Sunday, November 22, 2015

Book Review: Voyager (Outlander Series) by Diana Galbadon

And then there were three. . . 

The binge reading continue. I've already reviewed Book 1, Outlander, and Book 2, Dragonfly in Amber. From what I understand, this third book may have been at one point the culmination in a trilogy but perhaps because this series was so wildly successful, Galbadon continues on. Right now there are 8 books in this series, with an anticipated 9th on its way. Additionally there are novellas and a Lord John Grey series that have also been published.

Voyager focuses on Claire's return to Jamie and the past. They are reunited and have to become reacquainted while they also have the typical trials and tribulations that continue to plague them. After all, Claire and Jamie can't live happily ever after. Twenty years have gone by and there's a lot that has happened to both of them in that time.

This book is about rescuing Iain who has been kidnapped by pirates, and they travel to the Caribbean to find him. Most of this book takes place on ships rather than land, and there is a host of new characters to deal with as the adventure continues.

I have to say that there are part of this book that are rather slow. I can only stay interested in life on a ship for so long, and reading about Jamie's sea sickness. I also think that sometimes characters reappear in the story that are beyond what you would call an "unrealistic coincidence" but ultimately I really did love the story and have already started #4, Drums of Autumn.

Sunday, November 8, 2015

Book Review: Dragonfly in Amber by Diana Gabaldon

Binge Reading at its Best

The second in the Outlander series


I think anyone that has a DVR, or Netflixx, has binged watched a series at some point in their lives. I have saved up episodes of Sons of Anarchy, and have watched multiple episodes of Orange is the New Black and Weeds.

With books it's a little more difficult because of the time it will take an author to write subsequent installments. I have found that often when I have to wait between books, I have a hard time falling back in line and am confused as the passage of time has faded the necessary details to keep up with the twists in the plot. I felt this way after trying to read the second book by Deborah Harkness in the All Souls Trilogy (Shadow of the Night) and more recently with Hollow City, the second part of Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children. Once you have read the first book, you crave more but then you have to wait for it to be created.

I didn't have that same issue with Harry Potter, initially. When I "discovered" Harry Potter, I was able to buy a hardcover set of the first five books and the sixth one was on the way. By the time I finished the set, I was able to transition seamlessly into the sixth book. However, there was a span of time between that and the final book which lead to me having to go back and look up a couple of details that would be lost.

I bring this up because I read the first book of this series years ago, Outlander, I probably in the early 90's soon after it came out, but did not read the second book immediately afterwards. These were the days before we had Amazon to recommend subsequent books and I'm not sure I knew that several others existed. Therefore this time, I am going to try to read all 8 books in rapid succession. As I write this blog, I'm knee deep in Voyager already.

In terms of this actual installment, it's a really great book but it just can't live up to the first one even if it's a continuation. So much of this book is about Claire's life in the present with flashbacks to her return in the 40's, pregnant with Brianna and her adjustment back into modern life and with her relationship with Frank. The parts of the story that focus on Jamie in the 1700's are interesting but you lose something without the two of them together.

This is a necessary portion of the story and by no means is boring, it's just different. As a fan of the series, you want Claire and Jamie together but we have to have the history of twenty years, both in the 1700's and 1900's, explained so that when we do reunite them we understand what has changed.

Okay, review done, I'm going back to reading.

Wednesday, October 21, 2015

Book Review: Outlander by Diana Gabaldon

Sometimes a Book is Just as Good the Second Time. . .


. . . and maybe a third?


I have read this book before, and yes, it might be the third time. I know I read at least the second book after this in the series but it was years ago and not all of the rest that are available were around to add to the journey.

Recently, with the promotion of the television series based on these books, the stories have cropped up again and I thought that I would revisit these stories. I have seen glimpses of the series in the form of still shots and I don't know that I will watch it as I have a visual image of what Jamie and Claire should look like and I think that seeing them in the flesh may ruin that for me.

If you haven't read this book, I highly recommend it and it was just as entertaining this time around. While it's featured as a sci fi series right now, this is also a historical romance with a sense of humor as well as an adventure. I seem to recall liking the rest of the story, featured in Books 2 and 3, less, but we will see this time around as I have 8 of them in my possession and plan to try to read them back to back. I did that with Harry Potter 1-5 and that was quite a binge as I didn't have to wait for publication dates.

I probably should tell you just a little bit about the plot? In case you don't know. Claire is reunited with her husband after the war and is vacationing in Scotland to become reacquainted. She ends up going back in time by accident, to the 18th Century. Through a series of events, this British woman ends up married to a Scot and caught between two worlds and two loves. What she knows about the past, from her original time, can impact history in this new world she lives in.

Fun stuff. Highly entertaining and I dare you not to fall in love with Jamie. On to Book 2 because I have it. I don't even have to come up for air!

Saturday, October 17, 2015

Restaurant Review: Bistro 82

I Lament that sometimes I Can't Take Pictures

Technically I could. . . 


. . . but I didn't. Bistro 82 is really dimly lit and since it was late evening the flash would have disrupted everyone. While the place was fairly crowded, everyone seemed to speak in hushed tones and I was pretty sure our nearest neighbors would not appreciate my photo taking.

So I don't have photos, I'm sorry to say. I also wanted to lament further as the food presentation was above par and everything was plated beautifully and it deserves to be celebrated. I've visited their Facebook page to get you some of their photos to at least properly showcase all of these fine dishes when I can. Yes, the photos are very similar to the plating we received so they care that much.

This is the first time I was handed a tablet that served as a menu and it was interesting. You could click on any item and get a snapshot (again same beautiful photos) along with more details, suggested wine pairings and add on options.

I started with an 82 Mule for my cocktail. Yes, it even came in the traditional copper mug and it really did seem to taste better that way. It was top shelf gin and ginger ale with a hint of lime. I do like when I make these at home, sans the copper mug, with Hendrick's but this was quite refreshing. this is going to sound a little strange, but they had very good ice. It was shaped like little barrels, for lack of a better description, and they had a really good texture. I have a thing for ice. . . There was a nice selection of cocktails that they featured including a champagne one, but they were also pricey. There was an extensive wine list that included by the glass, along with some bottles in the thousands, as well as a nice variety of beer (draught and bottles). There is definitely room for any budget.

There was a nice assortment of appetizers which gave us pause so we had to choose three. The Olive Epi Bread is limited but they had it available. The bread features a nice kalamata olive flavor and comes with a butter with herbs de provence. I would have liked a little more butter as it was more of a decorative shmear on the platter. The bread itself was very yeasty and crusty and quite good served warm. However, if you were limited to only one or two appetizers I would definitely move along to the other two we had. The French Onion Soup Dumplings was a whole new take on the typical traditional soup offering and a nice change. It is served in a crock with individual impressions that each hold a single dumpling that features onions and cheese. I think of the dumpling as a French version of a Dim Sum or a kreplach. It was really doughy but bursting with a blend of flavors that could
be described as quintessential onion soup. The whole dish was covered in the traditional gruyere cheese that was browned beautifully and could even be considered a cheese fondue. Crostini came with it for dipping and you definitely want to dip. Crostinis were also featured with our bone marrow which is going to be the thing I recommend the most out of our array of appetizers. Wonderful in texture, the marrow was both salty and smoky, with a really nice texture. The lemon wedge provided balanced the flavors whith a quick squeeze to get some of the juice on the bones. I have not had bone marrow before but have always enjoyed bones and thought it would be a nice change. I was not disappointed. Many of the mains allow for the addition of bone marrow and I would definitely add that to an entree if I wanted different appetizers next time.

