The Dog Doesn’t Die

Book reviews & random thoughts

Does the Dog Die? A Brief Review of The New Yorkers, by Cathleen Schine

This book was such fun to read! Cathleen Schine has written a number of books, and I don’t recall how I stumbled across this one, but I really liked it and plan to read more of her work. The New Yorkers fits well into the theme of this blog, since some of the characters are dogs.

In fact, there are many characters in this story about a small group of New Yorkers who live on the city’s Upper West Side, and one of the things I liked was that Schine spooled them out slowly enough and made them different enough that I was able to keep track of them easily. The dogs change their owners’ lives. For example, Jody is a middle-aged music teacher whose pit bull brings new joy to her life and opens her up to falling in love after a long drought. There’s also Everett, the aforementioned love interest, who is a nice but non-perfect guy; George, a young waiter who moves in with his sister Polly, who in turn adopts a puppy; Simon, a somewhat self-absorbed bureaucrat; Jamie, the gay restaurant owner who makes everyone feel at home, even the dogs; and Doris, the dog-hating but comical villain with political aspirations. These people each have their own stories, they keep bumping into each other, and their lives slowly improve or change, so by the end it seems that everyone, including Doris, is where they ought to be in their emotional lives, with a big boost from the dogs. It’s all very endearing, sweet, and normal, giving us a window on ordinary lives and reminding us of the joys therein.

As for the fate of the animals, well, there is some drama and some sadness, because not all of our pets live as long as we do. But there is nothing awful like abuse or neglect that would truly upset an animal lover.

So I am recommending this book – enjoy!

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October 31, 2011 Posted by | animals, beach book, Book Reviews, dogs, food, friendship, humor, pets, Uncategorized | , | Leave a comment

Does the Dog Die? A Brief Review of True Confections: A Novel, by Katharine Weber

What I love most about this book is Weber’s hysterically funny, commpletely unreliable narrator, Alice Tatnall Ziplinsky. Alice is a true find in my fiction reading, and even though the book dragged in a couple of relatively short sections, I hated coming to the end and letting Alice go off into her daft non-existence.

Here is a representative quote:

But my altruism can be misunderstood, whether it takes the form of serving perfectly wholesome beef stew to a malnourished little second grader friend of Jacob’s whose vegan parents were practically starving him, or giving a much-needed haircut to a kindergarten classmate of Julie’s who was over for a playdate. … I have no idea why her silly mother cried like that. It was just hair.

In the story, Alice, aka “Arson Girl,” marries into the Ziplinsky family, owners of Zip’s Candies. Alice may be the smartest person in the bunch, though she’s not the most savvy about personal relationships, and she babbles away with sharp observations about the candy industry, in-laws, children, work, the law, and whatever else she feels like discussing. I did feel sorry for her in a few spots, but Alice is a strong-willed character, and even when she’s noting the personal hurts and slights she’s endured, you know that’s what she’ll always do — endure.

I strongly recommend this book, based on the narrator alone.

As for animals, this book is MOSTLY SAFE for animal lovers. A cat dies early on, and as does a kitten, though the latter is not shown. On the upside, there are two long-lived pet frogs.

Enjoy!

March 12, 2011 Posted by | beach book, Book Reviews, families, food, humor | , , , | 1 Comment

Does the Dog Die? A Brief Review of Did I Really Make Breakfast? by Fabio Viviani

Already the co-author of a traditional cookbook, Cafe Firenze Cookbook, Top Chef: All Stars contestant (eliminated last night) and Season 5 fan favorite Fabio Viviani recently came out with a short and delightful ebook full of inventive yet easy recipes for breakfast. Did I Really Make Breakfast? is available on Amazon for the Kindle for $2.99.

Fabio writes like he talks: with a distinctive Italian accent and a great sense of humor. In one of the recipes calling for ground prosciutto, for example, he says “ask the person at the Deli counter to ground that for you or use your meat grinder is sitting in the cabinet for the past few years anyway, right?” Absolutely! When I was a small child, my mom and I used her meat grinder to make sandwich spreads from leftovers. Have I used it in the 10+ years since I brought it here from Mom’s house? No. Has Fabio guilted me into dragging it out of the cabinet and grinding some prosciutto? Quite possibly.

