I just finished Black Water Rising by Attica Locke. First time novelist but a writer. Locke has written screenplays for all the major movie houses including a mini-series she is working on now for HBO. Black Water Rising, a pretty good book but not a great book, has all the makings of a big blockbuster movie.
The plot is a tad hard to follow at the onset but comes together in the end. Locke probably doesn't edit screenplays but writes them. Her timing on this book is perfect. The content is something that hits all the high notes that are relevant today.
African-Americans who were radicals in the 60's and 70's embroiled in the Civil Rights Movement grow up and sweep all that under the covers. One actually becomes a mayor. Another, the main character, Jay, is barely eking out a living lawyer. He carries his demons around with him. There is a present day union strike against racism and the working man, there is a murder that is trying to be covered up (lets murder anyone who witnessed it) and those two themes tie up quite nicely in the end. Big business is corrupt, they have Government in their palm and oil is tied to everything. The everyman might win in the end and open up the can of worms that everyone knows about but doesn't really acknowledge. Like the Bush administration as everything appears to be boiling up after the fact although we all knew what the American public wasn't being told, didn't we? The black water bubbling on the outer edges of Houston is in the book. Black water is oil, Texas style.
The book becomes more of a page turner about 1/3 of the way in. I liked it and loved the brilliance of the timing of the book. Will be huge in paperback. Bound to be at lots of airport bookstores. Glad I stuck with it. Waiting for the movie to see who the casting director chooses.
The Talkhouse is one of those venues you just have to love. Regardless that the majority of the bands that play there are older and past their prime and charge ridiculous prices for the tickets, it is a old time local bar with a stage. I particularly love the huge picture of the Stephen Talkhouse behind the stage.
Last night, Diane Birch played at the Talkhouse. In full disclosure, S-Curve Records, who is the genius behind Birch is a record label that we are investors in. This is the second time we have seen Diane perform. You can see that in the past few months that she is much more comfortable on stage. She is a musician and getting used to the spotlight isn't always seamless. She chatted with the audience and really rocked out on the last song which was a Tom Petty cover.
It was fun to go, see a bunch of friends there, drink a few drinks and listen to music. It is one of those "must do" places that we try to get to at least once a summer, regardless of the music.
I have blogged about my friend before who designs cards. It is hilarious to read the cards she posts daily because many of them are around a recent conversation we had. Come to think of it, we have been having a continual conversation for about 11 years. This particular card made me laugh out loud.
The fashion blog world has exploded over the past couple of years. Some days, I read a handful and sometimes I go for a couple of weeks before plunging in. Yet, I do try and read the Sartorialist daily. Scott Schuman is the Sartorialist and I actually believe he has been a catalyst for the fashion blog world today.
He has an incredible eye for style. He takes street photos of people in mostly Florence, Milan, Stockholm, Paris and New York City. Those cities appear to be his mainstays. He has taken his eye and his camera and used the medium of the Internet to show his readers a daily snapshot of the beat on the street. Genius. His influence has transcended across other blogs and fashion magazines. His approach of something new every day is fresh and simple yet innovative. As more and more of us are becoming the journalists of today in 140 characters ( Twitter ) as we post the latest restaurant, what entree is the best, who we saw on the street, a news item or a commentary as model comes down the runway, The Sartorialist is right in tune ( actually before his time as the blog has been around for awhile ) as the people on the street are the makers of the style of the moment.
Certainly taking his blog cross platform would be a huge score and it just happened. He has come out with a book, a limited edition, which is a compilation of the photos from his blog and commentary from Schuman on why he was drawn to that particular photo. I got the book and have enjoyed leafing through it.
20 years from now, when I pull that book off the shelf, the photos will probably be more revealing about these times than an old September Vogue. That alone is a statement of the times we live in and where we are going.
This weekend, we have a seriously full house. An extra 5 kids and my Mom. All 8 kids went water skiing and tubing for a few hours while my Mom and I made dins. We went pretty basic. Chickens, big tossed salad with veggies, corn, sliced mozzarella and the grilled banana/chocolate combo for dessert.
