Saturday, November 21, 2015

Confessions of a Comma Queen
Mary Norris

     The first word that comes to mind when describing first-time author Mary Norris's homage to punctuation is FUN.  You weren't expecting the word fun, were you?  Perhaps you were thinking more along the lines of dry or bland or mundane.  Between You & Me is none of those things.  I can honestly say that I laughed out-loud many times while reading Mary's chapters, such as "Comma Comma Comma Comma, Chameleon" or "Spelling is for Weirdos."  Whether it was her sharp humor or her dead-on "this drives me crazy so it must drive you crazy" list of punctuation faux pas, Mary's words made me chuckle, guffaw and shout "Yes!" 
     I actually may have found a kindred spirit in Mary Norris.  Who else worships the lowly pencil as an editing tool in this age of high tech? Who else appreciates the finely wrought beauty of a well  placed cuss word?  And who else would ponder a comma, a colon, a semicolon and, gasp - a hyphen with such delight?  I would.  And many of my friends would, too.   
      Mary Norris includes a wonderful appendix at the end of Between You & Me entitled "Some Books I Have Found Particularly Helpful."  And many of her suggested titles already inhabit my own bookshelves.  As if that were not enough, upon reading her chapter "Ballad of a Pencil Junkie," I immediately ordered a set of Palomino Blackwing pencils on-line, at two in the morning, by the light of my I-Phone.  I get a thrill each time I think of the Palomino's lovely soft lead and the smooth, square eraser attached firmly to one end. (Preventing pesky rolls off the table edge.)  Oh my goodness!  I've just realized something.  I am Mary Norris's doppelganger.  Yes, as Emily Bronte's Catherine Earnshaw said, "I am Heathcliff!"   Confessions of a Comma Queen will never be far from my elbow!

Friday, October 30, 2015

                      Anthony Doerr 

                        Three adjectives: 
                   Powerful, Lyrical,Vibrant                    
                    Dinner conversation with Mr. Doerr:
     "How did you manage to create the perfect balance between the book's main characters, one that enabled the reader to sympathize with both the Germans and the French during WWII?"
     At our dinner, I would serve bread pudding, canned peaches and a large pitcher of clear, cold water.  

Wednesday, October 14, 2015


The Enchanted April
Elizabeth Von Arnim

At the risk of seeming repetitive, 
 Enchanting, Lovely, Picturesque

My dinner conversation would include women's rights in post WWI England and the merits of an extended vacation.
 I would serve Ms. Von Arnim a full English Tea.  (Although I am certainly tempted to serve a meal featuring that  mysterious food, spaghetti.)

Monday, October 12, 2015

                     Fire in the Blood
                            Irene Nemirovsky

                             Minute Review

                           Three nouns today:
                      Love, Secrets and Denial

   Dinner conversation:  My question for Irene Nemirovsky,
"We lost you in the Holocaust.  How many stories were lost, how many wonderful books were already written in your head and heart when your life was cut short?"

At dinner I would offer bread, apples and individual mulit-layer cakes.  And of course, wine.

Sunday, October 11, 2015

Lady Love to Read’ s Minute Book Reviews
Are Back!!

One minute to read. 
Just three adjectives, a brief dinner conversation with the author and a culinary gift. 
Love, love, love it or the book’s a snooze…..  
Are you in?  
Let’s go! 

Eight books to review, one per day.  Today's gem is Joan Didion's 
Slouching Towards Bethlehem.
Vivid, Real,Perfect
My request during dinner with Ms. Didion, "Tell me what you really think."
At our dinner, hot coffee, black, lots of it.

Tuesday, August 25, 2015

     A Peach of a Pair

     South Carolina native Kim Boykin was in Charleston recently, promoting her newest book,  A Peach of a Pair.  I was lucky enough to meet the author at the Blue Bicycle Book Luncheon held at Hall's Chophouse on King Street.  We were treated to a delicious meal and the hospitality that Hall's is known for, as well as an insider's view of the publishing world.  Ms. Boykin is a lively, interesting speaker and a very talented author.

     A Peach of a Pair is set in and around Columbia and Camden, South Carolina in the early 1950's.  It is at once a road-trip book, a love story, and a study of the complicated relationships that can exist within families.
     The "Peaches" are elderly, spinster sisters Emily and Lurleen Eldredge, proper Southern ladies who have secrets to keep and stories to tell.  Enter Nettie Gilbert,  a college senior with secrets of her own.   Hired as the sisters caregiver by handsome Dr. Remmie Wilkes, Nettie soon learns that both love and forgiveness are needed to mend her broken heart.
     Told alternately from the perspective of each elderly sister, the college coed and the young doctor who cares for them all, A Peach of a Pair is a page turner.  I carried the book around with me for three days until I reluctantly finsished it.  I didn't want it to end!
     It's also the first book in a long time that has made me cry real tears over the well-formed characters and poignant storyline.  Jealousy, betrayal, forgiveness and ultimately love shine bright in A Peach of a Pair.