As for the recipes, here are some that I want to try: a couple of different savory pancakes with ingredients like Italian sausage and fresh rosemary, a cheddar and onion pie, cheesy biscuits, cinnamon bread, and more.  But because a cookbook is only as good as its recipes, I made the Pear and Parmesan Muffins on a recent Sunday morning. Dave and I agreed that they tasted more strongly of cheese than pear, and that was great, because there aren’t enough savory muffins in this world.

In my book reviews, I always mention whether the book is “safe” for animal lovers who don’t want to read about bad things happening to animals. Well, this is a cookbook. If you’re a vegan, you might not consider it safe. Otherwise, it’s fine. But I do want to note Fabio’s credentials as a fellow animal lover. He has a pet turtle, and she has been featured on Top Chef: All Stars, as well as in this video in which he talks about his turtle with fellow All Star chef Richard Blais. Apparently, Fabio has now named her and has tweeted that she eats sushi.

And because I can’t help myself, here is a link to Fabio’s Facebook page and my favorite photo: Fabio holding kittens. I mean, really, does it get any better than that?

But even if Fabio looked like a troll and spoke in a gutteral mumble, I would highly recommend Did I Really Make Breakfast? based on the recipes alone. So buy it and enjoy!

February 10, 2011 Posted by | animals, Book Reviews, food, pets, reality TV, Top Chef, Uncategorized | , , , , | Leave a comment

Does the Dog Die? A Brief Review of Bitter in the Mouth, by Monique Truong

It’s hard to review books with twists, because the twist limits the amount I can say about them. So … good book, engaging protagonist, interesting family dynamics, Truong can really write, and I recommend this book.

What I can tell you, more specifically: protagonist Linda recounts her childhood, with focus on her parents, her friend Kelly, and her great-uncle, “Baby” Harper. She provides a substantial amount of family history, and talks about her loss of innocence, her education, her career, her love life, and her estrangement from her mother. She also tries to explain her synesthesia.

I have mild synesthesia — numbers are, as Wikipedia puts it, “inherently colored,” and time has shape. But this is very subtle and in the background, and I seldom think about it. Linda, on the other hand, has lexical-gustatory synesthesia, in which words evoke tastes. And Linda’s synesthesia is so intense that it is a major distraction in her life, almost crippling. It’s interesting, but I also have to share some of the criticisms of the book, that Truong’s handling of dialogue in context of Linda’s “condition” makes it difficult to read. (We get it. You don’t need to beat us over the head with it by giving us the flavors associated with every word.)

I can’t reveal the twist, which comes about half-way through the book, though I began to suspect that “something was up” before then. All I can tell you is that it puts everything before that in a new context. I’m not sure how engaging the story would have been had we known everything up front, and I do feel like the book was missing a certain something that I can’t pinpoint. But I’m still recommending it. Bitter in the Mouth is definitely better than many of the other books on the market right now.

Representative quotes:

His mother was rarely home, though she didn’t have a job. Wade and I were both blind to what these midafternoon absences could mean.

In retrospect, the family realized that cat grooming was by far the most “normal” of the communities that this woman had thrown herself into.

As for animals, there are a few references to cats and cows, and that’s about it. So this novel is SAFE for animal lovers. Enjoy!

January 26, 2011 Posted by | Book Reviews, death of a parent, families, food | , | Leave a comment

New Mexico 2010: Restaurants New to Us

Sometimes on vacation, a favorite restaurant will have closed. Or we will feel as if we don’t have enough favorites in a given location. And that’s an opportunity to explore! Here are the new-to-us restaurants we visited during our 2010 New Mexico vacation.

Albuquerque

The Artichoke Cafe was expensive but otherwise wonderful. Our server was especially noteworthy, in that she wasn’t just standing there reciting to us, but she actually talked to us about the food on more than a surface level. The food was excellent, too, and the desserts superb. The chef seemed to really understand how to match flavors and textures. Unfortunately, I don’t remember what I had, because it was one of the specials and this meal was early in the trip. But I remember almost swooning over it because it was such a well-cooked and well-presented meal.