Take a whole banana with the skin intact, split it down the middle, stuff with chocolate of choice and wrap in tin foil. Put it on the grill just before serving for about 5 minutes. The skin gets black and chocolate melts. Open up the tin foil over a bowl of ice cream and scoop the banana and chocolate right in. You really can't beat it.
I decided the easiest way to make 3 chickens was to cover them with Old Bay Seasoning, get 3 large Coors beers (24 ounce variety in a can ) and cook them on the grill.
Season the chickens, truss them put ( makes life easier ). Turn on the grill. Open up each beer, shove the can up the carcass of the chicken, shut the grill and let it go. When you remove the chickens, use a pair of mitt as you don't want to screw up your beautiful crispy skin. Takes about 45 minutes to an hour.
A reader of this blog sent me 2 types of coffee beans from Seattle. Beyond nice. It is really amazing how different each coffee bean tastes. So far I have tasted the Cafe Vita which is incredibly smooth and rich. I really really like it. Have not moved into the Vivace yet but that is next up in the coffee bean queue. What is the best thing of all, is everything can be ordered online!
This is enough paella for 40 people. I got really carried away. It takes longer than you think and should sit for a while before serving. We were all so hungry by the time I was done, that the chicken didn't really cook through because I was impatient. Patience is truly a virtue in cooking as in life but it is generally not my normal state of mind although I am working on it.
A few things I have learned as I have made paella several times. This time I used lobster tails that had been flash frozen and defrosted them earlier in the day. Before adding them to the mixture, I cut them into 3 pieces and it made for a much easier paella. I also fried up the chorizo earlier in the day, half cooked the chicken ( then put it back in the refrigerator ), sauteed the veggies and rice and then let it hang out on the stove until I was ready to begin. I also mixed together the broth, clam juice and saffron on the stove, warmed it up and let it sit with a top on afterward until ready to use.
The recipe below serves about 6/8 people. As I said, I made way too much but I will say the leftovers over the past few days have been a serious treat. Just to give you an idea how much I made, I used 2 lbs. of rice.
3 cups of chicken broth
2 cups clam juice
large pinch of saffron ( use a little more than you think)
2 large vidallia onions chopped
one red pepper chopped into pieces
one green pepper chopped into pieces
one yellow pepper chopped into piece
8 italian tomatoes chopped into pieces (make sure to squeeze the juice out before chopped)
Large piece of chorizo cut into round pieces (about 1 lb.)
6 chicken thighs
1 lb of large shrimp completely unpeeled including the tail
1 lb of clams (about 8 or more if you really like clams)
1 lb of mussels
3 lobster tails
1 lb of calamari sliced
1 lb. aborrio rice
1 lb. peas
I highly recommend using a paella pan or a big pan that is wider than it is taller. It makes a difference.
Cover the bottom of the pan with olive oil. Brown the chorizo and then remove with a slotted spoon. I also drained the oil and just wiped the pan down with a paper towel before doing the chicken. Otherwise, chorizo takes over.
Add some more olive oil, and then brown the chicken pieces until almost cooked through and take out ( 7 minutes roughly). Remember, everything should go back to the refrigerator, including the defrosted lobster tails until you are ready to use them.
Saute the onions and peppers together until soft in the pan. Add the rice, continue mixing over the heat until completely combined. At this point, you can let this hang out until you are ready to put the whole paella together.
When you are ready, heat the veggies back up again. Add 4 cups of the liquid mixture and bring to a boil, turn down to simmer and cover. In about 10 minutes, peek in and mix. More liquid might be needed.
In a separate pan ( again a deep frying pan ), add another cup or so of the liquid. Bring to boil, then simmer and add in the clams. Put the top on for a few minutes until the clams open. Then remove the clams and add to the rice mixture. Do the same with the mussels, remove, then the lobster, remove. Last is the shrimp and calamari which I put in together for only about a minute, remove and put in the pan. Now all the seafood is in the paella, add back the chorizo, the chicken, the tomatoes, the frozen peas and the liquid you used for cooking the seafood. At one point you might have had to use the one cup that was still set aside, if not just pour it into the paella. Now mix the paella throughly, put the lid on, simmer covered for about 8 minutes or until the chicken is completely cooked through.
