Saturday, August 30, 2014

Paloma Cocktail with Kah Blanco Tequila

We will call this a "preview edition" as it is not a regular installment of "Sunday Cocktails". . . 


Let's call it "End of Summer Extra Cocktail Edition"!

I was really checking for updates on newsworthy stories when a thumbnail on the Yahoo Homepage boasted about a Mexican cocktail more popular than the margarita. I guess I can be easily distracted, especially by a cocktail recipe.

Well I love a margarita so I was very interested. It took me to this link for a video on how to make a Paloma which they dubbed the "anti-margarita".

While I'm not about to give up margaritas anytime soon because of a new drink, I was interested in the grapefruit soda that they included with this. You see, it's rare that I actually have ingredients in the house but I have a huge case of Izze soda from Costco that has just been sitting behind the door (who has storage for bulk purchases?) and I knew for a fact that there were grapefruit soda bottles in that case. 

Maybe more important was that the recipe specified blanco tequila. While I have some run of the mill tequila I have been using for some time, I do have some reserve tequila as I have all of the Kah varieties (because I really just wanted the sugar skull bottles and really didn't care what was in them). So this was a perfect excuse to finally open the white skull. The video did give a brief overview of all three flavors of tequila and apparently the white is the one that has not been aged and is, well, white.

The video narrator mentioned that he does not rim the glass with salt, preferring just a pinch but I am all about the salty rim. I love getting a little bit with each sip and I wasn't about to give it up. Based on the rest of his video this is what I did.

Paloma Cocktail


2 oz Blanco Tequila
Lime Juice
4 oz Izze Grapefruit Soda
Lime Wedges



Pour 2 oz of tequila over ice in a salt rimmed glass. Add a good squeeze of lime. Add 4 oz of grapefruit soda and lime wedges.


I found this drink light as promised and I might be using this blanco tequila more often. I don't think I appreciated how smooth and light this stuff was going to be and I may be converted to good tequila from now one. I might just open another one of these bottles I have been using as decoration in my house! Maybe Reposado next?

Thursday, August 28, 2014

Book Review: Pictures of You by Caroline Leavitt

Can You Build a Relationship on a Tragedy? Can You Forgive Someone for an Accident that was not their Fault?


These are just some of the questions that come up in Pictures of You.

Two women from the same small town, in some act of fate or something else, end up on the same road two hours from home. Both are running away from things in their lives and end up in a tragic car accident that leaves one dead. The survivors must deal with the aftermath. . . This includes Isabelle who must live with killing the other woman, Apryl, as well as Sam who is a witness to his mother's death.

Of course they are not the only ones impacted by the accident, Apryl's husband Charlie is trying to pick up the pieces for both himself and his son. He questions what his wife was doing with a suitcase on a road so far from home and why their son was with her when he should have been at school. . .

Through a series of interactions, both Isabelle and Charlie find themselves attracted to one another. Equally important is the bond between Isabelle and Sam, who thinks that Isabelle is an angel that can connect him with his mother.  Is there a way to get past the hurt and grieving, as well as blame, to make this work?

This story really is fascinating and the characters are drawn by the author well. While at time it could get a little sappy I really enjoyed this book and highly recommend it.

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

A Practical Foyer with Vintage Style

A Garage Sale Find Table and Antique Hooks
make for a Warm Entryway


Added Bonus: They add areas to store things!

I have been trying to find the right items for this area in our house for quite a while now but I think this third time may be the charm. This is a little space after the official foyer, leading to the stairs that take you to the bedrooms in our house.

This area is where everyone dumped shoes and other belonging. That's realistic I guess, shoes have to go somewhere, especially in the winter (although they seem to have just as many pairs in the spring, summer, and fall too). We started off with just a rubber mat with boots which was practical but not very attractive; shoes can only be so pretty even if I do have some awesome Doc Martens with flowers and flames. The next option was a cute little rustic bench but it really didn't give us enough room underneath for shoes but it was a start in the right direction. To prevent people from using this as area to sit (the bench was very rickety) we put an antique milk bucket on the bench to avoid any potential to perch. Seriously, this bench would not support any real weight.

