July 31, 2012

An Olympic Mistake, or Two

So I bet the headline made you think I'd go after some of the gaffes made by politicians or organizers at this week's London Olympics. Oh, and there have been plenty from which to choose.
But no.
I'm awarding a medal to NBC for its amazing (gaffe-filled) coverage of the sporting event.
First, the network decided not to air the opening ceremony's moment to honor the victims of the 7/7 bombings, which is England's 9/11.
Then, there have been the fabulous "color comments" by on-air hosts like Matt Lauer, who could only pull out an animated movie reference to talk about Madagascar.
That all you got?
Or how about when the channel showed a preview of Missy Franklin winning a gold medal...before it showed the coverage of the actual race.
But I'm going to give a gold medal to the online NBC team, who had a little issue with geography. Who knew that Australia is in Europe, right next to Germany? I also did not know that the Alps are located in Australia. Cause when I think of Alpine skiing, I immediately think Australia. G'day for snow, mate.
A little reading and fact checking (and removing two tiny letters) just might have solved this issue and put Austria back where it belongs. Where is an editor when you need one?
I should be careful talking about this, though. One critic had his Twitter account suspended after he posted a few choice words against NBC's coverage.
Sorry, NBC. Let's call it a day and just return to watching the live almost-live coverage. Back to you, Matt.

July 29, 2012

Bloody Good Cooking

I'm a fan of True Blood (although this season hasn't quite hit its stride for me yet), so a not-yet-released cookbook caught my eye on publishing lists. The title captures the same wink-and-a-nod humor of the series. It's True Blood: Eats, Drinks, and Bites from Bon Temps. For those of you not in the know, it's a vampire show.
Written by two of the producers, Gianna Sobol and Alan Ball, the cookbook takes a peek into the HBO series' most popular restaurants. For mere mortals, that would be Merlotte's, where you can get "Drinks to Die For" like Gran's Lemonade, or a Dead or Alive. 
For vittles, to use the Bon Temps Southern drawl, you could order some Up-in-Arms Biscuits and Gravy, or Crawfish Dip.
I'm surprised there are any recipes from Fangtasia, the vampire hangout on True Blood. Every time I see the bar, there are just lots of bottles of that all important red stuff that keeps vampires going. But perhaps the food is on offer for the "vamp tramps" that like to hang out with vampires. On the menu are things like Been There Done That, or I Wanna Snapper in Two. Yikes.
Definitely a buy for major fans, the cookbook will be released on Aug. 29. 

July 26, 2012

Review + Recipe: A Fun Trip to Crazy Town

Review: Let's Pretend This Never Happened
by Jenny Lawson
First, let me apologize. I'll tell you why later.
Okay, now on to the review.
If you like to snort your drink through your nose, this book is for you. If you ever wondered if your family is nuts, this book will provide the answer. And if you are looking for a new best friend, you're about to meet her. 
Oh yeah, Let's Pretend can do all of that and more. It's like the ginsu knife of the book world. So now how much would you pay? 
I entered Jenny Lawson World about a year ago, mainly through a chance Google search for "giant metal chicken" (don't ask, I don't remember why). The first five search results all pointed me to The Bloggess, where I spent about 10 hours straight reading every blog post from Jenny Lawson, including the one about Beyonce, a giant metal chicken. Beyonce is now so popular that she has her own Facebook page. Click here for proof.
Jenny herself is quite an online sensation, with 3 million or more visitors to The Bloggess every month and god knows how many thousands of Twitter followers.
In the last year, I have decided that Jenny and I are best friends ... she just doesn't know it yet. I've laughed when she told me about her latest purchases, I've rolled my eyes when her long-suffering husband Victor just didn't understand, and I've shed tears of sadness and laughter (sometimes at the same time) over her struggles with real life. If that isn't a best friend, what is?
In Let's Pretend This Never Happened, Jenny touches on some of her famous blog topics, but then out-ginsus herself (what? it's a word) with tales of her childhood, a taxidermy-obsessed dad, meeting her saint of a husband, and how she deals with depression. Caught you with that last one, right? Yes, Jenny is totally upfront with every aspect of who she is, and that's what makes her so damn likable.
I promise that at some point during this book you really will either spit something out of your mouth laughing or you will read bits to someone so many times that they will ask you to stop. The book is that funny.
And, handily, it will provide you with a big yardstick by which to measure your own family's nuttiness factor.
Once you've finished the book (and it won't take long), don't despair. You have years and years of Bloggess posts to catch up on, and many many characters to meet. Like Juanita, or Ermione Granger, or Copernicus-the-Homicidal Monkey, or the adorable Hunter S. Tomcat, or Hamlet Von Schnitzel (see cover of book).
You can also see how Jenny's stalking of Nathan Fillion and Wil Wheaton went. Or you can buy some of her products, like notebooks that say "People To Kill." Who wouldn't want that?
Now back to the apology - I am sorry that you are about to spend WAAAAY too much time on the computer. It's all my fault ... or Jenny's.
See? Real friends share the blame.