Now main dishes. . . I  chose the Seafood Cioppino for my main entree. I have enjoyed waterzooi and other brothy seafood dishes so this was a guaranteed like for me but I have to admit that there were several other offerings that intrigued me to come back again. The broth was a little different, as it had very nice undertones of chili, and was a little heartier than other dishes I have had previously. The seafood in here was very generous with three really nice pieces of King crab in the shell, and assorted clams mussels, and a nice large scallop. There was also cobia in this dish and those pieces were wonderful, enough for me to consider the Roasted Cobia option even if I'm not a super big fan of fish usually. It had a really nice texture and was very mild. More crostini was served. I was not sorry to see it.

We also ordered a Steak Frites and I don't know how I can convey how good those fries were but I am going to say that those were some of the best fries I have had, hands down. The steak itself was a flat iron, cut into generous slices, that were so soft that I didn't feel the chewiness of a a steak. The sauces - a bernaise - was so wonderful on those fries and the gray mixed with the maitre d'butter was divine. This was a wonderful dish and while I don't typically order steak I could see myself doing that here. I think the fries had a truffle sprinkling that was not mentioned on the menu but it worth mentioning here. Wonderful dish. . .

We had dessert and they were good but not as wonderful as dinner. We choice the PB&C as recommended my our waitstaff. This features a peanut butter mouse, with chocolate and caramel, as well as chopped strawberries, along with salted caramel ice cream. It was good but nothing that put me over the edge. It was plated beautifully and was a work of art but you can only do so much with a peanut butter mousse. I should have just ordered more bone marrow.

the Pumpkin Genoise was a little bit more interesting, featuring spiced Bavarian cream, malted chocolate mouse and pepita brittle. I am not a fan of malted milk so I'm glad I didn't notice that in the description because the chocolate in this, blended very well with the pumpkin was really delicious. The pumpkin was not overpowering and the sponge cake made for a very light offering. this was by far my favorite between the two desserts. Although, again, I would have love some more bone marrow with crostini.

This restaurant is a nice addition to the Royal Oak scene and I will definitely go back. While it's a little more pricey than some of our usual haunts the quality and presentation make this a good value for a special night out. I noticed that while many other restaurants don't offer children's dishes, they have a kids menu so I could even envision a family night out here. I'm kind of curious about the macaroni and cheese. . .

Sunday, October 11, 2015

Book Review: A Spool of Blue Thread by Anne Tyler

While this Story Spans Three Generations, In Some Ways it Never Went Anywhere. . . 


This story begins in present day, with Abby Whitshank lamenting over her son's rootless life and his inability to stay connected with their family. We learn that Abby is a retired social worker with four adult children and a host of characters that she takes in as extended members of her clan through family dinners.

This story soon tells us more about the adult children, as well as her past, especially in the story of her in laws and their history that lead them to be secured in the current family home.

While we learn a lot about Abby and the generation that preceded her, as well as the future generation, in many ways this story did not really go anywhere but became a snapshot of a family.

In many ways it was authentic and probably is a testament to many lives all across in America. However, while I came to know many of these characters and found them interesting, I did not empathize with any of them. The book was pleasant enough to read but I wouldn't go a far as to recommend it. In some ways it was hollow.

Book Review: Orphan Train by Christina Baker Kline

Seemingly Different Lives with Similarities Converge


This story alternates between the present day life of Molly, a teenager in a foster home facing impending "juvie", with an elderly woman who needs help cleaning out her attic in her mansion. What would these two have in common? At first, Molly thinks that there is no way that she will identify with Vivian but she's going to complete her fifty hours of community service for stealing a book from the library.

Over time, Molly realizes that the surroundings do not define the woman, and that Vivian too has a past that shaped who she is as well. Vivian recounts her story about immigrating from Ireland with her family, her ride on the Orphan Train to the west, and the series of events, many of them quite tragic, that lead her to be in a mansion nearing the end of her life, with boxes of possessions stored in an attic. I think that those possessions, while not elaborated on in this book, really served a purpose for Vivian in compartmentalizing her past and keeping things to feel some sense of being rooted to a history.

What I found most interesting about this book was the ability of the author to tell two different stories with different voices that made it seem authentic. Obviously the subject matter itself is not new, I have read other stories about the trains, but she brought a new perspective by combining it with present day. Molly is a complex character and does not fit into a neat pigeon hole, she seems honest and real. Additionally, Molly's Native American background adds an interesting element, when compared to Vivian's recounting of Irish immigrants and their history.

I also liked that the backgrounds of both Molly and Vivian were not painted with the typical dreamy filter that often happens when recounting the past. Molly and Vivian both realize that their lives before were not perfect or fairy tales which again makes this seem more realistic.

Most importantly, without giving the story away, I like that the end did not wrap up everything with a neat bow. Stories did have some resolution but there was an ability to wonder what happened after the book ended. Life is not perfect and I'm certain that there would be continue to be challenges for Molly and her future.

Really good book, I recommend this one.

Friday, October 9, 2015

Day of the Dead Wine Rack

Five Dollars = Sweet New Rack

Sometimes garage sales hold treasures that only one person may see. I don't know about you but when I go garage sale shopping, I often have a few items in mind. One of these on my list was a wine rack. I wasn't sure ahead of time what the wine rack would look like but I knew I needed one. I was kind of sick of some bottles stashed on a counter-top and there is only so much room in the refrigerator. Yes, I know I'm not supposed to be storing all wine chilled, but sometimes it's just a quick place to stash it so I don't know them all over the kitchen. I really thought I would find a little wrought iron deal that held a couple of bottle that might just end up on said counter top but then I found this wooden, free standing thing.

Now, I know it was quite ugly but to me a base coat of spray paint can fix just about anything. It's a blank canvas to work on. Spray paint you might say? Yes, I affirm, spray paint. I gave this piece a quick sanding and then used a satin black for my base. I like to paint designs and pictures, but I hate using a brush for large areas. This just works better for me. I spray paint just about everything, including our front door this week but that's a story for another post.

I decided to go with a Day of the Dead / Mexican theme for this piece. Our kitchen has a little bit of a Mexican Cantina feel along with a lot of eclectic elements. I think that this carried over from our old house but was also an easy look to go for with walls that were a version of adobe brown. Remember when I said I hate painting large areas? That goes for house paint too.

This gave me an excuse - or rather an opportunity - to play around with bright colors and have some fun. We have some strands of chili peppers hanging in some places around the kitchen along with a mixed herb wreath that also has some pepper adorning it. Sugar skulls are just one of those things that I really like and while some might find that odd for a kitchen, you only have one life to live and I just can't take my decor too seriously all the time.

