Friday, November 25, 2016

Les Miserables

Merde this is a big book!  I think it may be the longest novel I've ever read. I'm not entirely sure I understood some of this book. There was some serious history name-dropping. I didn't even know Chateaubriand was a dude and not steak with fancy sauce (actually it's both!) Next I'll find out there was a Giovanni Lasagna that was an Italian artist and intellectual in the 1600's. A contemporary of Caravaggio, the lesser known Lasagna developed the Alfredo technique. Luckily the legacy of the Australian Prime Minister Jacko Bloominonion is intact. There are huge sections of this book that talk about things of which I am clueless. And these sections go on and on and on. Whew, other than that this book is excellent.

I never saw the musical or the movie. Yes, I am well aware that the movie has Hugh Jackman in it. You know I'm not fond of musicals. We all know that the story tells of the ex-convict of Jean Valjean and the various adventures of those people surrounding him.  And boy do they surround him. I mean are there like 500 people in France in the olden times?  Everyone knows everyone and they all keep bumping into one another. Especially the enemies. Just delete your Facebook account already. Jean just checked in at the did they find me here!  Pings and GPS Jean, just leave your phone at home next time.

Anyway this is cool book if you have an extra 4 months to spare and also want to know about The Battle of Waterloo, all the different machinations of French politics from the late 1700's to the mid 1800's, weird convents and last but not least the Paris sewers.  Probably the most exciting moment of the book and Hugo goes off for about 50 pages on the history of the Paris sewers. You're killing me, dude! Oh wait, you're dead.  Never mind.  It's cool. So, if you can get past all of that some say it's the greatest novel ever written.  Could be. Yes, people die in it.  Life was hard in the olden times.

Brandy has a little cameo in this book and I'm feeling like it deserves a comeback anyway. While this cocktail was developed in 1876 a  a tiny bit later than when Les Miserables is's still a very olden times recipe. Brandy Daisy: 3/4 ounce yellow chartreuse, 1 and 1/2 ounces brandy or cognac, 3/4 ounce lemon juice.  Pour ingredients in a cocktail shaker with cracked ice and stir well. Strain into a Collins glass with ice and top with a little seltzer.

Wednesday, November 16, 2016

The Sense of an Ending

These mid-life or later life existentialist crisis books tend to win awards but I don't think Gen-Xer's vote on these things. For a Gen-Xer, examining the meaning of your life and finding it wanting is what we call Tuesday. The Sense of an Ending is by the super-British author Julian Barnes. (His name is Julian for Pete's sake) This won the Man Booker Prize in 2011. Sure it's well written but this genre doesn't do much for me, by that I mean, the examined boring life. People's lives are boring enough. Kids and work and kids and work and sports and sports and sports and work. (Read that last sentence to a dance beat and it gets more exciting).

In this book, our narrator Anthony lived a fairly ordinary life except for a few weird blips when she was a young adult.  Those "blips" come back, in one form or another after his retirement...and...we have a plot. The "twists" are not all that twisty.  And they happen to other people.  If you like a beautifully written very Britishy character study you might like it.  There is a mention of tyres. I almost wished someone got stabbed. (No one got stabbed). The most amazing part of this book is that our narrator gets to retire before he turns eighty, unlike most Americans I know. You can retire AND eat at a Pub? La-di-da, look at you fancy man.

They mostly drink beer in this book. I've been known to have an occasional beer myself.  I found a nice citrus-y crisp IPA that is my new favorite.  Green Flash Brewing Company makes it: Soul Style. They do sell around town and Green Flash has a map of exactly where they sell it in your city on their website. Pretty cool, huh. 

Monday, October 31, 2016

We Have Always Lived in the Castle

I have a confession to make. I don't really like Halloween as much as everyone else. I know, I know, its the "hot" holiday these days but I've never loved it. Even as a kid. I'm going out in the cold with an old pillowcase going up to strangers asking for candy? And wait a minute...we have candy here at home. Then as an adult I have to spend $70 on a sexy Postmaster General outfit and go out in the cold and wait a minute...we have alcohol here at home? I guess I have to be "social." But I can do that without an outfit.  I always want to be some obscure real life person from the 70's.  One year I was Phyllis Diller and people thought I was Cruella de Vil...which I get but I'm like, "Do you even know me?"  It turns out they didn't know me at all because we were in costume. (That year I also considered Gene Shalit and Charles Nelson Reilly). Anyway, I actually do like fall things, the cats get super snugly, hot drinks and I like to read one scary story near Halloween.

