their female counterparts and it's this dynamic, as well as the same-sex friendships, that make the show.
The best part: The writing. It's naturalistic and funny as hell.

Monday, September 30, 2013

Quality T.V. Shows with Large Female Casts

Last week I wrote about the Bechdel Rule. So today I wanted to share Part I of some quality television shows that not only meet the Rule but also cover a variety of genres. I am a big fan of all these shows and the actresses that star in them. If you would like to watch one of these shows from the beginning you can find them on DVD, Amazon streaming, iTunes, and/or Netflix.

Quality T.V. Shows with Large Female Casts

Call the Midwife is a period drama based on the book by Jennifer Worth. As the title suggests, this is a story about midwives working out of a nursing convent in the 1950s. We experience the beginning of the show through the eyes of Jenny and her resulting culture shock after moving to the impoverished neighborhood of East London. We not only learn about Jenny, but also the other young nurses and nuns at the convent and their many patients. Their stories are warm and moving but they are not light and fluffy. It's the grittiness in Midwife that both disturbs and delights me.
The best part: The sweet babies, and the stories of acceptance and love. (iTunes, Amazon, DVD)

Orphan Black - Okay, this is a bit of a cheat because the large female cast is played by a single actress, Tatiana Maslany. Orphan Black is a science fiction series about a woman who discovers her clone. She risks danger repeatedly in order to find more clones and figure out the secret of their creation.
The best part: The lead. Tatiana Maslany plays so many distinct characters so well you forget it's the same actress playing all 4 characters in the same room. She is amazing.

Game of Thrones is a extremely popular fantasy series on HBO. It is based on the books by George R.R. Martin. Everything about this show is intriguing and surprising. The acting talent and production value are through the roof. To watch this show it to live in another world. The fourth season will be on again in 2014 so you have time to binge watch!
The best part: The women of this universe are every bit as three dimensional and vital to the story as the men.

The Bletchley Circle is a period drama and a murder mystery. It is about four women who worked as codebreakers in England during World War II. The show is set in 1952 when they reunite to track down a serial killer. The women see patterns in the killer's work that police have overlooked.
The best part: Four female codebreakers in 1952 England track a serial killer!

For three more contemporary shows with large female casts please read Part II.

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Let's Talk About the Bechdel Rule for Film

The Bechdel Rule for Film

The Bechdel Rule was introduced in Alison Bechdel's comic "Dykes to Watch Out For," in a strip called The Rule.  The strip was published in 1985 and Bechdel credits the rule to her friend Liz Wallace. Thanks Liz! In the strip her friend states that she only sees a movie if it satisfies the three basic requirements listed above.

I find myself naturally seeking out movies that satisfy the Bechdel Rule as a balance to all the male heros and anti-heros in film and television. There are a lot of great movies that do not pass the Bechdel Rule and I can enjoy them immensely, but it is not enjoyable or satisfying to watch them exclusively. They are only half of a whole, they're all yin and no yang.

Some take the test very literally and any conversation, no matter how short, between two women in a movie satisfies the rule for them as long as it is not about any man. A two minute conversation about potato salad in a 2+ hour film satisfies the rule for some. For me it does not. The potato salad exchange does not even pass for a conversation, it's completely superficial, and has no importance in the movie or in the lives of the female characters. For others Zero Dark Thirty does not pass the test because Osama Bin Laden was the only thing the female main character spoke about with any other character including her female coworker. For me it passes the rule because the man she speaks about is the sole focus of her work, her very important work. She may be defined by her work but she is not defined by this man and this man is not her love interest.

Maybe the Bechdel Rule was meant to be taken literally. Maybe in 1985 if it was not taken literally Liz Wallace would not have been able to see any Hollywood film. There are still so many that don't pass the rule. I believe that applying the test literally, as in the examples above, completely ignores the spirit of the rule which is to assess the presence of women in movies. Meaning, it should asses whether or not women are represented by three dimension characters. Is there is more to the female characters than just how they relate to the men in their lives? Does the film show the female characters' friendships, family, work, talents, concerns, problems, personalities, successes, and/or flaws?

