Off The Menu – Staff Meals From America’s Top Restaurants

Admittedly, I love to eat far more than I love to cook so I am the first to suggest the nearest restaurant, especially one I haven’t tried yet.  And often while reading the menu I’ve wondered what the chefs, sous chefs, line cooks, managers, dishwashers and staff have gathered together to eat hours before opening.  So it’s little wonder this book intrigued me, as the idea of a behind-the-scenes look into America’s most favorite kitchens seemed sure not to disappoint.

Happily it doesn’t.  There are over fifty restaurants profiled here and along with many recipes of the meals that staff prepare and serve to themselves there are also some great interviews with chefs, tips for dining out, and many fascinating photos of some of America’s most legendary kitchens.

The author, Marissa Guggiana has selected farm to table restaurants from across the country.  It’s clear they all honor and respect the local produce and livestock in their area.

While I’ve yet to eat in many of these restaurants you can bet if I find myself in any of these cities I am making a reservation.

The meals themselves range from small plates to multi-course meals, some using the leftovers on hand, others all new ingredients.  Bon appétit!

Bossypants – 5 Reasons To Love Tina Fey

First let me say that I am funny.  No.  Really.  I am.  I am funny.  Ok, well, maybe not funny funny, but funny in that dark, dry, omg did he/she really say that kind of way.  But, sadly, I am not — I repeat NOT — Tina Fey funny.  And perhaps no one is.  Which, of course, is what makes Tina Fey so…well…funny.  And so, without further ado, here are 5 Reasons to love Tina Fey.  Which you can later prove by running out and buying your edition of Bossypants.  And reading it.  Preferably alone, so no one will see you snort milk through your nose or change your Depends.

1. Tina Fey knows you can not “have it all” and has accepted it.

“There was no prolonged stretch of time in sight when it would just be the baby and me.  And then I sobbed in my office for ten minutes.  The same ten minutes that magazines urge me to use for sit-ups and triceps dips, I used for sobbing.  Of course I’m not supposed to admit that there is a tri-annual torrential sobbing in my office, because it’s bad for the feminist cause.  It makes it harder for women to be taken seriously in the workplace. It makes it harder for other working moms to justify their choice.  But I have friends who stay home with their kids and they also have a tri-annual sob, so I think we should call it even.  I think we should be kind to one another about it.  I think we should agree to blame the children.”

2. Tina Fey knows where she stands.

“My only other request was this: I never wanted to appear in a “two shot” with Mrs. Palin.  I mean, she really is taller and better looking than I am, and we would literally be wearing the same outfit.  I’d already been made to stand next to Jennifer Aniston and Salma Hayek on camera in my life; a gal can only take so much.  And honestly, I knew that if that picture existed, it would be what they show on the Emmys someday when I die…”

3. Tina Fey has perspective.

“If you retain nothing else, always remember the most important Rule of Beauty.

‘Who cares?’ “

4. Tina Fey knows how to get what she wants. And works for it.

“If I was really ambitious, I would get a Whopper Jr. at Burger King and then walk to McDonald’s to get the fries.  The shake could be from anywhere.”

5. Tina Fey had a worse, and funnier, childhood than you.

I shoved the box in my closet, where it haunted me daily. There might as well have been a guy dressed like Freddy Krueger in there for the amount of anxiety it gave me.  Every time I reached in the closet to grab a Sunday school dress or my colonial-lady Halloween costume that I sometimes relaxed in after school — ‘Modessssss,’ it hissed at me.  ‘Modessssssis coming for you.’ “

Obviously I could go on and on.  But I won’t.  Thankfully, Tina Fey does.  Read Bossypants.  That is an order.

Down The Garden Path

I’m just going to admit it.  I am a huge fan of Beverley Nichols.  Whenever winter wanes and I begin to venture out into the spongy soil I think of the Jazz Age playboy turned gardener, a cigarette in one hand, cocktail shaker in the other, walking down the rows of the chalky and sullen soil he turned into a bit of paradise in Huntingdonshire in the 1930’s.  Surely, I think, if he could make a garden out of a stubborn piece of earth I ought to be able to grow a row of veg and a flower or two.  And if I can’t, I always have his acid wit to turn to in the gardening memoirs he wrote and that is enough to comfort and amuse me.

For those who don’t know, and I don’t know why many would, Beverley Nichols was a popular British author of plays, mysteries, poems and children’s books when he bought and began to renovate a home and garden in the village of Glatton.  He sat down to write about it and in virtually no time produced what is referred to as the Always Trilogy, which is composed of the three books featured here.  That anyone could write about a garden with such wit and irony is a constant source of enjoyment and as the trilogy progresses we move from the garden to his home to the village and all its many colorful inhabitants.

A Thatched Roof is the second book in the trilogy.  The books have been in almost constant print since their publication but these new editions from the Timber Press are very worth tracking down.  If you can’t find them anywhere else, you can certainly find them at http://www.timberpress.com.

It’s always sad to come to the end of a series but don’t despair.  Nichols produced a second trilogy between 1951-1956 about his renovation of a Georgian Manor house that is absolutely hilarious.