They are making a movie of this book which is coming out next year.  I don't want to put any spoilers in this but there are two young women that live with their disabled uncle in a big rambling mansion.  They don't get many visitors.  One reason is that you might be taking your life in your hands even in the simple act of eating a snack. You know, I'd take that risk.  How do you know those rum cakes aren't poisoned?  Me with mouth full: Mgoota die smoometimme!  This is a fun/scary small Gothic novel with subtle social commentary subtexts--read it.  I might actually go to the movie as it has Crispin Glover in it. What a weirdo! Love it.

It's not really cold this Halloween so this is fall-like drink sounds refreshing: Hard Cider Sangria: combine in pitcher one cup thinly sliced apples, one navel orange, quartered and thinly sliced, one cup chilled apple juice, two tablespoons fresh lemon juice, and 1/4 cup apple brandy. Just before serving add a 22 ounce bottle of hard apple cider. Serve in tall glasses over ice.  

Thursday, October 13, 2016

Riftwar Saga: Siverthorn and A Darkness at Sethanon

Dungeons and Dragons is making a comeback or so I've been told. I was never into D&D and while I kind of approve of the massive snacking involved I think a game that lasts like, years, would not appeal to me. I also feel like it would really bring out the pedants. Call the exterminator!  The pedants...they're everywhere! I don't think diatomaceous earth would work either, because instead of puncturing their thoraxes they would just explain that the diatoms were fossilized hard shelled protozoa. Sigh. Anyway, Siverthorn and A Darkness at Sethanon are books three and four in this D&D based fantasy series and written well before it was cool. Well before.

First, you should not read these without reading books one and two because you will be horribly lost. Second, you could stop with these four books as it comes to a kind of resolution at the end.  Good enough resolution. I had a slight preference for Silverthorn over Darkness because I'm more interested in a small band of weirdos on a secret mission than multiple castle battle scenes. Now I do know the difference between crenelations and a murder hole, but when I see the word barbican I think about shaving cream and modelling schools for some reason.  So, you'll need to know your castle defenses anatomy to follow Darkness for sure. C'mon, it's good for you. Plus you can casually slip donjon in a conversation. Don't be a jerk about it though...otherwise it will be the diatomaceous earth for you.

It's getting brisk out so it's fall cocktail time: Jack Rose: 1 oz lemon juice, 1/2 ounce of grenadine, 2 ounces applejack.  Shake all of the ingredients in a cocktail shaker with ice and strain into a cocktail glass.  Yes, this will be rosy--grenadine will do that.

Thursday, October 6, 2016

Year of Magical Thinking

Everyone Poops...and dies.  Everyone Poops was a great name for a kid's book. Everyone Dies is a good name for a punk band's album. Nevertheless, Joan Didion, who is not dead, although she is old and looks more fragile than a sugar-spun cake topper wrote this book about dealing with her husband's sudden death (while her daughter was in the hospital). Joan is richer, fancier more famous than you and she really is the antithesis of punk rock. Yet, she too will die and someone will write about it. Circle of life, Joan, circle of life.....oh Mufasa. Damn you...who is cutting onions?

I thought this book was really interesting.  How would an intellectual deal with death...well, by doing more research on death, of course! That is what you are getting.  She doesn't dumb it down for you. It also treads this weird line between narcissistic, cathartic and voyeuristic. I suspect this is indicative of her work and why people really like her.  It's compelling. You would not think some old lady talking about death would be compelling but it is.  Well, it's not just me because it did win the National Book Award.

I listened to this book on audio and the narrator is originally from Great Britain but she has a mostly American accent.  That mix between the two is what some people call the "continental" accent. You'll hear blue-bloods from old movies like Grace Kelly and Katherine Hepburn talk like this and it seemed to fit Joan's "voice" perfectly. For whatever reason, at the end of every third chapter they put in some weird piano music to transition for the next chapter...with no warning...the first time this happened it scared me horribly.  I was in the car and it sounded like there was an erudite ambulance siren behind me.

