California by Edan Lepucki

August 30th, 2014 | Posted by Lackey in My Reading Life - (0 Comments)

Edan Lepucki’s California made its way to my radar when Stephen Colbert urged viewers to buy it amidst his Amazon vs. Hachette rant . Apparently, California was recommended to Colbert by one of my long time favorite author, Sherman Alexie, so the late night plug was something to take seriously. A bit of research about the author turned up the information that Edan Lepucki is a graduate of Oberlin College, just down the road, so we headed out the next day to Oberlin, Ohio on a book search! Certainly her book would be available in Oberlin, hopefully at our favorite spot to book browse – MindFair Books inside the Ben Franklin Store on College Street. No California there. Disappointed we were having to head to the Oberlin College bookstore, which is a Barnes and Noble affiliate, we found the most informed looking employee and asked for the book. He had never heard of it, never heard of the author and was unaware that she was returning to campus to read from California in November!

Now we were on a mission! We drove the the big brother Barnes and Noble store at Crocker Park and there is was. Feeling like a traitor, I bought it. At least I didn’t order it from Amazon.

The novel is another post-apocalyptic dystopian tale. Cal and Frida have fled what remains of LA for bare existence in a wilderness hideaway. Frida is still mourning the death of her brother, Micah, who appears to have given his life fighting the remains of civilization. Without giving too much info, the story is two parts Cormac McCarthy’s The Road mixed with one part Hunger Games. I think high school students would enjoy it well enough.

Finally, a week or so after I finished the book, I found the bookstore I would have liked to have purchased it in when we were visiting Ithaca, NY. Shout out to Buffalo Street Books for their anti-Amazon display!


Pie of the Month Promise – An Update

August 29th, 2014 | Posted by Lackey in Dining In - (0 Comments)

The pie of the month promise is still going strong. I thought I was being much better about documenting this year in pies, but I seem to have fallen far behind. The August pie begs for some description, though. Sweet Corn Custard Pie! Sweet corn season is in full swing here in Northeast Ohio, and our Fresh Fork CSA bags have been including corn lately, so after every meal that features corn, we have several ears to cut off the cob. This recipe calls for 3 cups, and that was not a problem!

The corn kernels need to be roasted in the oven until they begin to char a little. This gives the corn an additional nutty sweetness.

Then the corn is combined with heavy cream and whole milk to steep for a while. Finally the corn solids are strained out and the corn cream is combined with the sugar and eggs to make the custard filling.

It was tricky to know just when the pie was perfectly baked through. I think I took mine out of the oven a bit too early and the result was a very creamy center. We shared the pie with friends who enjoyed the sweet corn goodness. Although the first grader in the bunch was quite skeptical of corn pie and would have rather had a fruit pie. Maybe next month!


Dining in the Finger Lakes

August 5th, 2014 | Posted by Lackey in Dining Out - (0 Comments)

Lunchtime on a day of winery visits found us at the highly recommended FLX (Finger Lakes – of course) Weinery.
Get it ? A weinery on the road to the wineries! Any kind of hot dog, sausage, burger you want and lots of original toppings served up in a brand new building.



This funky, fun eating establishment has just opened this spring, but their emphasis on fresh and local ingredients should mean a good business for them in the coming years.

We were lucky enough to eat dinner twice during our trip at The Stonecat Cafe where local cuisine takes center stage. Both nights we had an amazing meal out on their covered patio. Both nights the wait staff was attentive, chatty and interested in our total satisfaction.

The first night I chose the Cornmeal Crusted Catfish which was finished with a smoked tomato coulis and served with fresh dill cole slaw. It was delicious paired with a glass of a Keuka Lake a Vineyards Vignoles 2013.
When we decided to return for dinner on Saturday night, we were able to get a late reservation and purposely arrived early to sit at the bar for a drink from their amazing specialty cocktail menu. I wish I could remember exactly what my seasonal feature was called but it was made with Finger Lakes Distilling Vintner’s Vodka and local cherry juice! Although it threatened rain, we were seated on the patio and assured we could be moved back inside, but the storm stayed away and we had an amazing dinner. Three of us ordered the special, which was shrimp and chorizo in a rich tomato sauce over seasoned polenta with fresh green and yellow beans on the side.