Recipe: Tomato Jam
So you know how I like to give you a recipe inspired by the reviewed book? For a macabre joke, I could have gone with schnitzel, but no. This one is perfect. Mainly because when I first served this to a friend she said "Tomatoes and jam? That's crazy talk." Exactly. Tomato jam is spicy and sweet, just like Jenny. Serve it with goat cheese and crackers (cause that's how we roll in the South), on hamburgers, or on a grilled cheese. Can it or refrigerate it, depending on your time. Oh, in the photo the tomato jam is center row on the right.
3 pounds of tomatoes
2 cups sugar
1/4 cup lemon or lime juice
1 tablespoon grated ginger
2-3 teaspoons red pepper flakes
1 teaspoon salt
3/4 teaspoon cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon cumin
2 tablespoons pectin
Chop up the tomatoes (other than the core and stem, of course). Combine them with all ingredients except pectin in a big pot. Put the heat on medium-high and let it all come to a slow boil, stirring it every few minutes. Then turn the heat down to simmer and let it cook for about 2.5 hours. It will start to thicken as it cooks. Be sure to stir it occasionally so it won't stick. You can read Jenny's blog during this part.
After 2.5 hours, check the consistency and add pectin if you need to thicken it. Can the jam in jars (find instructions online), put it in Tupperware in the fridge, or serve it as soon as it cools. Makes a good gift, too. Want to preserve more food? Buy this book.

July 25, 2012

47...48...49...50

I finished my 50th book this week...I think.
At the beginning of the year, I joined the 50 Book Pledge online, an event started by Savvy Reader. It's about making reading a priority, and you know that's a movement I can totally get behind.
One tiny little issue, though: I read really really fast, and I am forgetful. Not a great combo.
To help me along when I started on this little venture, I decided to keep track of the books I read on Pinterest, a cool virtual pinboard site. You can see my 50 Book Pledge board here
That would have been a terrific tool...if I could remember to pin the book covers to the board.
Oh well, best-laid plans and all.
I do know I have read at least 50 books. I probably read a few more than that. And I'll keep reading, too, of course. So we'll see how I end the year.
What was the 50th book (give or take)? David Fulmer's Lost River, a spicy gumbo of 1913 New Orleans, shady characters, and dark deeds.

July 24, 2012

Myers-Briggs by the Book

Have you ever done a Myers-Briggs test? That's the personality test that is supposed to classify you into one of 16 types, made up of four distinct groups. There's introvert vs. extrovert,
intuitive vs. sensing, thinking vs. feeling, and judging vs. perceiving.
I am usually an INTJ (The Strategist) or an INFJ (The Protector). I really ride the line on that thinking-vs-feeling thing. And before you start emailing me, yes I am an introvert. It isn't about how you present yourself to the world, it's where and how you get your energy. I recharge my batteries either alone or in small groups.
There are lots of ways to find out what your MB type is, so Google it and take one of the tons of online tests. This is important for the book angle we're going to talk about next. So go find out what you are and then come back. I'll wait...
Okay, now that we have that out of the way, Huffington Post has provided a handy guide that tells you what book characters most closely match your personality type. Are you a Huck Finn or a Sherlock Holmes?
Not surprisingly, I am either like Elizabeth Bennett from Pride & Prejudice or like Jo March from Little Women. There is also a handy guide that offers career choices. According to that, I should be a scientist or an artist. Wow. That's quite a range. I did buy a watercolor kit this weekend, so clearly I am on the right path.
This is obviously a fabulous test that should be taken incredibly seriously. Well, unless you are an ESTP. The HuffPost item then says you are like the character from American Psycho. Sorry about that.
Here is the link, so spend the rest of the day looking up your type and those of all your friends and family.
You're welcome.