Joan and her late husband were drinkers, in fact, the last thing John drank right before he died was Scotch.  I'd bet it was decent stuff too. I actually love Scotch but I like it neat. I'm warming up to brandy these days and in this cocktail you can use brandy, bourbon or rye. Horse's neck: put 2 ounces of liquor in a tall Collins type glass, put a few cubes and fill the rest with ginger ale. Garnish with a long lemon peel that you artfully drape in the length of the glass. Enjoy your life.    

Tuesday, September 20, 2016

In the Heart of the Sea

I'm really sad that Burger King no longer calls their fish sandwich The Whaler.  I think it was meant to be the co-conspirator of the Whopper.  I'm sure BK liked the symmetry in naming their giant greasy sandwiches.  What name can we give it that makes it sounds like you are getting something large but might make you sick?  Hey, not only do I have one name.....I've got two!  Anyway, In the Heart of the Sea is about whalers who suffer more problems than a lonely teenager that tries to eat a Whopper and Whaler in the same sitting.  We call that the ol' plebeian surf and turf.

Do you think I'm not going to read a non-fiction book about a shipwrecked whaling ship, because that sounds boring. Well, you're boring, and also dead wrong.  This book is awesome.  It's very exciting and well written. I listened to the audio book and the narration was excellent too.  It gets all the stars.  (Yeah, it won a National Book Award too, pfft...whatever).

The story about the Essex is the the inspiration for Moby Dick. The author tells you right away some of the worst parts but then explains how it all went down. People were so weird in the olden times. At one point I was rooting for the whale because these peoples' relationship to nature was so bizarre.  What if you came across your buddy and you see he sits down to eat a baby panda.  You would say--C'mon! He's like, what? (baby panda leg hanging out of his mouth). [That did not happen in the book  although they would have totally done that if there were pandas around]. Maybe in the future people will think this about us. I can't believe they used to eat pork back in the day....those are the Emperor's ancestors for Pete's sake.

Drinks: The main thing you will want to drink with this book is water...lots and lots of water. Once you've had your fill how about a super refreshing "last of summer" celebration cocktail: Sgroppino (It's a Venetian drink): 1 oz vodka, one small scoop lemon sorbet, 3 oz Prosecco. In a small bowl, whisk the vodka, sorbet and some of the Prosecco until it reaches a slushy consistency. Slowly add the rest of the Prosecco and incorporate with a whisk.  Transfer this to a champagne flute.  (It's like an adult slushy).

Wednesday, September 14, 2016

Under Heaven

ARE YOU NOT ENTERTAINED? Remember that from Gladiator? What if you had a person, off camera say...."Meh"? or "Uninspired!" (Gladiator instantly turns into a Mel Brooks movie).  Anyway, Under Heaven, while well written, was just not my thing.  In fact, it supposedly gets "exciting" at the end but by then I was kind of in slog-mode. It is about 85% historical fiction with a "hint" of supernatural.  They say it's fantasy but it's not really fantasy. Set in 8th century China its about some dude, horses, concubines, ghosts, a wolf-man (not the fun kind, who makes a wolf-man boring!), ninjas...even "lady ninjas" and lots and lots of court intrigue.

I'm not sure women were this empowered in the olden times.  I guess theoretically there would be a lady ninja or a petite, super-cute lady warrior but I doubt it. You know there would be some 8th century idiot that made a proclamation that lady-ninjas weren't smart, strong or "too emotional" to be hired.  It turns out the idiot is just some bro who lives in his parent's basement playing mah-jong all day and never held a sword in his life (he had a collection of swords but had no idea how to actually use them).

There are plenty of people that liked this book, but sadly, I thought it meh.  I listened to some on audio and the narrator is excellent (one reason I picked this up) but still.....I've heard this is not Kay's best work so I'll probably give him another chance.

Drinks: The characters in this book drink warm spiced rice wine.  Mulled wine will sound amazing in about three months but it's a still a little too hot right now. How about a Ginger Ale and Sake drink?: Mix roughly equal parts sake and ginger ale in a glass with ice and serve with a lemon twist.