Tuesday, August 18, 2015

by George Eliot
(pen name, Mary Anne Evans)

     My path to Middlemarch was circuitous.  I read a review of another book, My Life in Middlemarch by Rebecca Mead and although Ms. Mead's book sounded interesting, I couldn't read it.   How could  I read a book written by someone who had spent her entire life obsessed by Middlemarch when I had not actually read Middlemarch myself?   So I purchased both books, then jumped  into George Eliot's nineteenth century, eight hundred page tome.
      My reaction to Middlemarch was one of delighted surprise.  I was entertained and above all, I was enchanted.  Set in the Midlands of England, the same magical countryside that housed the rabbit warrens of Watership Down, Middlemarch is a country town that is at once bucolic and busy.  Inhabited by a fascinating assortment of characters, both working class and landed gentry, the inhabitants of Middlemarch never fail to behave in interesting and surprising ways.
     And whether you are hoping against hope that Dorothea does not marry the much older Mr. Casaubon, which she unfortunately and unhappily does, or you are cheering for young Will Ladislaw to win Dorothea's heart once she finally becomes a widow, there is not a single page that does not draw you into their dramatic lives.

     I'll warn you that reading Middlemarch is addictive.  It is also fun.  Each page pulls the reader willingly along on a carefully crafted ride.  Eliot's storytelling skill compels you to turn to the next page, plunge into the next chapter, and complete the next section, and there are eight sections in all.
      Immersed joyfully in Eliot's plot lines,  I especially enjoyed Book I: Miss Brooke, which introduces Dorothea, a serious-minded innocent, Book V: The Dead Hand in which you hope and pray for Mr. Casaubon to hurry up and die, for goodness sake and Book VIII: Sunset and Sunrise where loose ends are finally tied up, the book provides everything a reader needs for a delightful literary experience.  Eliot creates sympathy where there should not be any, offers forgiveness where there should be regret and judgement, and even inserts sardonic humor into every chapter.  By the last page, I was so invested in the fates of Dorothea, Will Ladislaw, Dr. Lydgate and Mary Garth that I was ready to scream if the story lines were not concluded to my satisfaction.
     Middlemarch has become one of my favorite books and I am already anticipating reading it again.
 I freely admit to being obsessed by the foolishness, the innocence and the wisdom that is Middlemarch.

    Now that I was satiated and enthralled by Middlemarch, I felt comfortable beginning Rebecca Mead's My Life in Middlemarch.  I looked forward to reading an analysis of Middlemarch, written by someone who was at least as charmed by George Eliot as I was.  Unfortunately, that was not the case.  Mead's analysis of Eliot and her prose is lacking something.  Her take on Eliot and Middlemarch is dark and rather unpleasant.
     As much as Mead insists that she has always been obsessed with Middlemarch, I find that claim hard to believe.  Her observations and analysis lack joy.  Wouldn't a literary work that was central to your emotional life bring you joy?  And wouldn't that joy shine through in your description of the book's characters?  I did not see even a glimmer of that joy.
     I did, however, enjoy the biographical aspects of My Life in Middlemarch,  and if this book had been advertised as a biography, I would have been satisfied.  I suggest that you read Rebecca Mead's book on Middlemarch only if you are interested in reading a reference book, as My Life in Middlemarch is at the very least that.





Tuesday, August 11, 2015

An Authentic Mexican Hotspot on East Bay

     Are you looking for the perfect tortilla?  Look no more.  Minero grinds corn in house from Geechie Boy Mill (my favorite), Anson Mills and Masienda to make perfect, tender 6" tortillas. Topped with grilled pork, chorizo, pickled vegetables or just folded and dipped in Queso Fundido, Minero's tortillas are tough enough to hold up without tearing yet toothsome enough to melt in your mouth.
     Minero, located at 155 E. Bay St., is an intimate space that fills up quickly.  Reservations are not taken, so plan on arriving early for lunch (11:30am),  mid-afternoon (3pm), or early bird style for dinner.  My dining partner and I arrived at 11:30am and were seated immediately.  Our table was tucked in the corner, up against the bricked wall which made us feel a bit cramped, though.  (Next time we will ask to be seated more towards the center of the room.)  The dining room was completely full by the time we finished our lunch, with a dozen guests waiting to be seated.
      The menu offers three side dishes, along with a long list of tacos, a few burritos, a salad and  Lamb Shank Barbacoa to share.  My menu favorites were the Queso Fundido, the Chilaquiles and the Taco al Pastor.  The Queso, thick, melted cheese seasoned with roasted poblano peppers and moderately spicey chorizo, is served with a stack of warm tortillas.  Riich and filling, there is enough Queso for two people to share.
     Save one tortilla from the half dozen served with the Queso to scoop up what you may miss from Minero's tacos.  Served on a corn tortilla, the taco ingredients overflow and are exceedingly fresh.  Order the Taco al Pastor for a sweet and creamy combination of avocado and grilled pineapple, served atop a mound of marinated and grilled pork and all for $3.50.
     We ordered the Chilaquiles on both our visits to Minero and were pleased with the flavor, texture and size of the dish.  Heirloom beans, pork and avocado were layered over house made tortilla chips. Then alternating crema, salsa and queso fresco were drizzled over all and topped with a fried egg.  Bring your appetite for this one.
      Minero also serves tall, cold bottles of Mexican Coke, made with cane sugar, not corn syrup, a real treat for teetotalers like me.   Executive Chef Sean Brock has hit a homerun with this authentic Mexican hotspot.  