And if I'm wrong about taking the Rule literally it's time to rewrite the rule. It's 30 years later and time to raise the bar a bit on the entertainment we consume.  

My interpretation of the Rule

A movie or television show must have:

1, at least 2 women who

2, talk to each other more than just superficially about

3, something other than a male love interest.

For me, this criteria satisfies my need to see women depicted as three dimensional human beings in art and entertainment. It is only when this criteria is met that I feel a strong personal connection to the work. Again, I do not need to feel a strong personal connection to every film and television show. I have really enjoyed Breaking Bad as much as the rest of America without relating to it on a personal level (one would hope!). But, my entire entertainment portfolio, for lack of a better word, can not be made up of Breaking Bads. I desire more of a balance between humor and drama, realism and fantasy, feel-good and violent, sexual and asexual, male and female. 95% of the films, television shows, and books I have, and will, discuss on this site satisfy my interpretation of the Bechdel Rule.

Feminist Frequency has a great short video introduction to this topic and some very interesting links for your reading pleasure.

I also highly recommend Alison Bechdel's graphic novel Fun Home: A Family Tragicomic. This memoir is heartbreaking, humorous and downright intriguing. Give it a whirl when you're in the mood for something different than the traditional novel.

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Wednesday Book Links

Cozy Reading

Have you heard of blind book dates? You've heard of not judging a book by it's cover, but what if you also didn't know the author or the title? Would you buy the book if you only knew the price and a few themes and plot points? I honestly probably wouldn't, I'm too cheap and picky...I mean frugal and discerning. (HGTV)

Lovebird bookworms unite! Buzzfeed shows us how to throw a fabulous literary wedding. My favorites are the library card save the dates with their cute phrases and the dog-eared paperbacks as wedding favors. (Buzzfeed)

24 cats that love books almost as much as we do. (Flavorwire)

I am super psyched about this movie coming out in December staring George Clooney and Matt Damon. It is based on the book The Monuments Men: Allied Heroes, Nazi Thieves and the Greatest Treasure Hunt in History.  The title pretty much says it all. This was an elite group of men, part of the U.S. military, that were charged with minimizing damage to the art and architecture of Europe during WWII. There is also an excellent documentary called The Rape of Europa that I highly recommend.
 The UnAmericans by Molly Antopol We Need New Names by NoViolet Bulawayo
And last but certainly not least, the National Book Foundation's 5 Under 35 program honors five young fiction writers selected by past National Book Award Winners and Finalists and this year the honorees all happen to be women.

Monday, September 16, 2013

Mystery Novels Set in the Art World

When I seek out mysteries I always search for novels set in the art world.  The art mystery is my favorite sub-genre. Most of these novels have plots that revolve around either art theft or forgery. I enjoy reading them because they are relaxing and enjoyable reads that take you to interesting places around the world. But the good ones are not brain candy. I always learn something from them, it could be about an artist, a movement or a museum. I'm pretty sure I could forge a painting at this point. If you are looking for your next read here are a few book I've enjoyed recently.
Mysteries set in the art world.

The Art Forger by B.A. Shapiro
The heart of this novel revolves around infamous, and still unsolved, art heist at the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum of 1999. A talented young artist, Claire Roth, makes her living creating reproductions for an online store. When a gallery owner asks her to reproduce a famous painting she agrees. But, is she painting a reproduction or a forgery? The book also delves into Claire's past relationship with her grad school professor and the scandal in their past.

Ghost Hero (A Lydia Chin/Bill Smith Novel) by S.J. Rozan
Lydia Chin is a Chinese American detective asked to investigate newly discovered painting by an artist known as the Ghost Hero. The problem is, Ghost Hero has been dead for 20 years. Are these old paintings or new? Is Ghost Hero still alive or are these painting forgeries? This story takes us through Manhattan galleries, studios of young artists, the Chinese consulate, and the art history department of NYU. Not all Lydia Chin mysteries are set in the art world but I will definitely read more.

