I have a teensy confession to make. I'm sort of a wine snob...in that I absolutely refuse to drink boxed wine.
So we "tapped the box." Is that the proper terminology for how you open a box of wine? I've had no experience with this - hubby had to open it.
But once it was open and flowing, I was pleasantly surprised. It was...actually good. I don't think I would be able to tell the difference between this and a comparably priced bottle of wine. It wasn't too sweet, which is the kiss of death for wine for me, and which I have discovered is the main downfall of inexpensive wines. It's like they put more sugar into it to mask the terrible flavor.
But FishEye didn't. This wasn't too sweet. It's a shame it's 65 degrees and rainy outside today, because this would be perfect scorching-hot-July-weather wine. It's so light! I don't think I was expecting that. I'm not sure what I was expecting, but this wasn't it.
I still don't think I'll go for generic boxed wine (think Franzia), but if I see FishEye boxed wine on sale at Bi-Lo again, I'll definitely grab some. It's the equivalent of four 750-ML bottles for about $15ish bucks (depending on where you buy), so this would be SUPER for a party. My only (very minor) gripe is that our midget fridge is too small to continually keep a box of wine in it (so maybe I should just get red? I could leave that on the counter!) Other than that, I highly recommend it. Wine snobs, unite...and step off your pedestals and try FishEye Wines.
Disclaimer: I received a $15-off coupon from BzzAgent to purchase this wine and review it in exchange for my honest opinions.
For my past book reviews, I've typically started writing the review when I was about halfway through the book. I've been able to tell where the book was going and start off with a cute little anecdote to lead into the review.
Not Bittersweet. It was impossible to form opinions of this book ahead of time because you knew, you just knew, things were going to change, and it would be stupid to bother reviewing anything before you found out exactly what happened. The basic premise, without giving too much away, is that Mabel, a girl from a poor family in Oregon, befriends her extremely wealthy roommate from college, and is invited to spend the summer with the roommate's family, the Winslows, on their Vermont lakeside compound.
I liked this book in that I was dying to know what would happen next. It was fascinating in the way it's fascinating to watch reality TV shows - you have nothing in common with these people, you don't even really like or respect them that much, you wouldn't touch them with a ten-foot pole in real life, but you just have to see the train wreck for yourself.
Which maybe, now that I think of it, is the point of literature - to expose you to characters and worlds you otherwise would never know. However, I am a character-driven reader, and the books I cherish are the ones with narrators and/or main characters whom I identify with. My favorite books are the ones I can get lost in because I can imagine myself in their shoes.
I do not want to imagine myself in any of these people's shoes. This family deals in deceit, lies, rape, incest, theft, murder, suicide, drugs...sure, the Winslows' compound sounds idyllic, but right now I'm thanking my lucky stars I come from a loving middle-class family with some integrity. The Winslows are CRAZY. It just goes to show that what my parents have always told me is true: money can't buy class. It can buy the appearance of it, but not the real thing.
Because Mabel is the "poor girl" of the story, you'd think that would automatically make her likeable, but no. I couldn't figure her out. At times she seemed like a kind, redeeming character and then others she seemed scheming, jealous, and petty. It was also hard to figure out her motives for doing the things she does, or why she's even there to begin with.
However, don't mistake my disdain for the characters for a lack of enthusiasm in the overall book. I started this book on Monday night. I finished it this afternoon. It's 400 pages. I flew through the book, dying to know what was going to happen next. It's entertaining to hear about the life of the extremely affluent, and the book is as much a dissertation on class and social strata as it is a dark and twisted drama.
Not only did I enjoy Bittersweet a lot, I will most likely read it again. I have a feeling that now that I know how it ends, re-reading it will provide me a deeper study into the nuances and hints along the way that I have undoubtedly missed this time around. I recommend this book for anyone looking for an engrossing, dark, and at times horrifying, read - you won't be disappointed.
The verdict: I give this 3.5 out of 5 stars for Blogging For Books (rounding up to 4 on Goodreads).
Disclaimer: I received this book from Blogging for Books for this review. All opinions are 100% my own.