The new table gives us quite a bit more room. We found it at a garage sale a couple of months ago and it actually came with four matching chairs (old folding chairs that were painted with the same colors). I wasn't certain that it would fit in this space but it was a great deal and we took the chance, knowing it would work somewhere in our house or outside on the porch. The table actually has two drop down leaves and could actually expand for a bigger space but works perfectly like this. I actually prefer to have the leaves folded down because it obscures some of the shoes if you are casually glancing that way. The larger area also gives me the ability to place my purse here when I come in. A designated area for a purse is a good thing for me. I have been known to misplace it. Which leads to me to the ongoing key dilemma which is now solved.


Vintage Hooks. Awesome vintage hooks that my husband discovered recently at the local Farmer's Market. When he negotiated on the price, the seller mentioned that we could strip them and repaint them! Imagine that! We actually loved them just the way they are and that was part of the charm. We used the smallest screws we could to fasten them into the wood casing on the window. We now have key holders right inside the house in one designated area!

All in all I think that this area really looks much better now without living in denial that shoes and keys (and purses) will always be stowed away out of sight. It's never going to happen - people do live here and if I think about it, those shoes are reminders of the blessings we have every day. I will say that I do make kids take up a couple of pairs when they multiply beyond realistic numbers.

Bacon Wrapped Meatloaf

Bacon Makes Everything Better

Years ago I received a version of this recipe from a friend and have adapted it over the years to suit my kids as they are picky eaters. I had to reduce some of the recommended vegetables and saute the onions rather than putting them in raw but I think my version works as they do indeed eat it. That is no small accomplishment.

It does indeed start with the bacon. While meatloaf obviously consists of ground beef (and in this case also some ground pork), my first step is to fry up some bacon. The bacon strips are cut in half and then dipped in some brown sugar before frying commences.

I then use the same pan, without draining off the fat, to saute some finely diced onions. They caramelize pretty quickly with the fat and sugar residue in the pan.

Alas, we do have to drain these onions. I put them in a little mesh basket to get rid of the extra grease.

I then take the onions, along with most of the other ingredients (ground beef, ground pork, diced peppers, bread crumbs, a slightly beaten egg, grated Parmesan cheese, BBQ rub, Worcestershire sauce, and half and half) and mix them all together in a bowl.

Once the ingredients are incorporated I shape the mixture into a loaf on a rimmed cookie sheet that has been lined with two layers of foil. Less mess to clean up later.

Now is where the fun starts. Spread BBQ sauce on the loaf and then cover with the strips of bacon. I use the original flavor of Sweet Baby Ray's for this recipe.

The loaf is put into a 350 degree preheated oven for between an hour and an hour and ten minutes. The trick is to get the bacon crispy without burning it.

The end result is a beautiful meatloaf that is really delicious.

Here is my version of the recipe that has been adapted over the years.

Bacon Wrapped Meatloaf


5 strips of bacon - I typically purchase it as platter bacon from the butcher
2 teaspoons brow sugar
1 lb. ground beef
1/2 lb. ground pork
1/4 cup of finely chopped onion (sauteed in the bacon grease)
1/4 cup of finely chopped red, yellow or orange pepper
2/3 cup fine bread crumbs preferably unflavored (I have used Panko in a pinch)
1 large egg, slightly beaten
1/3 cup grated fresh Parmesan cheese
1 teaspoon of BBQ Rub Seasoning (I used Trader Joe's for this batch)
1 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce (Soy will also work if you don't have any in your pantry)
1/3 cup of Half and Half
1/2 cup of BBQ Sauce (I use Sweet Baby Ray's)



Cut bacon strips in half crosswise and coat with the brown sugar. In a large skillet, fry the bacon for about two or three minutes to render the excess fat. After removing the bacon, add the onions and fry until soft and translucent. Drain onions and reserve.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line a rimmed cookie sheet with foiled and lightly spray with nonstick cooking spray.

In a large bowl combine all ingredients with the exception of the bacon and BBQ sauce. Shape the mixture into a loaf on the lined cookie sheet.

Spread BBQ sauce on the loaf and cover with the bacon strips.

Bake for about an hour, or an hour and ten minutes, until bacon is crispy. Remove from oven and let rest for ten minutes before slicing or moving on to another plate.

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Book Review: Lost Memory of Skin by Russell Banks

Don't Do It. Do NOT Get Sucked In!

Sometimes I'm able to figure out within a few pages (and most of the time I will give a book up to 50 or so pages) if I'm going to go through with it. Every once in while I do get sucked in (hence my warning) and there is nothing I hate more than waiting for the book to provide me with a good conclusion or to live up to its potential.

