Nonfiction November and Two Backlist Memoirs

Its Nonfiction November, and while I think of myself as an omnivorous reader, I do mainly read fiction.  All different kinds of fiction, but mainly fiction.  But this November I wanted to take a minute to recommend two out of the box nonfiction reads that I recently devoured.  Neither are new releases, so it might be pretty ho hum for some of you.  But my list is ever growing, and every once in a while I just need something different.  And I did enjoy both of these reads immensely, even though they were quite different.

My Life in France by Julia Child
My Life in France by Julia Child

My Life in France by Julia Child was published posthumously, though she began work on it before she died.  As my husband and I are planning a trip to Paris next week, and as I am basing this trip all around the food, this seemed like the perfect book.  And I must say, that while it did lack a bit of spit and polish in some areas, particularly the later years, I found it highly entertaining.  I think you have to be interested in food and food history, though I’d also say anyone interested in general history of the 20th century would find a lot to appreciate in this novel.  Ms. Child certainly conquered a lot, and the sheer length of time and effort she put in to her seminal cookbooks is almost as impressive as some of the recipes.  In the book she describes a life changing lunch when she lands in France in 1948.  A lunch of sole meuniere.  I had a similar life changing fish dish when I first visited New Orleans – Redfish Meuniere.  So I, like many people, feel a kindred spirit with the Lady of the Ladle.

 

Three Bees.

 

 

 

 

 

Bossypants by Tina Fey

The second book is Tina Fey’s Bossypants.  I know, a comedic book.  Honestly? Tina Fey?  Me? I never really watched her on SNL, except for that amazing Sarah Palin showdown, and until recently I hadn’t seen even a single episode of 30 Rock.  But Netflix being Netflix, and binge watching being binge watching, my husband and I recently embarked on 30 Rock.  Which made me interested in reading Bossypants for the first time.  I read it in a few hours, actually, and it was entertaining.  Nothing earth shaking, but entertaining.  I think it would make a great plane read.  I do think there were elements of the book she could have developed to be pithier, and more of a statement.  But that’s not the book she wanted to write, and the one she did write is pretty damn entertaining.

Three Bees.

 

 

 

Do you read nonfiction?  What’s on your current nonfiction to-be-read list?  Did you add anything to your list for Nonfiction November?

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Hog & Hominy: Where to Eat in Memphis

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Chargrilled oysters.

You might find it strange that I’m posting about eating at Hog & Hominy, a restaurant famous for its butchery.  It does, in fact, have Hog in the name.  And I’m a pescetarian.  So I don’t eat Hog.  I did, however, have a delightful meal here, and you’d be remiss not to give it a try if you’re in Memphis.  I am far from the first to be impressed by this restaurant, as evidenced by all the reviews they link on their website.  Southern Living describes the restaurant as being “airy and modern, with country boy swagger.”  Hog and Hominy is the brain child of chefs Andrew Hudman and Michael Ticer.  The chefs have known each other since childhood, and have focused this restaurant on Southern Italian food.  The food is designed to be served family style, with an emphasis on small plates, but they also offer pizzas, and, at lunch, a one way burger.  You can finish your meal off with your choice of three different kinds of pie, and house made gelato.  The menu is creative, innovative, and delicious, whether you go in for the whole hog or not.

 

And the atmosphere is lovely.  Fresh, light wood, and even though it was full when we arrived the space felt open.  You can see right into the kitchen, and the place smells delicious.  We started out with a plate of scrumptious chargrilled oysters and a plate of crab claws, swimming in this amazing garlicky lime butter.  If I had to choose, that’s the dish I’d go back for.  My husband and I each had a different pizza, and our friend had the shrimp and grits with tasso ham.  I eyed his grits jealously.  If not for the tasso, I’d of downed those.

 

Wild Mushroom Pizza with Fresh Arugula

The pizzas were ok.  I must say I’ve had better pizza.  And I’ve certainly had worse.  But dipping the pizza crust in what was left of that garlic lime butter? Back away, because I will NOT share.

 

And dessert.  Dessert was pie.  They had three kinds, we ordered all three, and they were all delightful.  My favorite was the peanut butter banana pie.  I know, you’re thinking, so rich!  But it really wasn’t.  Somehow, they combine mascarpone with the peanut butter, and put that on top of delicious banana pudding, and oh my, I want seconds.

 

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Peanut Butter and Banana Pie

If I had one complaint, it was the service.  Our server seemed disappointed we weren’t taking advantage of their impressive cocktail program.  It wasn’t that I didn’t want to.  But we had been at a conference for several days (insert hangover here) and we had a six plus hour drive back after this lunch.  As much as I wanted to see what they were up to with their cocktails, I couldn’t.  Which somehow resulted in her wanting to rush us out of the restaurant.  She tried to take away our plates before we’d finished three times.  We visibly still had food left on the plate, I had food in my mouth, and she tried to take it away.  Really, she got between me and my garlic lime butter, and she’s luckly she didn’t lose a hand.  Its that good.  But her service wasn’t.  She wasn’t rude – we just had the feeling that lunch was over and we were taking up non-alcohol buying space.  Our check was still over $100, though, at lunch, so I feel like this was a bit over the top.

