Thursday, December 16, 2010

The Last Summer (of You and Me)

I'm going to start out this review by simply saying...this book is so good!  It's well worth the read and it's really not that long.

This story surrounds two sisters, Alice and Riley, who always spend the summer in a Fire Island summer home.  They've grown up in this summer home next door to their best friend, Paul.  Riley and Paul are the same age and have always been best buds.  Riley was always the headstrong, athletic sister that's "one of the boys."  Meanwhile, Alice has always been the younger, smart, pretty sister...who has also always had a crush on Paul.  Little does she know, that Paul has always felt the same way about her.  This the summer their attraction comes to a head.  Alice gives her virginity to Paul and the two begin a torrid love affair...but they don't tell anyone, not even Riley. 

One night changes all of this...Alice has snuck over to Paul's and an emergency alarm goes off with a helicopter coming to whisk them off to the mainland hospital.  Alice dismisses this as an old retired person probably having a heart attack or some such medical emergency.

In the morning, Alice discovers it was not an old was Riley.  Riley has a rheumatic heart problem and needs a new heart.  What's when you find out why.  So, how does a headstrong, athletic and seemingly healthy girl handle this?  By not telling anyone, of course.  Most especially not a childhood best friend.  Riley feels more comfortable with people who don't know because she doesn't feel pitied or mothered-henned...

Meanwhile...Paul feels that Alice has dumped him for no apparent reason.  She just up and left the island without even so much as a good-bye.  Will Paul eventually find out the truth? 

And will Riley get her new heart?

Read it and find out!

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

The Scarlett Letter

As I've discussed previously, I like to have a rotation within my reading schedule.  I like to read in an order along the lines of fiction, nonfiction and classic.  The Scarlett Letter is one of those classic reads and was next on my rotation.  Everyone seems to know the general story...this adulterous tale details the life of Hester Prynne. 

The book opens with Hester being led from the small Puritan community's prison, carrying her small child...the product of an adulterous the town scaffold for the townspeople to ogle and judge.  Embroidered to Hester's bosom is a beautiful crafted letter "A" such fine detail that even some of the townswomen say it is too fine a punishment for her to wear.  Hester and her daughter, Pearl, settle on the outskirts of town in a small cottage where Hester makes a living embroidering.  Her work adorns the finest clothing and is even worn by the governor, but never that of a bride.

While Hester was being heckled on the scaffold, her husband finally comes to town...only to discover his wife being shamed.  Because he is a rather cold individual, he does not come to her rescue.  Rather, he introduces himself to the town as Roger Chillingworth and lets on as a doctor.  The town minister, Arthur Dimmesdale, comes down with apparent heart problems that appear to have a psychological twist.  Chillingworth attends to Dimmesdale closely.  Throughout the novel, Chillingworth begins to think that perhaps there is a link between Dimmesdale's sickness and Hester's secret...perhaps Dimmesdale was her lover.

You, the reader, know there is a link.  And near the end of the novel Dimmesdale and Hester decide to run away together so they can raise Pearl together and live as a family...but, Hester finds out that Chillingworth has purchased a ticket on the same ship.  They're foiled.  In the end of this debacle, Dimmesdale, after church that day, rises to the scaffold with Hester and Pearl...and confesses his sin.  Pearl then kisses her father...which she has refused to do before in the novel because he has not proclaimed them as his family despite her repeated request.  At this time, Dimmesdale's heart finally gives out and he dies.

Hester and Pearl leave town with no one knowing where they have gone.  Hester returns many years later, still wearing her scarlett "A" and returns to her work.  Pearl is rumored to have married an aristocrat and begun a family of her own.  Pearl also inherits Chillingworth's fortune, even though she is not his daughter.  Later, Hester dies of old age and the town buries her aside Dimmesdale.  The two share a single decorated with the letter "A."

This book was...OK.  I have to say it just wasn't my favorite.  I can understand that it was shocking in it's time and that it tackles some difficult subjects.  It just didn't grab me and I didn't enjoy the character development or plot line.  Just my two cents!

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

The Art of Racing In The Rain

The Art of Racing In The Rain tells the story of a family from a different point of view...from the dog's perspective.  Enzo tells his life story along with the lives of his owner, Denny, as well as Denny's wife and daughter. 

Enzo has learned most everything he knows from television programs ranging from National Geographic to Nickelodeon.  Of course, the majority of what he knows revolves around race cars because Denny is an amateur race car driver...which is where the title of the novel comes from.  Denny is an expert at racing in the rain and he shares his secrets with Enzo. 

One television program in particular caught Enzo's that states that if a dog is ready, when they die they get to be reincarnated as a human.  After Enzo has done everything he knows to keep his family happy and intact...he's sure he's ready. 

This book discusses a couple of heavy subjects, the death of Denny's wife and the subsequent custody battle between Denny and his daughter's maternal grandparents.  These battles are shared in the way only a dog could understand them. 

And at the end...does Enzo get reincarnated?  You'll have to read the book to find out!

I really enjoyed this book.  A bit teary towards the end, but totally worth it!