Certainly over the past 20 years I have gone through an education in food and cooking from many cultures. Most of us have as the culture of food in America has changed dramatically. 15 years ago, we had moved to the suburbs and I was beyond lonely. I was introduced to someone ( from a friend in the city ) who had also just made the journey. We became fast friends and are still great friends today. Her husbands family owned and ran a Greek diner in lower Manhattan when he was growing up. His mother is an incredible cook. I was at my friends house around Greek Easter and she offered me a piece of Galatoboureko that her mother-in-law had made. I had no idea what it was. I took a bite and then without pause, took a slice. I still remember it today and thinking to myself, omigod, this is worth every calorie. I made it for a Mediterranean party we went to this past weekend. It doesn't hold a candle to my friends mother-in-laws Galatoboureko but it tastes damn good.
8 egg yolks
8 tbsp. sugar
6 cups milk
9 tblsp. corn starch
1 cup heavy cream
1 tbsp. vanilla
1/2 lb. phyllo dough ( buy it from the freezer section)
9 by 13 pan, buttered ( preferably glass but we were going to a party so I used a tin )
1 cup of melted sweet unsalted butter
3 1/2 cups of sugar
3 1/2 cup boiling water
1 tsp. fresh squeeze lemon juice
Do the syrup early on because it needs to be completely cool when the Galatoboureko comes out of the oven.
Whip the egg yolks and sugar until pale and thick ( if you aren't sure if it is pale enough, continue for another minute). This takes about 4-5 minutes and use an electric mixer. We actually used a hand held mixer. Pour this into a sauce pan ( one big enough to hold 8 cups liquid ). Warm the milk separately. I used a large glass measuring cup and warmed it in the microwave. The sauce pan should be over a low heat. Add in the milk and corn starch, alternating between the two of them until completely incorporated. Keep stirring. I use a whisk while I alternated between the two ingredients and then changed to a wooden spoon while we stirred. It takes a while, maybe 7-8 minutes and eventually this mixture will become thick like pastry cream. The consistency is almost like a ketchup. Take this off the heat, mix in the cream and vanilla.
In the 9 x 13 pan, take half of the 1/2 lb. of phyllo dough (defrosted) and use a pastry brush with the melted butter and cover each piece individually (be generous) and then layer one over another into the pan. I actually cut the phyllo dough in half because it was too long.
Then pour in the pastry cream. Where I screwed up is not using my gut. My pan was only 12" long instead of 13 and the pastry cream was a tad too high and I should have not used the whole thing. Obviously not thinking, you should trust your instincts. After the pastry cream is poured in over the phyllo, take the other half of the phyllo and do the same thing until the pastry cream is completely covered. Now take a serrated knife and very gently cut the top layer into 5 strips. Helps the mixture breath in the oven.
Just a note on phyllo dough. It is very delicate. Keep it in the refrigerator until right before using and use quickly. Be gentle. Keep the half you aren't using in the refrigerator until you are ready to do the top half. It dries outs.
Bake at 375 for about 40-45 minutes or until golden. Pour the syrup over this when it comes out of the oven, which caramelizes the top. Watch out, there is a lot of syrup and it ends up overflowing. I did not use the whole mixture although I probably should have.
Light in calories, not but truly divine.
Fred turned 48 this past week. Strange how that happens. In many ways, I still think of Fred as 21. For his birthday, we had people over and made 2 cakes. One was a four layer vanilla cake with chocolate frosting. The other was a lemon cake. The cakes were not as light as I would have liked. There is definitely something about the salt air out at the beach that affects the baking. I have figured out the tart/pie thing but not the cake. It certainly didn't stop anyone from digging in and I really believe that the recipe is good.
