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


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.