Monday, December 13, 2010

Her Mother's Hope

Her Mother's Hope is a two-book saga that chronicles mother and daughter stories within two generations.  I think this would be an excellent mother-daughter reading discussion!

This book begins in Marta's young life, the daughter of a poor tailor and seamstress in Switzerland.  While she has a horrible relationship with her father, Marta is extremely close to her mother and little sister.  As Marta grows up, her mother encourages her to do and be all that she can be, even though Marta's father is determined to squash whatever hopes and dreams she might have...which include completing school and going on to college.  Both Marta's mother and little sister are much weaker-spirited than her and while Marta is away tragedies occur that prevent her from coming home (and to their aid).

Guilt-ridden Marta moves on with her life.  Throughout the bulk of the first half of this book you learn about Marta's young adulthood, traveling around the world and becoming the strong-willed woman she embodies.  A lot of her ferocity and desire for life is due to her younger home-life...her aspiration to be unlike her father and stronger than her mother.

The second part of this book begins to chronicle the life of Hildie, Marta's oldest daugther.  Even though they look very much alike, Hildie is very different from her mother...she is much more soft-spoken and has a heart to serve others.  Marta is afraid this is a sign of weakness and is abhorred that Hildie will have the same fate as Marta's mother and sister.  So, Marta is determined to give Hildie "tough love" so this does not happen.  All the while, Hildie has no idea why her mother appears to favor her siblings....buying them whatever their hearts desire, while refusing to help Hildie in her dream to become a nurse.  In the end, Hildie runs off to become a nurse anyway...and meets the love of her life.  Through all of this, none of Marta's children ever know where she came from, why she is the way she is or why she treats each of them the way she does...especially Hildie.

This book concludes with Marta discovering that Hildie might, perhaps, not understand her mother's intentions all this time...and is dreading the idea that Hildie might feel the same way about her that Marta felt about her father.  Of course, this was never Marta's intent...

The sequel to this two-part story is Her Daughter's Dream...  I absolutely loved this book and I cannot wait to finish this story!

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Anna Karenina

Some of you that have followed my blog for a while may have noticed that I was reading a certain book for a long time.  It stayed on my little bookshelf to the side of the blog...and stayed...and stayed.  Part of this was because it was a very large book...736 pages to be small print.  And part of it was because I was reading this book like you might sip a very fine wine.  A little bit at a time.  And then, like magic, last week it disappeared from my shelf.  That book was Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy.  And I'm now getting around to writing a review of it.

Anna Karenina was originally published in installments gradually from 1873 through 1877.  Tolstoy considered this his first novel, even though War & Peace had been published in 1869...this is because Tolstoy considered War & Peace more than a novel.  There have been numerous critics that, after reading his work, consider Tolstoy the greatest novelist of all time.

The basic plot of this book surrounds Anna Karenina having an affair with Count Vronsky.  There are numerous other characters whose lives you learn much about...each having a very important role in how the story plays itself out.  A parallel to Anna's story is that of Konstantin Levin...which upon doing some research, appears to have been somewhat of a model after Tolstoy's own life.

While I was reading this book it seemed like everyone was saying to me, "You're reading Anna Karenina?  Why?  It's such a depressing book!"  With everyone telling me that, I wasn't surprised at the ending...I could kind of see it coming.  And for those of you who might still want to read it, I won't ruin it for you if you don't know.  Just please, don't get too attached to any one character...

As for my review of this book...I liked it.  I might not have if I had not known about the "depressing" part of it, but since I was braced for a let-down it didn't really surprise me.  Tolstoy is very descriptive and there were times when I really enjoyed it...and there were times I didn't.  For instance, there is a section of the book where Levin goes on and on about his farming techniques.  Not my favorite subject.  But, there are times when Tolstoy spends about three pages describing a location and what a character is thinking and feeling at the time.  You have no doubt as to what the surrounds the character and the mood they're's almost like you're transplanted into that time and place.  I would recommend this book, but I would also say to brace yourself for how it turns out.  While the writing style is well woven and the character development is intense, there is still sadness throughout.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Sun-Dried Tomato Risotto

The Pioneer Woman strikes again.  I made her sun-dried tomato risotto a little while ago and thought it was great.  If it were just me, this would be an excellent main dish with a small salad, perhaps.  Though with David, the meat-eater, it's a great side.  It wasn't his favorite, mostly because this is definitely what I consider "chick food."  It takes a bit to make, but it's worth it!

 Yum, for her recipe and step-by-step instructions, click here.

Monday, December 6, 2010

Crab and Corn Bisque

I saw this recipe on Souffle Bombay the other day.  David and I are huge seafood people and corn is his favorite veggie.  It took me less than a minute to decide that I needed to try this recipe.  Now, while David loves seafood and corn...he also is very anti-soup for a meal.  When he came home and saw this was for dinner, he was less than thrilled...even after I told him what was in it.  That is...until he took his first bite.  He gave this soup an A+ and said it eats like a meal.  From such an anti-souper, that's a HUGE compliment.  I'll definitely be making this again soon...just waiting on a nice and cold winter day...