You might see a color wash in the photos on the curves of the wood, where the wine bottles will rest. That was achieved with a color wash in those areas with a bright orange paint. For the detailed painting, versus the base coat, I bought a couple of assorted packages for craft paint from Michael's. Those weekly coupons come in handy and I think my total came to twelve dollars and some change. If I add in the spray paint, and then clear acrylic that I added for protection for a top coat, I think I am at a grand total of about twenty five dollars plus the original cost of the wine rack itself. Thirty dollars for a one of a kind wine rack.



I'm pretty happy with the results. Once my final coat of polycrylic dries, I'm planning on putting this in the kitchen with some wine bottle in it. Is it bad to admit that perhaps I've been stocking up on wine every time I made a run to Trader Joe's? I didn't think so!

Sunday, September 20, 2015

Book Review: The Nightingale by Kristin Hannah

This One was a Hard One

Books regarding World War II and the Holocaust Always Get Me

 

This isn't my first rodeo and I have read many books that take place during World War II and have material related to the Holocaust. As a young girl, I read the Diary of Anne Frank and in fact, I am watching my own ten year old reading it right now. 

There's been plenty of books since with this as a general theme of the plot, or a backdrop. There would be too many to list here or refer to previous reviews. That being said, for me, what made this one a little different was that it didn't focus on just the Jewish people but on the citizens of France that were impacted by the way. What is especially interesting is that most of this book is from the perspective of heroic women who were forced to make difficult decisions to save their families and their communities.

The story is a recollection from the past, as a older woman is about to pack up the last of her belongings in a home that she has lived in for the past fifty years, as she is moving to an apartment in a senior community. As she is in her attic, she comes across the trunk that holds memories she has kept at bay, and part of her life that her only son does not know about. . .

So begins the tale of two sisters in France that starts a little before the Nazi invasion. They are as different as can be. Vianne lives with her husband and small daughter is the countryside. Its is an idyllic life that changes dramatically as the Nazis threaten to invade. Vianne's husband goes off to fight in the war and soon disappears as many of the men do. Vianne has always been a rule follower, and tries to keep "under the radar" as soon the Nazis invade and take over their village due to a nearby airfield that is needed for strategic purposes.

Isabelle is the rebel, always questioning authority. At the beginning of the book she is once again being kicked out of another boarding school and seems to be more interested in romance than learning anything. Once the Nazis broach France's borders, she begins to look for ways to fight them.

Without giving up anything in terms of the book, both sisters end up having to face difficult decisions. Some heroic measures come with more infamy and others are quieter acts of courage that also save lives. Neither woman is spared the brutal impact of war and their lives are never the same.

This book really is a wonderful epic journey that also remind us that everyone has a story to tell but sometimes it is difficult to remember. This older woman, who from her son's perspective, was a mild mannered mother who was not much more than a mother and wife, has a rich history that she has kept a secret for over fifty years.

What makes this book difficult is the brutal scenes and imagery of concentration camps and misery that are just hard to deal with. That being said this is a beautiful book and I would still recommend it. I'm still thinking about it two weeks after I completed it so it was a powerful story.


Saturday, September 5, 2015

Book Review: Where She Went by Gayle Forman

This One Really Tops the First One

A companion book to "If I Stay"


As I mentioned in my review of If I Stay, this is the second book in the series which I discovered halfway through reading it. I put this down and began If I Stay instead. While you could read this book without reading the first book, you would miss some of the background and it wouldn't be as rich.

That being said, I think that this book is far more interesting in a lot of ways. This story picks up about three years or so after If I Stay and is from the voice of Adam rather than Mia.

Adam is now a famous rock star with a lot of demons, including baggage from his break up from Mia. He isn't sure why she stopped talking to him but from those turbulent emotions he was able to convey his anger into his music which launched him into stardom. The problem is that he can't seem to deal with anything anymore, including being seen on the street, answering questions for an interview, or even being with his bandmates.

Through a series of events, he finds himself in front of Mia once again and looks for closure from her, as well as the reason why she broke it off with him.

I really enjoyed this book. It reminded me just a bit of The Notebook in terms of emotions and love. While the characters are much younger I think that many of the issues they had in their lives were ageless and I really enjoyed this book.

Book Review: If I Stay by Gayle Forman

Yep, Another Teen Fiction Lured Me In. . .

. . . and I'm glad it did

So maybe I'm a little skeptical now when I start reading a book but I was actually reading Where She Went by this author when I had an inkling that maybe this was not the first in a series? I consulted Amazon and figured out that Where She Went was indeed the second companion book to this one, and I stopped reading and began this instead. While you can read Book 2, without one, you do miss some of the background so I have to recommend reading this first (although I liked the second one even better).

I read this in one evening. I think part of it was my desire to get to Book 2 and finish it, since I was about halfway done. As soon as I began this one I realized that I had seen previews for this a one of those teen movies but I soldiered on.

The story is told through the eyes of Mia, a seventeen year old cellist with a bright future, who lays in the balance between life and death after a horrible car accidents takes away the rest of her immediate family. As she watches the struggle to keep her alive in an out of body experience, she must decide if she will return to her life, despite the losses she faces.

While I really enjoy Book 2, which takes place three years after this one, I think it's imperative to read this one first so you have the background. This is told in Mia's voice while the next book focuses on Adam's story.

Friday, September 4, 2015

Book Review: You Were Mine by Abbi Glines

I Almost Won't Admit I Read This. . . 

But I did, and I liked it!


I once again preface this with my disclaimer that I get a stack of books and I read them without knowing anything about most of them ahead of time. Sometimes the reputation of a book precedes it and I have an inkling. Other times, I have read something by the author beforehand and that gives me a little bit of an idea of what to anticipate.

Other times, I have no idea. That is the case with this one although the cover suggested something with a lot of romance (as well as the title) and some idea that the relationship may be a little, ahem, possessive. . .

It turns out now that I'm looking into it, after reading this book (well maybe devouring), that this is Book 9 in a series that takes place at "Rosemary Beach". Maybe, just maybe, I may look into getting a few more from this line although they each feature different couples and it might be that I just liked these two characters.

When I began this book the first chapter took place in the past and they characters were teenagers. I thought this might be a teen romance but I soon learned that the book alternated between past and present. Not that dealing with a 22 and 26 year old is really in my peers but it did help to justify my continuing. . .  Sidenote, in reading Abbi Glines' bio on Amazon, she indeed does write teen fiction as well so maybe I'm  not really that far off?

This story tells the story of Tripp and and Bethy. Eight years ago Tripp was spending one last summer at the resort in a condo given to him by his grandfather, feeling pressured into a life he did not want that had privilege but with ties. He was set to go to Yale and work in his father's firm. During that summer he felt an attraction to a 16 year old girl from the other side of town but realized that he shouldn't be with her. . . See, I'm cringing even writing this but I'm going to go on. . . Long story short, he fell in love with her but knew he had to leave at the end of the summer to become independent with a plan to come back for her. Events lead to him not coming back in time and Bethy ended up with someone else. Six years later, tragedy struck and Bethy was alone. Tripp wants to come back and rescue her, at least make sure she is safe.