 

I’d still go back though.  I’d check it out for dinner, and if I ate meat, I’d check out their sister restaurant Porcellino’s and their butchery as well.  Because creative, innovative, and exciting food makes me happy.  So the next time I’m in Memphis, just remember not to get between me and my garlic lime butter!

Goat Cheese Grits with Caramelized Onions, Shiitake Mushrooms, Kale, Cherry Tomatoes, and Balsamic

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Polenta (or Grits) with Goat Cheese, Caremelized Onions, Kale, Shiitake Mushrooms, and Cherry Tomatoes, with Balsamic

So I spent the better part of last week at a conference in Memphis.  Insert exhaustion here.  I ate somewhere fabulous, and I’ll post later in the week about that.  Mondays, though, I try to post a recipe or meal idea (because let’s face it, I’m not a chef, just a hungry girl), so I thought I would share what I made for dinner last night.  The aforementioned conference had left me feeling drained, and while I had big ambitions of making something more intricate, I decided to stick with something relatively simple.  Something warm and warming, but nutritious.  So I made goat cheese grits, or polenta, if you will, topped with caramelized onions, shitake mushrooms, kale, and cherry tomatoes.  I topped it all with a balsamic drizzle. It was delicious, and it only took about 30 minutes to make, and bear in mind, much of that was spent refilling my wine glass ;).

I just wanted to take a minute and talk about the difference, or lack thereof, between grits and polenta.  Many people have told me they hate grits, only to tell me they adore polenta.  Really, the difference between the two is minimal.  You can have bad grits and bad polenta.  I have turned many people around on grits by making them creamy grits and calling it polenta.  My secret is no secret – just add cream and cheese.  But I don’t go overboard with it, a little goes a long way.

Ingredients:

1 Cup of Grits or Polenta, Prepare According to Package Directions
1 Medium Onion, sliced into strips
1 Cup of Shiitake Mushrooms, Sliced
1 Cup of Cherry Tomatoes, Halved

½ Cup of Goat Cheese

1-2 Tablespoons of Cream or Half and Half

Salt and Pepper to Taste

For the toppings, I first caramelized the onions and set them aside.  Then I sautéed the shitake mushrooms until soft, and added those to the waiting onions.  Then I sautéed the kale, and at the end I added about a cup of cherry tomatoes.  I did add my balsamic at this point, and the result was a slightly smoky, tangy flavor I couldn’t get enough of.  Seriously, we ate it all, and with no regrets.  Technically that portion should serve four, but hey, we were hungry, so please don’t judge 😉

Make grits, or polenta, according to package directions.  I prefer Bob’s Red Mill Corn Grits/Polenta these days, at least when I can’t get a fresh grind locally, but you can use any.  White or yellow, doesn’t really matter.  When grits are just made, stir in a bit of cream or half and half a tablespoon at a time until you see the consistency/creaminess level you like.  Then add cheese, and stir through until it melts.  Top with your sautéed ingredients, and drizzle with balsamic.  Or, if you prefer, add balsamic just at the end of the saute like I did.

Jasper Milking our Travel Guilt for all it's worth.
Jasper Milking our Travel Guilt for all it’s worth.

The result is a tasty hot meal, that leaves you plenty of time for the rest of your evening.  We spent hours planning our trip to Paris next week and cuddling our animals, who missed us, it seems.  See Jasper here to the right, soaking up some love. The ingredients can be changed according to your heart’s desire, or, as in my case usually, whatever I have on hand and need to use up.  What toppings will you try?

Elena Ferrante and The Neapolitan Series, or, Four Books about Women, Friendship, and the Mafia that I couldn’t Put Down

The first book in the Neapolitan Series
The first book in the Neapolitan Series

The first time I heard about the Elena Ferrante series was from my friend Nancy, at writer’s conference in chilly MInneapolis.  I have a lot of friends who like to read, but I have few friends who like to read as much as I do.  My friend who blogs over at In The Garden of Eva does, and my friend Nancy does.  And while everyone’s literary tastes are different, I knew I could take a recommendation from Nancy seriously, and not because she’s an English Professor, but because she’s a true reader.  She’s always reading something, like me, and we have traded recommendations before, and I’ve never been disappointed.  These are good friends to have!  I

But when I pulled up the first book I thought the cover looked terrible.  Like something published in the sixties.  I thought it looked vintage.  The books have all come out relatively recently, though, and the last one (also with a terrible cover at least in the US release) was just released this fall.  I read the first one, though, and was absolutely hooked.  I quickly plowed through all three of the books that were out, and eagerly awaited the fourth, which I then quickly plowed through.  And between reading the first three and the fourth I discovered that there’s quite a story behind the author too.

