Tag Archives: Books

Welcome To December

Whoa. December. How did that happen?

I am still shaking the sand out of my eyes and ears, having buried my head in escape from much of what was going on around me for several weeks following a certain day in November. I am back in the game, though still avoiding as much news as possible, which I am fully aware is not a mature way to deal, but it seems to help manage my anxiety so I am going with it. And also this.

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Anne never lets me down.

We made our first trip to Napa last month and I was smitten. What a gorgeous part of this country.

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We also made a second trip to Washington DC to visit our daughter. It was a lot more fun than the moving weekend- no trips to Target required. The city was aflame with autumn and refreshed us with crisp air.

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Thanksgiving happened at our house this year. Having my whole family at my table made me very thankful.

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but it was kind of hard to pass the salt

My November Nature Escape took me to Pedernales Falls State Park with my dog and a good friend. Still not many colorful trees to be found, but the day was glorious.

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Meanwhile back in the kitchen- did you know you can freeze pomegranate seeds? Well YOU CAN!

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I usually remove the seeds in a big bowl of water, but this time I tried a Martha Stewart technique which involved holding a half in one hand and spanking the peel side with a wooden spoon until all the ruby beauties fell out. I’m not sure it was any easier, but it did relieve some frustration.

Then I put spread the seeds out on a tray and froze them before sealing them all up into a large zip bag, where they await my December salads and cocktails and any other uses for them I can dream up. They taste pretty good by their little frozen selves, too.

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I have sought refuge in many a good book these past few weeks. This one particularly pleased me, and didn’t seem to get a lot of press. The author is British and wrote the short story on which the film 45 Years was based. (I also loved that film, though Mark yawned all the way through it. Anyone else see it?) The prose in this novel took my breath away.

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And yes, I would be lying if I said I haven’t fantasized about flying back to Paris for a good long while. Remember December in Paris?

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even though I never cared for those “hula hoop” decorations on the Champs

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Le sigh. Let’s go back.

But no- it’s onward and upward. Bring it, December! I am looking forward to a driving trip back to Pagosa Springs, Colorado (where it was 9 degrees this morning!!), lots of time in my kitchen, some fires in my fireplace, all the books, and good thoughts for 2017. What about you?

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Books!

Isn’t this the cutest header (that’s blog-speak for the banner image at the top of the post)? I bet you are wondering where I got it? Right? Are you? Are you??

Once upon a time in the last six months or so I stumbled upon a very funny blog called I Miss You When I Blink. This blog really made me laugh, particularly the riffs  on fashion catalogues. After reading a few posts, I learned that the author, Mary Laura Philpott, was also spearheading a “laid-back literary journal” for Parnassus Books, an independent book store in Nashville that happens to be co-owned by one of my very favorite authors, Ann Patchett. What are the chances? So of course I subscribed to Musings and have recommended it to my literary- minded friends. I encourage you to do the same.

Recently I commented on ML’s blog (fyi- people DO comment on blogs sometimes- usually nice things) and told her how much I loved her books header, and asked if I could use it on my own blog. She immediately responded that it was her own illustration and she offered to make me one of my very own! How nice is that? Don’t you love it when people are nicer than they have to be? I know I do.

The new illustration will have a permanent place on the Books page of this blog, so please pop over and have a look. I am trying to be better about updating the page, and I think this happy little illustration will be just the ticket to my inspiration.

One more thing about Mary Laura Philpott- she has a book of her own coming out soon! Really? Could she be any cooler? Check out http://www.therandompenguins.com for a taste of her book, Penguins With People Problems, which will be coming out in 2015. Hooray for penguins- especially penguins that wear bright red lip gloss and sassy wigs (only sometimes- it’s not an every day thing- because that would just be over-the-top).

So your takeaway from today’s post should be to check out the fabulosity of Mary Laura Philpott. And my Books page. And Ann Patchett. And maybe leave me a comment here every once in a while. Blogging can be a lonely business- even in Paris.