The House Girl by Tara Conklin
Historical fiction that weaves together a story of an escaped slave in the pre–Civil War South and a determined young lawyer, Lina Sparrow. Because Lina's father is a well known artist we get to spend part of the book in the contemporary art world of New York. On a personal level Lina is trying to unravel the mystery of her mother's death. On a professional level she is looking for an appropriate lead plaintiff in a lawsuit seeking compensation for families of slaves. Both of these worlds come together when she learns about Lu Anne Bell, a renowned prewar artist whose famous works might have actually been painted by her slave, Josephine.

A Dangerous Talent (An Alix London Mystery) by Aaron and Charlotte Elkin
The main character is an art consultant that struggles against her family name. Her father is a well know art conservator that went to prison for art forgery. Alix meets a novice art collector and seeks her expertise about a recently discovered painting by Georgia O’Keeffe. Alix is hired to perform the authentication, and finally has the chance she needs to launch her career. The story takes them to Santa Fe and explains the city's history and status as an art center. I enjoyed this book immensely and was thrilled to see that it the start of a new series based on the main character.

On my reading list:

A Cruise to Die For (An Alix London Mystery) by Aaron and Charlotte Elkins
This is the second book in the Alix London mysteries. It came out on September 3, 2013 and I actually paid for it. That tells you how much I want to read it. I get 99% of my books from the library. This one is set in the Greek isles, I place I've been and loved. I'm looking forward to spending time with Alix again, a smart and knowledgeable woman, and seeing if they describe any islands that I have been too.

a deceptive clarity by aaron elkins

A Deceptive Clarity by Aaron Elkins
Obviously I have learned that Aaron Elkins is a go-to author for the art mystery. this one caught my eye. this is part of a series based on the adventures of an art curator. In this book he must determine the forgery among masterpieces. The same task that got his boss killed.

What's your favorite genre? Do you have a favorite sub-genre? Are you a mystery buff? Do you need a book recommendation? Let me know in the comments, I'd love to hear from you!

Happy reading!

Friday, September 13, 2013

Easy Sesame Candy

Easy Sesame Candy

I love Middle Eastern food including the candy. According to second edition of the Food Lover's Companion our friend the sesame seed is the first recorded seasoning in history, dating back to 3000 B.C. Assyria. Assyria, I believe, is modern day (northern) Iraq.  Which would explain why you find packaged sesame candies in Middle Eastern markets. With seeds, nuts and honey this is a pretty nutritious candy, super tasty, and really easy to make. 

A few tips:
1.  This sesame candy will keep for several days if wrapped up or put in an air tight container.

2. Pastelli traditionally uses pistachios but any nut you have on hand will work well in the candy. I honestly don't think I have ever used pistachios they are always too dang expensive when I go to buy them. I usually use almonds and/or walnuts.

3. If you happen to turn your back and accidentally toast the sesame seeds for too long on the first step, simply transfer them to a plate while you melt the sugar with the nuts. Return the seeds to the pan when you add the honey.

4. You can find sesame seeds in Middle Eastern markets, the bulk section of your market or co-op, or in jars in the Asian section of the market.

Easy Sesame Candy

Easy Sesame Candy

Coconut or vegetable oil for the pan
3/4 cup sesame seeds
1/3 cup shelled and roughly chopped nuts, pistachios are traditional
1/4 cup sugar
1/4 cup honey

Lightly oil a wooden spoon and a 9"x6" pan.

Place the sesame seeds and nuts in a nonstick skillet and toast them lightly over low heat just until they start to take on a deeper color. Be careful, low and slow here is the key. The seeds will continue to toast during the next several steps so you don't want to over do it on the first step. (See tip 3 above if you over do it.)

Add the sugar to the seeds and nuts in the skillet. Cook over low heat until the sugar melts and takes on a slight golden color. Don't stir, just give the pan a few shakes.

Add the honey to the skillet. Quickly stir the honey into the sesame seeds and nuts. Mix until the candy becomes sticky and thick. Scrape the mixture into the oiled pan and flatten it with the back of an oiled wooden spoon.