Alas, this book did not do either. The premise was interesting and I thought it might redeem itself in the end. Kid, a young adult who is on the sex offender registry, is one of the many individuals who cannot find a place to live that won't be a violation due to the strict rules in Florida (this is a true challenge in Florida and can be read about in countless articles - here is just one example) so he is forced to live under a causeway beneath the freeway.

Living in a sex offender colony without much chance to interact with the rest of society is very similar to being a leper. This book goes through Kid's trials and tribulations in living on the fringes of society without an opportunity to change his destiny as he has not ability to move from this situation. Enter a college professor who thinks that he can use Kid as a research project to find out what makes a sexual offender tick and if they can be rehabilitated. So begins a social experiment with both Kid but many of his fellow colonists.

For so many reasons, this premise interested me. I work in the non profit world of housing and without getting into the politics or perspectives of this charged subject, the reality is that returning community members do eventually leave the prison system and do return to neighborhoods with restrictions. The strict rules and limits in where these people can live in Florida have created these colonies and I was curious to learn more about this subject.

Kid is also a very interesting character and it was unclear in the beginning what he had done to end up in this situation. In many ways he was a sympathetic character but I don't want to give anything away. Let's leave it at this, when I found that what he had done he was either really naive or he was not giving the full story or taking any responsibility for his actions/intent. His childhood was not ideal, and he did not have real role models, but that is true for a lot of society as well.

My real problem comes from the whole professor storyline. He was not the least bit sympathetic and the more I read this book the more I really disliked him. I thought that maybe at the end, this whole intersection of the Professor and the Kid would redeem the book but it did not.

So please, consider this your PSA for today. Don't bother. Don't wait for the book to resolve itself, don't count on a conclusion that will tie up the loose ends, don't wait for a deeper meaning. Just don't bother to start it.

Book Review: On Canaan's Side by Sebastian Barry

Another Lyrical Tale by Sebastian Barry

Often when I read  I seem to inadvertently read a series of books that have similar themes without intending to do that. When I started this book, I was struck by another tale of an Irish woman but one who has emigrated to America. She came from a small village called Wicklow, and then she referred to a sister named Annie Dunne. Wow, all of a sudden I realized this was a book about a sister to the recent book I read about Annie Dunne.

It wasn't obvious at first because Barry gives Lilly a completely different voice which really speaks to his ability as an author. Lilly is so different than her sister Annie in almost every way and has a strength to continue and persevere despite adversity in just about every stage of her life.

The book really focuses on her recollection of her past as she confronts her memories as she grieves for her grandson Bill. Being 85, Lilly has many memories and recounts her story beginning with unexpected journey to the United States, leaving behind everything and everyone she loves. The daughter of an Irish policeman, she is forced to flee Ireland when she becomes a wanted woman along with her suitor. She lands in the United States and must make a life for herself. Lilly provides a narrative of her life through joys and much loss, with the fear of being a fugitive always in the background.

The writing is beautiful. This is definitely worth reading.

Monday, August 25, 2014

Book Review: Lethal by Sandra Brown

I'm Glad I Decided to Try This One Again

I had started this book a few months ago and put it down. The reason was I thought it was going to be very graphic in the violence and I had just finished another book that had been very violent and involved children and I just couldn't do it again right then.

Because a few months had passed, and I was held captive on a train for a 6 hour ride, I tried this again as it was easily accessible. Lethal does start with a threat of violence when Honor's little daughter informs her mother there is a man laying in their backyard. When Honor goes to investigate, she find Lee Coburn, a fugitive on the run after being accused of viciously murdering seven people, including one of the town patriarchs.

Lee promises Honor that if she does exactly what he tells her to do, he won't harm her or her daughter but there is more to the story. Lee picked Honor's house for a reason and he is looking for something.

This is an exciting book and does not have the violence that I thought it might in the beginning. I don't really have a stomach for brutal treatment of little children and this book did not go in that direction. It was very engrossing and made the long train ride go much faster. I enjoyed the ending as well.

In some ways, without ruining it for potential readers, it has a similar them to Labor Day, another really enjoyable book.

Sunday Cocktails: Florodora Cocktail by Maggiano's

A.K.A. A Homage to Hendrick's Gin

This particular cocktail has been planned for a while after Maggiano's featured it in July as a special seasonal drink. I was happy to see Hendrick's Gin featured in something besides a cucumber drink (which is equally delicious with Hendrick's). The Florodora recipe can be found on Maggiano's Blog.