Santa Fe

Il Piatto had great service, too, as well as the option of a fixed price menu. Yes, you can get Italian food anywhere, but this restaurant is special. I had the duck papardelle, which was delightful. Il Piatto makes its own pasta, which is always appreciated. The tiramisu was addictive, and the restaurant was packed with locals — always a good sign. This would have been a reasonably priced meal but for the fact that we ordered wine by the glass instead of getting a bottle.

Taos

Sadly, Joseph’s Table went under, and El Meze had a fire, so we had to find new Taos restaurants. Happily, we did quite well, thanks to our B&B hosts. Our first night in town, we went downscale, to Pizza Out Back (a name describing the fact that you can’t find this place unless someone tells you how to get there). The pizzas here are huge! Order a slice and a salad, and you’ll still find yourself unable to finish. What a fun, funky place! I had the small house salad and a slice of Vinnie’s Special, both of which were yummy.

One day for lunch, we wandered into Graham’s Grill, which I’m hoping to visit again someday. Service was a bit slow, but the decor was bright without being a shock to the system, and the food was good enough that I’d like to consider it for dinner. I had the mac-and-cheese appetizer, which was delicious and filling enough for lunch without spoiling dinner.

The best meal in Taos, however, was at Lambert’s, which was absolutely glorious. Dave and I go to an awful lot of restaurants, so it isn’t easy to make an impression on us. But Lambert’s did. I began dinner with the wild mushroom risotto, which I would have happily made into an entire meal. My entree was the duck, which was beautifully prepared. And the chocolate mousse we shared for dessert proved that not all chocolate mousses are alike — some are better than others.

Restaurants in Small Towns — Datil, Pecos, and Cimmaron

Driving around New Mexico led us to find three very different restaurants, each of which will get a return visit if we’re ever back in the area. First was Mary Mac’s in Datil, NM, along Route 60. There’s a whole story about how we ended up here, and that story will be in another post, but suffice it to say that we were wandering. You may notice that I have no links for Mary Mac’s? That’s because there are none, except for 4 comments by 3 people on some forum. I can’t even get an address for the place, but if you’re near Datil on Route 60 in New Mexico, you will see it. And if you are hungry, you should go there. Mary Mac’s is a cafe/sandwich shop with good food and large portions. The knotty pine decor sold me on the place the minute we walked in, and the service is small-town chatty. I had a burger and Dave had a salad, and we were both pleased.

We were also wandering when we found ourselves at Frankie’s, in the small town of Pecos, near Santa Fe. Again, no website for the place, but it’s wonderful! Laid-back, Old West decor and atmosphere and good, hearty New Mexican food. I had a chicken enchilada that reminded me of why I love New Mexican food. This is a place to check out whenever you’re in the area. Or, as I described it to friends last night, it’s the kind of place we all fantasize about when we imagine a Western saloon with great food. Go there!

The last small town restaurant I’m recommending is at the St. James Hotel in Cimarron. The hotel is allegedly haunted, but if there is any kind of mischief going on in the kitchen, it only relates to the overly large portions. I had a delicious but enormous chicken enchilada that I couldn’t do justice to at all.

Next up: Birds

November 4, 2010 Posted by | Albuquerque, food, New Mexico, restaurants, Santa Fe, Taos, travel | , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

New Mexico 2010: Restaurants That We Keep Going Back To

My goal was to gain less than 5 pounds on this trip, because the food is always so good in New Mexico. I went slightly over, but considering how well we ate, that’s almost miraculous. We went to many great restaurants, which I’m going to review, and a few that were okay, which I’m going to leave out. There were some old favorites, which I review in this post, and some exciting new ones that I will review next time. Let’s get started:

Albuquerque Favorites

Our “just flew 3/4 of the way across the country and feel zonked” restaurant in Albuquerque is the Flying Star Cafe. It’s idiot-proof (me being the idiot) and good, and there are several of them in Albuquerque. I had the excellent Blues Burger our first night in, and I’ve had other good food there over the years. It’s the perfect place to sit across from your traveling companion and make brilliant statements like “wow, we’re finally on vacation” or “it’s good to be in New Mexico.” Like I said, idiot-proof and good.