In fact, why don’t you leave me a comment right now, telling me the title of a great book you have read in the last three months? Thanks so much. Our operators are standing by.

 

 

PS- This was a not paid endorsement of Mary Laura Philpott or any of her endeavors. She has not agreed to introduce me to Ms. Patchett or to dedicate her new book to me. But perhaps one of her penguins can go to Paris some time? I bet they can rock a beret.

 

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Filed under books, Uncategorized

May Days

Hello old friends! One more day and this month is history. This little spot of cyberspace has been static during May, but I, my friends, have been on the move. After a fabulous family wedding here in Houston at the beginning of the month, I made two trips to Austin. One trip was to celebrate the 75th birthday of this lovely lady, my rockin’ mom.

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You know I’m happy to be wearing those genes! Huzzah!

I flew to St. Louis, where my daughter picked me up at the airport and we pointed her loaded car toward home. I am happy to report that the Dairy Queens and Bar- B Q shacks along Texas Highway 59 appear to be thriving.

I did enjoy five leisurely days at home with both my daughters, and it felt like heaven. They joined me at the gym, in the kitchen, at the table, and even at the pool one decadent afternoon.

Speaking of the kitchen, I have enjoyed some culinary triumphs this month. A friend and I made Smitten Kitchen’s Whole Wheat Cinnamon Bread together, and found it to be a good thing indeed. It was so good that my daughters and I made another batch a week later. I sliced up the loaves and froze them with parchment waved between the slices, and we pulled out slices for toast in the mornings and felt pretty happy about it.

I also made tried a new recipe for chocolate chip cookies. Why, you ask? Because browned butter- that’s why! And flakes of sea salt on top! Pret-ty amazing. Thanks, Joy The Baker! My book club thanked you, too. My hips- not so much.

And finally, can we talk about broccoli for a minute? Because I have found a new way to fix it that is so good, I may never microwave another stalk in my life. I think I heard this on the radio show Splendid Table; I’m not really sure. But whatever its provenance, you will love it. Here’s the drill: slice off good- sized florets and then peel the stalks a little bit before cutting them into planks. Toss them in a bowl with some olive oil. Heat oven and sheet pan to 500. (yeah, that part is kind of a drag in the summer…..) Spread broccoli out on hot pan and roast for 5-8 minutes, until the tips are nice and charred. Then pull them out and add salt and pepper, and if you’re feeling fancy, some shards of parmesan cheese or minced ginger. It’s so good that I make a big pan in order to have leftovers, which, by the way, are delicious on pizza or mixed up with brown rice or another healthy grain. Broccoli: it’s what’s for dinner.

After scrutinizing the master calendar, we managed to come up with 4 days that all five of us could get away together this summer. Last Saturday we flew to Isla Mujeres, Mexico for a quick but therapeutic family vacation. Leaving Houston at 7:30 am, we were able to have lunch on the beach by 1:00. Muy bueno.

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While under the beach umbrella I read Elizabeth McCracken’s new collection of short stories, Thunderstruck, which were dark and lonely and wonderful. I also read a new book called Family Life by Akhil Sharma which I highly recommend.

Finally, to end the month, I am off to Virginia tomorrow for my college reunion. I am primed for lots of laughs and cocktails and can’t wait to see my crazy friends again.

June will be enjoyed in Houston and in Austin, and then we are back to Paris! I know there will be a green chair at the Tuileries waiting for me.

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I hope your weekend includes a comfy chair, old friends, family, and something with browned butter.

 

 

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Food, Literature, and Art

Here we are- another cold, wet, grey February day in Paris. Wait- I’m not in Paris- I’m in Houston!  Where has this winter come from, anyway?  Most of my friends are grumbling about the cold that just keeps coming back, but I am content in my little cocoon, cooking and reading and occasionally venturing out with Wonder Chien.  Although walking the dog in the yuck is not fun, it’s probably the only reason I have not stayed in my pajamas on these cold days, so for that I thank him, I guess.  I just wish he would learn to wipe his paws before coming back inside.