Confession time: I'm not much of a decorator, and I REALLY don't do change well. Once I get my "personal space" set up, it doesn't change. EVER. There have been a few additions to my condo since I moved in six and a half years ago (like, you know, my husband and dog, and about 8,000 more books), but it's pretty much the same. Okay, exactly the same.
However, my sweet husband has this way of gently pushing me outside of my comfort zone with encouragement and love. All of his furniture and belongings coming into my perfectly spaced and designed house was stressing me out, and he knew it. Moving the bookcase from diagonally in the corner in front of the thermostat (NOT convenient) to beside the sofa drove me crazy. But it was the only way we would get his wide-screen TV and TV stand in the living room. I had to acquiesce. And incredibly, it made our living room look SO much larger.
So now I've been on a spree to find other ways we can make the midget condo look like it might actually comfortably fit two adults and a full-grown Labrador. And in that process, I'm having fun doing a little decorating, too.
It started when I saw my coworker had entered a contest to win a free downloadable graphic font print from Brim Papery. It basically involved sharing one of her images on Instagram, and you automatically received a free print. But once I received my free print, I realized I had no clue what to do with it. And that's when I thought of it - I'm going to make a gallery wall! FRAME ALL THE PRINTS.
So I went through Etsy and searched for prints that inspire me, including Bible verses, Eric Church lyrics, and Harry Potter quotes (oh, come ON now. You knew that was coming). I ordered multi-colored mats, bought some black frames, and we were in business.
Except B wanted to put the gallery wall in the dining room. Where I have had my Blik up since exactly three days after I moved into the condo. Which I put up all by myself. Remove it? Was the man MAD?! But he insisted it would look better there than in the hall. So I agreed. We peeled the Blik off the walls, bit by curly bit. We used a Magic Eraser to clean any adhesive that had stuck. We hung the gallery wall.
And wouldn't you just know, when we took down the Blik and put up the prints, the "dining room" looked so much larger...and so much better. Maybe I should try this "change" thing more often. Check out the pictures below and get ideas for yourself!
Want to do it yourself?
Check out the prints I purchased, or search these shops for your own favorite quotes!
1// Love never fails (my favorite of the bunch!)
4// Grass (my freebie, not yet for sale)
5// For each new morning
6// I solemnly swear
The frames came from Bed Bath & Beyond. They came 4 to a pack for $29.99 (plus the ubiquitous 20% off coupons). I only needed six frames, but this was a better deal than buying them individually. The white mats that came with the frames were removable so I could use the colored mats.
I purchased the mats from 5dollarframes.com. For six mats and shipping, it was only $16. Pretty economical. And as you can see, they offer a ton of colors. I do wish their Carolina blue wasn't quite so pale/washed out, but alas, I think it's enough that people get the idea :)
We are also going to expand our wall a little with a few smaller prints (when I decide on some I like). It will be an evolving work that reflects B and me. Luckily, I don't think I'll be afraid to change it.
How, exactly, does one review a cookbook?
That was my question to myself after requesting David Lebovitz's "My Paris Kitchen" cookbook. Do you judge it on the pictures? The instructions, whether or not they're easy to follow? How many recipes do you have to make before you can adequately declare a cookbook good or not? Depending on the answer to that question, it could take me MONTHS to review this cookbook.
After some careful thought, I believe the answer to my first question depends on why you bought (or free-requested) the cookbook in the first place. And I requested this cookbook to review because I love Paris, I want to go back to Paris, in an ideal world I want to LIVE in Paris (well, Tours, actually), but this world isn't always so ideal. I want this cookbook so that when the urge hits to be far, far away from South Carolina, living la bonne vie sous mon parapluie en France, I can pull this out, read the stories, run my fingers longingly over the pictures, and maybe make a recipe that will, just for a minute, transport me.
Because isn't that the most inspiring power of food? My B knows that every single time I go out to the patio to pick some fresh basil, I'll come back in the house, close my eyes, take a hearty sniff, sigh, and say, "God, this takes me straight back to Italy." Every time we have cantaloupe, I'm reminded of having breakfast with my grandmother in the summer. Pinto beans and cornbread take me back to my great-grandmother's kitchen. The most elementary purpose of food is to nourish us, to keep us alive. The truest, best purpose of food is to make us feel alive.