More upscale is another Albuquerque restaurant, Zinc. I love Zinc, and I make reservations there every time we visit New Mexico. My favorite item on the menu, bar none, is the smoked trout and potato pancakes appetizer. The entrees are all superb, and the desserts are very special. This time, we had the creme brulee trio and the chocolate truffles. Last year, we had the truffles alone, which relates to a particular change that Zinc has made that I believe shows true wisdom on the part of its management: they’ve right-sized the menu. Don’t you hate having to choose between wasting food and eating too much at a restaurant? Although the online menu doesn’t show it, you can get smaller portions of many items, including the wonderful smoked trout and potato pancakes. I had a half-portion of the quail entree, as well. So we saved money and avoided waste. What’s not to like? I wish more restaurants would do that.

Madrid, Santa Fe, and Penasco Favorites

If you take the Turquoise Trail from Albuquerque to Santa Fe (or vice versa), you cannot avoid seeing the Mineshaft Tavern, in the small town of Madrid. We eat there at least once on every trip, and this time we visited twice, ordering sandwiches. It’s damned good bar food, even at lunch. Beer optional. Plus, it’s hard to beat the roadhouse atmosphere.

Another small town eatery not to be missed, but with an entirely different vibe, is Sugar Nymphs, in Penasco along the High Road between Santa Fe and Taos. We had lunch there. Service is slow, but there’s no need to rush — you’re going to get a delightful meal no matter what you order. When Dave and I were there, eating a salad and a burger respectively, I sat facing the bar and watched the pastry chef bring out a beautiful, cinnamon-scented hot apple and walnut crisp to cool. Of course we had it for dessert — how could we not?

In Santa Fe, we always go to The Shed, usually with our friends Pat and Bonnie. The food is classic New Mexican cuisine, and The Shed is an outstanding and affordable place for it. This is the restaurant where I was introduced to New Mexican food, which is very different from what is served as Mexican food in the rest of America, and so I will always think fondly of the place. But aside from that? Funky yet authentic decor, friendly service, a fun environment, great food, and low prices. I normally have the chicken enchiladas, followed by “Shed cake” for dessert.

Next: Restaurants we visited for the first time and would happily return to.

October 31, 2010 Posted by | Albuquerque, food, New Mexico, Santa Fe, travel | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Does the Dog Die? A Brief Review of My Life from Scratch, by Gesine Bullock-Prado

Gesine (Geh-see-neh) Bullock-Prado has an extreme version of the situation my mother once faced. Just after I graduated from high school, we went to a wedding. Afterwards, Mom was upset because everyone knew who she was related to, but not who she was on her own.  She set out to correct that situation, but the fact is that Gesine Bullock-Prado will always be Sandra Bullock’s sister, no matter what. Like my mom, she’s done her own thing, plus she’s written an enjoyable if slightly repetitive memoir about her own life. But Sandra Bullock is too big to expunge from a sister’s identity.

Gesine writes about her famous sister, but her focus is on her work and her mother. After completing law school and realizing that law firms basically suck as work environments, Gesine became Sandra’s bullshit screener, reading and pitching scripts for Sandra’s production company, among other things. Along the way, she met a lovely man, Ray, whom she married. And after about 10 years, she decided that Hollywood was hell and that her heart was in baking, which she’d done all along.

And which she loved, and which was her major connection with her beloved, late mother, and her mother’s family. Helga Bullock was German, so much of what Gesine learned to bake as a child was German pastry. That she has taken into her Vermont bakery, Gesine’s, which is a true labor of love. She details the daily, weekly, and monthly rhythms of her bakery.