Monday, August 10, 2015

     Go Set a Watchman, 
A Rehearsal for To Kill a Mockingbird

     I would like to say thank you to Harper Lee for sharing her manuscript, Go Set a Watchman, with us, her reading public.  How lucky we are to be given a rare glimpse at the beginning of her literary brilliance.  The sharp, Pulitzer Prize winning prose of Lee's To Kill a Mockingbird was born here, in Go Set a Watchman.
     Lee's characters have grown, changed and in some cases, become more real. Scout and Atticus live on opposite ends of the Eastern seaboard and are poles apart on segregation, racial equality, all things Southern and life in general.  "Scout", now known by her given name, Jean Louise Finch, lives in New York City and is returning home by train to Maycomb County for a visit.  Determined to remain true to herself, bound to speak her mind, Jean Louise is torn between her love of family, her affection for her childhood friend Hank and the disturbing revelation of bigotry in tiny Macomb, Alabama.
     Once Jean Louise arrives at her childhood home, no one behaves the way she expects them to behave and nothing is as she remembers it.  The same can be said for the reader's impression of Maycomb County in the early 1960's.  Nothing is the same.  But go beyond your disappointment in the characters and read on.  Remember that Go Set a Watchman was the foundation for To Kill a Mockingbird and enjoy the discovery of Mockingbird's basic structure, its bones, its blood and its muscle.
     And although the reasons behind the original editor's reluctance to publish Watchman become clear later in the book, the story's potential is also evident.  Many passages exist in Watchman that reappear verbatim in Mockingbird.  Some even draw conclusions that are opposite from the ones Lee drew in the childhood stories of Scout.
     Certainly a good editior would have tightened Lee's prose in Watchman, eliminating a few examples of wordiness and repetition.  It is, after all, an unedited first draft.  But I understand why Go Set a Watchman was published "as is." Ms. Lee did not wish to rewrite the book nor do we need her to do that.  The book stands alone as a rehearsal for To Kill a Mockingbird, a story that began and now ends with the wisdom of Scout Finch.

Thursday, July 16, 2015

                      Happy Birthday to The Catcher In The Rye!

      Sixty four years ago today, Little, Brown and Co. published a little 200 page book about the unraveling of a teenaged boy following his brother's death.  Told from the viewpoint of the main character, Holden Caulfield, (You may have heard that name a time or two in the last few decades.) the story is set in post World War II New York City.  Reading The Catcher in the Rye became a rite of passage for people who questioned authority, strained against social mores and struggled with the finality of death, which is probably everyone at some point in their lives.
     The popularity of his book caught J.D. Salinger a bit off guard.  He tried unsuccessfully to keep up with the fan mail, the fame and the notoriety that his story generated.  Shaking off all responsibility for explaining and discussing his work, he became somewhat reclusive and attempted to continue his writing career without interference from the outside world.  (which became everyone but his agent, his publisher and his family)
     In order to understand the aura that existed around Catcher and Salinger, I read Joanna Rakoff's enlightening memoir, My Salinger Year.   Ms. Rakoff details her first big job after college, working as an assistant to J. D. Salinger's literary agent.  Set in the mid nineties, also in New York City, Rakoff's observations about the world of authors, literary agents and poor college graduates will ring true for anyone interested in human nature, the creative process and the rarefied literary world.

     I suggest reading the two books consecutively, beginning with The Catcher in the Rye.  Reading Catcher again as an adult was very different from reading the book for the first time as a seventh grader.  Catcher almost seems like a different book now.   Reading it as a twentysomething and again as a mother of three college students completely changed my pre-teen impression of it.   My opinion changed from "What's the big deal about this book?" to "Oh, poor Holden!"
     So happy birthday to you, dear Catcher in the Rye.  See you again in a few years.  I look forward to reading Holden's story as an older and perhaps wiser me.  I wonder what Salinger will have to say to me then?

Tuesday, May 26, 2015

Roasted Duck at Chez Nous

     I don't usually take pictures of my food.  I rely on the photos taken by the restaurant, or don't use them at all.  I usually let the food's flavor speak for itself.  Not this time.  The Duck Breast with Roasted Grapes and Mushrooms, on turnip pureé, (which made the dish as perfect as God's original creation in the Garden of I rhapsodize too much?) served at Chez Nous on Friday looked like a still life in a Dutch Masters painting.  It was just that perfect.  I almost didn't want to disturb it.  Almost.
     What would your first bite of this masterpiece be?  Mine was a grape.  On the surface, roasting grapes seems odd.  Once in my mouth though it was anything but odd.  The grape's flavor was enhanced by the roasting and its' texture was still firm.  My next bite was a piece of roasted duck whose edges crackled in my mouth and center melted on my tongue.  The mushrooms were King Trumpet, and according to my server, perhaps originated from Mepkin Abbey, perhaps not, which added mystery to the dish.  When swirled in the creamy turnip pureé, I wondered if anything else could taste as good as these mushrooms?  The answer is yes, if it's another dish served at this tiny pearl of French cuisine, just off busy Coming Street in Downtown Charleston.
     With only street parking available, you must plan your attack at Chez Nous.  A small sign just before the intersection of Spring Street alerts you to the restaurant which is set back from Coming St. on Payne Court in a small, Charleston single house. My dining partner and I arrived at twelve thirty for a one o'clock lunch reservation and found two parking spaces out front.  Landing a parking space there was a good sign of great things to come.