Yes, I really read it. I read it and it was a guilty pleasure despite all the romance stereotypes and the male is caveman elements that sometimes are just a little bit romantic. I enjoyed this one thoroughly. Not a hard read by any standards but a fun one. The story alternates between Tripp and Bethy's voice, and between present and past. Lots of cliches but oh so much fun.

Yes, I looked on Amazon and I can buy the first 5 in the series in one fell swoop. I may just do it. . .


Thursday, September 3, 2015

Book Review: To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee

Why haven't I read this before?

A Good Classic


I  know there is a whole list of books that are classics that I should read but often I find that I really don't like them. There, I said it out loud. I do not like a lot of the classics. Pride and Prejudice? Don't get me started about Jane Austen. Romeo and Juliet? I am just not into Shakespeare.

To Kill a Mockingbird is just not like those other "classics". Not only is it a tale that kept me interested, the cadence of the writing was melodic as it tells the story with the voice of a young girl. What's brilliant about this book as we discover what is going on through her eyes, as she tells the story as it unfolds for her. Being a child, she is often not in the middle of the action but uncovers facts by listening to adults, or being on the periphery of what is going on. It is also interesting to see how she sees things as her perspective is often not the same as the adults. Themes about racism, elitism and family are revealed as Scout encounters them and it's an interesting narrative.

Scout Finch lives with her older brother Jem, her father Atticus, and their housekeeper in a small town in Alabama during the Depression. Her rather is a state representative who is charged with the task to defend a black man accused of raping a white woman. As this story unfolds, we see so many layers to a town with classes, prejudice and tradition. Scout learns life lessons on so many levels as she witnesses the actions of people and learns that not everything is how it seems.

This is a wonderful story on so many levels.

Restaurant Review: West Texas Barbeque Company


Texas BBQ

Comfort Food without any Frills


We went off roading today near Jackson, Michigan which was an excuse to try this BBQ place. It was featured on Under the Radar and it was on the list for a future road trip.

This is Texas BBQ. Dry rubs and smoking with wood. There is no use of charcoal or gas, and the meat is never basted with sauce. Sauce is served on the side at the table for your own dipping. This place boasts about the smoke ring on their meats and we definitely did see it on the brisket, a pink layer right under the char.

There is no decor at this place and it's fine. Maybe it's even part of the charm. The building has a some seats, as well as a small gravel lot outside. You order at a counter and then sit down and wait for your name to be called. The prices are very reasonable and there are some basic sides to pick from as well as a variety of meats. You can have a sandwich or a platter. We ordered a Polish Sausage sandwich, and platters with turkey, brisket and pork shoulder. We also had a side of mac and cheese, cornbread, and a chocolate chip cookie.

The sandwich was very tasty. I think it might have been my favorite item even if I didn't order it. The meat really took on the smoke and had a great texture, with a really soft bun. The brisket was also very
good, although I prefer it to be a little more fatty and my cut was probably a little leaner. My daughter loved the turkey. I did not really like the pork shoulder as it was a little bland.

The macaroni was a big hit. It was definitely homemade and featured a good amount of cheese. The cornbread was on the sweet side and not too dry. I would definitely recommend that as well.

While the meat comes dry you get your choice of sauces on the table. The Hot was not as spicy as I anticipated and really was the best choice. The Big Un's sauce was a vinegar base with a lot of pepper and was tasty but very watery in texture. I like my sauce to be thicker to cling to the food.

Would I drive again to Jerome for this BBQ? I don't think I would make a specail trip as I still think the Woodshop is the best. They also make their meat with wood and dry rub so I guess I'm spoiled. I really like the array of sauces that they offer. I will say that while Woodshop is lauded for the mac and cheese, West Texas was better in my opinion.






Restaurant Review: Detroit Burger

Burgers in Clawson

Branded Buns? Cool!


I love a good hamburger. While I write this post, I am thinking about some of my favorite places to get them and it could be a blog article all on its own. There's The Porker at the Woodshop, the Korean at Green Dot Stables, and for just a good bar burger, there is Field of Dreams.

A good burger starts with a good mix of meat and topped with cheese for it meet my standards. Rather than ketchup I like a Russian Dressing. Old Detroit Burger Bar has those components and it's local.  Clawson is their latest location and while I haven't been to the other ones, it looks to be the same menu. The restaurant is definitely a bar, but family friendly. Televisions line all the walls and there are multiple options to watch. On this particular night the Little League World Series was on along with pre season football and major league baseball. Blue lights provide some ambiance and the lighting is a little dim rather than too bright.

We started with nachos. There was nothing special about the nachos and I would skip it next time. The chips were on the salty side but had a generous portion of meat and cheese (we skipped jalapenos, lettuce and tomatoes). I also ordered a frozen margarita which was quite good for a slurpee version and I would definitely order that again. I have to say that so many times I find that they leave off the salt on the rim but here they remembered (go figure, I don't want salty chips but I do want a salty drink)

The Burgers are named after Detroit Landmarks. I wanted to order the Ambassador, with corned beef, Swiss cheese and Russian Dressing, but they were out of corned beef. I hear it was Wrigley's which is really very good (they have it at Green Dot for a slider). So instead, I ordered a burger with cheddar and Russian. There are a few options in terms of sides. Stick with the waffle fries, they really were the best and quite good. Onion rings are also offered but we didn't try those.

Verdict? This is a decent burger joint and close to home. If you are a purist and looking for a 1/2 pound of quality beef, cooked to order, this might be your place. For more exotic fare, I would still recommend Green Dot and Woodshop.


Book Review - The Damascus Countdown by Joel Rosenberg

Third in a Trilogy, Exciting until the End

I had a lot invested in this series and it did not let me down.


If you have not read The Twelfth Iman and The Tehran Initiative, stop reading.

This is the last book in the trilogy and like the second book, continues the story of David Shirazi, trying to stop Iran from launching a nuclear war as part of the End of Days. While as an NOC (Non Operative Cover) for the CIA, he was able to thwart most of Iran's plan, the leaders have a few other things planned, including alliances with other countries to absorb their nuclear aresenals. The clock is ticking as David must find the last two remaining warheads that are set to attack Israel and set off a world war.

As mentioned in the other reviews, these books are Christian fiction and often refer to the New Testament, being Born Again, and accepting Jesus as a savior. If that is not your belief I think you can still read these books and enjoy them, as I did, because the rest of the plot is so compelling. Especially in light of current day politics, and efforts by the U.S. to come to terms with Iran, I think that this is a timely tale.

Wednesday, September 2, 2015

Book Review: The Tehran Initiative by Joel C. Rosenberg

If you haven't read The Twelfth Iman - Don't Read This

Just know that you should go read the first book of the trilogy


The Tehran Initiative begins right where The Twelfth Iman left off. CIA Operative David Shirazi knows that it's only a matter of time until Israel launches a deadly first strike after nuclear testing conducted by Iran. He must race to disarm Iran's nuclear warheads while maintaining his cover.

As I noted in my review of the first book, this is Christina fiction and there are a lot of references to being Born Again or converting to Christianity. That being said, I enjoyed the trilogy and did not feel it diminished from the fast pace this story has. It was very interesting to read some of the background on the Twelfth Iman, which is folded into this series, and the Muslim version of the End of Days.

