When I first saw the title of this book, I knew it was going to be my next one to review. I mean, Mom always said nothing good happens after midnight, so naturally I had to find out what happened at 2 a.m. at the Cat's Pajamas.
What I found out is that this book is a strange, surprising delight. A little hard to get into at places, a little bizarre in others, but overall an interesting read.
It is told from the viewpoint of three separate characters, which gave me the most trouble. I'd just start really getting into one narrator's section and then it would switch to another. It wasn't smoothly done (like Dan Brown's novels, for instance); instead it was often jarring. Instead of leaving me even more excited to keep reading to get back to the original narrator, it just irritated me. My favorite part of reading is really getting to know the characters and become part of their world, but these characters felt very superficial at times.
I felt the biggest connection with the divorced teacher. I felt sorry for Madeleine, the ostensible main character, but I had a hard time actually liking her. The guys at the club, forget it. They weren't particularly likeable. Their "sections" were my least favorite. I really liked the dog's sections, too, but then, I really love dogs.
This book is a crazy mishmash of people and stories, brought together by the backdrop of Philadelphia at Christmas. Bertino's most masterful descriptions were of the city. I just wish some of her character descriptions and dialogue were done as nicely.
I can see this book not being a mainstream favorite, but I think it could have a definite little cult following. It's interesting and different, and those who are sick to death of the same old thing will undoubtedly love it.
The verdict: I see its merits, but it's not exactly my style. I give it a 3 out of 5.
Disclaimer: I received this book from Blogging for Books for this review. All opinions are 100% my own.
The Ceviche of Costa Rica
Y'all, I have no idea how this has happened, but somehow I made it to the age of 30 before I ever tried ceviche. If you don't know what ceviche is, you can read all about it here. Basically, it's fish that is uncooked, but NOT raw. I'm not a fan of raw ANYthing, but this was different. It was divine. And trust me - when it's 90-something degrees and humid in Costa Rica, it is ALL you want for lunch.
We had it the first day for lunch, and it was so good, we tried it from different restaurants every single day of the trip. Not kidding. Ceviche for lunch, 6 days in a row. It was amazing. This is not something I will EVER attempt to make (I've already had food poisoning once in my life, and believe me, once was enough), but I thought it would be fun to give you a little culinary tour of our Costa Rica honeymoon.
Day #1: Habanero's
The first time I ever had ceviche in my life. I was stunned at how good it was. This was my favorite one of the bunch, although maybe that was just because it was my first, but Brian really liked this one, too. In addition to the regular citrus juices, this was marinated with tequila and dill, so it had a nice little kick to it, too. And with the creamy avocado on top, served with the super-crunchy chips? Win.
It was meant to be merely the appetizer to my mahi mahi tacos and Brian's shrimp tacos, but it stole the show and ignited in us (okay, in me) an obsession. And so the quest for Costa Rica's ceviche began...
Day #2: BJ's Restaurant
This ceviche was a lesson in humility and American snobbery on my part. It was another overcast day, so we explored the peninsula a little, driving quite a bit. "Towns" are easy to miss in Costa Rica, because they are often no more than a restaurant or two, a market or grocery store, and maybe a shop. They are incredibly tiny and of course there are no road signs. So we wandered. We thought we might have lunch in one town, but somehow we had missed it. Breakfast was wearing off. I was getting crabby. Out of sheer desperation, we just picked a restaurant.
The "town," such as it was, was almost completely deserted. The restaurant, which was open-air, was definitely deserted, except for us and the couple who ran it, and their two little girls. My inner monologue ran something like this, "Oh my God I can't believe we're eating here there's no one here why are we ordering uncooked fish they probably have no standards and then we're going to get food poisoning and die or worse ruin our honeymoon and why couldn't we have stopped in the other town oh my God I'm going to kill B if we don't die of food poisoning first."
Let me just say - I stand corrected. The couple, who spoke very little English, was incredibly sweet. We may have been the only ones in the restaurant, but that's everyone else's loss. We saw the seafood delivery come up as we were sitting there at our picnic table. Our complimentary clam amuse bouche came right past us into the restaurant, then showed up on our plate.
And the ceviche was fantastic. Absolutely amazing - flavorful and delicious. Instead of tortilla chips, this one was served with hot fried plantains. It was delicious and fortifying. The sautéed vegetables were also amazing, and the melon (cantaloupe) "refresco" I had was out of this world. You may not want to eat at a completely empty restaurant serving uncooked seafood in America, but foreign countries sometimes do certain things a little better than Americans.
Lesson learned, indeed.
Day 3: Restaurante Chicos Playa
This wasn't our favorite ceviche. It was GOOD, but not GREAT. It was ordinary. No tequila-dill sauce, no piping-hot fried plantains. It just didn't have that "stop you in your tracks, this is the best thing I've ever put in my mouth" taste going for it. Maybe it was that this was our third day having ceviche and the novelty had worn off. Maybe it really was sub-par. Whatever the case, it wasn't our favorite. Tasty and edible, but nothing to write home about.