I decided that this was the week because this was our first official Sunday Cocktail Hour in a few weeks (as official as an impromptu get together can be without any real planning except vague comments about inclinations to get together). This was also our first weekend after our recent trip to Chicago which may be important because Chicago actually inspired me to use more Hendrick's as a key component in cocktails.

Hendrick's Gin Billboard - A Hotel Room View
Why you ask? Well apparently Chicago has a love for Hendrick's based on billboards in Downtown Chicago.  I kid you not, there were TWO of them within walking distance from our hotel room. This first one here is actually shot from our hotel room window. Seeing that every day (well countless times every day) made me remember that we had this drink on the short list. I actually had one at Maggiano's to "test" it before making it at home but it's really not too much of an experiment when you have Hendrick's in the house and you know you already love it.

Hendrick's Gin is not your regular gin and I've featured it before in this blog. We made a Cucumber Lime Spritzers as one of our first Sunday Cocktails. Hendrick's Gin is infused with rose petals and cucumbers and distilled in Scotland. It's a little on the high end in terms of price but it's also a super cool bottle (think vintage apothecary) and I actually keep it in my vintage style apothecary metal and glass cabinet (go figure). I think that says a lot since other liquor (with the exception of some collector grade K'ah Sugar Skull Tequila bottles) is locked up in an artillery case to keep it secure. But this bottle is just so pretty. The flavor is a little quirky but I am not a huge fan of gin in general so that's fine by me. Use a little tonic water, or some 7 Up. Throw in some cucumbers, or limes, or whatever. Just pour it over ice and you really are all set.

Second Billboard for Hendrick's Gin - So Pretty!
Speaking of ingredients as there were no formal plans our Florodoras did get some variations on the original recipe. 1. I  had strawberries in the house but they were frozen in a Pyrex in the fridge, along with the limes. I defrosted them with a little 15 second zap in the microwave so they were softer but not cooked. I shouldn't admit it but it's what we had on hand. 2. We did not have simple syrup made and we didn't want to prolong the time to get to our drinks so we just used some sugar and muddled the strawberries. Sure, I should make some simple syrup and I'm going to but I had not yet. If Sunday Cocktail Hour becomes stressful I think we would lose the spirit of Sunday Cocktail Hour. . . and 3. We did not purchase Ginger Beer. It was discussed but we did not end up buying any for a couple of reasons. First, I don't think either myself or my friend Jill really LIKE Ginger Beer as it seems much stronger. I also saw it at a specialty store and it was quite pricey for 4 bottles (which we would waste in needing only 4 ounces for two drinks). Canada Dry seemed like a good choice with a milder flavor and a much milder price ($4 for 12 cans at Target this week). I guess I did a little planning by picking up the Canada Dry yesterday before Cocktail Hour. . .

So here is the version of the drink that we ended up making rather than exactly like Maggiano's. Call it artistic liscense as I think Hendrick's is all about making things your own. . .

Florodora Adaption 

Makes 1 Cocktail


1.5 oz Hendrick's Gin
1/2 oz Lime Juice (we used the little plastic lime from the grocery store)
1.5 Tablespoons Granulated Sugar
1 Strawberry, destemmed and cut into quarters (defrosted from my frozen stash)
2 oz Canada Dry Ginger Ale
Lime Quarters (defrosted from my frozen stash)


In a cocktail shaker, muddle the strawberries with the sugar. Add gin and lime juice. Fill the shaker about halfway with ice and shake for about 30 seconds. Add the Ginger Ale and gently roll. Strain into a chilled cocktail glass with ice. Dump ice from the shaker to retrieve some of the muddle strawberries that settled in the bottom of the shaker. Add some lime wedges for more flavor.

Sunday, August 24, 2014

Restaurant Review: Lou Malnati's Chicago

I'm going to admit that when people first recommended this place I thought it was called "Illuminati's" and thought it would be a dark place. . . 



Don't judge me! You can chuckle I guess.


Well it was a little dark in there, traditional pizzeria and all. No demonic items but lots of sports memorabilia. Lou Malnati's features some really good Chicago style deep dish pizza. We ordered two small pizzas - one with mushrooms and one with pepperoni - and they were quite tasty. I noticed later that we could have also splurged on a butter crust but it was good with the regular variety. We have some famous deep dish pizza in Detroit courtesy of a couple of places (Pizzapapalis and Buddy's) but they are not the same but quite delicious. Pizzapapalis is a pizza with two layers of flaky pastry crust, sandwiching the fillings and cheese, topped with sauce. Buddy's pizza is a square pizza with a really crisp crust.