Sunday, August 2, 2015

Book Review: First Frost by Sarah Addison Allen

Sarah Addison Allen Did Not Disappoint!

Read this, but read Garden Spells first!


First Frost is a sequel to Garden Spells, which is one of my favorite books of all time. If you haven't read it, I highly recommend it. I read it before I started reviewing books so you will just have to take my word for it. The only one I have a review for is Lost Lake, but I recommend all of them.

The thing is, that because she does not have too many books in her library, I have to savor these. I try very hard to read them slowly and enjoy them which is often difficult as I usually read things very quickly, devouring them.

Those metaphors for eating are probably subconscious in this case. This book does have many references to food which is often interwoven into this author's book, especially when speaking about the Waverly family who are prominent in this story. This takes place about  ten years after Garden Spells. I don't want to spoil that book for those that may choose to read it first (and you should, along with all of her other books) but let us just say that the Waverly sisters have new challenges and desires in their life that center around family and that their children also have developed in characters. Each Waverly has a "gift" and sometimes they appreciate it and sometimes they don't. A gift can often present challenges as magic often does.

Claire Waverly has moved on to a successful career in candy making and has put her catering business on the back burner (sorry another cooking pun, I must resist) but she doesn't seem that happy. Her world may be turned upside down when a mysterious stranger arrives with a plan for blackmail.

Magic is again in the heart of this story, as well as family, and belief. Believing in one's self, and appreciating the gifts they are given, feature prominently in this story.

As always, this was a magical tale and a lovely read. I love how the author writes, with beautiful detail and a lyrical prose. Highly recommend. If you haven't read Allen, please try all her books. Start with Garden Spells first and then work your way through all of the magic.

Tuesday, July 21, 2015

Book Review: On Dublin Street by Samantha Young

This isn't rock science, it won't change the world, and it's not going to be enlightening, but it was fun.


As I have mentioned countless times, I read a lot of books without having any idea of what I'm getting myself into. I almost didn't give this book a chance as the first few pages took place in the past, where our protagonist, a 14 year old girl, finds out her parents and her baby sister are dead. With the writing style, I thought I may have stumbled on young adult fiction and while I love Harry Potter and some other reads targeted for that age group, I didn't think this would be one of them.

However, I'm glad I stuck with this as I skimmed a couple of pages to find out that the story advances quickly to Joss (Jocelyn) as a 22 year old in Edinburgh Scotland. She brings a lot of baggage with her as she settles into an apartment on Dublin Street.

This book is definitely a romance novel and part of me is a little embarrassed about how much I really enjoyed it. There is a lot of sex and a lot of those cliches that you find in these kind of books. However, it's a really interesting story and I liked how the author chose to have Joss voice this book, showing all her defense mechanisms and irrational thoughts while she tries to navigate those around her and her obstinate behavior when it comes to trying to prevent anyone from getting close. This alternates with her speaking to a therapists in sessions working out her (*&^.

As I said it's a romance and this is where the cliches come in. Her new roommate's brother is an attractive older (at 30 something) man who is very successful and domineering. He's attracted to Joss and won't take "no" for an answer. They negotiate a "friends with benefits" relationship as even Joss can't deny that there is a tension between them. . . Need I say more? There are many of those typical romance elements here, including a lot of detailed sex, but it's a fun book and I have to admit (cringing now) I just discovered there are more in this series, including a follow up novella about Joss and Branden. I'm going to read it, I'm not going to lie.

Incidentally in reading up on this author, I learned that Samantha Young started out as a young adult author and she's definitely got that down with the opening prologue. I would add that her "voice" is straightforward and no holds barred. Honest and easy to read. Good book! 


Book Review: Private Lives by Tasmina Perry

Smart Suspenseful Thriller with all the Glitz and Glamor


This is the second Tasmina Perry book I have read and it was just as enjoyable. Like Kiss Heaven Goodbye, this book showcased the lives of very successful jet setting folks with a character included who is "on the fringe", sometimes looking in but not really fitting into that world. . . It's a successful plot formula.

This story really speaks about the scandals that play out in the newspapers in Great Britain, focusing on the gossip that a well known movie star, Sam Charles, who has cheated on his fiancee. While his personal and professional life takes a nosedive, it's up to his solicitor, Anna Kennedy, to use the legal system to thwart these attacks and eventually look into who set him up for this fall and why.

I have to admit when I started Perry's other book I thought I was just reading a trashy novel with some sex and a lot of glitz, but she surprised me. These are smart reads and reading that she left a successful law career to pursue writing does make sense.

These books are witty and have lots of layers.  They aren't exactly difficult reads but they are fun and have a lot to offer in terms of getting to know a host of characters who are impacted by this scandal. Not everyone or everything is how it seems and there's a lot that goes into an image.

Good read!


Tuesday, July 14, 2015

Book Review: The Dissident: A Novel by Nell Fruedenberger

A Slow Paced Book that Surprised Me


This book took me a long time to read. It wasn't especially long or filled with difficult prose but I kept putting it down and then picking it back up. I have made a resolution that I won't continue with books I don't enjoy but I think in some ways I was so curious about how the plot would come to an end that I had to see it through. It wasn't that the book was bad or poorly written. It just took me some time to get to know these characters and see through all their layers which I think the author made happen at a slow pace intentionally.

The story builds upon itself, changing perspectives from the view of some of the central characters. The story centers around Yuan Zhao, a Chinese artist who originally was a painter but became a performance artist. He is also a political dissident who has the opportunity to come to America for one year, to work on his art while teaching at the St. Anselm's School for Girls, in a wealthy Los Angeles suburb. One of the families in that community has opened their home to him and let him settle in with them. Cece Travers is delighted to say she has an artist living with them and it seems that maybe this is to divert some of her attention from the problems inside her own family. The artist and the family do not intersect as much as one might think even if they share living spaces and work spaces. They continue to remain isolated in both culture and interaction.

Through the recounting of their stories, we learn a lot about Yuan Zhao and CeCe Travers, as well as a host of other characters. Most of all, we discover that outer appearances may not be consistent to what is really going on.

While the book was slow for me, mostly because I kept putting it down, I found it satisfying and was happy with the ending. I'm sure if it was a different time of year, and not days full of sunshine and activity, I might have completed it sooner. I do recommend it as it's an interesting read.

Sunday, July 12, 2015

Taking Inventory

Balance


I always say that once we hit July 4th, really the summer is almost over. I think that's because it flies by so quickly and there is always something going on, that we rush rush rush and don't take enough time to appreciate the warmer  weather and sunshine. I must say that I find it difficult sometimes. I am one of those folks that is always on the go and I find that if I do have a few minutes of "down time" I'm finding ways to fill it. There is always a load of laundry that needs to be transferred from the washer to the dryer, work email to check, or a flower bed that needs weeding. But I have resolved this summer to carve time to just sit back and look at the nature around me. It's sometimes difficult but it's a commitment to relish what we have and savor it because after all, the colder weather will be here in a flash and then summer will be a distant memory and something to anticipate all over again.