     Our second entreé, Pan Grilled Swordfish, was equally enticing as the duck entreé.  And again, the dish was so beautifully presented that you almost hated to disturb it with your fork.  Almost.
     The Grilled Swordfish with Gem Lettuce was another masterpiece.  The colors, orange, green, golden yellow, cream, all combined to create another culinary painting.  The aroma drew me in and  then the flavor held me captive.  Buttery, firm fish, pleasantly bitter gem lettuce, and tart tomatoes bracketed by golden chunks of potato beckoned me to another flavor wonderland.  Again, I may rhapsodize, but all of my flowery praise falls short when you sample the dish.  The flavors cannot be captured by the pen.  They must be experienced, bite by bite, at a shaded table covered by a white tablecloth, in a cobbled courtyard, with a chilled bottle of water and a crust of French bread, and the sound of traffic gliding past on Coming Street.
     And, oh yes, the finish is just as glorious as the rest of the meal; Mousse au Pamplemousse, Grapefruit Mousse, is fun, French and creamy beyond description.  While grapefruit and mousse don't sound like they go together, they do.  Light in texture and gentle in flavor, the mousse was the perfect end to our dining experience, especially when accompanied by a tiny cup of espresso with thick cream and a lump of sugar plopped into the cup, stirred and sipped very slowly.
     My suggestion is to order one of everything on the Chez Nous daily menu.  They offer two appetizers, two entreés and two desserts each day, depending on what locally sourced, fresh ingredients are available each morning.  My advice to you is try them all, share with your dinner partner, enjoy each bite and forget the rest of world for a few pleasant hours at Chez Nous.

Monday, May 18, 2015

     Are you looking for the perfect beach book?  Look no further.  You've found it.  The Girl on the Train is a delicious book that reminds me of a tall slice of Hummingbird Cake.  Stuffed full of seemingly unrelated ingredients, it only takes a few bites, or in this case, chapters, to realize that all of the tasty ingredients fit together nicely.
     As The Girl on the Train is a mystery, I will not share many details.  What I will say is that the characters are finely drawn, the style fun and engaging and the outcome quite surprising.  I didn't guess the answer to the mystery until about twenty pages from the end, and even then I really wasn't sure until the very last page.
     Hit the pool or the beach, settle into your chair, adjust your sun hat and enjoy the ride with The Girl on the Train.

Tuesday, May 5, 2015

     The Macintosh, located at 479 King Street, ranks high on my list of "Go To" restaurants for creative, locally sourced cuisine.  Executive Chef Jeremiah Bacon and his talented staff combine taste, texture and presentation with a twist, offering something for everyone on their daily-changing menu.
     As they are supplied by all of my favorite purveyers of quality meats, fish, vegetables and grains (Kennerty, Ambrose and Keegan Filion Farms, Clammer Dave, Mepkin Abbey,  Geechie Boy Mill and Evo Bakery, to name a few), dining at The Macintosh is like having a long conversation with your best friend: comfortable, satisfying and invigorating.
     With service that is personal and friendly and food that is meticulously and thoughtfully prepared, Macintosh chefs please the palate and nourish the body.  That said, they also have fun with their dishes, throwing caution to the wind with their Bone Marrow Bread Pudding.
     A crispy, brown outside that surrounds a pillow-soft inside, and a taste that is both buttery and earthy, Macintosh's Bone Marrow Bread Pudding almost defies description...
                                                                                                                  in a word, it is sinful.
   The Macintosh offers complimentary valet service in front of their sister restaurant O-Ku.  But as it was a beautiful night, we parked at the Visitor's Center parking garage and strolled down Ann Street to King Street instead.   Arriving before our reservation time, we enjoyed the lively atmoshere in the bar area, where we chatted with a lovely couple from California and cheered loudly with the excited crowd as the horses thundered around the track at the Kentucky Derby.  My dining partner celebrated his horse's nearly last-place finish with delicious Woodford Reserve mint juleps, which took the sting out of his loss.
     Our server, Ben, was very helpful.  He gave us detailed menu item descriptions and entree suggestions and seemed to be everywhere at once, checking on us, filling our glasses, and clearing used plates.  We tried three starters, two at his suggestion.  The Sautéed Scallops with spring onions, arugula, ground pistachios, rhubarb and oxtail tortellini were my dining partner's favorite.  The scallops were nicely grilled and the oxtail tortellini were rich and savory.  The pistachios added the texture contrast.
     The Spring Vegetables were a chef's choice that we particularly enjoyed.  The radishes and beets were sliced paper thin, the asparagus and sugar snap peas were appropriately crunchy,  and the pickled spring onions were a tart foil for the salty Feta cheese sprinkled throughout.  A delicate, edible blossom made the dish esthetically pleasing, as well as tasty.
     My choice for a starter was the deep-fried Sweetbreads, dotted with Benne seeds.  Also served with sugar snap peas, the generous portion of sweetbreads were crispy outside and smooth inside.  Maitake mushrooms and a fish sauce caramel finished the dish and made it my favorite of the three starters we tried.
     We asked our server what the house specialty was and were pleased to hear it was the CAB Deckle, a tender and delicious cut of meat that is prepared differently each night at The Macintosh.  Our deckle was sliced and served over hominy with okra, fava beans (quite nice), and mushrooms.  A Bordelaise reduction sauce swept around the plate and added a hearty finish to each bite.
     My entrée was the Seared Snapper, two buttery pieces of firm fish that were so perfectly prepared that they reminded me of the delectable fish that used to be served at Carolina's.  (Charlestonians will know what I mean!)  The Snapper was easily my favorite part of the meal, surrounded as it was by chunks of roasted beets (very good), smoked potatoes, celeriac, barley and baby raab.  Also in the mix were pickled clams which added a sharp, tangy edge to the dish, while dipping each bite in the saffron vanilla sauce brought out the sweet.
     Speaking of sweet, we had a tiny bit of room left for dessert and chose the Candy Bar in a Jar and the Banana Bread Pudding.  I enjoyed the Candy Bar in a Jar, a thick layer of hot fudge, topped by a roasted peanut nougat and crumbled vanilla shortbread.  This dessert was served in a half pint canning jar, which was the perfect size for a dessert that sweet.
     The Banana Bread Pudding was pleasing for two reasons.  First, it actually had a deep, rich banana  flavor, something that banana dishes often advertise but rarely deliver.  Second, the pudding was topped with a creamy, malted milk chocolate ice cream which was a delight.  Add crunchy, toffee-cocoa crumb and you have a home-run dessert.
     Many thanks to The Macintosh for a tremendous dining experience.  We will be back soon.