Lou Malnati's pizza, and Chicago pizza in general, is more like a bowl of dough that is filled with cheese and toppings. Kind of like a pie, the real "pizza pie". We ordered ours "gooey" so it was not super crisp and oh was it good.

I am not sorry to say that because we had Firecakes Donuts before this adventure, we had leftovers and I was more than happy to have some of this again for dinner on the train ride home. Maybe it was also the dessert? Chocolate chip cookie in a pizza pan cooked up and topped with vanilla ice cream and chocolate sauce. Hey it was vacation!

Food Review: Firecakes Donuts Chicago

So many flavors to choose from!

I didn't know where to start. It may have been sick that I authorized each one of my kids to pick two donuts out to try, knowing full well that we would be eating Chicago Deep Dish pizza soon after this adventure but I wanted to try them all!

My favorite (which I picked myself, thank you) was this little (it was about 1/2 the size of a regular donut) one with maple glaze, grilled pineapple and bacon. Really, you can never go wrong with bacon so it was delicious because of that alone. But truly, it was very soft, had a nice glaze, and was not too greasy.

Other offerings at Firecakes we tried included an Almond Joy which was covered with dark chocolate and almonds but filled with a coconut cream custard. I was much more enamored with it than my kids or husband because it was dark chocolate. It was good dark chocolate I might add. Malted Milk Ball, Old Fashioned Buttermilk and Vanilla Glazed were also tasted.

I recommend the one featured here in the photo. Even if you don't do donuts too often, how can you refuse bacon?

Restaurant Review: Frontera Grill Chicago

A Whole Different Kind of Mexican

I would say that I have learned over the years to love Mexican, learning over time that not everything is like Taco Bell. Initially, I thought Mexican food was limited to some ground beef or chicken, with equal amounts of pico de gallo, sour cream, shredded lettuce, refried beans, guacamole, nacho cheese, and salsa. For diversity, it would be all about what vehicle that combonation was delivered to you - whether it be a tostada, nachos, burrito, enchilada, taco, etc. So for years, I really just avoided the whole thing. The only exception was Chi Chi's seafood enchiladas and fried ice cream but that chain is long gone. . .

But I digress, in the last few years, I discovered and learned to appreciate Mexican cuisine. Truly love it. I think the food in our local area is pretty authentic as we live about a half hour from Mexicantown in Southwest Detroit. Los Galanes is a wonderful experience with great food and a colorful decor that makes me smile.

Then there is Grand Azteca in Madison Heights which is a regular haunt for us and probably the most influential contributing factor of my love for Mexican food. I have a few favorites but usually lean to a combination plate with a Chile Relleno, Potato Enchilada, Tamal, along with rice and beans. Oh and of course a frozen margarita with salt.

I have also tried some off the beaten path Mexican restaurants in our local area. I like to try new things. A tripe taco was a pretty unusual dish (at least I thought so) but quite delicious. The chili rellenos at a storefront were completely different than the ones I have had at other places but no less delicious.

Living in Royal Oak there are a couple of other restaurants claiming to be Mexican but we won't discuss them. I don't like them and don't like mediocre food. No melted nacho cheese sauce on some chips, no boring tacos or enchiladas. . . 

So when I say that Frontera Grill was a completely different kind of Mexican than I had ever experience, well, I mean it. My good friend was tasked with the charge to identify a restaurant for us to visit together during our recent trip to Chicago and she didn't disappoint. I should note that years ago, this particular friend was one that introduced me to all the joys and adventures that cuisine could offer and I am grateful for that. She did not disappoint with this pick!

Apparently this is a "hot spot" in Chicago and the owner started this restaurant after an extended visit to Mexico to research a new book with his wife. Apparently they return to Mexico every year, with their staff for more inspiration. It's inspired, and it's seasonal items offered with new twists. Do not even think about Mexican food in my Taco Bell analogy and furthermore it was a far cry from my local travels in Detroit too.