There are a few things that have helped me reach this new perspective about enjoying the small things and taking time out. I have learned that I don't have to be productive 100% of the time. So in no real order here are some of the factors:

1. I started taking a yoga class and typically attend one time per week. Notice I didn't describe it as "practicing". I'm not there yet but I will say that it's calming and relaxing and has probably helped me to get my head on a little straighter.

2. Related to #1, I found out about Eckhart Tolle and am trying to learn to live in the present rather than always looking at the future. Slowing it down to enjoy what I have. There is nothing quite like living in the now when you are enjoying the outside with sunshine and relaxing.

3. We got a hammock and placed it in the backyard. At first I hated it. I fell out of it twice and couldn't understand how to navigate it to get in. I'm not the most graceful person but I found out it was balance. Balance? Imagine that - it's a consistent theme for success in most aspects of life. I also tried to figure out how a hammock was going to benefit me if I couldn't get my book up there with me but then I discovered that just laying there, either with my eyes closed in the bright sunlight, or just looking up at the trees in the evening, or the stars at night, was a wonderful thing.

Why a post about this? Because it's part of taking inventory, balancing the projects I have accomplished so far this summer with the enjoyment of what I have. A lot of the projects around our home in the summer are really focused on making this an even more comfortable place to enjoy and I think it's a good time to take stock and appreciate it. It's living in the now.

This summer I added some touches to our front garden. While we don't really spend a lot of time in the front yard, I love to drive up to our home and feel that it is a signature for who we are. I have envisioned for quite a while extending our flower bed so that it isn't the traditional strip of earth that runs parralel to a front porch. i wanted something that was more serpentine and organic. So this Spring I manually added a strip that orginated from teh existing flower bed (said strip) and wound its way to the sidewalk. We also decided to create another smaller flower bed in the center of the lawn that would feature a weeping pine tree. We began to process of splitting existing perennials from other patches around our home (and there was a lot to use) and identifying other plants that we wanted to add, hoping to create an oasis that will be renewed each Spring and have color throughout the seasons. I'm no expert on what should be planted but so far I'm happy with it.

Once we put the weeping pine tree in the garden it seemed like it needed a sculpture or small statue to give it more of a sense of tranquility. I looked around for a Thai Buddah for quite a while until I found the perfect one. There are those added touches that make it seem more like ours. A personalization or an imprint that is distinctly ours. I found that Buddahs must be a really "in" thing right now and I also found that they were often very expensive, especially at the run of the mill art fair when it's a poured concrete object. I scoured art fairs, Home Goods, TJ Maxx, garden stores, etc. etc. until I found this one at Off the Rack. Who knew? But what made this Buddah special to me was that it was a little different thatn many I had seen as it is a beautiful tranquil blue and looks slightly aged and weathered. I felt this was a gentle reminder of what I am trying to accomplish. "Accomplish" is really not the right word but I can't really put my finger on how to decribe it. Maybe it's a reminder of what I am striving for. I do know that I am trying to take time out every day to appreciate it all.

Another thing that we have been looking at was the empty space in the peak of the roof right about the front porch. It seemed empty and it needed something. It took us a while to realize that we could relocate one that we already had from our fence in our backyard where I have quite a collection of suns that I have collected over the years (and now I need to get one more as I have an empty space due to this relocation). I think that this sun was the perfect motif to place on the front of our home. The color looks great against the gray blue siding and the rays are bent so that they reach out from where the sun is suspended giving it some depth as it hangs beneath some eaves in a recessed space. Sometimes it's those little things that really add to making a house a home.

We had a big project to work on this summer. As I posted last year, I took our gray front porch floor and painted it a bright orange. Think construction kind of orange. It had originally been a dull gray and I wanted something a little brighter (okay a lot brighter) and it was a nice change. One of those things that truly made this house ours. Alas, within a couple of months the paint on the steps began to bubble and we attributed it to the standing water we get after rains as these steps are not exactly level and lead to some pooling. A small touch up, we thought. But after the harsh winter we discovered that the bubbling was spreading and it was occurring all over the porch, even where it was sheltered under the roof. I reached out to customer service at Behr Paint after they posted on Facebook about porch paint and asked them what we had done wrong. They thought it was actually something defective in our batch of paint and wanted the color formula and offered us replacement paint. When I explained that I was leery to do this again and have similar results they offered to replace it with either stain or Deckover. I never thought for a minute that they would do that for us but I really appreciated it. Now Deckover does not come in the array of colors that you can make with regular paint so I picked from the swatches and chose the Cedar Naturaltone. While it's not bright orange it's a nice shade that was complimentary to what we had going on with our orange.


It was a lot of work to prep for this change. While it seemed the paint was coming off in large blisters and tracking into our house (and the yard, and the grass) there were some areas where it still was firmly adhered to the porch and this required a thorough power washing that spread flakes of the pain to the white porch rails, the house siding and most of our front lawn and driveway. As much as I like bright orange I really didn't enjoy picking it out manually from the flower beds. We also had to scrub the wood with a powerful cleaner to prep it. Then came masking it all and waiting for a stretch of nice dry warm weather which finally arrived over the July 4th weekend. I'm happy with the results. While it's not as orange I will trade that for a material that is going to stay on for years to come (please keep your fingers crossed). To protect the porch in high traffic areas, I did buy an outdoor rug from Target on clearance that I'm hoping will help. I also gave all the rails a new layer of bright white paint to freshen it up.

Last year we added a Faygo crate for a planter on our porch. Nothing says Detroit quite like Faygo and it was a nice piece to add flower and color to our already bright porch. Just yesterday we passed a garage sale and found another crate, reasonably priced, with a different version of the logo. I had to have it. I have a plan to eventually have 7 different crates, one on each step of the porch filled with flowers. Quick tip, I found last year that the dirt seeped through the spaces of the wood slats. This year I lined them with black garbage bags and plan to reuse the dirt next year, just adding a new layer of top soil. Bonus about finding another crate for a planter in July? Flowers are on sale and I filled the new one with impatiens for about 5 dollars. Bad thing about getting a new Faygo planter? When I looked at the photos from last year (to compare my orange porch with this new shade, and to look at the planter last year) I discovered that the existing Faygo planter has faded with exposure to the sun. I'm going to see about adding a clear coat to protect it so we don't lose them all together. Next mission: Looking for an Atlas Pop and a Vernors crate.

So inventory for right now is completed. I just came in from laying on the hammock appreciating what I have and being thankful for a beautiful weekend that included friends and family, good food, new memories and a couple of projects completed. I can go back to work and feel energized that realize that balance is what it's all about.

I won't relax too long. There's a hole in the backyard that needs a little more digging for a pond to work on that oasis. I think the sound of water cascading from a waterfall will be so calming as I lay in that hammock. . .









Restaurant Review: The Root

As I begin writing this I must say, this may be the fullest I have ever been. . . 

Think Thanksgiving kind of full, where you can't manage one more morsel. I'm saying that after a 45 minute drive back home, with plenty of time to recover. That says a lot. 