Yesterday I felt a hankering for pulled pork, and the aroma of the meat slowly cooking in the oven all afternoon made my townhouse even more cozy. I used this recipe from Food Network but cooked it at 300 for 4 hours rather than in a slow-cooker. It was fabulous.

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For weeks I have been reading Donna Tartt’s new novel, The Goldfinch.  If you have been living anywhere but under a big rock, you probably have heard about it, or at least seen it on lists of notable books of 2013.  Weighing in at 800 pages, it’s not a book to be undertaken lightly (especially if it’s a hardback like mine).  The title comes from a painting of the same name which figures prominently in the story.  The book is about life and art and how the two influence each other.  I just finished it this afternoon, and was thinking about art, when I read a blog post from a fellow Houston blogger about a new app called Waterlogue.  It converts photos into beautiful watercolors!  What will they think of next?

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Painted in Waterlogue

Isn’t that fun? Yet another way to waste time on a dreary winter day.  Thanks, Carrie, for contributing to my mismanagement of time!

So what have you all been doing to evade the Winter Doldrums?

Painted in Waterlogue

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A Few Of My Favorite Things

Bonjour, my loyal friends, followers, and Francophiles!  I know my posts have been spotty lately, and I appreciate those of you who are still here with me.  As I hinted in my previous post, I would love to request a do-over for January. However, as I don’t expect that request to be granted, lets focus on some of the high points of  the month.

First, how about some new music for the year?  My kids can attest to my very, um, eclectic taste in music.  My iTunes is a random collection, ranging from Beyoncé to Lyle Lovett.  In between those icons you are apt to hear songs in Portuguese, Spanish, and French that I totally love but don’t understand a word of.  Oh, and there are some chapters from my Berlitz French course in there as well, should I feel the need to practice my language skills while on the road.  As you might guess, my Bluetooth is quickly replaced with someone else’s device whenever there are passengers in my car with me.  Rude.

One of my blogger friends from Paris, Sylvia from Finding Noon, recently blogged about a new music collection compiled by a friend of hers and available for our listening pleasure on a site called 365Live.com.  Click here and you will see “Louche Life” station.  Hit “play” and get ready for a totally enjoyable music experience.  Well, totally enjoyable if you like eclectic, international, sometimes weird music like I do.  This great music has been playing on my computer or phone all month- my January Jams.  Merci, Sylvia!

I know I have mentioned Melissa Clark’s Cook This Now cookbook to you guys.  I have had it for a year and each time I cook out of it I am struck by just how good it is.  Not a shiny, sexy, photo-laden cookbook at all, but man- that girl can cook. Last week, as we waited with trepidation for the Winter Storm that ultimately dropped a few flakes of snow on the outskirts of Houston and glazed a few bridges with ice,  totally paralyzing the metropolis, I cooked Melissa’s White Bean Stew With Rosemary and Garlic.  It was soooo much more memorable than the winter storm.  Here is a cute blog (love her header illustration!) that provides the recipe.  I put it on top of farro as suggested, and added some greens at the end.  Bam.

I have been a fan of Garnet Hill for as long as I can remember.  I used to order my kids clothes from there when they were growing much too fast to justify the splurge.  I check their Sale Of The Day as frequently as I can remember to do so, because the prices on those select items are slashed and often irresistible.  Last month, one of my very favorite GH products was on sale- their Signature Flannel Bedding.  I have these flannel sheets for several beds and they are well made, soft, and substantial.  This time I ordered a natural color (“oatmeal”, to be precise) with a single letter monogram, and I put them on the bed just as the aforementioned Winter Storm blew into town.  Lets just say that if a certain dog had not insisted otherwise, I wouldn’t have crawled out of those sheets before noon.  Heaven.

At Christmas my kids gifted me with a Fit Bit.  This little gadget is one of the hot new fitness devices that measures your daily number of steps walked, miles accumulated, stairs climbed, calories burned, etc.  It syncs with your computer and phone, and gives encouraging messages along the way.  It’s kind of silly, I guess, but for some reason that little gizmo actually motivates me to move more, and so for that reason it makes my list of January Favorite Things.