Vanilla Cake (for two layers - I did this twice for the four layer - doubling this is probably not a good idea)
2 sticks unsalted butter, room temperature
2 9 inch round cake pans
1 1/2 cups flour
1 1/2 cups cake flour ( not self-rising )
1 tbsp. baking powder
1/2 tsp kosher salt
1 3/4 cups sugar
4 large eggs
2 tsps. vanilla extract
1 1/4 cups of milk
This recipe cake straight out of Martha Stewarts Baking Book which is been a great tool this summer.
Preheat the oven to 350. Butter the cake pans and line the bottoms with parchment paper ( that is really key). Sift the flours, baking powder and salt together.
In a bowl with an electric mixer, beat the butter and sugar until fluffy, about 4 minutes. Then add in the eggs, one at a time, incorporating each separately before adding in the next one. Add in the vanilla. Then on low speed, alternate between the flour mixture and the milk.
Put the batter into the pans, evenly and bake for about 30 minutes or until you can stick a tooth pick to the bottom and it comes out clean.
Let cool, completely.
Dark Chocolate Frosting ( this was a real winner )
1 lb. semisweet chocolate, chopped
6 tbsp. Dutch-process cocoa powder
6 tbsp. boiling water
3 sticks unsalted butter, room temperature
1/2 cup confectioners sugar
pinch of kosher salt
Melt the chocolate in a bowl, over simmering water and then let cool completely. Take the cocoa powder and pour the boiling water over it and stir until dissolved.
With an electric mixer ( paddle attachment ), beat the butter, confectioners sugar and salt until fluffy - 4 minutes. Add the melted chocolate, low speed, until combined (2 minutes) and then beat in the cocoa mixture. Voila.
For a 4 layer cake make the according changes - 24 ounces chocolate, 4 1/2 sticks butter, 3/4 cup confectioners sugar, 1/2 cup plus 1 tbsp. of cocoa and boiling water.
When you put the cake together, it is really important to cut off the top of each cake (except the top layer) to make the cake top even. Use a serrated knife, be careful and wait until the cake is cool. Sometimes you only need to cut off a little bit to make it flat, sometimes more sometimes less.
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Meg Wolitzer: The Interestings: A Novel
Wolitzer writes about a group of camp friends who all come from different walks of life (some on scholarship) as their friendships continue through their mid-50s. At the beginning the story seems trite but as you continue to read there is a lot of be said. The story is sticking with me. She makes the case that everything that happens to you from your childhood makes an impact on who you become or don't become. Worthy read.
Elizabeth Strout: The Burgess Boys: A Novel
Strouts last book won a Pulitzer. She focuses on family issues. I enjoyed this book much more than Olive Ketteredge which I found utterly depressing. This book follows two brothers and a sister who live in the shadow of their fathers accidental death. Like most siblings, all have turned out very different yet they are connected. I did not love any of the characters, like her last book, yet as The Burgess Boys moves forward and memories are revealed, it is an interesting perspective on human character.
Tamara Shopsin: Mumbai New York Scranton: A Memoir
Great book. A witty spare inventive personal diary of Tamara journey from Indian to New York to Scranton. Really really enjoyed the book.
Michael Lavigne: The Wanting: A Novel
An incredible book that tells the human side of the many layered issues in the Middle East. From immigrating to Israel from Moscow, to being a victim of a suicide bomber yet surviving, to being pulled into an Israeli radical group. Each character is connected. Very layered well written book. Powerful
Alessandro Piol: Tech and the City: The Making of New York's Startup Community
A history of the Internet that I lived through. Great job of recording what happened.
Amity Gaige: Schroder: A Novel
Not sure how much I loved this book. A father loses his child in divorce and decides to kidnap his own daughter. He is not a stable person but he obviously loves his daughter. His own childhood has made him a disconnected human being. An interesting journey but not sure I'd recommend.
Janice Steinberg: The Tin Horse: A Novel
a good novel that not only tells the tale of another dysfunctional jewish family in the early 30's but interweaves pieces of los angeles history throughout the book.