Let the candy cool for just a few minutes, turn it out onto a cutting board, and cut into small rectangles. Don't wait too long or it will be too hard to cut and you won't be able to have the cute little rectangles of candy and feel fancy and continental.

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Better Than Gone Girl

Dark Places by Gillian Flynn

I just finished Dark Places by Gillian Flynn. This book is truly dark and left a much bigger impression on me than Gone Girl did. I enjoyed Gone Girl while I was on vacation but there was something unsatisfying about it to me. It was too...orderly. I like stories that show how messy life can be.  A large part of Gone Girl was how planned and organized a large part of the plot was, but that is exactly what left me a bit cold.  As I said, I enjoyed it while I was reading it but it is not the type of story that will stay with me.

Dark Places has more sympathetic characters and more characters in general. Their lives are complicated and they have struggles and flaws.  This book is also literally messy and downright gory. I'm no wimp but I could not bring myself to read it before bed. For that, I had a palette cleanser book.

My Boyfriend Wrote a Book About Me by Hilary Winston

My Boyfriend Wrote a Book About Me by Hilary Winston was my go-to book at bedtime while reading Dark Places. (Yes, I am a multiple reader.  I usually can't handle more than two at a time though or else I get impatient to finish at least one of them.) Hilary's exboyfriend did indeed write a book where she figured heavily. He also referred to her in this book as his "fat ass girlfriend." Nice guy right? Hilary writes about him, her other exboyfriends, and her almost-boyfriends. She is single, a television writer, and loves her cats. She loves her cats as a single girl loud and proud! I'm all for tearing that cats + single lady = sad stereotype. This book is amusing, very relatable and had a few LOL moments.

Monday, September 9, 2013

Five British TV Shows You Should Be Watching

Five British TV Shows You Should Be Watching

A young boy is found dead on the beach of a small British coastal town. Detectives Hardy and Miller (David Tennant and Olivia Colman above) are on the case. Broadchurch is just as much a story about grief and community as it is a murder mystery. The acting is brilliant, so much so that at times I forgot I was watching actors and let me tell you, that does not happen often. The cinematography is beautiful and looks more like a film than a television show. Be warned this is an incredibly heartbreaking story. When I finished watching the last episode I need a big ol' bear hug.

Broadchurch is on BBC America. You can find the first season on Amazon and  iTunes.

Frankie is a visiting nurse who is incredibly good at her job. You get to meet her, her mean boss, her coworkers, and her police officer boyfriend. She is a spunky, smart, independent lady who rocks out to her favorite tunes, eats cold pizza for breakfast, and always puts her patients first. Frankie is the love child of a contemporary less sentimental version of Call the Midwife and Nurse Jackie minus the pills.

Franie is on BBC America. You can also find full episodes are available on You Tube.

Speaking of Call the Midwife, the star of this show is Miranda Hart, one Chummy from CTM. Hart was a stand up comic before her acting career. Who knew? Miranda is a funny, silly, feel good hal hour show about a single woman in her thirties, her small group of pals and the shenanigans they get into. Every episode ends with the cast singing a song and waving good night to the audience. I mean come on! I dare you not to smile while watching that! Watch Miranda when you need a pick-me-up.

Series one and two are available on DVD.  

Last Tango in Halifax
This one hour drama just began airing on PBS Sunday nights. After their grandsons put them on Facebook, two senior citizens and ex schoolmates, Alan and Celia, find each other after 60 years and their love reblooms. Their story is a sweet one that is complicated by their respective families. Derek Jacobi as Alan is incredibly charming and Celia's daughter steals the show as a very clever, strong, and verbal headmistress who does not take any flack, Jack. This show gracefully illustrates that life is messy and family is everything. Be prepared with a cup of tea because it flows heavily on this show. Always with the kettles and tea making!

Series one is also available on DVD.