 


It was worth the drive. People, especially from the west side of our area, have often recommended The Root as a place that I should visit. It's not exactly local for us (about 45 minutes without any traffic) so as much as I agreed I should try it, I just hadn't made it out there yet. We had the perfect excuse today to celebrate a dear friend's birthday with dinner, sans kids, so we decided tonight was the night. I should note that we had reservations and I can see that this place can get busy as it has quite a reputation. The decor was very clean but earthy. The lighting is enough to see your food without being glaring, and they do a good job making it pretty intimate. There was a row of tall grass/bamboo stalks with lights that separated the bar from our dining area which created small spaces that let you feel comfortable but not cramped. The lighting fixtures were very cool, different Edison style bulbs hung suspended from the ceiling in several places, and the root motif was continued throughout the location, with a large table with a tree trunk surrounded by wood planks to create a centerpiece.

Corpse Reviver
To be quite honest with myself (and of course you as the reader), I had this restaurant on my radar ever since Baconfest in the summer of 2013. I do recall a very nice little gem of pork belly. For quite a while after Baconfest, I developed a love for pork belly that may have bordered on obsession with quite a few posts with our experiments, even developing my own recipe for a Cherry Cola basted version.

The Real Housewife of White Lake
But back to the food at hand, and my full belly. . . Okay really let's start with drinks. When you go out for a festive occasion a cocktail just makes it a little bit more special. I love different cocktails with new ingredients that I just couldn't make at home. I have posted before about Hendrick's Gin. I think by now I have established that while I am not a super big gin fan, the additional of cucumbers and rose petals in an infusion just makes this a little different and quite refreshing. . . For recipes you can check out my Cucumber Lime Spritzer post, our experiment with a Florodora courtesy of Maggiano's,  as well as our adult version of Cucumber Slurpee. As I said, when I can have a cocktail that incorporates some of my favorite ingredients, with a new twist, or added elements, I'm all in.  That is what the Corpse Reviver #2, did for me. It combined Hendricks Gin, Cointreau, Lillet Blanc, Lemon, 3 Drops of Absinthe.I have never had Absinthe so that sounded a little exotic. This version was also offered as a 30 Day Aged in an Oak Barrel version, which was promoted to be "smoother". Of course I had to try it. It had quite a kick. My friend ordered the The Real Housewife of White Lake, which featured Valentine Vodka, Cointreau, House Made Raspberry Syrup, Fresh Squeezed Lemonade, Cucumber. You can't go wrong with cucumber cocktails. I think they are the bomb. In this case, this was a very mild drink with a little bit of sweetness with the raspberry syrup. Very festive.

Seared Scallops, Grilled Octopus Salad, Crispy Braised Pork Belly
Because there is so much food to discuss, I actually merged photos of different dishes into a montage. Hence my full belly right? There was a tasting menu that was very reasonably priced (at $40 per person), but there were appetizers and such that we wanted to try that would not be included so we ordered everything separately. We started with their signature scallops, a grilled octopus salad, and of course, pork belly. The scallops were seared, and a wonderful texture, as they were on the less "done" side. They sat on a bed of white bean puree, with brown butter, topped with fresh pink grapefruit, capers, Brussels sprouts, and pistachios. Delicious. There were only three of them and I think I would have liked this for my dinner. The Octopus salad featured a really balanced red wine vinaigrette, with endaname, tomatoes, radishes and greens. This was delicious. Again, I could have made this into a meal. And we can't forget about the pork belly. It was so wonderfully tender, with a little bit of crispy crust on the edges. It was placed on a bed of something (maybe it was white bean puree) with fresh corn, and topped with Kimchi. What a great medley of flavors and textures. This was some of the best pork belly I have had and the tang of the Kimchi just added a little bit of bite.

At this point I was already stuffed. So many appetizers and I love small plates. I think I could have stopped then and called this a meal but I persevered. On to the mains. . . 

Fish Special (Mussels and Clams), Hamburger, Meat Special (Prime Rib)

Spanish Coffee
There were two specials offered that intrigued us. The first was a fish special that consisted of mussels and clams that were in a coconut broth with red chili oil and fennel. This was very spicy but very good. The seafood was extremely fresh and there was no fishiness to any of it. While I have had a lot of Thai over the years (going up to Medium spice levels) I would describe this as hot but not overpowering as all the flavors shined through. I would have liked a side of rice with it but with the amount of food we had it really would have been a waste. There had been discussion about getting a steak but then we saw a few hamburgers making their way out from the kitchen.The burger did not disappoint. It was chargrilled and featured a house made bun. This particular order included a fried egg and bacon, as well as a side of jalapenos. One of our friends said that they were wonderful jalapenos but I didn't try any. The meat special was a prime rib, served medium rare, with a creme fraiche with spicy black bean garlic and horseradish. The meat was wonderfully tender and it was a really good side sauce but after eating so much food and so many flavors it really didn't stand out.

You can't have a celebratory dinner without dessert right? We also ordered some after dinner coffee drinks. The Spanish coffee was delicious! I can't recall exactly what was in it beside delicious coffee and home made whipped cream but it was served in a cinnamon sugar rimmed wine glass and it was very very good. 

Lemon Meringue Creme Brulee, Banana Cream Pie Ala Mode, Vegan Brownie Sundae
We tried three desserts. Because we were celebrating a birthday one dessert was on the house. The Lemon Meringue Creme Brulee. This dessert has lemon curd for the base flavor and it does a wonderful job of cutting through the sweetness that comes from toasted meringue and shortbread crumbles as well as the vanilla custard. It was a really good dessert. We also tried the banana cream pie that was highly recommended as their signature dessert on the menu. It did not disappoint and really did live up to our expectations. The banana cream pie had some of the flakiest crust and was topped with a homemade marshmallow, and came with a scoop of homemade brown sugar gelato as well as some caramel. I think that this was one of the best slices of pie I have ever had. Last but not least was the vegan brownie sundae. Now the only reason I mention that it is vegan is because they do so on the menu. While I understand that appeals to many folks, I do think they do this brownie a disservice because if you taste it  you will have no idea that there does not contain egg, butter or any dairy in it. You will think it is one of the best brownies you have in terms of flavor and texture. We certainly did and thought about the fact we almost didn't order it but decided chocolate was chocolate after a large meal. The brownie is served with salted caramel and pretzel iced cream made of coconut milk and lays in a substantial puddle of a homemade caramel sauce, along with a homemade shortbread wafer. Dense chocolate with light ice cream was a perfect combination. We made sure to compliment this dessert to the waiter who brought the pastry chef, Jordan, over to speak with us. He was so kind to spend about ten minutes with us talking food.

Now this could be the end of the review as we have gone through appetizers, mains and desserts, along with drinks but there's more. The chef, James Rigato, is going to be opening another restauarant called Mabel Gray in Hazel Park, which is way closer to home. The menu hasn't been finalized yet but we expect that it will be another adventure in an old refurbished diner. My understanding is this will be a smaller setting and you will be able to watch Chef Rigato cook while eating at the diner. I am looking forward to going there this fall!

So in summary, yes, worth the drive, worth the money, worth the experience. 