David splurged on the Grilled Grass-fed Ribeye which was finished with a cognac cream demi-glacé and served with rosemary mashed potatoes and seasonal sautéed veggies. We also took the wine steward’s recommendation and ordered a bottle of Barbera Del Monferrato Superiore – so yummy!

We have our waitress at Stonecat to thank for a restaurant recommendation for our day trip to Ithaca. When she told us she would eat lunch at a The Moosewood Restaurant, my eyes lit up!!! I have been enjoying Moosewood cookbooks that my husband gave me as gifts for years. And my award winning culinary teacher best friend had never heard of it.

Moosewood is a worker owned restaurant that has been acclaimed as a driving force in the world of creative vegetarian cooking for 40 years. Moosewood was named one of the “thirteen most influential restaurants of the 20th Century” by Bon Appétìt magazine. The menu changes daily, and our friendly waitress helped us make excellent choices. I had the vegetable stew which was served over farro and topped with crumbled feta and David and Danette chose the polenta pizza with mushrooms and roasted sliced tomatoes. Every bite was fresh and flavorful.


Finding the Moosewood was an added bonus on this perfect little get away to the Finger Lakes. If we ever return, I would revisit each of these amazing eateries!


How does someone who works every summer weekend at a winery relax? By visiting other wineries, of course! A quick summer trip with our best traveling friends took us to the Finger Lakes in New York for some wine tasting and relaxation. After a pleasant drive to Lake Keuka, our first stop was Dr. Konstantin Frank’s large and lovely winery. Dr. Frank immigrated to the U.S. in the 1950′s and brought a knowledge of Ukrainian root stock that still informs their large selection of quality wines. Read all about the interesting history of this legendary winery on their website.

Tastings at Dr. Frank’s were FREE! and the view was so very beautiful.



We only had time for one more winery before closing time on a Wednesday, and we made an excellent choice with Herron Hill, also on Keuka Lake near Hammondsport, NY. Herron Hill indeed sits up on a hill and has a lovely outdoor stage and eating area.





Our accommodations for the weekend were at Magnolia Place Bed and Breakfast in Hector, on Lake Seneca. It is a gorgeous house with beautifully appointed rooms and amazing breakfasts. Lots of porches give guests plenty of places to sit and relax.


Our host, Ted, suggested that before we leave we hike up the hill behind the house between the vineyards to enjoy the views of the lake. It was lovely!




Our second day of winery visits took us most of the way around Lake Seneca. After a morning of browsing in the shops in Watkins Glen, we headed north along the west side of the lake and began our wining at Shaw Vineyards because I had been told we would find the best dry reds there.

We were the only ones visiting their lovely tasting room, and we did enjoy the Cabernet Franc and Cabernet Sauvignon as well as a delicious dry Rose.

Next stop – Herman Wiemar Winery. The tastings here are given amongst the kettles. This trip we seemed to really be enjoying the dry Roses.



Well fed after a lunch stop at FLX Weinery and ready for more tastings, we headed to Villa Bellangelo – a fun place to visit with beautiful views, nice wines – especially a yummy 2012 Meritage – a well-informed wine tender and Scooters!!! I had so much fun posing with my best friend, Danette, on the pink scooter in front of a vineyard backdrop.



The scooters are great advertisement props for their Scooter line of wines. Sold in 1.5 litre bags with a pour spout, the Red Scooter, White Scooter and Pink Scooter table wines were too sweet for my taste, but a fun addition to the other offerings in the large gift shop at Villa Bellangelo.

Next stop – a winery and distillery on the same property. On the east side of Lake Senaca , Damiani Wine Cellars and Finger Lakes Distilling Company share the same driveway and are a walkable distance apart. We had an enjoyable tasting with Garrett, who shared his wealth of knowledge about the vodka, gin, brandy and whiskey made on the premises.



At Damiani Wine Cellars, we found a great dry Riesling and finally sat outside and enjoyed a whole glass of wine and awesome views of the lake.



Downstairs from the tasting room is a nice “cellar” which opens out to a side patio. We found out there would be a house band and open mic entertaining later and we promised to come back after dinner so that David could have his New York harmonica debut. If we lived in the area, I think Damiani Cellars would become a regular hangout.