Ceviches are prominently featured on the appetizer menu. We chosed the trio that they were offering. 1. Frontera Ceviche (albacore, tomato and olive), 2. Yucatecan Ceviche (blue shrimp, calamari, orange and cucumber), 3. Tropical Tuna Cocktail (Sashimi grade tuna, avocado, tomatillo, and tropical fruit salsa). These were featured in three glasses and served with a generous amount of tortilla chips. The ceviche was very fresh with really great crisp flavors that married well together and offered a lot of different notes. Good stuff.

A Quesadilla was a completely different experience. One my kids were not used to, and not necessarily welcoming as a change, but it was quite good for a more sophisticated palate. This was more like an Empanada, filled with cheese and spongy dough texture. Beautifully hand crafted little pockets.

My main dish? Duck in Date Mole. I must say I have never had Mole before but I'm going to try it somewhere else because I'm pretty sure this was a completely new take on it with the date. The duck breast was marinated in spices and covered with the mole sauce, served in duck fat tamales with grilled bok choy and topped with duck prosciutto. Absolutely delicious. I also ordered a side of fried plantains with fresh cheese and sour cream. Oh they were sweet with a sticky coating and the cream just off set it. Mmmmm.

Yes we did dessert but I do not have photos. I think I was not on my game as I was too busy eating. We tried a duo of flans and a butter almond cake that was to die for.

Drinks? Of course. There were lots of offering with Mezcal. I actually had a Mezcal Margarita. I think the most interesting thing - and I will try it at home - is that they rimmed the glass with both salt and chili powder. It's something I had been toying with after reading Shake as it adds a whole new dimension to the drink (Shake is going to be a whole separate blog article, or many, as I now own that book).

I'm very hungry writing this but I know that while I'm inspired by this to eat some more food I won't be finding anything quite like this in town. This is a Chicago treasure.

Friday, August 22, 2014

Restaurant Review - Soupbox in Chicago

12 Soups? Are  you challenging me?

Yep, 12 soups daily. Yes, it was August and it really wasn't necessarily a soup worthy day (the next day certainly was, Brrrr) but I love soup. It was mid afternoon and time for a snack. Lobster Bisque in a bread bowl was divine.

Now we have soup placed in Detroit and the suburbs, and one does similar bread bowls and daily soup flavors, but hands down this was the best lobster bisque I have had in quite a while. Very smooth, no chunks, and just packed with flavor. The bread was pretty darn good too!

I will make sure to visit next time we are in Chicago. I'm sure there are other flavors I would like (I did taste a chilled butternut squash while I was there that had promise) and it sounds like we just need to make a winter trip to really enjoy this further!

Sunday, August 17, 2014

Restaurant Review - Ralph Lauren Restaurant in Chicago

A Wide Variety of Options

There are a million places to eat in Chicago but when you are actually shopping on the Magnificent Mile there isn't that much right on the strip. Ralph Lauren was actually a destination and the decor did not disappoint. While they clearly stress the importance of business casual we came at an "off" time, really between lunch and dinner, and managed to sneak in without reservations or the proper attire.

The decor itself is beautiful and warm. It almost felt like a library with the wood paneling and dim lighting. Years ago in Birmingham Michigan there was a coffee shop on Old Woodward that was formerly an old Ralph Lauren store and it had a similar feel. I hadn't even remembered it until we ate here. Even the menu's were beautiful and lavish, with the paper being affixed to a leather board.

The kids got upgraded version of the usual. For one it was a hamburger and fries.  There were actually two versions on the menu, one was a Polo Burger and the other was an RL Burger. I can't recall which was which, but one was broiled and the other was cooked in a skillet for a more crispy sear. Dakota picked the broiled and wasn't disappointed. She also enjoyed the fries that came with the dish. Now to me, a burger is a burger, especially when you have a charcoal grill at home, but for kids staples work sometimes. The bun was made of a challah roll which was very good.

Andrew ordered a grilled cheese with tomato soup, another staple in our house. He consulted with the waitress and they modified his order to be on sliced brioche bread rather than seeded rye, and used a white cheese rather than something sharper and Andrew commented that it was quite good. However, he did not really like the soup, stating that it was "tomato sauce from a jar". Andrew is more of a bisque fan, and does not like tomato soup without a lot of cream.

We also ordered lobster bisque and it was a meaty version with chunks of lobster and a good balance of cream and flavor. Sometimes the bisque can dilute the seafood but this one was a good blend.

Paul also ordered lake perch that was coated in bread crumbs and was delicious but nothing to photograph. Fried fish looks like fried fish.