Wednesday, April 29, 2015

The bar at Cypress 

     Hungry for the best $5.00 burger on the peninsula?  Head over to the second floor bar at Cypress on Monday nights.  An example of a very clever business idea, Cypress, located at 167 E. Bay St., took a typically quiet Charleston restaurant night and turned it into a standing room only event.
     Beginning at 5:30pm, $5.00 Burger Night at Cypress is a fun, lively and delicious way to start  the work week.  Tables are first come, first served.  (Reservations to this part of the Cypress experience are not accepted. )
     The second floor bar area is large, with seating options that range from typical bar stools and cocktail tables to white tablecloth seating for four and comfortable banquettes.  The tables fill up fast, so plan on arriving early, before 6:00 pm.  We arrived at 5:40 and were seated immediately but the line stretched down the stairs when we left at 7:00 pm.  (The space is handicapped accessible but taking the elevator does not mean that you can advance in the line!)
     And, oh my goodness, the burgers are so good.  Cypress serves their burgers hot and juicy with a delicious "mystery" sauce spread on the soft brioche bun.  There are four burger choices, all prepared at medium temperature.  My burger choice was a cheeseburger served with pickled onions.  The beef patty was flavorful and slightly crisp on the edges, just the way I like it.   I added steak fries for an extra $3.00 and they were crunchy and cut generously but not too wide.  My dining partner enjoyed the korean mustard and fried egg burger, with a side of deep fried macaroni and cheese.  I had never tried fried mac n cheese and, after begging a bite, was won over by the crunchy, breaded outside and the creamy inside.  I'll switch my fries for mac n cheese next time!
     Our bill for two burgers, two sides, a glass of Stellenbosch Cabernet for my dining partner and ginger ale for me was only $29.00, including tax. 
     The Cypress staff is always friendly, skilled and efficient, both upstairs and in the main dining room, but I give kudos to the hostess and our server who provided gracious service during a very busy night.  Both ladies remained cheerful while whisking guests from the long line to available tables and delivering burgers with surprising speed.  
     I will return to Cypress for Monday Night Burgers soon.  After all, I still have two more burger offerings to sample along with my very own order of fried mac n cheese.

Sunday, April 26, 2015

More Minute Reviews...

Lady Love to Read’ s Minute Book Reviews

Eric Larson's Dead Wake, The Last Crossing of the Lusitania

Fascinating, Well-written, Sad

Dinner Conversation:
We would discuss the policies that preceded WWI and the hindsight that illuminates how easily Lusitania's sinking could have been prevented.
Mr. Larson would provide a seven course meal, reminiscent of the meals served on the Lusitania.

Friday, April 10, 2015

     The 23rd Annual Spring Book & Author Luncheon was held today at the Charleston Marriott's Crystal Ballroom.  The guest speakers, authors all, were interesting, informative and entertaining.  Our only disappointment was that Ron Rash, author of Saints at the River and Serena, was absent due to an airport weather delay.  We hope to hear Mr. Rash speak at a future Post and Courier event as it is always nice to hear a speech by a Pen/Faulkner Award finalist.
     Produced by Master of Ceremonies Robie Scott, and benefitting local literacy causes, the luncheon featured three authors and co-host Dorothea Benton Frank, the prolific writer of Lowcountry novels and local gal extraordinaire.  We enjoyed her introduction of the day's speakers, as well as the treat of an exclusive reading from her newest book, All the Single Ladies, due to be released on June 9, 2015.
     Our first speaker was Lisa Green, author of On Your Case.....Legal Guide for Every Stage of a Woman's Life.  A lawyer, journalist, author and legal analyst for NBC and MSNBC, Ms. Green gave a witty and enlightening speech.
     Following Ms. Green was Rita Mae Brown, the NY Times bestselling author of both the Mrs. Murphy mysteries and the Sister Jane novel series.  Ms. Brown was an engaging and enthusiastic speaker, expressing her appreciation for newspapers, journalists and readers.  "Books are a roadmap of your inner life," was Ms. Brown's mantra and I think all readers would agree with that.
     Jim Defelice, co-author with Chris Kyle of the bestseller American Sniper and more than fifty other titles, regaled us with tales of learning to read in Catholic school, complete with nuns armed with rulers and "Look, look, look" from the Fun with Dick and Jane reading primers.  Mr. Defelice also stressed the importance of reading, although in a room of book club members and bibliophiles, he was certainly preaching to the choir.  With an easy delivery and an accent like Woody Allen, Mr. Defelice wrapped up the speaking pool nicely.
     The food served today was delicious, as usual, and the company at my table was friendly and interesting.  I look forward to the next Book & Author luncheon and hope to see a few of my tablemates there.