Along with day trips to Ithaca and Corning, we did manage to squeeze in a few more wineries north of Hector on the east side of Seneca. Hazlitt 1852 Winery was hopping. They have an outdoor venue that was full of people sipping wine slushies, I think. We had a limited amount of time – most wineries close at 5:00 – so we headed directly for the busy tasting room where we had one of the speediest and most uninformed tastings of the trip. However, Hazlitt makes a Cider Tree sparkling cider that is delicious! We spent some money in their crazy gift shop, which had handbag-sized single serving plastic bottles of their most popular wines as well as magnum sized bottles of their crazy Red Cat Wines.

Just down the road, we found Penguin Bay Winery, which had a very basic tasting room and a fun place to pose for a photo.

They had a nice floral Dry Riesling and also a silky French oak aged Pinot Noir! You can drink wine and support the penguins at Penguin Bay Winery, since a portion of all of their wine proceeds are donated to the penguin exhibit at Rosamond Gifford Zoo in Syracuse, NY!

Our last tasting was in a basic barn behind a farm house called Standing Stone Vineyards. Here we were served by Sheila, a mature lady who reminded me so much of my dear co-worker, Anita at Quarry Hill. We bought a bottle of their Stonehouse Red mainly for the old black and white photo of the former farmer’s wife, Marie, and her chickens on the label.

Each winery was different, many of the wines were high quality, the weather and lake views were gorgeous! A great get-away!

********* Did someone say beer?*********

I have to at least mention that we spent a lazy and memorable hour sampling beer at Ithaca Beer Co. the afternoon we visited Ithaca. Outside of the spacious tasting room and restaurant, there is a huge outdoor area with picnic tables under a hops-trellised pergola. Bocce courts, a wine bottle wall and adirondack chairs invite visitors to waste more than an hour enjoying their variety of beers. We decided to try some flights which include 4 four ounce pours. Mine was the Seasonal Flight which included Ground Break, Cayuga Cruiser, Country Pumpkin, and White Gold. If you are in Ithaca, make this a sunny day destination!





A funny title for a just-plain-fun in the sun summer read. When I started reading this light hearted romantic comedy, I wasn’t sure I would finish it. Richard, an English artist, has cheated on his perfect French lawyer wife. He has sold the only painting that has the power to keep them together. I didn’t see myself developing sympathy for either of them.

And then the book got funny! And I had some time on the beach with this, my only beach book. Courtney Maum is a blogger and humor columnist. She lived in France, where half of the novel takes place. This is her first novel, and it follows a pretty predictable story arch. I can see it being a beautifully funny film, and I would go see it in a heartbeat, because I did end up feeling for Richard. His foibles made for a perfectly funny summer beach read – and an especially ironic beach photo.


I am a bit of a sucker for any book with an Emily Dickinson epigraph. The title of McBride’s debut novel comes from these lines,
We never know how high we are
Till we are called to rise;
And then, if we are true to plan,
Our statures touch the skies –
which aptly introduce this novel in four voices. Set in Las Vegas, the story is narrated by Avis, Luis, Bashkim and Roberta. They all have separate and complicated lives that converge when an act of violence propels them into the same conflict arena. According to the author’s note, the plot was reimagined from an unbelievably sad headline news story. I’m not a fan of this sort of literary conceit. However, McBride’s theme is genuine and is summed up by Avis in one of her later sections with these lines – “It all matters. . . . What is most beautiful is least acknowledged. What is worth dying for is barely noticed.”

This is not the book review I am supposed to be writing. I am four book reviews behind, but I just finished reading The Storied Life of A. J. Fikry this morning and I feel compelled to share it right away as an offering of advice to all my reader friends – and especially my English teacher friends – who know at this point in the summer, you can’t waste your beach/hammock/porch swing time with a bad book. In other words, this is the last good book you may have time for before you have to surrender yourself to the damnable “summer reading” you should be doing.

