grazing with grazie

Stacy Adimando is a cook and an Italian, so she knows a thing or two about food. As she traveled through Italy, tasting the food her relatives made for her and in the restaurants they took her to, she discovered the ingenuity and possibilities of antipasti. Italian restaurants in America tend to use antipasti as a first course, before pasta or meats (or both), but Adimando saw the possibilities of using it as a framework for a meal, especially when entertaining.

Piatti is her cookbook, a combination of ideas and recipes to use for the shareable dishes and a different way to look at cooking at eating in general. She makes quite a case for grazing instead of sitting down to a meal, to setting a table with a medley of homemade and store-bought, vegetables and meats, soft textures as well as crunchy, and finger foods as well as dishes you’d need a knife and fork for. More than just a fancy cheese and sausage board, Adimando’s idea of these small plates offer a tantalizing array of bites for all taste buds.

She starts with good advice in general about pickled vegetables, salty meats, pantry staples like anchovies and nuts, and most importantly, plenty of good wine and breads. There are recipes for pickling and for a garlic confit that makes my mouth water, and for homemade crackers and breadsticks and crostini. She then goes to look at the possibilities that open up during each of the four seasons.

Winter includes a Citrus Salad, Roasted Shallots, Stuffed Mussels, Garlic Knots, Eggplant Parmigiana, and Thinly Sliced Tuscan Pork Loin. Spring brings a Broccolini Frittata, Salmon Rillettes, White Wine Clams, Baby Root Vegetables and Ricotta Tartlets, Pistachio Pesto, and Nanny’s Veal Braciolini. Summer’s offerings include Roasted Cherries, Grilled Apricots, Olive Oil Cornmeal Cake, Shrimp and Cherry Tomato Fra Diavolo, and Grilled Lobster Tails. Fall’s recipes comprise Potato Salad with Warm Figs, Seared Mushrooms, Braised Pork, Mortadella and Fontina Slab Pie, Tri-Color Beets, Mini “Porchetta,” Breaded Chicken Cutlets, and Fried Beef Meatballs.

I am not the best cook or hostess (although I’m always trying to be better), but as I flipped through these recipes, I could’t help but think of how I could add some of these suggestions to my next dinner party or the next big family dinner. These are simple and flavorful ways to add more smiles, more shares, and more cheers to any occasion, and I intend to take advantage of these inspired ideas.

Galleys for Piatti: Plates and Platters for Sharing, Inspired by Italy were provided by Chronicle Books through Edelweiss, with many thanks.

internet dating is killer

Laura Lochner is trying to work things out. After a bad breakup in New York City, she has quit her job and moved back to the small town where she grew up. Now she’s working at home, where she is living in her sister Rosie’s attic. She didn’t want to move back home , because of what happened when she was in high school. But she didn’t have anywhere else to go. 

Her first internet date is with a man named Jonathan. After several conversations, they agree to meet in person at a local bar. Laura borrows her sister’s minivan, knowing that Rosie needs her van back first thing in the morning. Rosie also gives Laura a dress to wear, some nice shoes, and red lipstick along with lots of advice about how to be a relatively normal woman on a first date. 

Laura’s always had issues getting along with others. She is strong and independent, angry and headstrong, meeting the world with fists instead of open arms. But she’s trying to be different now, to be open, to be unbroken. And Rosie is hoping for the best for her sister.  

But then Laura doesn’t come home. 

Rosie recruits her husband Joe and their tech savvy friend Gabe to help her look for her sister. But is it too late? It’s always possible that someone you meet on the internet is going to be dangerous, but Rosie knows that Laura can be dangerous too. In high school, she was found standing over her boyfriend’s body with a baseball bat. She had no memory of hitting him, but he was dead and there was no one else around. What exactly happened that night? And is it possible that history has repeated itself on a bad internet date?

Wendy Walker’s latest is a smart thriller about the bad choices we can make in relationships and what causes those choices. With jumps in time and different narrators, Walker expertly tells the story of a damaged woman and all the things that happened along the way to cause the damage. The Night Before is a powerhouse of a story with strong characters and lots of places to get lost in the mystery before you can find your way home. Another solid hit from the author of Emma in the Night.