Gavin and Stacey
An older series than Last Tango in Halifax but with a much younger couple that also get together after connecting online. Gavin and Stacey are in their early twenties when they meet, fall in love, and carry on a long distance relationship (he's in England she's in Wales). We get to meet them when they meet each other in person for the first time. Gavin and Stacey are a couple of sweethearts that you will quickly love to watch. Their more outlandish friends and family make this half hour comedy a great one. A US remake is scheduled for this fall on Fox entitled Us & Them. Do yourself a favor and watch the original instead of, or at least before, the US version. I am a Gilmore Girls fan too but Alexis Bledel does not have half the charm as the original Stacey played by Joanna Page.

Available on DVD and on iTunes.

Friday, September 6, 2013

Simple Roasted Salsa Verde

Simple Roasted Salsa Verde

I could not resist these tomatillos at the farmer's market last Saturday. They piqued my interest because of their color and texture and the fact that I rarely buy them. I like to rotate the produce I prepare in order to both try new recipes and get a variety of nutrients and vitamins. This salsa verde has a smoky/earthy/tangy flavor. It is a nice alternative to red tomato-based salsas.

A few tips:
1. Remember to remove all of the seeds from the jalapenos if you want the salsa less spicy. Leave all, or some, of them in for a more spicy salsa.

2. This salsa freezes very well. Save time and money by freezing half if you are cooking for one or double the recipe and then freeze half if cooking for a family.

Simple Roasted Salsa Verde

Simple Roasted Salsa Verde - Makes about 3 cups

1 1/2 - 2 lbs fresh tomatillos, husks removed
2-3 jalapeno peppers, halved (seeded for a less spicy salsa)

3 whole garlic cloves, peeled
2 T olive oil
1/2 cup chopped onion
1 T fresh lime juice
1 cup chopped fresh cilantro
1 tsp black pepper to taste
salt to taste (optional)

Preheat oven to 425 degrees F.
Rinse tomatillos to remove the stickiness you'll find under the husks.
Place tomatillos on a rimmed sheet pan with the pepper halves and garlic cloves.
Roast for about 30 minutes until the tomatillos and pepper skins start to have black spots.
Remove the blackened skin from the peppers and transfer with tomatillos and any juices from the pan to a blender of food processor.
Pulse until chunky.
Add onion, lime juice, cilantro and puree until smooth. 

Add pepper and salt to taste.

This simple salsa verde is delicious on chicken or shrimp tacos and quesadillas. Enjoy!

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

Cozy and Inspiring Campus Movies for September

Wonder Boys
Grady is a rumpled professor and a novelist who teaches creative writing at a Pittsburgh university. He third wife has just left him and he is having an affair with his department head's wife. His current novel is over 2,500 pages long "and the ending keeps getting further away." His agent, a transvestite, a James Brown look-a-like, lots of writers, smart people, and Frances McDormand round out the cast. I love that this film takes place over the course of one weekend. The weekend serves as a microcosm of Grady's life and the seedier side of academia without being mean-spirited. Grady is a mess, he is a magnet to messy situations, but he is a good man filled with good intentions.
Mona Lisa Smile
Set in 1953 Wellsely College this movie is about the choices educated young women had at the time. A new art history professor arrives on campus to inspire some and come into conflict with others. I always find a large female cast inspiring and I think Julia Roberts is at her best in this film. She is very authentic in this role, she doesn't over play the bohemian aspects of her character's lifestyle, nor does she get cutesy or sentimental with the character. The debates she initiates with the young women about social issues, family, career, and the art history are alone worth watching the movie.

Dead Poet Society
Love poetry, seize the day, find your own voice, view the world from different perspectives, and on and on this movie goes with the inspiration. This film posses it in spade! Smart, curious and sensitive boys on a beautiful New England campus come of age in 1959. This movie is funny, heartbreaking and a classic.

Educating Rita
A charming British movie from 1983 is about a young hairdresser and wife who decides to find herself by taking an open university course. Michael Cain plays the burned-out alcoholic Ph.D. that opens a whole new world to Rita through education. Rita opens his eyes to a fresh new perspective that he has been craving. We watch Rita grow and blossom intellectually. She transforms herself and her life and it's a thing of beauty to watch. Five stars for inspiration!