The book is a love song to reading – especially short stories – and book stores. It is also a literal love story and a bit of a mystery. I am not going to spoil anything, beyond saying the baby in a basket reading a book on the cover is already a spoiler that I didn’t even notice until well into my digital IBook edition. A. J. Fikry owns and operates Island Books on fictitious Alice Island, where a sign hangs over the door that says “No Man is an Island; Every Book is a World.” And he is the sort of red wine drinking curmudgeon I fall in love with inside of the first chapter.

The gimmick of the novel that may have annoyed me much more if it wasn’t so darned literary is that each chapter is introduced with Fikry’s brief review of a well known short story that will figure into that chapter somehow. You learn that Fikry has the highest respect for the short story as a genre. At one point in the novel he slips a list of short stories to read under the door of his daughter who is having trouble writing a short story for a school contest. (This list would be a good course syllabus for any high school writing class.) In a later chapter you get to read her short story! None of this bookish “product placement” bothered me because I was so charmed by the story itself.

And it is an Ice Cream Cone of a summer story, perfect for a day like today, when I have allowed myself a sort of vacation day in Athens, Ohio. Because I want to have this book in hand to share with friends, I broke my No New Books promise and bought a copy at Little Professor, in part to celebrate the fact that Athens still has a reliable bookstore! And I am writing this review outside of The Donkey with David, drinking an iced coffee that I am not even mad dripped all over my best white shorts. Because I wanted you to read this review and then this book, I am typing frantically with 23% charge on my Ipad. Summer is short! Life is long, but not long enough to waste on the wrong books. Read this one – you deserve a treat.

Want Not by Jonathan Miles

June 27th, 2014 | Posted by Lackey in My Reading Life - (0 Comments)

Dave Eggers’ jacket blurb drew me to this gem of a book sitting on the shelf of our local library. Jonathan Miles’ literary dumpster dive into the world of anti-materialist, anti-capitalist, post-consumer dystopia reads like the third installment following Eggers Hologram for a King and The Circle, both not so thinly veiled critiques of the consequences of living in a semi-virtual, techno-saturated society. The characters in Want Not inhabit literal and metaphorical dumpsters overflowing with debris from Hologram’s failed capitalism and live beyond the reach of the Google/Amazon/Facebook virtual world of The Circle.

Want Not follows a handful of separate characters whose stories do not intersect until the last section. Each chapter reads like an independent short story. Talmadge and Micah are squatters in Manhattan who dumpster dive for food. Elwin Cross, Jr. is an overweight linguistics professor who is attempting to cope with his failed marriage and failing father who lives at an Alzheimer’s facility. Suburbanite Sarah, who became a widow on September 11th, has recently remarried, complicating the life of her daughter, Alexis. Each character regards waste differently.

I enjoyed the book so much, I convinced David to read it. I responded to the satiric humor and David its semi-tragic grotesqueness. Miles crafts long, detailed sentences and paragraphs which mimic Craigslist Yardsale ads, while at the same time imagining the lives of those who post them. We both agree, it makes you think for a second about what happens after you toss that black Hefty bag to the curb.

Last week, I travelled with my daughter and 16 others to serve some of the poorest school children in Honduras through a Cleveland, Ohio based organization called Hope for Honduran Children. Lovingly run by Karen and John Godt, Hope for Honduran Children sponsors more than a half dozen service trips throughout the year. Since my daughter had gone on one of these trips as a high school senior, she convinced me my teaching life would be changed forever if I came along on a trip with her this spring. And she was very, very right! An average day of the eight day trip was spent visiting a remote mountain school in the morning and spending time with the boys who live at Flor Azul in Neuvo Paraiso In the afternoons.  Each person in our group came to Honduras prepared to teach a lesson or share a craft. Of course, I wanted to combine literature with a craft that the children would enjoy.  Before we left, I zeroed in on Dr. Seuss, and after scouring Amazon for options, I found an a English/Spanish version of The Cat in the Hat to take along. A little bit of time spent on Pinterest and I located a template for making large red and white striped hats.  Card stock was printed, red stripes were traced, blue head bands were precut and red duct tape was packed in my carry on!

Karen suggested I save my activity for the day we were to visit Neguara, a remote mountain  village several hours east of Tegucigalpa.  Hope for Honduran Children takes every one of its service groups to visit this school, unless there has been recent rain, which makes the steep, rocky road to the school impassible.  We had a very long, bumpy bus ride and in addition to bringing lessons for the children, we had suitcases full of donated clothing, oatmeal, pasta, children’s vitamins and CANDY!