Galleys were provided by St. Martin’s Press through NetGalley, with many thanks.

be as cheesy as you want

Morgan McGlynn has been a fan of cheese her whole life. In fact, she loves it so much she bought a cheese shop when she was only 21. Working at the store, tasting cheeses, traveling to cheesemakers to stock her shop, she has learned a lot about cheese. She has even started making her own. And now she is sharing all her best cheese secrets with us all in The Modern Cheesemaker.

Written with novices in mind, McGlynn takes readers step by step through the process of making cheese, from simple cheese that can be made with ingredients you can probably find in your kitchen to more complicated recipes that take specialty ingredients and can age for months. She includes tips on cheese making equipment (you don’t need much to get started) and ideas on knives and slicers to use to create the ultimate cheese board.

In other words, you can put as little or as much effort in as you want, invest a lot or not so much, the options are as numerous as the types of cheeses available.

After a quick introduction to the history, basic process, and equipment of cheesemaking, McGlynn gets to the important part—the recipes. First she starts with simple fresh cheeses, like mozzarella, ricotta, burrata, and mascarpone. And along with the recipes to create these cheeses, she includes recipes you can use these cheese for, like Lemon and Raspberry Ricotta Cheesecake, Curd Cheese Dip, and Burrata and Lemon Penne.

After the fresh cheeses, she takes us on a tour of cream and soft cheeses, so you can make your own cottage cheese, cream cheese, and Brie. Then it’s on to goat’s cheese, with ideas for creamy and crumbly ones, and recipes like a Courgette (Zucchini) and Goat’s Cheese Tart or Goat’s Cheese and Spinach Filo Swirls.

Then things get harder, as both the recipes and the cheese get harder, going through an aging process. You can choose semi-hard cheeses like Paneer, Swiss Cheese, Halloumi, and Feta; or you can go for the hard cheeses, and try your hand at Cheddar, Gouda, or Red Leicester. And then you can go to use those to make Very Naughty Mac and Cheese, a Classic Croque Monsieur, or a Tortellini Bake.

And let’s not forget the Blue Cheese.

Throughout all these recipes for cheeses and for tasty dishes made with cheeses are vignettes of cheesemakers from around the world and lots of beutiful photographs. Add in some expert advice about serving cheese, wine pairings for different cheeses, and how to create an exquisite cheese board for any season, The Modern Cheesemaker is a beautiful reference for cheese lovers of all kinds.

Galleys for The Modern Cheesemaker were provided by White Lion Publishing through NetGalley, with many thanks.

snapshot 5.19

recently finished: nothing new. Still working on it all.

currently reading: I’m still listening to Magpie Murders. For those of you who know it, I’m back in present day, and I am still loving this story within a story and it’s beautiful narration. I’m also reading a couple of thrillers, Wendy Walker’s The Night Before, about an internet date gone horribly wrong, and Jo Baker’s The Body Lies, about a writing teacher in a small British town who gets too close to her MFA students, and maybe gets too close to danger. And I couldn’t help but start You’ve Been Volunteered, the sequel to Laurie Gelman’s Class Mom. I really needed that this weekend.

up next: Lauren Layne’s Passion on Park Avenue, Christina Lauren’s The Unhoneymooners, Elyssa Friedland’s The Floating Feldmans, and Richard Roper’s How Not To Die. I need some good summer reading to get some rest from dark and twisty thrillers. So you know, I can get back to reading dark and twisty thrillers.

stone cold secrets

Marianne worked hard to get away from the small town where she grew up. In Nusstead, the mental hospital where most of the residents worked closed down, and jobs have been hard to come by ever since. The government promised new jobs, as they sold the closed hospital to a developer who would turn it into a luxury hotel, but that never materialized. So as a teenager, Marianne had to choose between a better education—a better life—for herself, or a life in Nusstead with her high school boyfriend.

She coldly chose to turn her back on Nusstead, and on Jesse, to find something more.

However, a dark secret still ties her to her hometown, and to Jesse, and it has the potential to destroy her well sculpted life. As an adult, Marianne is married with a daughter, she is a respected authority on historical architecture, and she has to revisit Nusstead to help care for her aging mom. Will she be able to keep her secrets at bay, or will the wolves come calling for blood?