What really impressed us, though, was the "shrimp cocktail." Lots of shrimp, served with hearts of palm and fresh avocado. America, are you listening? Can this be common for our shrimp cocktail, too? I LOVE hearts of palm!
Day 4: Restaurante Playa Carmen
We actually had two different ceviches at Restaurante Playa Carmen. One was a snack after ziplining; the other was lunch the following day. The ceviche was just okay. Again, it was good but not exceptional. The real draw of Restaurante Playa Carmen was their drinks. B's "Palo Verde" featured cachaca, cacique (basically Costa Rican moonshine), cas, passion fruit, mint, and lemon juice, and it was incredible. Strong and refreshing. My sangria was good, but just okay. Not nearly as good as my dear friend Fleming's sangria.
But still - we had to get ceviche. We had to try.
Day 5: Restaurante Caracolas
On Friday of our honeymoon, we had to give up the car. We were only supposed to have it until Thursday, but we extended it a day. And once we gave up the car, we had exactly two options for lunch: eat at the resort (most likely good, but expensive), or walk to the one restaurant within walking distance (or, rather, in walking distance for the two American kids who were NOT used to the oppressive heat and humidity). So for the next two days, lunch was to be at Restaurante Caracolas.
For Friday's lunch, we ordered the regular ceviche. And much like the past two entries, it was, well, just regular. Tasty and filling. Enough energy for us to walk back up the GIANT steep hill that our hotel was on.
Day 6: Restaurante Caracolas, Take 2
Lunch was not EVEN as appealing on day two at Restaurante Caracolas. This had nothing to do with the restaurant's cuisine. Instead, it had everything to do with us knowing exactly how painful walking up the huge hill in the pressing humidity was going to be afterward.
But lunch...well, lunch itself was phenomenal. Lunch was a little different. Because we were so full from the previous day's ceviche and fish tacos, we only ordered the "superceviche" and guacamole this time. The guacamole came out with the chips stuck into it like petals of a flower, and it was perfectly ready-to-eat and delicious.
The superceviche lived up to its name. This was no mediocre ceviche. It was a mixture of shrimp AND fish, and was molded into a tall can-shaped mound and mixed with avocado. I've decided you really need the creaminess of the avocado to cut the acidity of the ceviche. It was served with a HUGE fried plantain "pancake" (that's what it looked like!).
We washed that down with a couple of Imperial beers and toasted our amazing honeymoon and my newfound obsession with the deliciousness that is ceviche. Costa Rica flies under the radar when it comes to cuisine, but if you ever have chance to go, I highly recommend you eat your way through the country and focus on ceviche.
Pura vida, indeed, my friends.
Pink Lemonade Shower
One of our dear friends is blessed to be expecting her THIRD bundle of joy in October. But unlike her absolutely precious, hilarious, loving first two children, this one is a GIRL! Little boys are so much fun, but as my mother has always told me, "Every mother needs a little girl." Now that our sweet friend is having one, we only thought it appropriate to shower her with love...and pink clothing. We cannot let this poor little one wear Batman clothes.
The shower went fantastically, and baby Ella has LOTS of new fun outfits, including a Ninja Turtles onesie with a pink tutu attached (best gift EVER).
I came up with the pink lemonade baby shower theme because it's seasonally appropriate (or would be, if it hadn't rained for 5 days straight). It featured lots of pink and yellow girly-ness, and I had many, MANY amazing helpers to bring this together. This was a super-easy theme to do because it was so easy to find plates, cups, flatware, flowers and balloons in pink and yellow. The one thing I had a REALLY hard time finding was lemon stickers (not sure WHY, but anyway). Check out the pictures below for a few of the pink lemonade party ideas.
We took a walk downtown last Saturday morning, which brought us right smack in the middle of the downtown farmer's market. We couldn't help but do a little shopping, especially when we ran into a vendor selling peaches. We bought a small container of regular peaches, and she threw in 4 white ones, just for good measure. We've been eating peaches all week, and they've been delicious.
Tonight, we realized we still had five left. We also realized we didn't have anything for dessert (the pie was gone on Tuesday night). What's a girl to do but saute some peaches?
It's a quick, easy, delightful dessert. Serve them over vanilla ice cream, and you're in business.
Happy summer, y'all!
Melt butter. Pour in peaches. Add a little sugar, little vanilla, little bourbon. Saute until most of the liquid has evaporated. Serve over vanilla ice cream.
Quantities aren't that important in this recipe. Trust me, just pour in whatever you think you'll like, and you probably will.
It's my first pie
I mean, clearly this is my first pie.
That, up there? That is not the work of a seasoned pie-maker. It's just the work of a girl with an old bag of cherries in the fridge and a desire to not throw them out.