My prediction?  If you become as addicted as I am you will soon find your shelves filling with these fine editions.

“Do you not realize that the whole thing is miraculous? It is exactly as though you were to cut off your wife’s leg, stick it in the lawn, and be greeted on the following day by an entirely new woman, sprung from the leg, advancing across the lawn to meet you.

Surely, you would be surprised if, having snipped off your little finger, and pushed it into a flower-pot, you were to find a miniature edition of yourself in the flower-pot a day later.”

— Beverley Nichols 1898-1983

Miss Pettigrew Lives For A Day

It’s hard to begin reviewing this book without stopping to admire the small press that publishes it.  I am a huge fan of all small presses for keeping authors alive who might otherwise simply fade into obscurity and be all but forgotten.  Or, as in this author’s case, because she was forgotten, bringing them back to life to a new generation of readers who would otherwise never have known them.  So I hope if you’re reading this you’ll continue to the section below where I talk about Persephone Press.

But now: a word for Miss Pettigrew.  Poor Miss Pettigrew, a down on her luck middle-aged governess who can seem to do no right.  Until, of course, her employment agency sends her on a call not to a household of unruly children but to a nightclub singer who changes her life entirely in a mere 24 hours.  And just to believe for a moment that it is “never too late” is the sheer joy of this delightful book.  Never has a case of mistaken identity been so charming.  Cinderella, move over.  This book was made into a movie starring Frances McDormand who, in this reviewer’s opinion, can do no wrong.  While the movie is delightful the book is superior and it is a highly recommended read with a Sidecar in one hand and, dare I say it? A cigarette in the other.  Live. Live.  Live!

I can not say enough about my own adoration for Persephone Books.  Without them there are so many authors I never would have found. In their own words, from their Website: “Persephone prints mainly neglected fiction and non-fiction by women, for women and about women. The titles are chosen to appeal to busy women who rarely have time to spend in ever-larger bookshops and who would like to have access to a list of books designed to be neither too literary nor too commercial. The books are guaranteed to be readable, thought-provoking and impossible to forget.”

Winifred Watson believed in this book with all her heart but had some struggle finding a publisher for it.  It was published, finally, in 1938 and was received with great acclaim.  But in 1941 Winifred Watson stopped writing entirely to take care of her son.  She lived, quite quietly, in Newcastle for the rest of her life.

Still Alice

This is an extremely moving first novel which chronicles the sudden and swift descent into early-onset Alzheimer’s Disease in the life of Alice Howland, a fifty year old Harvard professor whose expertise is cognitive psychology and linguistics.  Because the character is, at first anyway, so self-aware of what is happening to her as the disease progresses it is absolutely chilling to read.  There were many moments when I wanted to put the book down, and yet I found I could not.  At times I felt as if I were about to witness a horrible accident and yet I could not turn my head away.  It was as if I was on a speeding train which I knew was destined to crash, and yet I could not get off at any of the scheduled stops.  What makes this so absolutely compelling is that the story is told not from a caretaker’s point of view, as we might expect, but from  the victim’s.  And because Lisa Genova, the author herself, has a Ph.D in neuroscience from Harvard she has the knowledge and skill to pull a feat like this off.  The language itself is very simple, which I found entirely appropriate given the subject, and I believe everyone should read this beautiful book.  Warning: will cause the onset of crying in all those except those with the very hardest of hearts.

“At some point, there would simply be no point. ”
― Lisa GenovaStill Alice

“But will I always love her? Does my love for her reside in my head or my heart? The scientist in her believed that emotion resulted from complex limbic brain circuitry that was for her, at this very moment, trapped in the trenches of a battle in which there would be no survivors. The mother in her believed that the love she had for her daughter was safe from the mayhem in her mind, because it lived in her heart.”
― Lisa GenovaStill Alice

Some sites you may want to visit on the important subject of Alzheimer’s disease are:

http://www.alzheimersreadingroom.com/

http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/alzheimers/AZ00009

http://www.alz.org/alzheimers_disease_what_is_alzheimers.asp

The Talented Mr Ripley

You could, if you had known her anyway, fault Patricia Highsmith for many things but her writing is not one of them.  There is no one who understood the art of suspense better than her. More than two dozen film adaptations of her books have been made, some of them excellent, including Alfred Hitchcock’s 1951  “Strangers On A Train” and Anthony Minghella’s 1999 “The Talented Mr. Ripley”. The books differ considerably from the films, particularly Ripley, but I must admit it is the film adaptation which first made me aware of the author.  In all, there are five Ripley novels, sometimes referred to by fans of Highsmith as the Ripliad.  Some are better than others, of course, but all are worth reading because her character is so completely fascinating.  He is the ultimate man with no conscience who will stop at nothing to achieve his goal, including several murders which he can execute at the drop of a hat.  He has no morals whatsoever, but all the suave and charm and sexual ambiguity that a con artist needs to succeed,  He can tell a lie as easily as breathing and is a fascinating study in contradictions but is intensely likeable despite his many faults.  All five novels, or for that matter almost anything by Highsmith, are intensely readable and highly recommended.