Helen Greenlaw was an advocate for better mental health care for patients. She knew that the hospital in Nusstead was a danger to its patients and needed to close. It wasn’t just her decision to close the hospital, but she was the one who forced its sudden closing, not allowing time for the patients or the workers to transition well to their next chapter. Many in Nusstead blamed her for the loss of their livelihoods. But what they don’t know, what they can’t know, is that she had secrets too; that her secrets are tied to those of Marianne and Jesse; and she’d do anything to stop them coming out.

She coldly chose to turn her back on Nusstead, and its major employer, to try to improve the care of mental patients throughout England.

Stone Mothers by Erin Kelly is a complex look at what it means to be a mother, what kind of sacrifices a woman will make for her child, and the secrets and lies that those choices can lead to. Moving back through time, the women’s stories bend and twist, at times coming together and at other times moving in opposite directions. Themes of love and sacrifice, selfishness and generosity, ego and control are on display in this complicated look at family and ambition.

I found Stone Mothers a little uneven at times, slowing down for me and then speeding up in turn. But the more I read, the more I liked it and found the rhythms reassuring. This is a far more powerful and thoughtful novel than I first expected, and I grew to respect these characters deeply. This is not just your average thriller, with its secrets exposed and families devastated. The nuances of the choices, of the relationships, of the desperation elevate this from a typical quick-read thriller to a moving work of literary fiction that can expand your definition of a mother’s love in all directions. Highly recommended!

Galleys for Stone Mothers were provided by St. Martin’s Press through NetGalley, with many thanks.

buried secrets

Joe Thorne was born and raised in Arnhill. He left to go to London, to get a degree and to teach, and he never wanted to go back to Arnhill. But then he got the letter. The terrible thing that had happened when he was a teenager, when his little sister went missing and then came back, that terrible thing has happened again.

The years have not been kind to Joe. Nor has his bookie. But a couple of lies to the new principal at his old high school, and he has a teaching job there. Renting the place where the latest darkness has struck is cheap. Who else would want to live in a home where a murder-suicide happened? Who but Joe, who had previously come face to face with that darkness, could deal with the coldness that won’t seem to go away? Who else could deal with the bugs skittering in the pipes or the spectre of death that hangs in the air?

While Joe tries to get his feet back under him, to maybe make a friend or two at work, to make enough money to spend some time in the pub, he finds that he can’t escape the misadventures of his past. Especially the one that ended with a friend’s suicide, his little sister’s disappearance, and a brutal attack on his family from what might be pure evil. It’s only by confronting his past that he can fix what’s happening to him in the present, but is Joe strong enough to face the evil that is holding the whole town hostage?

C.J. Tudor’s The Hiding Place is a creepy thriller, a mystery with questions of evil and good. with some good old-fashioned twistiness and more than a little supernatural spookiness. Is it too scary? I didn’t think so. I am a big fan of thrillers and not so much about the horror, and I thought the creep level in The Hiding Place was just right. I really enjoyed this novel, and I will definitely be watching for more C.J. Tudor in the future!

Galleys for The Hiding Place were provided by Crown, with many thanks.

snapshot 5.12

recently finished: Nothing. Still very middle-of-all-the-things.

currently reading: I’m still into Stone Mothers. My description last week wasn’t quite accurate. The main character, Marianne, wasn’t in the psychiatric hospital. The hospital closed when she was a kid. She just hung out there with her boyfriend, until it became too dangerous. But the story is really good and twisty, and I need to find the time to sit myself down and finish it already! I’m also deep into the audio of Magpie Murders, and narrator Allan Corduner is absolute perfection for this book! I can’t wait to find out what happens, but I don’t want it to end!

up next: Christina Lauren’s The Unhoneymooners and Wendy Walker’s The Night Before. And if I can find the time, the paperback of When Life Hands You Lululemons that I picked up at my independent bookstore last week.

when the honeymoon is over

Married just out of high school, Henry and Effie are on their honeymoon. Staying in Effie’s Uncle George’s beach house in Cape May, New Jersey, at first it feels like they have the whole town to themselves. It’s the end of summer in 1957, and Effie had only ever been there in the summer, so she didn’t understand how empty it was during the off-season, when the beaches are barren and the houses are all dark.