Friday, April 3, 2015

     Published more than fifty years after her death, Irene Némirovsky's Suite Francaise is a literary work of art.  
She skillfully crafted a conglomerate of finely wrought characters, characters that become more deeply engraved on the reader's heart with each page turned.  Suite Francaise is one of those stories whose ending leaves the reader bereft, missing each character like a lost friend.  When I read the last page, I wished that Lucile could remain my neighbor.  I wanted to sit by the fire and comfort Madeleine and to applaud the Michaud family's courage. And the loss of painfully naive Father Phillippe so filled me with horror that it shook my psyche like an earthquake.  Throughout the book, Némirovsky's astute description of the German occupying forces, their clueless rigidity, their delusional assumption that the conquered French people's welcome was completely benign, never ceased to amaze me.
      Némirovsky intended to continue her characters' stories through the anticipated end of World War II and beyond, but her death in 1942 while a prisoner at Auschwitz silenced her stories.  Hers was a great literary talent, a voice pointlessly lost to the brutality and hatred of war. 
     The manuscript for Suite Francais was discovered in Némirovsky's personal papers early in the twenty first century.  It was published in France in 2004, then translated into English and published in the United States by Alfred A. Knopf in 2006. 
     This portrait of ordinary and extraordinary people, facing the loss and heartbreak of war, each in their own way, is a must read and a wonderful addition to my home library.

Saturday, March 28, 2015

Charleston Grill
     It's hard to believe that we have lived in Charleston since 1996.  Time flies when you live in such a  beautiful city.  After all of the sights and sounds we have experienced here, the friends we have made, the meals we have enjoyed, the places downtown that we've visited, it's really quite amazing that we have not, until recently, dined at Charleston Grill.  
     Located at the Belmond, Charleston Place, between King and Meeting Streets, Charleston Grill is more than a restaurant; it's a dining experience.  And although we expected our evening to be rather stiff and formal, it was not.  The adjectives that more effectively describe Charleston Grill are friendly, comfortable, lively, and above all, welcoming.
     We were served by a skilled team of wait staff, led by our waitress, Nika.  From the moment the hostess cheerfully greeted us, our every need was met.   Charleston Grill's manager, Mickey Bakst, made it a point to greet each guest tableside as well, and clearly oversaw every detail of the evening, right down to the volume level of the live jazz trio playing in the dining room.    
    The seating at Charleston Grill is varied and comfortable, a mix of round tables with creamy, leather chairs and rectangular tables with banquettes.  There is a small bar area as you enter the restaurant where guests may order appetizers and drinks, as well.
     The restaurant's menu is divided into four categories:  Pure, Lush, Cosmopolitan and Southern.
Each category offers three appetizers, three entrees and one side dish.  As all of these catagories and the choices within them looked tempting to us, we decided to let the culinary experts in the Grill's kitchen decide our choices for us, opting for Chef Michelle Weaver's Six Course Tasting Menu.  Our server explained that we would be served five savory courses and one sweet course, (excluding the caviar) then asked us if there was anything on the menu that we did not want included.  As octopus is not our favorite food, we excluded it but agreed to enjoy whatever else the chef wished to prepare.  The six choices came from all four catagories of the menu and you can also add wine pairings to enhance your dining experience (but we did not).
     Our first course was Maroma Aguachile, a chilled Ahi tuna filet garnished with avocado chunks, yellow and purple tomatoes, cilantro and paper-thin sliced radishes.  This was an excellent first course as its' taste was light and clean.
     The tuna course was followed by a Charleston Grill Crab Cake, a delectable grilled cake loaded with lump crabmeat and surrounded by chunks of creek shrimp swimming in lime, tomato and dill vinaigrette.  Not only was the crab cake delicious but the dill vinaigrette was good enough to swirl the whole grain bread, ciabatta and corn muffins in.  Not a bit of the second course was left on our plates.

      My favorite offering was next, Pan Seared Foie Gras.  Served over a hearty, sherry bourbon reduction sauce, with a slice of baked apple and a crispy apple hand pie, my dining partner and I agreed that the sweet and robust flavors were perfectly matched.  The crowning touch of the dish was a dollop of marscapone cream, which, when added to each forkful of foie gras, gave a smooth, sweet finish to every bite.
     The fourth course, Seared Flounder, was served with lump crabmeat, field peas, zipper beans and yellow corn in a light, tomato vinaigrette sauce.  This was another table favorite.  The fish was flakey and buttery, the beans and peas had just the right amount of crunch, and the tomato vinaigrette added a tangy zing.
     By now, I was slowing down a bit (although each course served was medium in size, large in taste),  but my dining partner was more than ready for our fifth course, a perfectly prepared, medium- rare, Prime Beef Tenderloin.  Accompanied by a lovely, little baked potato topped with truffled creme fraiche and roasted, local carrots and pearl onions, the tenderloin lived up to it's name.  It was a rich tasting cut of meat, tender enough to cut with your fork.  The bourguignon sauce enhanced the flavor of both the beef and the vegetables and the crumbled, fresh horseradish sprinkled over the tenderloin was a real treat.
     We decided to take a break between our fifth and sixth courses.  We savored the myriad flavors and textures we had sampled so far while we sipped our coffee.  When we agreed that we were ready for our sweet course, the servers brought out two plates of Carrot Cake Fritters.  
      These small, sweet doughnut holes were served with a scoop of cream cheese ice cream, crunchy carrot granola, and a garnish of slivered, candied carrot.  It must have been funny for the staff to see our delighted faces when the plates of fritters were placed on our table- after two hours and five courses we still had room, and enthusiasm, for doughnuts!
     Although we could barely eat another bite, our serving team brought us another treat, a small plate of Lowcountry sweets, along with our meal's check.  We "forced ourselves" to try a chocolate peanutbutter truflle and a praline; they were very good.
     Satiated and happy, we trotted to our car with the gift of mini blueberry muffins for the next morning's breakfast tucked snugly in my purse.  Thank you Charleston Grill for a memorable evening.  I hope there will be many more like it!

