Aug. 6/On My Bookshelf

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On My Bookshelf

The Historian
by Elizabeth Kostova

This is one of those rare books that I can’t wait to pick up and read each day. I am savoring every word, every page. I love it! It has a vampire theme and I can’t get enough of it. I was one of those readers who read Ann Rice’s “Interview with a Vampire” and then eagerly awaited each new novel in the series. And of course watched the movie. I also immediately took to “Twilight” and zipped through that series in about 4 days. (Come to think of it, that is the last book I read I couldn’t put down.) I also don’t have cable, but have loved watching the first series of True Blood on Netflix. So that may explain part of my love of this book, but also the writing itself along with the unfolding mystery in it makes me eager to read on.

Well I’m not really reading anything else right now, but will get back to them:

The Gift of a Year
by Mira Kirshenbaum

I am about half way through this only because I forgot The Historian when I took my kids to an hourlong program at the library and had this book waiting for me. It was recommended on the French Chic Yahoo Group, I think. I like it so far.

The Art of Simple Food
by Alice Waters

This is on my list of books to buy, but until I do, I just keep checking it out at the library!

When Will There Be Good News
by Kate Atkinson

Another one to read in the future. I actually bought this at half-price books after I had some cash from turning in other books. I can’t remember who recommended it to me, but someone I respected or I wouldn’t have written it down.

Stalking Susan
by Julie Kramer

One of my many wonderful SIL’s loaned me this book after she mentioned it and I was interested. Another future read.

Chess Books

I think these will be part of my plans for winter. I want to become a chess master, but not sure I have the motivation or time to really accomplish that, so I do know I want to join a chess club and play more this winter.

More validation for shunning the gym or Why I love to walk

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When I began exploring bringing the French and Italian lifestyles into my world, one thing I jumped on, embraced wholeheartedly was the French disdain for going to the gym to “work out.” I don’t know if this is true in real life France, but my French friend who now lives in the states, agreed that by joining a gym (and liking it) she was really going against her upbringing.

Anyway, I have had gym memberships over the years to either lose or maintain my weight. But at some point along the way I began to hate the whole idea. With a passion. I was always astonished at the people who waited for the close parking spot at the gym so they didn’t have far to walk. I dislike the idea of spending money and time on something I find unpleasant.

 I would rather, as these French lifestyle books recommend, incorporate excercise naturally into my day, by walking everywhere or bicyling (SO MUCH FUN!)  by using my body to MOVE during everyday, normal activity. So imagine my glee this morning when I saw this article on yahoo news from Time Magazine, which validates this belief:

Why Exercise Won’t Make You Thin

http://news.yahoo.com/s/time/20090806/hl_time/08599191485700

In this article, author John Cloud looks at studies examing whether the type of exercise done at the gym leads to weight loss. Findings increasingly show while there is an increase in the number of Americans excerising , the obesity rate continues to rise.  It seems that strenous exercise increases your appetite and also, that sometimes we “reward” ourselves for our exercise program by stopping at Starbucks for a muffin afterward.

In addition, a recent study comparing women who were asked to work out with a trainer for six months and those told to maintain their regular physical activity, showed the same amount of weight loss in both groups.

By the way, Cloud does point out the benefits of exercise. People who exercise, he says, are at significantly lower risk for all manner of diseases, particular those of the heart and less likely to develop cancer, diabetes and many other illnesses. In addition, exercise also improves your mental health and cognitive ability.

Here’s the kicker:

“But there’s some confusion about whether it is exercise — sweaty, exhausting, hunger-producing bursts of activity done exclusively to benefit our health — that leads to all these benefits or something far simpler: regulary moving during our waking hours. We all need to move more  — the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says our leisure-time physical activity (including things like golfing, gardening and walking) has decreased since the late 1980s, right around the time the gym boom really exploded … ”

He goes on to write that the problem ultimately is “not exercise itself but the way we’ve come to define it.

“Many obesity researchers now believe that very frequent, low-level physical activity — the kind humans did for tens of thousands of years before the leaf blower was invented — may actually work better for us than the occasional bouts of exercise you get as a gym rat. ‘You cannot sit still all day long and then have 30 minutes of exercise without producing stress on the muscles,” says Hans-Rudolf Berthoud, a neurobiologist at LSU’s Pennington Biomedical Research Center who has studied nutrition for 20 years. ‘The muscles will ache, and you may not want to move after. But to burn calories, the muscle movements don’t have to be extreme. It would be better to distribute the movements throughout the day.’

“For his part, Berthoud rises at 5 a.m. to walk around his neighborhood several times. He also takes the stairs when possible. ‘Even if people can get out of their offices, out from in front of their computers, they go someplace like the mall and then take the elevator,’ he says. ‘This is the real problem, not that we don’t go to the gym enough.’

 

Well, there’s my thought for the day … I’m off to walk with my kids to the park.

PS these three photos were taken of chic women walking in NYC, although to be honest, in the last one I didn’t notice if the woman had walked there. I was too busy eyeing her stylish shoes. For all I know, she got out of her limo that had pulled up in front of Barneys …

PS As you can tell by my photo quality, The Satorialist, I am not …nyc2007-0321

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Camping, Weddings and other fun

 

Because the blogging world is so new to me, I’m not sure what I’m going to do during my annual vacation. We leave later today and I’m not sure how often I will be able to post and/or post photos.

We are spending the next two weeks camping, attending a friend’s wedding and visiting family in California. I will try to post as often as I can and hopefully figure out a way to post photos along the way. I will also take pictures to post when I return home.

And as always, thank you so much for reading.

On my nightstand/in my DVD player-July 6

On my nightstand this week:onmynightstand-003

Books

I whipped through fellow blogger (www.fortyisthenew20.com) Phyllis Bourne Williams’ book “A Moment on the Lips”  — a very readable sweet love story.

Unfortunately, I didn’t have as much luck with the other books on my nightstand. I don’t know if it is my mood and I’m not in the mood for nonfiction, but I will be returning “Bella Lingua” and “The Audacity of Hope” to the library. I really, really want to read Obama’s book, but every time I picked it up, it didn’t hold my interest. It was even worse with Bella Lingua. To me,  it seemed like a text book you would read in a crash course before you moved to Italy. I just couldn’t get into it. Why can’t someone write a book about the Italians along the lines of all the fun books about the French (Entre Nous, French Women Don’t Get Fat, Two Lipsticks and a Lover)?

Happiness Sold Separately – I’m still enjoying this book. As I mentioned before, I pick it up whenever I don’t have a library book to read because I don’t have to return it to my SIL anytime soon.

The Historian — I haven’t even picked this up yet. A SIL loaned it to me. It looks too heavy to bring on the airplane when I go on vacation in a few days.

Movies

This week was not a big movie week. I watched “My House in Umbria” and that was it.

 

Discipline is the key to everything/June 29

I have neglected some of my best habits and it is starting to show. My clothes are tighter and don’t look as well as I’d like them to. The two biggest habits I’ve let slide are: walking daily and not snacking between meals.

Both result from a lack of discipline in my life. I can blame the not walking on the strange spring and summer season (it is either raining or in the 90s). I can blame the snacking on — well, I guess I can’t blame that on anything. But the fact is, I have not been as disciplined in my habits as I’d like to be.

Discipline is the key to everything in my life.

* How and when I spend money

*What I put into my body (food, alcohol)

* What comes out of my mouth! (This is key in all my relationships, with friends, with family. What I choose to say, what I choose to leave unsaid. HOW I say things.)

*What and who I allow into my life and home (purchases, people, new clothes)

* How I maintain my household (from creating set routines for my children — to cleaning and organization — to making sure the dinner hour is sacred every night and a strong family tradition every Sunday — big family dinner!)

It seems whenever my life seems slightly out of whack, it all comes back down to discipline.

How does discipline affect your life?

On my nightstand, in my DVD player/Weekend June 27-28

 

On my nightstand and in my DVD player

I am a voracious reader and avid film watcher — or more honestly I am a complete bookworm and film freak!  During the summer I often sit outside on my patio while my kids splash in the kiddie pool and read my latest book. Rather than watch TV, I almost always prefer to curl up with a good book and a glass of wine after the kids are tucked into bed. I can usually be talked into putting down the book, however, if we have a good movie in the mail from Netflix.

In the DVD

During the past two weeks I’ve watched:

 “Broken English” (note to all you francophiles: has a French angle and is a fun movie)

“The Reader” with Kate Winslet — an intense tear jerker worth watching

“Tron” I also somehow got talked into watching this again, but couldn’t sit through the whole thing

“Dead Man” with Johnny Depp. Love to look at the guy but got bored and went to bed

“Slumdog Millionaire” loved, loved this one

“Taken” with Liam Neeson. Intense action, great acting. If you like James Bond flicks, you’ll like this one.

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On my nightstand:

“The Book Thief” I just finished this for one of my bookclubs and loved it. It was hard to believe it was written for young adults.  It is not in the picture because I loaned it to a SIL yesterday.

“Happiness Sold Separately” by Lolly Winston. I am a few chapters into this one and enjoying it immensely. It is a great summer read I can put down, pick back up later and get right back into it. I put it down whenever one of the books I have “ordered” from the library comes in. I borrowed it from a SIL so I can take my time with it.

“Firefly Lane” by Kristin Hannah. This is a library book with a waiting list so I am concentrating on this one the most and it is also the one my second bookclub is reading. So far I love it.

“The Audacity of Hope” by Barack Obama. I’ve only read the introduction to this so far.

Two chess books I keep meaning to re-read

Monday, June 22nd/The Price of Happiness

 

The Price of Happiness

I came across this article in the July 2009 Good Housekeeping magazine that summed up a lot of my philosophy and views toward money.

The article basically says that you can find joy, happiness and contentment no matter what your budget is.

But you have to think carefully about how you spend your money to make this happen.

“The golden rule: Devote your dollars to things that further your goals and beliefs,” said one researcher. “It’s now very clear that nurturing the things that YOU value — whether that’s becoming more cultured or redesigning your garden — is what makes people happier.”

Buying material goods usually only provides temporary happiness and when you set your sights on acquisition, you often only gain the feeling of wanting more. “Purchases that support your own values, however, are more satisfying because they help to boost your feelings of self-worth.”

To “get the most bliss for your buck” you have to think long and hard before you spend your money.

* “One of the best ways to invest in happiness is to focus on DOING rather than OWNING … 57 percent (of people asked) said they got more happiness from things they had done — taking a vacation, riding a bike, strolling through a museum, eating a pretzel with a friend — than from stuff they had bought.”

It’s not only that these activities are fun while we are doing them, it is that we are creating longlasting memories.

One mother of two interviewed in the article said she has “set her financial priorities to create happy memories.

“She isn’t interested in replacing the television she bought in 1988. Instead, she saves her money so she can buy airplane tickets and travel to new places. The jaunts, she says, are exciting stress relievers — even well after they’re over and she’s back at work: ‘I recently spent five days in Paris with my husband, walking down old streets steeped in history. Thinking back on that during an otherwise difficult day relaxes me.”

These memories will bring her happiness for years to come.

“Material things, on the other hand, quickly lose their luster. You may spend hours fantasizing about buying a silk scarf, several days shopping for it and perhaps even some time enjoying it, but not much. Your brain quickly adjusts to the fact that the scarf is folded in your drawer, and before long, you’re so used to its being there, you can barely remember when it wasn’t.

“Once the object of your obsession, now the scarf blends into the background and becomes as normal to you as hot water, Internet access or automatic-drip coffee.”

* Splurge on mini treats. “It may sound counterintuitive, but researchers have found that over time that small, inexpensive indulgences have virtually the same emotional impact as big, pricey ones — making the little things a much better buy.”

Another study examined the purchase of big items versus small ones and the happiness quotient.

“It was the frequent treats of chocolate bars or bottles of wines with takeout dinners that made both groups happy — not the pricier purchase of artwork, designer luggage or CD players.”

So, I’m off to buy my bottle of wine.

Salut.

Batteria da cucina

Robert Arbor, chef, restaurant owner and author of Joie de Vivre
Robert Arbor, chef, restaurant owner and author of Joie de Vivre

I have a small, perfect kitchen with only the essentials. I don’t need much and I don’t want much.

Recently, my kitchen has been under construction and I have had to get back to basics in some areas. So far, I’m loving it. For instance, I haven’t had a microwave for months and have not missed it one iota. I went for weeks and weeks without my electric coffeemaker and loved using my moka pot or French press for my morning coffee. It tastes leagues better this way. I have a toaster on my counter and a Kitchen Aid mixer I keep under the sink, using it about once a week to bake biscotti and about once a year to make homemade pasta noodles. Other than that I have very basic supplies, pots and pans, wooden spoons, etc. I have modeled my kitchen after these three cooks. Note: And despite all three of them insisting on a food mill, I do not have one!

JOIE DE VIVRE by Robert Arbor

“It is not a good idea to purchase a lot of pots and pans and other equipment that you are not going to use,” Arbor writes. “There is no point in having every kind of cake accoutrement if you never bake cakes . . . I always feel sorry for newlyweds who get overwhelmed with too much kitchen stuff that they have no idea how to use. It is better to give them one good copper pot that they will use forever than a set of highly specialized chef’s knives that are just going to gather dust.

“You do not need to buy expensive items for cooking. I only suggest that you refrain from aluminum cookware because it reacts with wine, tomatoes, vinegar or anything acidic. Instead, go for stainless steel or cast iron. Pots and pans need to have thick bottoms and riveted handles, but you can find these even at the most reasonably priced houseware stores. A good, sturdy pot or pan will last for decades — and this is exactly why I don’t have any baking pans. I bake cakes about once every two or three years, and when I do, I just go to the grocery store and get a disposable cake pan. This being said, if you love to bake your grand-mere’s pound cake every Sunday morning, you should really buy yourself a nice loaf pan that will make you smile every time you look at it.”

 POTS AND PANS

“A basic family kitchen only needs three or maybe four pots. These should be made of heavy-duty stainless steel and should have lids. To cook most meals, a set of small, medium, and large — the exact size will be determined by how many people are in your family — will do the trick. The fourth pot can be an extra small pot for heating small amounts of milk, reheating leftovers, or poaching an egg. Or maybe you want a large pot — called a fait-tout — that holds about twelve quarts if you need to boil large amounts of pasta or make stock frequently.”

“. . . The basic pan supply should mirror your pot supply — you’ll need a small, a medium and a large. Pans should be made of stainless steel and lids are also very helpful.” (Arbor recommends nonstick)

“…Extra cooking vessels that you might want to buy could include a cocotte, a deep, oval casserole-type dish that can either go on the stove or in the oven. A cocotte, usually made of cast iron or enamel over cast iron, should have a heavy lid and is perfect for roasting a chicken, simmering a stew, or making a gratin. If your family enjoys a lot of hot drinks, a teakettle for boiling water looks nice and friendly sitting on the stove. If you find that you simply love to make chocolate souffle’s, then you will enjoy having a nice souffle pan. ”

HAND TOOLS

“By now you’ll guess that I don’t have a huge array of utensils for prepping and cooking. However, what I do have may surprise you. I have a three-inch paring knife, a large chef’s knife that doubles for chopping and carving, and a serrated knife for slicing bread … I have two white plastic cutting boards — one for meats and the other for everything else — at the ready. I prefer plastic plastic cutting boards rather than wood because they are much easier to clean. Also on the counter are several heavy earthenware jugs that hold just about everything else I use when I cook: about six different wooden spoons and spatulas for stirring and cooking (these will not damage my nonstick pans), a good rubber spatula for scraping, a good stainless-steel spatula (for regular pans) a stainless-steel spoon … an eight-ounce ladle .. a big perforated stainless steel spoon for skimming, a pair of tongs, and a whisk…

Arbor also suggests:

* A vegetable/food mill with fine, medium and coarse disks for preparing smooth soups, sauces and pureeing vegetables and fruits

* Small, medium, and large mixing bowls

* A fine mesh strainer for straining sauces and herbed milk

* A pair of hot mitts

* A hand-cranked can opener

* A corkscrew

*A salad spinner

* One dozen cotten kitchen towels (He prefers the white ones with red or blue stripe)

If you like to bake:

* a scale

*a set of measuring cups

* a set of measuring spoons

You can buy a rolling pin or cookie cutters, but he uses a plain wine bottle to roll dough and a water glass will cut biscuits perfectly, Arbor suggests.

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MARCELLA’S ITALIAN KITCHEN by Marcella Hazan

“The more I cook, the less equipment I want to be bothered with,” Hazan writes. “The pleasure of collecting a variety of handsome cooking implements can be irrestible, and I confess I have resisted it less often than I should. But it easily becomes an end in itself, it is extravagent, it causes clutter, and it doesn’t have much to do with good cooking.

“I cook best, I find, with a few well-made things whose properties have become so familiar that I use them as uncalculatingly as I do my hands.

“I have nothing to add to the ample information already available from so many sources on the basic pots, knives and other tools every cook needs … Here, I shall limit myself to listing a few implements useful to Italian cooks that might not be considered standard equipment in other kitchens.”

The food mill: She suggests a French or Italian model with interchangeable disks with small, medium and large holes, preferable a stainless steel model that will never warp or crack and is easier to maintain than a plastic one

The saute pan:  A 10-12 inch diamer pan with either flaring or straight sides between 2-3 inches high and a close-fitting lid. She says that’s all one would probably need to cook a majority of the recipes in her cookbook. Add a sturdy stockpot to it and you could cook nearly any Italian dish that is cooked on the stove top. The saute pan can fry, simmer, saute, stew, fricasee, make sauces, even blanch skinny vegetables like asparagus.

The pasta colander: To drain pasta of course but also any other ingredient cooked in its own moisture, such as spinach. You can place eggplant slices on its side to drain before cooking

Slotted spoons and spatulas: Self explanatory, I think

The Cheese Grater: To grate cheese efficiently she relies on the French Mouli grater, a grating drum with a handle help between two clamps.

The Peeler. Self-explanatory.

Viana La Place
Viana La Place

LA BELLA CUCINA by Viana La Place

“The Italian kitchen is utilitarian, in the sense that it is a workroom dedicated to the task of cooking. It is my opinion that the simpler the kitchen looks, the better the food. And Italian kitchens shine. Appliances look as if they have never been used, since no residue from cooking ever remains. Starting with the floor and working one’s way up to the ceiling, the Italian kitchen must be spotless.

“In my kitchen in the Salento, I am blessed with what I consider to be one of the most beautiful floors I’ve ever seen. The large terrazzo floor tiles are flecked with tiny chips of marble in pale pistachio green and white … In the center of the kitchen is a simple wooden table with a white marble top worn to a lovely dull luster and  a set of wooden chairs painted blue. Windows that open to the breezes wrap around the kitchen — and outside I can almost touch the old-fashioned pink roses and little yellow plums that grown in the garden below. French doors lead out to a terrace in back that faces other gardens and other villas.”

And this is what La Place found in the pantry:

* Colanders in every size for draining pasta

* A hand-cranked food mill with three size disks

* Several cheese graters

* An assortment of formaggiere — little glass serving pieces with hinged lids for holding the freshly grated cheese placed on the table at almost every meal

* Espresso pots (Mokas). Ones for three cups, six cups, nine cups and twelve cups.

* An old hand-cranked coffee grinder

* Cups in a variety of sizes: tiny cups for espresso, large cups for caffe latte, and and assortment of other sizes for the occasional cup of tea or broth

* Everyday wineglasses: stemless, sturdy and reliable, and diminutive glasses for liqueurs, digestivi and aperativei; a few fancier wineglasses, although most of the fancy wineglasses are in the dining room credenza, she says.

* Taller, but not too tall, glasses for homemade lemonade or cold tea

*Bowls of many sizes. Shallow bowls for tossing pasta and sauce, and a succession of bowls in decreasing sizes for salad making, cooked vegetables, for olives and individual shallow bowls for erving pasta.

* You will always find at least one enormous pot for boiling pasta for a crowd, as well as a variety of pots in various sizes for other uses.

* A frying pan

*Earthenware casserole dishes of various sizes and always a very large rectangular baking dish for making pasta al forno or lasagne

* Baskets for bread, carafes and pitchers for wine and water, cruets for olive oil and vinegar

* A big box of sea salt is always present and salt is placed on the table in very small salt dishes accompanied by equally small spoons

*A pepper mill

*Spoons: tiny spoons for espresso, medium size spoons for general use and gigantic soup spoons, much larger than the ones we use in America for soup. Many wooden spoons for cooking

* Knives. especially popular and useful are the plastic handled serrated knives one buys at the outdoor markets

*In terms of small utensils, you’ll find a meat pounder; a straight-sided pastry wheel for cutting pasta; a deep, slotted spoon for scooping stuffed pasta out of boiling water; and a thin, long rolling pin without ball bearings for rolling out pasta.

“It sounds like a lot of equipment,” La Place writes, “But it all fits very neatly in the medium-size pantry in the kitchen. The tools are basic, the ingredients simple, yet the results are profoundly good.”

La Dolce Vita Authors I love

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If you want ideas on living the sweet life, please check out one of my favorite Italian American authors,  Raeleen D’Agostino Mautner, author of Living La Dolce Vita.

You can also find inspiration on her blog: http://www.raeleenmautner.blogspot.com/

 Also, check out her musings on her other website:

http://dolcevitaseminars.com/_wsn/page7.html

Another Italian-American author I absolutely adore is Adriana Trigiani. Her website is http://www.adrianatrigiani.com/

I love everything she’s ever written. When she heard I was reading her latest book at my bookclub she asked if she could call in to chat with us. It was great talking to her. When I answered the phone that night, she said, “Hey baby, how’s it going?”

What’s not to love?

They are filming a movie this summer based on her first book, Big Stone Gap, and she invited us to be extras. Not sure if we’ll make the road trip, but the offer was sweet.

Have a great weekend.

Tips to achieve la bella figura

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In my lifelong quest at achieving la bella figura ( the Italian concept that you must always look and act your best in every situation), I have accumulated some tips from different sources that I will share with you today. I have broken them down in a few different categories for simplicity.

Eating

— Only eat while seated

— Put utensils down between bites

— Take small bites. Chew thoroughly

— Stop before fully satisfied

— Eat mindfully, savoring each bite

— Only eat delicious food (I think someone once said “Eat well or not at all”)

— No snacking.

— No guilt about food. Eat exactly what you please!

Dressing

— Maintain a slim armoire (see Anne Barone’s Chic and Slim books for more on this)

— Only wear what you LOVE. Only buy clothes that scream “YES” when you try them on.

— Stick to a limited palette, based on perennial fashion colors and maybe one or two signature colors you love

— Buy less. Pay more.

— Once you become of a certain age, put your money into “investment” pieces  that will last several seasons and not go out of style

Acting chicly

— Don’t swear. (After years and years working in an newsroom, this was actually a habit I had to break!)

— Have impeccable posture.

— Maintain your mystique. Keep secrets. Maintain your privacy. Don’t elaborate when you respond with a “thank you” to a compliment.

— Think before you speak and act.

— Express your passion.

— Speak less about yourself, but always have interesting tidbits to add to a conversation by keeping abreast of current issues (this may be from the fabulous book Entre Nous). Share information about books, films, recipes, school, national and community issues more than you share about yourself. (It’s so boring to talk about yourself anyway!) There is a quote my mother once told me: Great minds discuss ideas, average minds discuss events, small minds discuss people.

Living frugally and chicly

— Eliminate debt

— Only spend what you can afford

— Spend money on experiences not things

— Save for what you want

— Think long and hard before bringing something new into your house

Miscellaneous

— Study art, architecture, cuisine, clothing, literature, music, chess, film, photography, languages.

— Take time. Don’t rush or multitask

— Read voraciously

La Bella Figura