After several days of isolation in Cape May, Effie and Henry start talking about maybe going home early. But then, they see lights on at the big house down the street. They decide to stop by to say hello, and Effie is shocked to come face to face with Clara, who she knew as a child but never particularly liked. But an invitation to dinner and plenty of alcohol weaken Effie’s desire to get away, and the newlyweds stay for what turns into a party.

Effie and Henry get caught up in Clara and her boyfriend Max’s lifestyle, one where wealth and ennui and alcohol fill their days and nights. As the younger couple, all full of small-town Georgia innocence, get pulled deeper and deeper into the swirling eddy that is Clara’s life, they find themselves questioning their judgment, their morals, and even their new marriage.

Chip Creek’s novel of virtue and vice, of reckless youth and responsibility, is both a reminder of the wide-eyed purity we all embraced at one point and a celebration of the temptations that lead us astray. As a throwback to a simpler time, Cape May is a lovely vehicle of time and place. The language is beautiful, and it is a testament to the attitudes and mores of its time; however, I couldn’t help but feel like the women got lost in this story. Maybe it was partly having it set in the 1950s, or maybe it’s just that it was told mainly through the point of view of a young man who clearly didn’t understand women. I wanted to like this novel. I understand why it’s being compared to The Great Gatsby. But overall I was disappointed, and it’s rare that I have to say that about a book.

Galleys were provided by Celadon Books, with many thanks.

small bites of sweet candor

Mary Guliani is not your average chef. She didn’t go to culinary school or slave away in a hot Manhattan restaurant kitchen for years, moving up to the head of the line. Instead, she studied acting. She took odd jobs to make ends meet. She met Robert De Niro. And then when she decided that Saturday Night Live might not be ready for her yet, she buckled down and took one of her odd jobs seriously, working at a catering company, helping to plan parties for the rich and famous.

It’s not a surprise that this job stuck, as her grandmother was a famous innkeeper on Montauk, Long Island (her hotel was the first on Montauk, actually, and she used it to build an empire). So Mary took her chutzpah and her quirkiness and her work ethic and her genetic propensity towards hospitality and her husband and started her own catering company in New York City.

It was her love of Pigs in a Blanket (aka tiny hot dogs in pastry) that helped inspire her to create fun finger foods and inventive cocktails that attracted her high end-clients. Movie stars, rock stars, and the glitterati all call her number and book her for their parties. You’d think that this would help the formerly geeky kid who worshiped the Monkees turn into an elegant, confident, sophisticated business woman. But no, just reading this memoir leaves me no doubt that she’s just as much of a quirky, playful dork (said with nothing but respect; I totally relate!) who is not afraid to let her geek flag fly. For that, she is one of my heroes. I love how she has kept her good-natured whimsy despite living in New York, despite working in very difficult and competitive industries, despite having traded in her original dream for another one (or six).

I loved reading Tiny Hot Dogs, in part because Mary Guliani is a testament to finding the best in difficult situations and in part because she is a fun, funny, honest, and open writer and mother and wife and daughter and caterer. She is who she is, and that’s enough for her. It’s also more than enough for me. And if it’s not enough for Saturday Night Live, then they should at least call her to cater all their parties. She can hook them up!

Galleys for Tiny Hot Dogs were provided by Running Press Adult through NetGalley, with many thanks.

where family and money collide

Lucy loves Ollie and is looking forward to spending the rest of her life with him. She loves him, he loves her, her father agrees, and his father agrees. But his mother . . . well, that’s another story.

Lucy lost her own mother when she was young, so she was looking forward to forging a strong relationship with her mother-in-law, but Diana does not make that easy. Although Diana’s husband Tom is thrilled about his son’s choice of a wife, and Ollie’s sister and her husband all love Lucy, Lucy still wants the approval of her future mother-in-law, despite her coldness.