I love, love Ann Patchett, and I read her newest book, This Is The Story of A Happy Marriage, back in December.  Although known primarily as a fiction writer, (think Bel Canto and Patron Saint of Liars) Ann has a healthy history of essays and articles which she has written over the years for various publications.  Those have been culled and compiled into this wonderful collection of essays.  I read this book in 2013, but earlier this month I spent several nights with my mother and decided to read some of these essays to her before we went to sleep.  I was reminded of how very good they are, whether read silently or aloud or to you by someone else.  Just don’t do any of those in public without a hanky- you are sure to be touched by at least one of the little gems contained within these covers.  The one about taking care of her grandmother completely did me in.  You have been warned.

And of course, I did spend 6 January days in Paris, so I think it fitting to close with a photo of that city, surely one of my Favorite Places in any month.

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Au revoir, January! Bring on February, mes amis.

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2013- A Good Year for Books

Bonjour mes amis!  How did it get to be mid-December already? Where does the time go?  Why am I beginning this post with unanswerable questions?

I told you that one of my November pleasures is all the food and cooking chatter that goes on in the newspapers, on blogs, on TV, and on the radio in the weeks preceding Thanksgiving.  In December I look forward to the “Best Of The Year”  lists that are published and discussed as the calendar year winds down.  I religiously print out or bookmark the lists of the Best Films, half of which I may have heard of and a few of which I may even have seen.  Back in the day, I used to carry my little lists into Blockbuster in hopes of finding one of the titles, but inevitably the one copy would be checked out or they didn’t even carry it.  I don’t miss Blockbuster all that much.  You?

It should be no surprise that my very, very favoritest lists are the Best Books of the  Year.  Several weeks ago I was dismayed to read that NPR (one of my go-to sources for book reviews and recommendations) had decided not to publish any end of the year book lists.  However, their new-fangled “Book Concierge” is totally awesome, and infinitely better than the old lists of yore.

If you go here, you will see this gorgeous selection of book covers, which are 200 titles that have been recommended by trusted NPR sources, and categorized by genre for easy access.  As you scroll over each cover (which is much larger and more brilliant on their page), a short blurb of the book appears.  Amazing!  Awesome!  Brilliant!  You can either roll over all 200 titles (yes, that’s what I did) or you can click on the particular genre you favor and the books from that category will appear for you.  So cool.

I have had the immense good fortune of having plenty of time for reading this year, so I had read many of the recommended books.  Among my favorites were The Maid’s Version, The Twelve Tribes of Hattie, Americanah, Life After Life, Someone, A Constellation of Vital Phenomena, And The Mountains Echoed, and The Lowland. I discussed most of these on my Books page.  Several others are waiting on my “to be read” pile, including Tenth of December and All That Is.  And many, many others from that gorgeous display will find their way into my hands in the months to come.

The New York Times recently published its Top Ten of 2013, and I had read three of them- Americanah, Life After Life, and Wave.  I loved all three.

Two books that seemed to be on everyone’s list of 2013 favorites are The Goldfinch and Five Days At Memorial.  They are both hefty reads and will be on my own list very soon.

Speaking of hefty reads, I am half-way through The Interestings by Meg Wolitzer, which also got bounteous praise this year, and I am not loving it.  But if you are in my book club, don’t let that deter you from reading it for February!  I don’t want to discuss it with myself that night.  Anyone else read it?

Finally, can I please tell you how smitten I am with a cookbook of 2013 called Heart  Of The Plate?  It’s written by Mollie Katzen, who in 2007 wrote a definitive vegetarian cookbook called The Moosewood Cookbook.  This one, also vegetarian, is bursting with flavor and color and scents that will fill your kitchen and your tummy with satisfaction.  Trust me- it’s wonderful.

What were your favorite reads of 2013?  Any busts?  Please share!

And if you believe that toddler story hours and book signings and author talks add value to your community, please don’t forget to support your local bookstores for at least some of your book purchases in 2014!

Happy reading, mes amis.

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