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

A Dog’s Life
Peter Mayle

 Witty, Clever, Fun

Dinner Conversation:
We would continue the speculation begun in A Dog’s Life about what our dogs are thinking, how they feel about us and if they are, in fact, smarter than we are.
Mr. Mayle would bring a good bottle of French wine.

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Their Eyes Were Watching God
 Zora Neale Hurston

Memorable, Lyrical, Enlightening

Dinner Conversation:
Our discussion would cover migrant labor in the American South and the social and domestic progress made by women in the twentieth century.
Ms. Hurston would bring a large pan of seasoned beans, cooked with fatback.

Monday, February 23, 2015

Treat us like Dogs and we will become Wolves
 Carolyn Chute

Rambling, Needs Editing, Great Potential

Dinner conversation:
We would discuss the Constitution of the United States and women’s rights.
Ms. Chute would bring Little Debbie snack cakes, sweet but lacking substance.

Friday, February 20, 2015

behind the beautiful forevers
 Katherine Boo

Painful, Dignified, Shocking

Dinner conversation:
We would discuss homelessness and the inequitable distribution of wealth in world economies.
Ms. Boo would bring a loaf of bread, cut into small pieces to share.

Thursday, February 19, 2015

 Thomas Hardy

Beautiful, Heart-rending, Frustrating

Dinner conversation:
Thomas Hardy and I would talk about the roles of fate and honor in life.
Mr. Hardy’s dinner contribution:

A chocolate soufflé, but it would fall.

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

The Remains of the Day
 Kazuo Ishiguro

Revealing, Sweet, Wise

Dinner conversation:
The role of manners, order and tradition in everyday life and the surprising joys of retirement.  
Mr. Ishiguro’s dinner contribution:

A bakery box of four, perfect Napoleons, served on a silver tray.

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Olive Kitteridge

Lady Love to Read’ s Minute Book Reviews

Olive Kitteridge
 Elizabeth Strout

Honest, Real, Sad

Dinner Conversation:
We would discuss our family relationships and how they have shaped who we are.
Ms. Strout’s dinner contribution:  

A pan of plain cornbread, with the comment, “Yes, plain.  No extra corn, no vanilla, no maple syrup.  It’s good enough just as it is.”

Monday, February 16, 2015

Travels With Charley 

When I stacked up the eight books that I’ve read since Christmas, I thought, “How on earth will I find the time to tell avid readers what they need to know about each book?”  
“Brevity, my dear, brevity,” was my conclusion.   And so… 

Lady Love to Read’ s Minute Book Reviews

One minute to read, 
Just three adjectives, a dinner conversation with the author and a culinary gift. 
Love, love, love it or the book’s a snooze…..  
Are you in?  
Let’s go! 

Travels with Charley
In Search of America
 John Steinbeck

Sharp, Insightful, Brave

Dinner conversation: 
We would discuss the 50th Anniversary of the civil rights march in Selma and how the current setbacks in our country’s racial climate would make Mr. Steinbeck sad.
Mr. Steinbeck’s dinner contributions: 
A good bottle of scotch and dog biscuits for my bulldog, Winston.

Coming tomorrow, Olive Kitteridge by Elizabeth Strout.

Thursday, January 22, 2015

Zero George, on the corner of George St. and East Bay St.