Sometimes B and I have more perishable food items (aka fruits and veggies) than we can eat. It's a nice, comfortable, first-world kind of problem to have. So we make a conscious effort, when we can, to use up everything we've got.
We were cleaning out the midget fridge on Sunday night, and B found the bag of cherries that had gotten shoved behind something else and forgotten. He asked if I wanted him to just throw them out, but I took a look and they were still viable, for the most part. Maybe not the plump, red, eat 'em by the handful kind of viable, but they weren't goners yet.
My initial thought was to saute them with a little butter, a little sugar, and a little bourbon and pour it over ice cream. And then B said, "Why don't you just make a pie?"
Why not, indeed. He found me this recipe. So while I pitted the cherries (no small feat), I dispatched B to the grocery store to pick up some almond extract, vanilla ice cream, and a pie crust (don't say a word - I am so not up to making homemade pie crust, and definitely not at 7:00 p.m. on a Sunday night.).
The recipe is super easy, and the hardest part for me was getting the top crust on straight, hence the berries you see bubbling up where they shouldn't be. If you'll look along the top edge, I hand-cut little hearts out of extra dough to make a cute design on top, but it kind of got eaten by the encroaching berry mixture.
This pie may not look perfect, but it was amazing. For my first pie, I couldn't be any happier.
Side note: Even if you wear an apron, you're gonna wanna have a Tide To-Go pen next to you while you make this. The ONE minute I took off my apron and thought I was finished, I got bright red cherry juice smack on the front of my beloved white Carolina baseball shirt with Carolina blue sleeves. I kid you not, the Tide To-Go pen got that stain entirely out. CHERRY COMPOTE, y'all, completely vanquished. What kind of voodoo magic are they putting in those things??
Basic Cherry Pie
4 cups tart cherries (we had just a little less than that)
1 cup granulated sugar
4 tablespoons cornstarch
1/8 teaspoon almond extract (we just eyeballed it)
Pie crust of your choosing
Butter, to dab
Sugar, to sprinkle
Place cherries in medium-sized pot and cover. Let simmer until the cherries lose a lot of juice.
Mix sugar and cornstarch in a bowl. Add to cherries, along with almond extract, and mix well.
Cook over low heat until thickened. Remove from heat and let cool.
Preheat oven to 375.
Prepare your pie crust as called for.
Pour cherry mixture into bottom crust and put dabs of butter on top (I forgot to do this).
Arrange top crust over the filling, making sure to cut a slit in the top for steam to escape.
Sprinkle top crust with sugar (I forgot to do this, too).
Bake for about 50 minutes.
Remove from oven and place on rack to cool.
Serve warm with vanilla ice cream, and DEVOUR.
Magic Manic Monday Meal
We've been busy here sous notre parapluie. After spending July traveling all around the Carolinas and Georgia to various friends and family, I'm really excited about a nice, calm August at home. B is finishing up a class in differential equations (I don't even know what that MEANS), and his final exam is tomorrow, so I wanted to cook something easy tonight.
And healthy. Did I mention we're really trying to focus on eating well? Yeah, after falling off the bandwagon with all the reception and rehearsal dinner and cake tastings and the complete lack of time leading up to the wedding, we are truly trying to get back in the swing of things (we were doing so GOOD for a while!).
This bruschetta tilapia delivers on both accounts. It only used one pan, and it was 30 minutes from raw ingredients to table. Not kidding. I think the most complex part of this was having to mince the garlic. The flavors are fresh and light and bright. This isn't too heavy, so it's perfect for summer. Plus, you just can't beat summer tomatoes. We'll definitely keep this one on the dinner rotation.
I'm sure you could play with this, change out the fish, add onions or maybe some other spices. It's quick, it's easy, it's Italian-light. Go forth and cook, my dears.
bag of spinach
cherry tomatoes, halved
4 cloves garlic, minced
handful of fresh basil, chopped
2 tilapia filets
1 tablespoon butter
1 tablespoon olive oil, plus some for drizzling
salt and pepper
red pepper flakes
Heat a drizzle of oil in a large pan.
Toss in about 1/4 of the minced garlic and the bag of spinach. Saute until the spinach is wilted.
Season with salt, pepper, and red pepper flakes to taste.
Remove from pan into a bowl and cover with foil to keep warm.
In the same pan, heat another drizzle of olive oil.
Toss in the tomatoes, the rest of the garlic, basil, salt and pepper.
Saute until tomatoes are warm and juicy but not overdone. Put in a separate bowl and cover with foil to keep warm.
Melt 1 tablespoon butter and 1 teaspoon butter in pan.
Saute tilapia for 3-4 minutes on each side until tender and flaky, but not overdone.
Layer spinach, then fish, then tomatoes.
Serve with crusty bread and good olive oil.