Lucy and Ollie do get married and go on to have three great kids. And while Diana may not be much of a mother to Lucy, she is a devoted grandmother, and Lucy does appreciate her for that. But when police show up at the door of Lucy and Ollie’s house to tell them that Diana has died, there are far more questions than answers.

Sally Hepworth’s The Mother-in-Law is a story told through layers and layers of family relationships. With alternating chapters of the present and the past, of Lucy’s and then Diana’s point of view, this moving novel of family, wealth, love, devotion, and honor will take you on a most surprising and rewarding journey. The Mother-in-Law is a beautifully written story about the choices that women make, the consequences that those choices have, and the character that is formed through those choices.

I love a well-written book, and this certainly fits that bill. But this novel turned out to be so much more. This was a really powerful look at our perceptions of others and how they can be wrong. These women’s stories are all our stories. Their struggles are our struggles. And reading stories like these make us better as friends, better as daughters, and better as women. Thank you, Sally Hepworth, for your honesty, intelligence, and warmth as you tell our stories as daughters and mothers.

Galleys for The Mother-in-Law were provided by St. Martin’s Press through NetGalley, with many thanks.

snapshot 5.5

recently finished: I just have a little left of The Mother-In-Law. It’s fantastic! I can’t wait to see the wrap-up and talk about it! And I’m also almost done with Cape May, the buzzy summer book about a young couple’s relationship with an older, more sophisticated couple and how the consequences of a couple of weeks can last for years.

currently reading: I started the audio for Magpie Murders. It’s a long one, so it will be playing for several weeks in my car, but the narrator is perfect. And I’m reading Tiny Hot Dogs by Mary Guliani (no relation). She’s a party planner/caterer to the stars, and she is hysterical! This is a fun one! And one more, because apparently my ADD has been acting up: Stone Mothers by Erin Kelly. I loved, loved, loved her He Said/She Said from 2 years ago, so I was so excited to dive into her new one. It’s fascinating so far, a woman’s reckoning with reckless teenaged actions and her stay in a psychiatric hospital (which used to be called “stone mothers”). Her writing is so beautiful!

up next: A YA book about a wannabe filmmaker, This Is Not a Love Scene. And the much anticipated The Farm by Joanne Ramos.

a medical mystery and a family fragmented

Fifteen-year-old Meghan is very ill. While previously she had been a happy kid with lots of energy and verve, a soccer player and a popular friend, she is now wasting away before everyone’s eyes. Her mother Becky is exhausted from going to doctor after doctor, waiting for yet another diagnosis, trying yet another medicine, watching while Meghan’s health slips away. Becky leans on her online support group for help. but answers never seem to come her way. She does her best to stay strong for her daughter, but it’s a constant struggle.

The doctors are perplexed. They can’t find a diagnosis that fits with all of Meghan’s symptoms. The weakness, the fainting, the nausea—the symptoms are real, but there is no disease that they can find, despite all the blood tests, the x-rays, the MRIs. For the most part, the only answer they can come up with is Munchausen syndrome by proxy. The only thing that fits is if Becky is doing something to Meghan to make her sick. Or, if Meghan thinks her mother wants her to be sick ans is inventing a disease that doesn’t exist to make her happy.

Meghan’s father is fed up with it all. He acts like he doesn’t think Meghan is as sick as Becky thinks, and he resents Becky’s online supporters for their vapid advice and fake friendship. He worries that Meghan is picking up on Becky’s unspoken need to take care of someone who’s not well (based on her relationship with her mother), and his support has run its course. He wants something different for his family.

Then one doctor finds the possibility of a real, diagnosable illness. But is it too late for Meghan and her family? Her illness has created a heavy cost for her family. Can they all recover from the struggles and misdiagnoses, from the exhaustion and emotions? Will they ever truly be a family again, or will the family collapse under the final diagnosis?

Saving Meghan is a twisty look at a family in crisis. As the story unfolds, you think you know what’s going on, but then the narrative turns on itself and reveals another possibility, another layer of truth about the situation. Author D.J. Palmer’s take on this medical mystery novel is dark and thrilling. The final resolution to the mystery left me speechless.

Galleys for Saving Meghan were provided by St. Martin’s Press with many thanks.