Based on the play by David Mamet, this two-character movie is completely dialogue driven. The two characters are John, a male college professor, and Carol, his female student. Carol first approaches John about failing his class, later she accuses him of sexual harassment. John is desperate to have the charges dropped, his tenure, promotion and family all hang in the balance. This is an intriguing look at the power struggle between the two. This is a movie where a lot happens emotionally, but where there is very little physical action. I understand this is a turn off for a lot of people but I just get lulled into the rhythm of the dialogue.

A Beautiful Mind
A romanticized and cleaned up version of real life Noble Prize winner John Nash. Nash attended and later taught at Princeton University. Many scenes take place on this beautiful campus. Russell Crowe plays the mathematical genius who suffered from schizophrenia and Jennifer Connelly plays his long suffering wife. It's a bit sentimental but well made and well acted.


Real Genius inspiring in the sense that humor always inspires a good mood. If you don't laugh at the jokes you'll laugh at the goofiness of a very young Val Kilmer and the 1980's sensibility and fashion. A good watch for a lazy Sunday afternoon.

Saturday, August 31, 2013

6 Campus Novels for Back-to-School Season

I love the fall! It's full of fresh starts, new clothes and the urge to buy books. As the weather turns crisp and the changing leaves rattle in the breeze, I want to pull on my favorite pair of super soft blue tights, splurge on a fancy coffee and take my time browsing at the corner bookstore. Here are six campus novel recommendations for your consideration when the same autumn urge hits you.

6 Campus Novels for Back-to-School Season

Moo by Jane Smiley

The setting is a Midwestern campus, at an agricultural college referred to as Moo U.  The weather, culture, and atmosphere of the Midwest is detailed so well I felt firmly planted in the middle of our country as I read. Moo is a satire on academia.  Students, faculty, staff and the animals are all main characters. I worked my way through grad school as the secretary to a provost, so I'm biased toward this character in the book. Smiley depicts her as the smartest person on campus -nice!

The best part: The funny bits and the depiction of working with animals as part of college education which is completely foreign to me.

Prep by Curtis Sittenfeld

Prep is a coming of age story set at the Ault School in Massachusettes, a prestigious private boarding school. (Some believe Ault is a stand in for Groton, which the author herself attended.) Lee Fiora is an freshman from the Midwest attending on scholarship. Away from her family she struggles as an outsider in a place where everyone tries to conceal what makes them different, be it religion, class, or sexuality.

The best part: The working class girl's view of a wealthy institution.

Testimony by Anita Shreve

Another story set at a New England boarding school, but Testimony takes a much darker tone then Prep. On this private school campus a sex scandal on the verge of breaking. It is a tense and compelling story. Each chapter is from a different character's point of view, students, parents, faculty, both male and female. The poor decisions made in one night have consequences that change the lives of all involved.
Currently only $2.99 for the Kindle edition on Amazon.

The best part: The suspense and Shreve's clear and emotional writing.

The Art of Fielding by Chad Harbach

Warning: Must love baseball. The sport figures heavily into this story. I have to imagine if you are not interested in baseball this book might be a chore rather than a pleasure. Please correct me if I'm mistaken.

The setting is Westish College, a small school on the shore of Lake Michigan. Henry Skrimshander is a natural talent and star pitcher, who seems destined for the big leagues. But after one bad game Henry chokes and can't seem to recover. Everyone within Henry's circle is affected, the college President and his daughter, Henry's best friend, and his roommate.

The best part: The characters' desires to start over and their fears that make starting over such a struggle. I'm a sucker for any good starting over storyline. 

I Am Charlotte Simmons by Tom Wolfe

The setting is Dupont University, an amalgam of many ivy league universities, in central Pennsylvania. The title character is a brilliant young student from a poverty stricken town in North Carolina. A loss of innocence ensues as Charlotte discovers that money, athletics, sex, alcohol and social status rule at Dupont. The pursuit of the intellectual is an afterthought, if it's thought of at all. Throw in a plagiarism scandal, a political scandal, and Charlotte is changed forever in many ways, but it is for the better?