With that in mind, reviewing the cookbook became a little easier. I read his intro and his suggested ingredients and tools. I liked that he offered alternatives if certain ingredients are not readily available in the US, or if we truly did need to use what he specified. I also liked his instructions to cook "au pif," or by the nose...meaning, use your common sense and/or your tastes. If you think something needs more seasoning, or less time in the oven, then go for it.
There are a ton of pictures (including ones of Paris, which I ADORE), but not necessarily a picture for every recipe. Some people (including David himself) might say that you don't need a picture, just "follow your nose," but I'm a visual person and I like to have SOME kind of guideline as to what I'm making is supposed to look like. I did like his stories interspersed with the recipes, as well. I think I would almost rather read this book than cook from it.
I made two recipes before writing this review, and since I am the side dish queen, you can guess which section they came from. We made the green beans with snail butter and the French lentil salad with goat cheese and walnuts. Both were good, although the green beans were a much bigger hit. The lentils were good, but they need a little something else, and we can't figure out what it is. Both recipes were extremely easy to follow and very detailed. I felt confident following the instructions, and I also felt confident deviating a little. It was a good experience with a cookbook. My next project is going to be Coq au Vin, and I think it will be great.
If you can't live in France, "My Paris Kitchen" is (almost) the next best thing.
Disclaimer: I received this book for free from Blogging for Books in exchange for this review.
And it is...Mrs. Jodi Rhodes, my sophomore honors English 2 teacher! Send me your address, and I'll drop the book in the mail. Congrats, and thanks to everyone who entered!
See, I hadn't planned on giving away "What I Was Doing While You Were Breeding." I liked it. I wanted to put it on my dedicated favorite-travel-book shelf (which is rapidly running out of room).
And then the UPS man delivered a fluke...a second copy of the book. Somebody got mixed up in the shipping department, but it's to your advantage, y'all. I have a copy to put on my shelf, and another up for grabs.
This one's going to go better, I think, because the book was better. And since I've been told that having to review a book is "too much like homework" (which I don't agree with at all, but what do I know? I'm a book nerd), you don't have to do a review if you win. All you have to do is enjoy. I mean, if you want to write a review I'd be happy to publish it, because when I read book reviews I like to see both the positive AND negative reviews. But it's not a requirement for this drawing. So here are the rules (hint: they're the same as before):
1. You want the book? Leave me a message in the comments section of this post by 8:00 p.m. Sunday, July 13th. Be sure to include your name if you're using a little screen name/alias.
2. Invite your friends to enter! Maybe if they win they'll let you borrow the book after they finish it.
3. I'll choose the winner in a random drawing (sorry, bribery won't work) and announce it Monday morning, July 14th.
4. If you're the winner, you have until July 15th to send me your address using the contact page. Unfortunately I will not ship internationally. Sorry :(
I can pinpoint pretty much to the day I really got into the travel memoir genre: it wasn't long after March 25, 2009, when I was laid off from my job at a local business newspaper following an acquisition by a larger publishing company. I hadn't been earning much to begin with, and once I lost my job, well, forget about it. For six months, until I found a new job, the library was pretty much the only place I could go, because it's the only place where you can leave with a gigantic armload of goodies without having to pay a cent.
It was a cruel irony during my period of unemployment that I had all this time on my hands, free of vacation day restrictions and all that crap, but no money to go anywhere. So I did what I've always done, my entire life, when faced with a challenge: I turned to the books. And I fell in love with the travel memoir genre.
"What I Was Doing While You Were Breeding" is a great addition to that category. My first impression, after reading the prologue and chapter 1, was that this was going to go fast. You can tell that Kristin Newman is a writer - a sitcom writer, at that - by trade, not just a person who traveled and decided to write a book about it. Her writing is concise but witty - she makes her words count, and man, do I love that.