This is a short book, with glorious and complicated recipes, as well as a bit too much repetition. But if you are a foodie, you’ll love this book. Gesine is a charming narrator, and I hope she does well with whatever she does with her life (the bakery takes quite a toll, evidently, so it may not last).

As for animals, this book is completely SAFE for animal lovers. Gesine has dogs, one of which had an eye problem. She has a particular affection for owls, which she connects with her mother. And she mentions riding horses. That’s it. Enjoy!

October 22, 2010 Posted by | autobiography, beach book, Book Reviews, death of a parent, families, food, memoir, recipes, Uncategorized | , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Does the Dog Die? A Brief Review of The Fortune Cookie Chronicles, by Jennifer 8 Lee

I ordered Chinese food for dinner one night last week, specifically General Tso’s chicken. I couldn’t keep reading Jennifer 8 Lee’s entertaining and informative book on the topic and continue to eat Italian or whatever else was in my refrigerator. I had to have Chinese food.

Lee, the daughter of immigrants, is a dogged and aggressive investigative reporter. But of what? Essentially, she chronicles her search for the origins of Chinese food in America. If you think, “well, of course, that would be China,” guess again. General Tso’s chicken, chop suey, anything with broccoli in it … not Chinese. As another example, Lee spends a good portion of the book tracking down the source of fortune cookies. Let’s just say they’re not standard fare at restaurants in China. And where do you think the staff comes for the Chinese carryout you phone in, or the little Chinese restaurant at the end of the block that you visit on occasion? Yes, these people may come from China, but how did they end up in your community?

Lee answers all of these questions thoroughly and with animated and energetic prose. I had a lot of fun reading this book, and I highly recommend it.

As for animals, really nothing much bad happens unless you get squicked out by the notion of selecting live seafood for dinner. (I will confess that it bothers me, but not to the point where I’d veto a book over it.) When Lee discusses American cultural issues about dog meat with a Chinese farmer, he says that dogs raised for pets are no good for eating — you should only eat dogs raised for meat. Well, that’s nice. (Does WordPress have sarcasm tags?) Okay, so it’s a cultural thing, I’m American, and Americans don’t eat certain animals. Anyway, nothing awful is shown despite a few concepts being presented, so I’m going to declare this book SAFE for animal lovers. Enjoy!

April 25, 2010 Posted by | beach book, Book Reviews, food, nonfiction, restaurants | , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Does the Dog Die? A Brief Review of The Tenth Muse, by Judith Jones

One of my college history professors — a man — once said that too much of what passes for history is the history of wars. Being a wise and thoughtful man, he gave us novels and memoirs written during the timeframe we were studying. It’s his line of thinking that I carry over when tagging this memoir as “history.” If we look at American culture over the last 60 years, we have been going through an almost constant state of revolution in our attitudes towards food. If Julia Child was the Jefferson (or Karl Marx) of that revolution, Judith Jones was the Washington (or Lenin). Both made a huge and enduring impact on the way we cook, thereby having a huge economic impact on the restaurant business, grocery stores, agriculture, the import/export sector, publishing, and other elements of our world. Will they be included in traditional history books? No. And that’s an oversight, and a problem with the way we perceive history. So, with my little rant behind me, let’s move on to the book review of The Tenth Muse: My Life in Food, which is Judith Jones’ autobiography.

I loved it, but I think that was inevitable. I already gave her recent cookbook, Cooking for One, a rave review. With the Tenth Muse, Jones, who turns 86 this year, begins by telling about her normal childhood in a home that served the bland pre-WWII  food that was typical of the American diet at that time. It was life in post-WWII Paris that liberated Jones. She threw herself into cooking, met the man who would become her husband, and came back to the U.S. desperately in need of a cookbook that didn’t yet exist — the cookbook that Julia Child was just starting to write. After fighting to get Mastering the Art of French Cooking published, Jones went on to shepherd through any number of now-famous cookbook authors, like Edna Lewis, Lidia Bastianach, Madhur Jaffrey, and many others.

Jones includes about 50 of her favorite recipes at the back of the book, but really, you read this for her engaging storytelling ability and her light and direct writing style. I strongly recommend this book.