The best part: Charlotte's brains, sweetness and purity and the culture shock she experiences from day one through the rest of her freshman year.

Admission by Jean Hanff Korelitz

I was happily surprised to find that Admission was made into a movie staring Tina Fey and Paul Rudd. The movie has a more light-hearted tone than the book and is worth a watch.

Portia Nathan is a Princeton University admission officer. The novel depicts the inner workings of the incredibly competitive admission process. It's details are complex, funny, a bit depressing for any underachiever.  Portia's straightforward, efficient and secure world was always on shaky ground given the secret she's been keeping for 18 years.

The best part: Portia's opportunity for a more authentic life.

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

5 Books for a Long Weekend

Summer is not over yet. At the very least there is that long Labor Day weekend approaching fast. Here are 5 book recommendations to keep you entertained and help you unwind...and drink recommendations 'cause why not?

The Beach House by Jane Green
When faced with money trouble a woman turns her Nantucket beach house into a bed and breakfast. This is an easy, relaxing, feel-good read full of sympathetic and relatable characters. Goes well with a sparkling white wine.

Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn
I'm sure you've heard of it. I read this mid-west murder mystery while on vacation and deem it the perfect beach read. I couldn't wait to pick it up again and fall right to the craziness and suspense. If you haven't read it yet now's the time. Pairs very well with a gin and tonic and you just might need it.

Someday, Someday, Maybe by Lauren Graham
Yes, that Lauren Graham. The one from Parenthood and the Gilmore Girls. Graham's book revolves around the struggles of a young actress in 1995 New York City. It is a fun and charming read. Goes well with an iced coffee.

Sad Desk Salad by Jessica Grose
A very modern book about a young woman who writes for a NYC-based gossip-obsessed pop culture website. (The author has worked for Jezebel and Slate.) I liked reading about a character that is very different from me - the nature of her work is frenetic and cut-throat and she is impulsive and doesn't take very good care of herself. Goes well with a green smoothie and a multi-vitamin.

Shopgirl by Steve Martin
Shopgirl is a sensitive and insightful little book. The protagonist is a shy, introverted, artistic and lonely. She tentatively begins a relationship with an older, much more financially well-off, man. It is refreshing to read about a relationship that is not a perfect true love romance but is an important relationship in the characters' lives nonetheless. Pairs well with a mojito.

Sunday, August 25, 2013

Late Summer Blueberry Muffins

Late Summer Blueberry Muffins

I love the farmer's market in August! Fresh garden tomatoes, sweet corn, and berries, berries, berries. I loaded up this weekend in an attempt to make the most of what's left of the summer. I even froze some of my blueberries for the first time. It worked beautifully and now I can enjoy fresh blueberries next month also.

I want to share this recipe for blueberry muffins that my mother has been making for as long as I can remember. It was probably originally from a 1960's ladies magazine. I have made this recipe with whole wheat flour and did not enjoy them. I now use white whole wheat flour or all purpose flour. I also use almond milk, but have used soy milk and skim milk to good results.

A few tips:
1. Be sure to stir very very gently. If you have a tendency to mix over-enthusiastically, be sure to just fold the ingredients together until all the flour is off the bottom of the bowl and you don’t have any big pockets of flour in your batter.

2. Gently toss the blueberries in flour before you add them to the batter. This will keep them all from falling to the bottom of the muffins.

Late Summer Blueberry Muffins

Blueberry Muffin Recipe - Makes 12

1 3/4 C sifted all-purpose flour
1/4 C sugar
2 1/2 tsp baking powder
3/4 tsp salt
1 well-beaten egg
3/4 C milk (whole, skim, soy, or almond)
1/3 C canola oil
1 C fresh blueberries

Preheat oven to 400 degrees.
Sift together flour, sugar, baking powder, & salt.
Combine egg, milk & oil.
Make a well in the center of the dry ingredients and add egg mixture.
Stir gently just until dry ingredients are moistened.
Gently stir in blueberries.
Fill greased or papered muffin tins 2/3 full.
Sprinkle with cinnamon sugar (optional)
Bake for 25 minutes or until tops are golden brown.
Tip muffins to one side while cooling to prevent steaming crusts.