First, though, the books.  They tell trace the lives of two women in Naples, beginning in the 50’s, and tracking all the way through to roughly present day.  The women face being forced into marriage at a very young age, poverty, romance, violence, communism, childbirth, motherhood, communism and political strife, and more.  Every event in their lives seems to be overshadowed by “the neighborhood.” The neighborhood becomes  a dystopian community constantly overshadowed by mafiosos who secretly, and not so secretly, pull the strings of everyone around them.  There is also a thread of mental illness woven throughout that is both sad and chilling.  The books have a rags to riches element.  There is a lot going on in these books, and its true they are purported to be more than vaguely autobiographical.

The relationship between the women is tempestuous.  Its difficult.  But it perseveres.  It is, in fact, the one constant for the main character, despite the fact that at many times throughout the books she tries to remove it, to extricate it from her life.  She never succeeds, entirely, and the books are the better for it.

Its difficult to pinpoint exactly what made these books so compelling for me.  Of course, I had a friend like that, like most women do.  Our friendship did not survive this way, though, and it seems to me that these women, legitimately, faced every ill and evil the 20th century had to throw at them.  And the only way they survived it was through their bond.  Even though they both resisted it, at times.  It raises interesting questions about femininity, and the sociological construct of female relationships.

It also raises questions as the author herself is mysterious, doesn’t do publicity, and writes under an assumed name.

The fourth and final book in The Neapolitan Series
The fourth and final book in The Neapolitan Series

Though these books have taken over the international publishing world with their mystery, simplicity, and utter irresistibility, the author herself remains a mystery.  I might say more about this at a later time, but an author resisting fame, in fact actively hiding from it, is intriguing.  I am sure its helped propel the books to even greater notoriety, as many have written about the strange phenomenon of the author who doesn’t wish to be known.  Not that she’s entirely invisible – you can read an interview with her here in Vanity Fair.

It is a beautiful series, both dark and light, complex, thought provoking, and, for me, absolutely riveting.  I think it’s good for readers of historical fiction, fans of literary leaning fiction, and anyone who’s ever had a best friend.  Or been interested in the mafia.  Or Italy.  Or….  You get my drift.

I’ve decided I’m going to rate books here for you, though I always struggle with this on Goodreads and Amazon.  I almost never definitively think a book is 5 stars.  And what exactly is the difference between a 2 star and a 3 star rating?  So I’m going to try to come up with my own rubric.  I’m going to give them bees!  Because we like bees here.  I’ll post the rubric below, but you can also find it on our review policy page.

0 Bees: Couldn’t get in to the book, and/or didn’t finish it.
1 Bee: I didn’t like this book — felt more like work than reading for pleasure.
2 Bees: This book had something I liked, but didn’t quite fulfill its promise.  It was missing something, or, it didn’t play out the way I thought it would
3 Bees: This book was wasn’t great, but it wasn’t bad. I would probably not read it again, but it might suit certain readers.
4 Bees: This book was lovely.
5 Bees: I loved this book and will likely read it again.  It has artistic merit.
5+ Bees, Now We’re Buzzing: A new favorite, and one I will unabashedly recommend.  Its not only enjoyable, I think it has real literary and/or artistic merit.

So what does the Elena Ferrante Neapolitan Series get?  A solid 5 Bees!

Raspberry, Turkish Honey, and Chia Seed Jam

imageOver the summer I fell in love with this Blueberry Chia Seed Jam recipe from Vegetarian Times.  I’ve also made this with blackberries, peaches, strawberries, and, now, raspberries.  While it works with all, it works best with berries.  This weekend I made Lemon Ricotta Pancakes that I topped with a bit of sweetened ricotta (basically cannoli filling, only not quite as sweet) and this raspberry jam and it was divine.  I use a bit more maple syrup, or in this case honey, than they specify, but not much more. I was playing with sweet, tart, and creamy with this brunch dish, and this jam was both sweet and tart with about 2-3 tablespoons of Turkish Honey instead of maple syrup.

I frequently use a bit of orange zest instead of vanilla bean, but its delicious with vanilla bean as well.  I wanted to shareimage this recipe because I think its very versatile, and I love that it has no added sugar.  I like getting to reuse old mason jars, like this one from oh-my-god-its-so-delicious Humble Bagel in New Orleans.   You can also make it in less than ten minutes, freeze it, or, as I do, use it up in less than a week.  Its super easy to make, and a lovely topping for just about anything from ice cream, to pancakes, to peach tarts.

 

What variations can you think of?