Now for the main attractions on what was what made this restaurant special. . . There was an appetizer simply noted on the menu as "Baked Cheese Saint Andre Triple Cream, Poached Pear, Maple Syrup". I don't think that does it quite the justice it deserves and I'm hoping the picture does help with this. We were very quick with photos and the flash was pretty obnoxious. Anyways, the cheese was wrapped in a pastry dough and just oozed when you cut into it. Sharp wonderful brie like cheese. The maple syrup really balanced well with the sharpness and the pears were an added bonus. 
Baked Cheese

My main dish was a work of art! Jumbo sea scallops were seared and then placed artfully around a pillar made of tomato cucumber salad topped with white balsamic cream. I know tomatoes and cucumbers should taste just like tomatoes and cucumbers but these were delicious! Super fresh with the right amount of bite and crunch. The cream on top was very thick and the balsamic added a great flavor that balanced well with the dish. This was wonderful.

The name Ralph Lauren was not a gimmick and this was a wonderful meal. I would put this on a short list if you are visiting Chicago, especially is  you are shopping anyways!

Sunday, August 10, 2014

Book Review: Private Life by Jane Smiley

This book made me wonder what would have happened if the stage was set at a different time.

I couldn't help but root for the main character of this book, Margaret Mayfield, but often wished she had lived in a different decade so that she could have had more control over her own destiny rather than be a captive audience to everything that was going on around her.

Margaret is an intelligent young woman she is still single and destined to be a spinster old maid in her mid twenties. Her strong minded mother has other ideas and sets on a quest to get her married, as she has done for her other daughters. Through a series of events, Margaret marries a man that she perceives to be a brilliant scientist who works at the naval base in San Francisco. Margaret becomes Andrew's support in every way, cleaning and cooking, transporting and transcribing his papers. Her husband's eccentric ways become stranger as life goes on.

Throughout the book we take a journey with Margaret from a young girl with the world ahead of her and a little bit of daring to do the unconventional, to a woman who realizes the man she married was not exactly what he seemed and she has no choice to continue to stand beside  him as his support.

This book made me sad for Margaret and the understanding that marriage was a convention at that time that was often considered more important than any individual's hopes, dreams or ambitions, or feelings of love.

This book is beautifully written and very interesting, albeit sad.

Monday, August 4, 2014

Book Review: Annie Dunne by Sebastian Barry

Beautifully Written Book in Wicklow Ireland in 1959

This book is beautifully written, almost poetic, as Annie Dunne tells the story from her perspective as a young grandniece and nephew spend the summer with her at the farm she shares with a cousin. Annie is not exactly a happy woman but does seem to shine with the task of caring for the young children.

There is a lot in Annie's life that gives her room to complain or stress. Annie is a proud and often stubborn spinster who often comes off as rough or aggressive but hearing the story in her words, the reader discovers that she is full of insecurities and is worried that she will be cast off again, after a history of taking care of others, starting with her father and then a succession of others over the years.

The story does not really go anywhere except to provide a telling of the small window in time of the summer with the children and all the feelings that Annie may have difficulty expressing in words to those around her. However, it is a beautiful little slice of life that the reader can wholeheartedly embrace from a time past. The voice itself sounds genuine and from the time period/place where Annie Dunn is from.


Book Review: Once Upon a Time There Was You by Eizabeth Berg

A Long Divorced Couple Comes Together

On their wedding day, both John and Irene had second thoughts but went through with it. Those second thoughts of hesitation grow through the years and they end up divorced, living separate lives with a span of distance between them, both figuratively and literally. What they keep in common in their love of Sadie, their 17 year old daughter.

Sadie is becoming more independent as she readies herself to move out and go to college. Each parent has a different philosophy about how to interact with her but they must come together when she disappears. John and Irene put their differences aside and rediscover why they may have (initially) liked each other in the first place, before they ended up being so angry.

The book was  an interesting read in terms of dynamics. Having a daughter getting ready to leave the home is something that I could identify with at least with watching my kids growing so quickly before my eyes. I had a difficult time with the part when Sadie disappeared and almost put the book away as I felt the horror of these parents and did not want to read that portion. Watching parents that had been embittered for so long come together was also a nice touch.