     Another Charleston Restaurant Week has come and gone, leaving me satiated, well-pleased and full of anticipation for the next CRW in September.  We visited two restaurants that were new to us, Vincent Chicco's (see my previous review) and Zero George.  Although I loved both restaurants, Zero George has now become my favorite destination for an intimate, gourmet dining experience.  The food, staff and location exceeded all of my expectations, even though I knew in advance that Zero George had received awards for excellence in 2014, including the Conde Nast Traveler's worldwide award as one of the Top 5 Best New Food Hotels.
     Located at the corner of East Bay Street and George Street, Zero George is both a boutique hotel with eighteen rooms and a small but perfect restaurant.  The property is surprisingly private considering it borders two busy steets and is a half block from the soon-to-be-completed Gaillard Center.  Reservations at Zero George will be a precious commodity once the Center opens for performances later in 2015.
  The hotel/restaurat compound consists of three Charleston homes and two brick kitchen houses that surround a charming brick courtyard.  The restaurant is housed in three, small, first floor rooms of the 1804 kitchen house.  Approximately a dozen tables and a tiny, efficient open kitchen are artfully arranged in the small space so that guests are not crowded too closely together.  The menu changes weekly, taking full advantage of fresh, locally sourced ingredients.
     The restaurants that participated in Restaurant Week this winter were allowed the freedom to set their own prix fixe menus.  So, rather than offering the typical three courses for $40.00 per person menus that the higher end restaurants have offered during past events, Zero George gave their guests the choice of one snack or appetizer, one main course selection and a shared dessert for $45.00 per person.  Guests could also order a la carte.
     I would be remiss if I didn't mention the drink menu, an eclectic mix of boutique wines, craft beers and cocktails and even artisanal mixers for non-alchoholic drinks.  My excellent server, Jami, asked the bartender to create something special for me in the non-alchoholic vein, a Jack Rudy tonic water based drink that combined fresh grapefruit juice and lime juice for a refreshing change to my usual ginger ale.  I ask every restaurant for non-alchoholic suggestions and only a few are prepared to accomodate my request (Husk, The Grocery, Stars) with something other than tea or Coke.
     Our meal was served by a team of servers who were friendly yet highly professional.  They appeared quietly and discreetly when needed: filling water glasses, clearing plates, explaining the next course.  Our server, Jami, was a delight.
     My dining partner and I followed the Restaurant Week Prix Fixe menu, beginning with one snack item and one appetizer.  My partner ordered the Local Vegetable Tempura which was served in a terracotta flower pot.  A wide variety of vegetables (cauliflower, zuchinni, cucumber) were cut in large pieces and lightly fried in a batter that left a hint of cayenne on the palate.  A rich aoili for dipping was provided, although when I tasted the tempura it was so delicious that I didn't feel the need to dip.
     My starter was the Warm Beet Salad, a hearty, winter root vegetable salad that was arranged artfully on a plate around a square of deep-fried chèvre (crunchy on the outside, warm and melted on the inside...delicious).  The purple beets were cut into good sized, chunks, roasted and served warm, while the remaining root vegetables (carrots, radishes) were uncooked, delicious and sliced paper thin.
     Our choice for the main course was a 40 Day Dry Aged Sirloin.  Served medium rare in two thick slices, the sirloin was tender and full of bold flavor.  A pureed, tri-colored swirl of "Classic Steakhouse Flavors" filled the plate and rounded out the entree by pleasing both the eye and the palate.  Pureed black truffles, spinach and Japanese sweet potatoes created a black, green and white rainbow around the sirloin.  Three, small roasted purple potatoes. (Trader Joe's sells a delicious mixed bag of red, white and purple potatoes for those of you, like me, who like to recreate restaurant dishes at home.) rested happily in the vegetable swirls.  In the center of the plate was a roasted chunk of celery, a new flavor sensation for me.  Who knew that roasted celery could taste so good?
     Although we were getting fairly full, we still decided to eat our shared dessert, the Tres Leches, a lighter than expected mixture of moist, (not soggy) white sponge cake chunks soaked in coconut milk and dotted with whipped cream and honeycomb pieces.  Zero George's Tres Leche was a surprising combination of silky smoothness and crunchiness, a real end of meal treat.
     My hat is off to Zero George, a restaurant that deserves but doesn't rest on its laurels.


Sunday, January 11, 2015

     It's time once again to enjoy one of the many benefits of living in the Lowcountry, Charleston Restuarant Week.   Over 150 area restaurants are offering a semi-annual prix fixe dinner menu, ranging from $20.00 to $40.00 per person for a three course meal, from January 7th to January 18th.  Each January and September, Charleston Restaurant Week attracts both tourists and locals interested in sampling the ample talents of the Lowcountry culinary scene.
     The first of my two restaurant choices this week is Vincent Chicco's Italian American Restaurant.
located along a quaint alley that connects Hutson St. to John St.   Bordered by sister restaurants Michael's on the Alley, Coast and Rue de Jean, as well as the coctail bar Victor's Social Club,  Vincent Chiccos occupies a renovated and creatively subdivided warehouse behind the Meeting Street Embassy Suites.  All are owned by Bennett Hospitality group.
     With soaring, mustard colored stucco walls, huge gold framed mirrors and a combination of banquette and counter table seating, Vincent Chicco's is all about comfort and service.  We arrived for dinner bundled up for below-freezing weather and were able to conveniently check our coats.  My seating request for a banquette was honored and due to my mobility issues, a waitress even escorted me to the ladies room (unnecessary but very nice).  Our waiter, Johnny, was attentive and knowledgeable, imparting a history of the building and details about the menu with equal skill.
     The menu is broken up into three sections: appetizers and salads, American-style Italian offerings and Classic Roman Italian dishes.  We look forward to returning to sample the Roman dishes, but decided to try the meals showcased on the Restaurant Week menu this time.
     For our first course, we chose the Wagyu Beef Carpaccio and the classic Italian Salad.  The Beef Carpaccio featured thinly sliced, marinated sirloin on a bed of watercress and arugula with horseradish aioli.  Garlic crostinis were the perfect crispy match to the tenderness of the beef.  My House Italian Salad was a generously sized plate of assorted greens (lots of arugula, my favorite green), thinly sliced heirloom radishes, chopped yellow and red cherry tomatoes tossed in a light, olive oil house dressing.  (Red onions were excluded at my request.)  This salad was more flavorful than most of the house salads I've tried on the peninsula.
     There were two choices for the main course; Cacio E Pepe and Marinated Painted Hills Ribeye.  My dining partner and I both ordered the pasta dish (when in Rome...) and were pleased with both the  texture and the flavor-holding properties of the spaghetti.  The light, creamy sauce clung nicely to the pasta, which was topped with a delicious Pecorino Romano/parmesan crisp, which fell apart nicely when tapped by a fork.  These crispy bits swirled into each forkful of pasta added a rich, nutty flavor to the pasta dish.
     Our last course was a milk chocolate Semifreddo, served sliced with a topping of chopped pistachios, a pool of orange cream and a generous scattering of candied, whole  pistachios.  The dessert's presentation and flavor were perfect.  Also perfect was the house cappuccino.  Served in a large cup with at least two inches of dreamy, frothed milk, Vincent Chicco's cappuccino was the perfect end to an authentic Italian meal.  Gustare il pasto!