These beauties are a great addition to a BBQ chicken, corn-on-the-cob, and potato salad dinner. Yum! They also freeze well. Enjoy!


Wednesday, August 21, 2013

What to Read Next - Wednesday Book Links

Book Recommendations!

I cannot wait to get my mitts on the Treme cookbook. Treme starts up again in December, until then my culinary attempts at beignet, etoufee, dirty rice and po boys will have to suffice as New Orleans atmosphere in my home.

40 trashy novels - a must read list.  But they're classic trashy novels, not just trashy trashy novels (which also have their place bt-dubs).

The Today Show has relaunched their book club. The Bone Season by first time author Samantha Shannon is part of seven-book deal and the film rights have already been purchased. Did I mention Samantha's 21?

17 hidden gems from 2012. Still working my way through this list of quirky off-beat books.
And maybe I just think this is funny because I was the type of kid that made up a rap song to Edgar Allen Poe's The Raven and I hate the show That's So Raven.

Sunday, August 18, 2013

The Inspiring Work of Female Comedians

I tend to get a bit obsessive about a particular subject or genre. As a result I read, listen to and watch as much as I can. I read every night before I fall asleep, I listen to podcasts as I take my (almost) daily walks, and I rewatch favorite TV shows and movies as I cook and wash dishes and other tedious kitchen chores. I do not generally choose non-fiction books but lately I have been reading the work of female comedians. None of these materials is new on the market but I am just getting caught up with them.


Girl Walks into a Bar by Rachel Dratch
Rachel Dratch writes about her career, dating, and having a baby at 43. She approaches everything with her amazing sense of humor. Because she is not a typical Hollywood beauty the only parts she is offered are for women 20 years her senior, grossly obese women, butch lesbians and sometimes 65 year old grossly obese butch lesbians. The book is a quick and entertaining read.

Bossypants by Tina Fey

 It has taken me quite some time to finally read this book. The only fault I can find with it is it's very creepy cover, it never fails to freak me out. She made me laugh out loud and do that embarrassing thing where I try to repeat what I just read and can't get it out, but I keep trying and just sound like a babbling/laughing idiot. I am inspired by her willingness to admit to and own all that is uncool and unpopular about herself.


Girl on Guy with Aisha Tyler
This is my current favorite podcast that keeps me company on my walks. I love listening to this woman. She is so energized and engaged by her guests. She is sharp, articulate, funny, curious and insightful. Her interviews tend to be long, about 90 minutes. It usually takes me at least 2 days/walks to get through one interview. Aisha tends to have fellow comedians as guests, but has also had on rappers, actresses (some occasional girl on girl action) and one of my favorite episodes featured RuPaul.


There a ton of great movies by, for, and about girls and women but these are just two that I watch again and again.

Bridesmaids with Kristen Wigg, Melisa McCarthy, and Maya Rudolph
With the exception of that one scene (which I really wish ended up on the cutting room floor) I love this movie. I love Annie's journey out of rock bottom and her struggle with feeling left behind while her best friend plans a wedding. The supporting cast is one bad ass group of women and Melissa McCarthy could make a funeral funny. My favorite scene is when Annie, alone in her kitchen, makes one perfect cupcake. I enjoy watching her do what she loves and root for her for the rest of the movie.

Mean Girls written by Tina Fey

We all love Mean Girls. Where do I even start? This film has so many quotable lines. Lindsay Lohan was at her best. The mean girl pack is just a riot, Janis and Damian are just the best, and Amy Pohler as Regina George's mom is hysterical and pathetic at the same time. Cady's back story of growing up in Africa and being home schooled was always very intriguing to me and serves as a great foil to life as a girl in a modern high school. And of course the lesson on supporting other girls/women instead of tearing them down is the cherry on top of one of the best teen movies ever made. You go Glenn Coco!