As for animal lovers who don’t want to read about bad things happening to animals, this book is MOSTLY SAFE. If you are really squeamish at the merest mention of something bad happening to an animal, you won’t like this book. That seems to be typical of memoirs by food-oriented people, by the way. They always recount something a bit squicky. Towards the end of the book, Jones mentions in passing that she has always owned a dog, and she names several in the course of her story, but these pets aren’t really much of a presence in the book. And there’s the infamous beaver incident, which is noted but not shown. But overall, I think animal lovers should be able to read this excellent memoir for what it is. Enjoy!

March 4, 2010 Posted by | autobiography, beach book, biography, Book Reviews, dogs, food, history, nonfiction, pets, recipes | , , , | Leave a comment

A Hodge-Podge

So Domino’s Pizza is advertising that their old pizza was awful. I’m not going to argue with that. I’d give it a D+. And now, supposedly, Domino’s has a new and improved pizza.

Let me say here that I am not a fan of New York pizza. To me, it is a fat delivery system with no flavor other than salt and a texture like cardboard drenched in grease. I much prefer Chicago-style pizza, which is a fat delivery system with many diverse flavors and wonderful textures. Mmmm, Chicago-style pizza!

I mention this because on Sunday, Dave and I returned from New York with a variety pack of beers from Brooklyn Brewery, all of which I will write about below. And the US-Canada hockey game was on that night, and we’re hockey fans. So, to go with our beers, we ordered a pizza from Domino’s.

Good work, Domino’s! You certainly did improve your product. I now give it a B-, which is high praise coming from me. The crust has a hint of garlic flavor and no longer tastes like cardboard. The sauce — who even noticed the sauce before? Now it’s just a tad spicy, which I like. Spicy is good. The sausage still needs some work, but maybe that’s next.

Okay, on to New York. We went to the Metropolitan Museum of Art and the Brooklyn Brewery.  The latter was not as interesting as a winery, but the beer is good and now I’ve finally been in Brooklyn. For dinner, we revisited a favorite restaurant, Fig and Olive, and discovered a new one, Cookshop. Both were excellent.

What else did we do in New York? We got hypnotized by the Olympics on TV. Who knew the men’s cross-country race could be so exciting? It was, though, with the Swedes introducing a new strategy that really pissed off the other racers and resulted in gold and bronze medals for the Swedes. Good going, Swedish cross-country guys!

The US-Canada men’s hockey game on Sunday was dramatic. I don’t think I breathed during the entire third period. I’m an American, which should surprise no one reading this blog, but I like good hockey most of all. I’m also pissed off that neither the Canadian nor the American team have any of my Washington Capitals on them, while Russia has three. If I end up cheering for Russia, this is why.

Anyway, the Canadians were all assuming this was a two-team tournament between them and Russia. That’s why they lost, and if they don’t pull it together immediately, they’re over. I have little hope for them, because they certainly seemed to lack cohesiveness and it’s kind of late even if they develop it. It is entirely possible that they are now shocked into whatever mental state athletes need to be in to win. But the other teams — the ones like defending Olympic gold medalists Team Sweden — have had more time together in that very frame of mind. Via the Internet I have a good friend from Canada, and I know this means a lot to them, but I am calling Sweden to repeat as the gold medalists, the winner of the Russia/Canada match to take silver, and US for the bronze. Blame Steve Yzerman for listening to Don Cherry * or someone very much like him . I’d like to see the gold medal game between Russia and the US, but we’ll see. There’s lots of hockey to be played this week, and I don’t want to jinx it.

*Cherry is a clown who used to know a lot about hockey but doesn’t anymore. He’s biased against all players born outside of Canada, which is a distinctly 1950s mentality. Take the most bigoted bloviating anti-immigrant politician you can think of, put him in a bright red jacket, and limit him to talking about hockey: that’s Don Cherry. He probably really does think there are only two teams playing in the Olympics. It’s sad when a one-time expert becomes a joke, and that’s what happened to him.

February 23, 2010 Posted by | food, random thoughts, sports, travel | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment