Monday, May 28, 2012

{Butter's 2012 Summer Reading Guide}

I have always had a summer reading list. Even when it wasn't mandated by a syllabus or a college prep high school teacher, I was still required to read and report back. The summer I turned 16 is one that especially comes to mind. My sister was older and living on Nantucket, my father was working in Boston and my mother and I were drifting along in a summer Cape Cod haze. Apart from the full time charge of maintaining my Walkman's batteries along with my supply of Coppertone, I really didn't have many other responsibilities. It was my last summer of being a kid. Not quite old enough to drive or be fully employed, my mother decided I should immerse myself in a rigorous reading and analytical course of her own design. From a pile of books she gathered and laid out in a dusty and sandy side porch, I chose my subjects and set about absorbing 15 books during those humid summer months. Here is a sampling of what I picked that season: The Great Gatsby, Rabbit RunRebecca, Huckleberry Finn, The Awakening, To Kill a Mockingbird, Rabbit is Rich, All Quiet on the Western FrontThe Color Purple along with selected poems by the likes of E. E. Cummings and short stories by John Cheever. After finishing a great volume I would enthusiastically approach my mother and fervently relay all the various themes, metaphors and symbolism I had astutely collected, only to notice her waning attention and (frankly) antsy eagerness to return to her own half finished novel already. Nonetheless, such began my love of a good summer reading list if not to report back, just to enjoy. Thanks Mom! 

No. 1
Wild by Cheryl Strayed
This ain't no 'Eat Pray Love' shit.

Wild is a well crafted memoir of death and divorce, heroin and broken toenails. It is compelling and triumphant and a testament to a woman's endurance in the face of immense grief and crippling physical pain. The sub-title 'from lost to found on the Pacific Coast Trail' only hints at the long, grueling and ultimately satisfying journey of the trail.

No. 2
This is How: Proven Aid in Overcoming Shyness, Molestation, Fatness, Spinsterhood, Grief, Disease, Lushery, Decreptitude & More. For Young and Old Alike. 
By Augusten Burroughs
A summer of self-improvement anyone...?
A few years ago Augusten Burroughs became tired of being a writer. He decided he was no longer interested in writing about himself, but instead was going to write about YOU. This is How is an unapologetic, impolite and raw self-help book.

Topics include:
How to be a Good Mental Patient
How to Fail
How to Hold Onto a Dream (Or Maybe Not)
How to be Thin
How to be Fat
How to Remain Unhealed
and more...

For fans of Augusten Burroughs it should be noted that this is a true self-help book told in  the author's own individual and brusque voice. For folks unfamiliar with him, his tone might take some getting used to as there are few (if any) warm and fuzzy's to hold onto. Unless you lead a charmed life, most everyone should identify with many of the topics addressed. As the author explains, he would like This is How to become a dog-eared reference book for 'whatever shit life throws your way'.

No. 3
The Beach Book by Melcher Media

There is one book I pack in my bag no matter where I visit. It is The Beach Book published by Melcher Media. Yes I admit that I'm a gimmick whore. I buy into all of it. So it's no wonder that when I came across a waterproof book with cool cover art and rounded corners (my favorite!) I had to have it. Little did I know it would become my favorite literary companion and traveling buddy. This is a collection of ten well written short stories all set in various beach locales around the world by such authors as Roald Dahl, Gabriel Garcia Marquez, and Anthony Doerr. All of these stories are different: one is filled with suspense, another with melancholia, one is dark and another just plain funny. 

No. 4
Blood Bones & Butter
The Inadvertent Education of a Reluctant Chef 
by Gabrielle Hamilton

This book is not for the faint of heart. 
What sets it apart from other foodie memoirs is Gabrielle Hamilton's keen writing ability: it's smart and original, passionate and gritty. The author recounts her zig zag career trajectory from a teenage runaway to crooked cocktail waitress to soulless caterer to at last the owner and Executive Chef of critically acclaimed restaurant Prune in New York City. 
The one constant throughout Hamilton's life is food, even more so cooking and the comfort it offers her like a member of the family.  The chapters describing her father's annual lamb roast and her stint as a camp chef in the Berkshire Mountains of Massachusetts are ones I have revisited again and again. This is an intimate retelling of a messy, colorful and hungry life.

No. 5
Most Talkative: Stories from the Front Lines of Pop Culture 
by Andy Cohen

By definition a good beach read should dispense just enough fluff to bring on a good sized tooth ache. Most Talkative does just that yet surprisingly also presents a memoir full of insight, smarts and (best of all) hilarity. There is so much within this book to relate to, most notably Andy Cohen's utter devotion to 70's and 80's TV with 'All My Children' and 'Charlie's Angels' playing a major part in his early development. This book is a funny and sweet recounting of all the mishaps of a young person working his way up from CBS news intern to eventually creating and developing his own series and TV talk show on Bravo. Descriptions of the author's relationship with his mother and his coming out story are so endearing and heartfelt that by the time he actually dishes on the The Real Housewives, you already get the feeling that had you only lived closer while growing up, you would have decidedly been included as one of his besties. 

Happy Reading and back!

Sunday, May 20, 2012

{'A' is for Apple...'J' is for Jack}

Venice Beach, CA
Have you ever eaten cereal for dinner almost every night as a person well into your midlife? 
I didn't know this was truly looked down upon until I started living with a man who uses the oven nightly to actually bake, saute and simmer real dinners composed of meat parts and bones and butter. 

Sure, a real dinner is fine if that's what you're into but for me...after a long day, nothing beats a big (or XL) bowl of peanut butter Cap'n Crunch with ice cold milk haphazardly splashed on top. The satisfaction of sweet and salty, crunch and cream all blend together and serve to erase all the stresses of the day. Even the masochistic, inevitable shred-up roof of the mouth seems all worth it. 

If you're anything like me, you will truly love FLAKE, a restaurant in Venice Beach, California devoted to all things cereal. FLAKE is a true neighborhood joint with a SoCal sensibility. They even have a thoughtful water dish and leash bar set up outside so Sugarbear can come along with no hassle. Although they serve up an offering  of (what looks like) delicious real food, i.e., sandwiches, wraps, salads and their specialty: the Super Cro-Jo (scrambled eggs, Gouda cheese, smoked bacon, lettuce, tomato and secret sauce on a warm flaky croissant) I'm in it for the cereal. FLAKE is just the place where for $4.75 I can unabashedly order a basic bowl of the cereal of my choice (2 scoops of Reeses PB Puffs), 2 toppings (strawberries, and raspberries to make my own sort of cereal PB & J), and choice of milk (whole of course!
Now if they would only stay open for dinner... 

Monday, May 14, 2012

{Jamaican coffee break}

My cohabitant was born in Jamaica. When we first started dating he regaled me with stories of his youth spent in Kingston. Of all his memories, I am convinced that his drinking coffee 'the Jamaican way' is the most vivid. Roasted beans were sold in a 'crocus bag' or burlap sack and since coffee grinders were often unavailable, beat with a stone until coarse. After a good smash-up the beans were poured into a pot and boiled over an open fire for approximately a half hour. Once a nice dark color was obtained, the entire brew was strained through a cotton cloth and poured into individual cups. The final touch was the addition of Betty Condensed Milk. This sticky, gooey substance is a staple in Jamaican pantries  and a welcome addition to everything from coffee to cornflakes to hardo (or hard dough) bread.  One sip of a sweet and thick Jamaican coffee and you'll be hooked. Over ice, and it's guaranteed~you will never order another Starbucks Frappuccino.