“One situation – maybe one alone – could drive me to murder: family life, togetherness.”
― Patricia Highsmith

New York Diaries 1609-2009

This is a fascinating history of a city as told through the Diaries of the famous, infamous, and average citizens of Manhattan from 1609-2009.  Because the entires are arranged day by day and I received this book at the end of 2011,  I keep it on my nightstand and each day I read all the letters (usually there are only two or three) for that day.  On and on and on I will go until the end of the year, so I can not yet claim to have finished this book but if the all the letters prove as interesting as the first few months I may even start again on January 1, 2013.  To look at a city over four centuries, day by day, through so many different eyes, is quite revealing.  If you are at all interested in what makes the heart of a great city beat, pick it up.

“I had a lot of dates but decided to stay home and dye my eyebrows.”

Andy Warhol, March 11, 1978

“The natives are very good people,  for when they saw that I would not remain, they supposed that I was afraid of their bows, and taking the arrows, they broke them in pieces, and threw them in the fire, etc..”

Henry Hudson, September 15, 1609

“During the night, New York was covered with snow.  Central Park is transformed.  The children have cast aside their roller skates and taken up skis; they rush boldly down the tiny hillocks.  Men remain bareheaded, but many of the young people stick fur puffs over their ears fixed to a half-circle of plastic that sits on their hair like a ribbon — it’s hideous.”

Simone De Beauvoir, February 4, 1947

Charlotte’s Web

Blogging about E. B. White on National Grammar Day put his all time classic Charlotte’s Web into my head and now I find I can not get it out.  This is one of the very first books I remember reading, and I can tell you exactly when and where I was when I received it.  Christmas morning, 18 degrees below zero, a new pair of pajamas, a fire in the grate and a brand new book by someone I had never heard of before in my then very short life.  Little did I know when I cracked the spine what awaited me.  Life.  Death.  Friendship.  And everything in between explained in the gentle tones of a talking spider hanging by E. B. White’s imaginary thread.  Needless to say I reread this classic this week and I can only say it stands the test of time.  Do not see the movie.  Do not buy the audio book.  Sit down and turn the pages slowly, stopping to linger over the beautiful illustrations by Garth Williams and open your mind and heart.  You will be rewarded.  I promise.  It is some book.

“You have been my friend. That in itself is a tremendous thing. I wove my webs for you because I liked you. After all, what’s a life, anyway? We’re born, we live a little while, we die. A spider’s life can’t help being something of a mess, with all this trapping and eating flies. By helping you, perhaps I was trying to lift up my life a trifle. Heaven knows anyone’s life can stand a little of that.”
― E.B. WhiteCharlotte’s Web

“Wilbur never forgot Charlotte. Although he loved her children and grandchildren dearly, none of the new spiders ever quite took her place in his heart. She was in a class by herself. It is not often that someone comes along who is a true friend and a good writer. Charlotte was both.”
― E.B. WhiteCharlotte’s Web

“Trust me, Wilbur. People are very gullible. They’ll believe anything they see in print.”
― E.B. WhiteCharlotte’s Web

3 Mysteries You Need To Solve

To craft a great mystery is truly an art. Those authors who can skillfully lead us astray while all the while they dangle the solution in front of our very eyes are few and far between.  These three authors are among my favorites although their detectives could not be more different.  A pompous but brilliant Belgian refugee.  A hard-boiled private eye with the tenacity of a bulldog. And an extremely wealthy Oxford graduate and British Lord.  Yet despite these differences they all have one thing in common.  They are a pleasure to match wits with and they succeed brilliantly where even the most careful reader is bound to fail.

“The impossible cannot have happened, therefore the impossible must be possible in spite of appearances.”
― Agatha ChristieMurder on the Orient Express

“He felt like somebody had taken the lid off life and let him see the works.”
― Dashiell HammettThe Maltese Falcon

“Even idiots occasionally speak the truth accidentally.”
― Dorothy L. SayersWhose Body?

Mapp & Lucia

There are six books in this series which chronicle the lives of two maliciously comic social climbers, Emmeline (Lucia) Lucas and Elizabeth Mapp.  The settings are the small English villages in the 1920’s and 30’s where seemingly no one has anything to do but spy on and gossip about one another all the day long.  The first three books introduce us to the characters singly.  The first, Queen Lucia, takes place in the village of Riseholme where, in her own head anyway, Lucia reigns supreme.  In the second book, we meet Miss Mapp in her home village of Tilling where without question she has no rival.  At long last, in the fourth book — Mapp & Lucia — they meet for the first time when the widowed Lucia moves to Tilling and the two worthy adversaries begin to battle head to head. Loathsome, but loveable, their razor-sharp tongues and keen wits know no bounds.  There is quite a supporting cast, all the characters you would expect to find in English village life, who are picked up and moved around by Mapp and Lucia like pawns on a chessboard.  No one is likeable, kind, or shows even the smallest shred of compassion.  They are brutal, and spiteful, and to be honest, the worst kind of mean.  And yet, I find myself reaching for this book every few years because, inexplicably,I have found that if I do not, I rather miss them.

“The hours of the morning between breakfast and lunch were the time which the inhabitants of Riseholme chiefly devoted to spying on each other.”
― E.F. BensonQueen Lucia