Crab and Corn Bisque
(adapted from Souffle Bombay who adapted from Emeril)

1 tbsp olive oil
1/2 cup minced onions
2 tbsp minced shallots
1 cup fresh corn (I used frozen)
1 tbsp minced garlic
1 cup chicken or seafood stock
2 bay leaves
2 cups milk
2 cups heavy cream
1 tsp old bay seasoning (or more to taste)
1/2 tsp paprika
A few shakes of garlic powder, onion salt and red pepper
2 tbsp flour
16 oz jumbo lump crab meat (I used two 6 oz. cans of crab meat-it was already shredded)
1/2 tsp Worcestershire sauce

In a large pot saute your onions, shallots, corn and garlic in the olive oil for 2 minutes. Add in the stock, bay leaves and bring to a boil, simmer for 5 minutes. Add in the milk, cream and seasonings and heat through but do not bring to a boil.

Take out about 3 tablespoons or so of the broth and whisk with 2 tbsp of flour to make a roux. Slowly whisk it back into your soup to get the consistency you would like.

Add in the crab and Worcestershire sauce, heat through and serve.

Friday, December 3, 2010

Crystal's Pumpkin Bread

Remember how easy to make my banana bread recipe is?  Well, my pumpkin bread recipe is just as easy!  Try 'er on out!  David's been loving this for the past month, I was making my third and fourth loaves upon his request when I snapped the pics in this post.

Pumpking Bread

In a large bowl mix:

1 cup sugar
1/3 cup canola oil
1 egg
2/3 cup pumpkin
1/4 tsp vanilla
4 tbsp water

In another bowl mix:

1 cup and 3 tbsp flour
1/2 tsp salt
1/4 tsp baking soda
1/4 tsp cinnamon
1/4 tsp nutmeg

Pour dry ingredients into wet ingredients.  Mix together. 

Pour into greased loaf plan.  Bake at 350 degrees for one hour.  The bread is done when you insert a toothpick in the center and it comes out clean. 

Can we say yum?

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Crystal's Classic Crust

I have had numerous upon numerous requests for my pie crust recipe and I'm finally revealing it.  I'm not sure why it took me this long to share it, but without further ado...

1 1/4 cup all-purpose flour
1/4 tsp salt
1/4 cup solid vegetable shortening
3 tbsp cold butter
2-4 tbsp ice-cold water

Combine flour and salt in large bowl; mix well.  Cut shortening and butter into flour mixture using a pastry blender.  This part right here is the secret of the entire recipe and why crusts can come our inconsistently.  It is extremely, extremely, extremely, extremely important that you stand there and cut the shortening and butter into the flour mixture until you have one consistent mixture.  You should not be able to tell the difference between the butter, shortening or flour mixture.  It should have it's own for-sure consistency...crumbly is my best description.  This is what mine looks like.

Notice there's no white or yellow?  It's all the same color and crumbly consistency.

Now, you sprinkle 1 tbsp of water over the flour mixture, gently toss with a fork.  Repeat until mixture is moist enough to form a ball.  Tip: the water is supposed to be ice-cold so before I start mixing the dough above, I pour a glass of ice water on the counter and then when I'm ready it's sitting there for me, nice and chilly.  I usually only have to add 2 tbsp of water to get the dough to form a ball, but there have been times I've used more.   Only add just enough water to form the ball, not too much.

Gather the pastry into a ball; flatten slightly.  Cover and refrigerate dough for 30 minutes.  Do not skimp on this time frame, 20 minutes does not equal 30 minutes.  You can definitely refrigerate longer, just don't shorten this time frame.

Now your ready to roll out your dough!  Flour a pastry mat, then place dough on top.  Cover dough with a little more flour and roll it out to desired pie plate size.  Be sure and use enough flour so the dough does not stick to your rolling pin.  Also, the less you physically touch the dough, the better.

Like my marble rolling pin?  My mom bought it for me at an estate sale, love it!

Alright, once you are ready to place your crust into your plate, fold the dough in half and place plate close by.  [Sidenote: I also always spray my pie plate so the crust won't stick later.]  This makes the crust easier to lift and transport.  Carefully lift crust and place in plate.  You will probably have to do a little reconstruction work.  Don't worry or get frustrated, that's OK!  Work your way around the edge and make sure your crust is even all the way around.  You might have to remove taller sections and place them in shorter sections.  The more crusts you make, the more even you'll learn to roll it out and the less of this you'll have to do. 

The crinkle part of crust-making was always part of what intimidated me.  I've seen David's mom and my own grandmother do this differently...but, this is the way David taught me.  Shocked that my husband taught me how?  What can I say, his mom brought him up right.  Place the biggest knuckle on your forefinger on the crust and then use your thumb and forefinger on the other hand to place the crinkle around your knuckle.  Continue doing this all the way around the plate, it only takes about a minute and makes such a difference in the presentation!

And VOILA!  Here's what the whole thing will look like prior to cooking.

Place a yummy filling in prior or post baking (depends on the pie your making).  Tip: if you're making a cream pie where you bake the pie crust separately...poke the dickens out of the pie crust with a fork (throughout the entire bottom and sides) prior to baking.  I made this crust into a tasty pumpkin pie with the recipe I shared last month.  Try both of these recipes for Christmas.  You won't regret it! 


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