Sunday, May 31, 2015

Book Review: Falling Angels by Tracy Chevalier

An English Tale of Two Families in the Early 20th Century


While the story takes alternate voices between the many characters, this is the tale of two young girls that begins in 1901 as Queen Victoria has just passed away, and covers the reign of King Edward. This is an important event for England and sets the stage for the two girls to meet as their family plots at the local cemetery are next to one another. Initially there is discussion behind closed doors, of one family's choice to have an angel on their plot, as the other family thinks that the urn they chose is much more appropriate.

So begins the beginning of a friendship between Maude Coleman and Lavinia Waterhouse, set among the statues in the cemetery and growing up in Edwardian England. Along the way, they become friends with the local grave digger's son that allows them to see past their own privileged existence.

Life is often not as pretty as it looks to the outsiders and we learn a great deal about each family and their own private lives. The Suffragette Movement also plays into the story as well as a few other historical events that also shape the characters' lives.

While this book does play out in the cemetery for much of the story it really isn't morbid and it's interesting how much death and mourning was predominant in this time period. It's a very interesting book for many reasons and I really enjoyed it.

Book Review: Kiss Heaven Goodby by Tasmina Perry

How One Night can Change the Course of all of their Lives

 

This is an adult version of "I Know What You Did Last Summer"


Four individuals celebrate their milestones from being students to being full fledged adults with a vacation on a private island. There are the rich children of the island's owner along with two other young adults who have their whole lives ahead of them. However, an incident occurs on the island on their last night there, that has lasting effects on their futures, even if they try to bury the past.

In many ways this reminds me of the convention set up of many books, including I Know What you did Last Summer, a story that was very popular when I was a young adult, many moons ago. While the plot may have a similar theme to many stories, it's a good one. It's a pleasant read with alternating chapters focusing on each of the four characters in the story, who may try to stay in their own orbits so they don't have to remember or discuss the past, but ultimately continue to have some connection throughout their lives.

This was a fun read, so much so that I have started another one of Tasmina Perry's books. The author is British and the stories often cross the ocean to include both English and American references. Some of the dialogue is decidedly British but all in all it's a good book.

I would recommend this for a summer read.

Saturday, May 30, 2015

Restaurant Review: 11 Cities Diner - Chicago

You know I got one of those shirts!

A Short Trip to Chicago Meant a Jaunt for a Food Adventure

 

1.7 miles from the hotel according to Mapquest. . .


A few months back I was watching Diners, Drive Ins and Dives and came across a segment for Eleven Cities Diner in Chicago. When I found out that I had to travel near there for a conference, I knew this was going to be my food destination. It just so happened (fortunately) that it was close by to where we were staying.


Now when you look at all the photos of the food I want to make the disclaimer that I didn't eat all of it. Rather, I shlepped (and you can use that word when you are talking Jewish style deli) a few of my colleagues to participate in this journey. I think I'm getting a reputation for knowing something about food and doing my research because I sometimes feel like the Pied Piper leading folks on my adventures.




Let's start with the decor. It's a little bit kitschy but a lot of fun too. They have a section in the front with T-shirts for sale (and you know I now own one as my souvenir) and all kinds of candy. It's 1950's retro diner decor with a Jewish flair. There are signs with what I call "pseudo Hebrew", using Hebrew characters to spell out English words, and even a photo of a famous Rabbi's portrait behind the counter.

 For me, the highlight of this trip was the Egg Cream.  Their version consisted of Seltzer water, chocolate syrup and whipping cream. It's a good version when you can see the striations in color with distinct layers. I haven't had one of these in years and it brought me back to an authentic deli trip in New York when I was in single digits.

Now I know that others are not just as adventurous and may not have the fond memories of an Egg Cream that I personally do. They made some luscious looking shakes as well, topped off with whipped cream, a cherry and a wafer. Of course there are other options including Dr. Brown Soda. You really can't go wrong with a can of Black Cherry. . . I gave up pop a while back but made an exception for this Egg Cream. I think that if I drank a Dr. Brown I would be completely off the wagon so I'm not going to partake but if you drink soda, you owe it to yourself to try it if you haven't. Since this is a Jewish themed post today I would also recommend that when Passover (aka Pesach) comes around, to try and find Kosher for Passover Coke or Pepsi, as well as Dr. Brown Soda. It's the one time of the year you are guaranteed that no corn syrup is used which means you get pure cane sugar retro pop. It's pretty darn good! I should mention that they also served alcohol right?

But back to the diner. . . I ordered a bowl of Bubbie's Chicken Soup. Bubbie is another word for grandmother and this really is old fashioned chicken broth like a Bubbie would make. However, I was not too keen on the matzoh ball. It was peppery but a little too leaden. I prefer a lighter, fluffier matzoh ball although these were probably homemade from scratch. With matzoh balls you are sometimes better off with a mix instead. If matzoh balls aren't your thing anyways, they had kreplach, egg noodles or rice instead. Not sure what a matzoh ball is? Well it's a ball of ground matzoh with chicken fat (shmaltz) and seasonings. At least one of my colleagues frowned when it came to the table. I think they are starting to wonder about me.

Now a deli really is about the sandwiches which is what everyone in our group ordered. I did want to try other things on the menu, including a Ju Pu Platter (latkes, fried kreplach, apple sauce and sour cream) but after an egg cream, a sandwich and a bowl of soup. . . They also serve breakfast all day and had a lot of offering in that area as well.

So sandwiches. . . I ordered a corned beef with a "shmear" of chopped liver. Again, my fellow diners were a little appalled. If you eat pate, or fois grois, this is probably not as alient a concept, but for my group there were some folks that just couldn't get past the liever thing. I love chopped liver. I'm not going to lie. It's probably one of the few things that I  have really kept from my heritage. Part of the reason I picked this place was the feature on how they made the corned beef right on site and I have to tell you it didn't disappoint. It was wonderful. Really thinly sliced and stacked high. Not the least bit dry. Divine. I will say if you are like me and you HATE rye seeds, make sure to ask for an alternate to the rye bread. The waitress understood my plight and brought me out two slices of marble rye to transfer my sandwich's insides to, so I was able to make a new sandwich.

One of the highlights at our table was the Sherm Royale which featured thinly cut salami, with turkey, shredded lettuce, American cheese and Dijon mustard on Challah bread. With a side of fries and a dill pickle it was the quintessential combination of American and Jewish cuisine all rolled into one.


Also at our table was a Rubin's Reuben (actually two of them), which consisted of an open faced Reuben made of either pastrami or corned beef (or a mixture of both), with sauerkraut, thousand island, and Swiss cheese that has been melted on top.


There was also a grilled cheese on Challah, with a side of fries with cheese sauce. You can never go wrong with grilled cheese and especially on Challah. Challah is the ultimate white bread, made with eggs and sugar and this did not disappoint. 

So verdict? I'd do it again.  I think that if you are looking for a good delicatessen and you like traditional food kicked up a notch this might be your place. If you like things like chopped liver, a latke, lox or knish, this place will knock your socks off. Even if you don't like those things but like good fries and a hearty sandwich, I'm pretty confident you will enjoy it as well.

Good stuff. Fun place.