July 21, 2012

Typo Time

Typos make me crazy and give me such a laugh at the same time. The one below, provided by my friend Shannon, is especially frustrating because it appeared at a National Collegiate Athletic Association event. Did you see the word Collegiate in that name? Sigh.
This would have been better if they had spelled it Hotlanta.












Seen any good typos lately? Send them my way!

July 19, 2012

Women of a Certain Age

Maybe it's the excitement over the upcoming Great Gatsby movie, but there seems to be a renewed interest in the turbulent Jazz Age that fell between the two World Wars.
During that time, class systems shifted and were redefined, the role of women in society was changing (too slowly for some), and the shock of war was still reverberating. That's perfect fodder for some engrossing reads, as the three books below prove.
Today also happens to be the anniversary of the first convention for women's rights, held in in 1848, so it is especially appropriate timing. Enjoy!

Rules of Civility
by Amor Towles
When George Washington was a schoolboy, he wrote an essay titled 100 Rules of Civility, meant to give guidance on issues of morality and etiquette. That text provides not the just the title, but the essence of Towles' book. It's a look at Manhattan society of the 1930s, when rules were changing and women were taking stronger roles in the workplace and in their personal relationships.
The lines between rich and poor were blurred as so many lost their fortunes and found themselves on the wrong side of the tracks. In Rules, Katey and Evelyn are smart and sassy girls who have moved to the big city for jobs and more glamorous lives. They make their way through jazz bars and fancy neighborhoods, discovering along the way that money really can't buy you everything.

The Chaperone
by Laura Moriarty
It seemed such a simple thing – just chaperone the young Louise Brooks (soon to be known around the world as the "It Girl") on a trip from Wichita to New York for a chance to join a prestigious dance troupe. But the older (and fictional) Cora Carlisle, who has her own reasons for going to New York, doesn't know what she's getting into. It's the summer of 1922 and Cora finds herself in a non-stop tug-of-war with Louise, from how to speak, to the way she dresses, to how she interacts with men. Louise is on her way to defining the flapper persona, as women her age loosened their corsets and their morals. Cora begins her journey in a state of shock and confusion as she tries to keep up with the younger girl, but by the end of the book she learns that although change can be frightening, it can also be incredibly liberating.

The Great Silence
by Juliet Nicolson
Looking back at the two years between 1918 and 1920, Nicolson highlights the huge shifts in society for Great Britain as it tries to recover after a horrific war. Using a fascinating collection of historical documents, letters, and journals (including those of Queen Mary), we see a country try to regroup and put the pieces back together. But things can never be as they were before – women have been in the workplace and don't want to readily give their jobs back, the servant class and the ruling class has found itself on an even playing field that at least one side wants to maintain, and the weakened economy has become quite an equalizer. The Great Silence is a terrific follow-up to Nicolson's first book The Perfect Summer, which I reviewed here.

July 15, 2012

Rebel, Rebel

Today is Richard Russo's birthday. Even if you're unfamiliar with the Pulitzer Prize winner's name, I'll bet you're familiar with some of his work, like the novel-turned-miniseries Empire Falls for which he won the Pulitzer.
My favorite Russo work is actually Straight Man, which delves into the politics of university faculty and turns that dry-as-dirt premise into one of the funniest books I've read.
But that isn't why I'm celebrating Russo's birthday today. I want to celebrate the statement he recently made by refusing to allow his latest novel to be available on any e-reader. He's probably one of the few writers who will take that stand, and I have to applaud it.
Russo says that he doesn't want online sellers like Amazon.com to "control the world," and that he wants to support book publishers and local book stores. It's a twist on the "buy local" movement.
He isn't the only author to go out on a limb with this idea - Stephen King has said his next book also will only be published in print.
I'm not naive enough to think that electronic publishing is going to be affected in any way by a statement like Russo's, but I do think that it might renew appreciation for printed materials, and for the retailers and publishers who stand behind them.
To read the full story, click here.