Because each chapter deals with a different travel adventure (and man...or two!), it's a great book to read if you think you "don't have enough time to read." You can stop at the end of a chapter and not feel like you're losing the narrative flow. I finished the second half of this book poolside with my new cousins-in-law at Seabrook Island, and it was easy to take a break to grab a new drink, take a dip in the pool, or have lunch with our golf-playing men, and still pick up where I left off.
I liked hearing about all the different places she went and it was especially intriguing because the typical "20/30-something traveling to find herself" winds up in Italy or France. This is a little hypocritical since I'M a 30-year-old who is OBSESSED with Italy and France, and who wrote my first novel about a girl going to Italy, but whatever. You're drawn to what you're drawn to. And while I lap up memoirs about folks heading to those two countries, it was interesting and engaging to read about some different ones, even if I never make it there in my lifetime.
As for "downsides," there weren't many, but I did have a little tiny bit of difficulty relating to her many, MANY sexual conquests and her aversion to settling down and getting married. I just don't identify with that at ALL. But this book was honest, captivating, and very funny, so I really can't fault her for that.
The verdict: I give this one 4 out of 5 stars. It's a funny, easy summer read, perfect for the pool, beach, or an airplane to a foreign country to have your own foreign fling.
Disclaimer: I received this book for free from Blogging for Books for this review.
There's this really fun little part of getting married that maybe you've heard about: you get presents. LOTS of them. We got tons of good stuff (literally so much that we can't fit it all into our tiny condo right now), but one of the gifts I was most excited about was my KitchenAid stand mixer from my in-laws.
On Monday night, I made the dough. Because last night was yoga night, I waited until tonight to make the actual cookies so they'd be nice and fresh for B's arrival (and to take to Seabrook Island with my in-laws for the 4th!).
Aside from having to wait for the dough to settle, it's a very easy and straightforward recipe. If you've ever made cookies from scratch, I'm pretty sure you could do this. And you SHOULD do it - these cookies are AWESOME.
You probably could have guessed, but the real kicker, the thing that makes them truly amazing in my opinion, is the sprinkling of freshly ground sea salt on top. Sweet and salty, that combination just goes together perfectly. And they have a great taste thanks to the two different kinds of flour used.
Being the chocolate chip cookie connoisseur I am, I don't know if these are the BEST chocolate chip cookies I've ever had (The Chocolate Shoppe here in Greenville could give them a serious run for their money), but they certainly are darn good, and well worth the effort. Make them for your 4th of July party, and you'll be the hit of the bash.
Happy Independence Day, sweet readers! Be safe, and eat cookies!
NYT Best Chocolate Chip Cookie Recipe
2 cups minus 2 tablespoons cake flour
1 2/3 cups bread flour
1 1/4 teaspoons baking soda
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1 1/2 teaspoons coarse salt
2 1/2 sticks unsalted butter
1 1/4 cups light brown sugar
1 cup plus 2 tablespoons granulated sugar
2 large eggs
2 teaspoons natural vanilla extract
1 1/4 pounds bittersweet chocolate chips
Sift flours, baking soda, baking powder and salt into a bowl. Set aside.
Using a mixer fitted with paddle attachment, cream butter and sugars together until very light, about 5 minutes.
Add eggs, one at a time, mixing well after each addition.
Stir in the vanilla.
Reduce speed to low, add dry ingredients and mix until just combined, 5 to 10 seconds.
Drop chocolate pieces in and mix lightly.
Press plastic wrap against dough and refrigerate for 24 to 36 hours. Dough may be used in batches, and can be refrigerated for up to 72 hours.
When ready to bake, preheat oven to 350 degrees (I did mine at 375).
Line a baking sheet with parchment paper or a nonstick baking mat. Set aside.
Scoop golf-ball-sized mounds of dough onto baking sheet.
Sprinkle lightly with sea salt and bake until golden brown but still soft, 12 - 15 minutes (I discovered that 10 minutes was perfect - guess my oven runs a little warm).
Transfer sheet to a wire rack for 5 minutes, then slip cookies onto another rack to cool a bit more.
Repeat with remaining dough until you've used it up.
Try, really try, to NOT eat them all at once. Let me know if you have any luck with that.