Book Review: In the Wood by Tana French

The Personal Lives of Detectives Impact the Professional

I am not a huge fan of crime drama books but I do recommend this series. . . I started off by reading another book, Faithful Place, the third installment. All of these books focus on both a crime/mystery to be solve within the Dublin Murder Squad but bring in the personal perspectives, background and baggage of the detectives working on the case.

In the Woods is actually the first book of the series, and I plan on reading all five with the hope that she will have more to come! This first novel introduces us to Rob Ryan and his partner Cassie Maddox. They are sent to investigate the murder of a child whose body was discovered on a pagan altar at an historical dig.

This local area is also the site of another unsolved case from twenty years ago, when three children went missing and only one was rescued. Rob Ryan is the boy who survived, but with a new name and a tendency not to share about his past, no one initially knows the links he has to the case he is investigating.

Detective Ryan hasn't only changed his name or buried his secret. He also can't remember much about that night and was never able to help detectives in the previous case to come up with much to solve it. The investigation becomes a test for him as he tries to recall the past.

This book is interesting on so many levels. The progression to investigate the current case is intriguing on its own but there are so many complex layers and dynamics with the insight into Ryan's life as well as his relationship with his partner.

Highly recommend! I'm going to be looking for #2 very soon!

Sunday, August 3, 2014

Book Review: Roses by Leila Meacham

A Saga of Two Warring Families and the Tragedies They Leave Behind

The roses are a nod to the heritage of two families in Texas, descendants of the Lancasters and Yorks, and the War of the Roses. This tale spans the life of Mary Toliver, an heiress to a Somerset, her family's cotton plantation, that becomes her lifeblood, often turning away those who love her or would help her, in order to keep her family's history alive. Mary is a character that you love and root for her but I was often frustrated with her single mindedness and her inability to see beyond the land and her lover for it.

Percy Warwick is the son of the other prominent family in town, heir to a lumber empire, and of course he loves Mary more than anything in the world. Mary is too spunky and independent to see the value in merging families if she has to give up Somerset and therefore makes decisions that impact both the couple and their families for generations. It is only after Mary's death that the mystery is completely unraveled for Mary's grandniece and Percy's grandson. Will they repeat the same history or learn from it?

I may have made this book sound too melodramatic but it's a very good read. It has a plot like those television miniseries in the 1980's with characters that are passionate and troubled but who you root for despite the tragedies that they create for themselves. Recommend!

Book Review: Midnight Rose by Lucinda Riley

A Detailed Tale of One Woman's Journey Over a Lifetime

Anahita Chaval's story takes place in a novel that spans a lifetime and beyond, with a mystery to be unraveled by her great grandson, Ari, after her death. Anahita's story begins in the palaces of the Maharaji and travels the world through England and World War I.

As a poor girl related to the noble class, Anahita does not have the opportunities or the resources of some of those around her but through a series of events becomes the dear friend of a princess and lives in the juxtaposition of two worlds. So begins the tale of a woman with intelligence that is often not able to follow the destiny that she would have chosen as she is bound by tradition, the class structure of Indian, and then similar social constructs of England.

Anahita's life is full of tragedy and the story is often heartbreaking. The readers learns alot about her journey, and the quest that she charges her grandson with, through flashbacks into the past that we discover along with him. In the present day there is an American actress who is also important to the story and the twists and turns that are encountered as Ari learns about his great grandmother's secrets.

This is a wonderful book on so many levels. The story gradually unfolds and the different perspectives of the characters provides a rich tapestry into the past. Recommend!

Book Review: Plainsong by Kent Haruf

Interwoven Lives in Holt Colorado

The stories of several characters in a small southwest town come together, demonstrating the fabric of a community, with all of its flaws.

In this book there is no real central character as the author gives equal representation to a host of major characters along with vignettes for some other figures. There is Tom Guthrie, a high school teacher with two sons, and a wife that is no longer interested in participating in the world in any meaningful way. We also meet Maggie Jones, another teacher from the same school who is a caretaker to her eldery father. There is also Victoria, a pregnant 17 year old who is abandoned by her mother. And finally, there are McPherons, older single bachelors with a farm but no other family. Without giving anything away, these figures all come together and intersect.

This book is written in a very straightforward way with wonderful descriptions in both the settings and the dialogue that come off as genuine. It had a lyrical quality to it and felt "real". I really enjoyed the little bits that focused on Tom Guthrie's sons and their (mis)adventures as young boys trying to come into their own.

This book is an interesting read and I enjoyed it.