We were told the teacher at this school walks more than an hour each way from his home to the school.  Although he was offered a teaching job nearer to his home, he continues the daily walk to Neguara because if he didn’t teach there, he says no one else would.  And what a fine teacher!  He had the children lined up and ready to greet us as we got off the bus – smallest to tallest with boys on one side and girls on the other.  It brought tears to my eyes.


The children hugged each of us and then hurried into their school, taking their seats to wait for the lessons to start. I paired up with my daughter’s friend Sammie, who is minoring in Spanish in college, to read the book first in Spanish and then in English.


They listened with intent, and enjoyed when I passed the pictures around and acted it out a bit for them.

Reading Cat in the Hat – Neguara video


The book is really quite long for the attention span of a small child, especially when it is being read twice. We decided to cut it short and move quickly on to the craft.

They loved making the hats, and with some assistance, we soon had a room full of Cats in Hats!
image imageimage
Video – Showing off Hatsimage
It was a moving sight to see the whole school posing for a picture in their hats, and I was so tempted to leave the book behind as a donation, but my daughter had promised we had more kids to share Dr. Seuss with at Neuvo Paraiso. These boys go to school each morning and the return to the complex of buildings where they live, sleep and eat their meals. We had several afternoons to spend with them, playing games, making beautiful silk screened logo shirt thanks to the donations of an artist on our trip, and reading The Cat in the Hat. I was tickled to see 14, 15 and 16 year old boys working through the English text – sometimes laughing at the story and practicing their pronunciation in rhyme!

Video – Group Reading

Video of Christopher

Our very last day was spent with boys who live together at Casa Noble in Santa  Lucia.  They are mostly older boys – some attend classes at the university.  Their English is pretty good but The Cat in the Hat still presented a challenge.

Video – Alex Reading

One of my lasting memories of the week will always be of the group of us – moms, kids, new Honduran family members – huddled on the couch taking turns reading together with the a English speakers reading Spanish and vice versa. image
Video – Group Read featuring Jimmy

I ended up leaving the book at Casa Noble. I explained to them that the Dr. Seuss was commissioned by his publisher to write a primer using 225 “new reader” sight words. Ironically, I had come to Honduras with almost no words in my word bank. My teaching life was enriched forever by watching the story magically draw its own audience. That Cat in the Hat brings “Good fun that is funny” even when his name is El Gato Ensombrerato.



The Word ExchangeRarely do a close a book I just finished and begin my review, but this dystopian account of the Word Flu that sweeps American in 2016 infected me with a (hopefully false) sense that my time to write this  may be short.  I put my iPad and iPhone down.  I must write and let the words speak for themselves.

In some obvious ways, Alena Graedon’s premise is not unique.  Fahrenheit 451, Brave New World, Shteyngart’s Super Sad True Love Story and recently Egger’s The Circle, have carried variations of the same warning – words and the stories we use them to tell – make us human.  Mostly, it brought to mind Chris Van Allsburg’s The Wretched Stone.  Graedon wraps her narrative in an entirely fresh and mildly gimmicky format.  Following epigraphs by Samuel Johnson, Lewis Carrol and Jorge Luis Borges, the table of contents shows chapters titled every letter of the alphabet and divided into three sections – Thesis, Antithesis, and Synthesis.  The main narrator, Anana Johnson daughter of Douglas Johnson, is given the coded nickname Alice (think Through the Looking Glass)  before her father disappears from his job while racing to finish NADEL (North American Dictionary of the English Language).  The secondary narrator, Bart, (think Melville’s Bartleby) tells his portion of the story through journal entries he writes as he tries to stave off the infection.

The first two or three chapters had me doubting the infectious pull of the narrative, but I was quickly hooked.  The pace is fast, the characters and the electronic devices on which they depend are contemporary, and the suggested techniques for reversing their damage are music to any English teacher’s ears – Cessation of contact with meaningless data, Reading, Conversation and Composition Therapy.  Part mystery, part love letter to language, the back flap of the cover describes it as “a cautionary tale that is at once a technological thriller and a meditation on the high cultural costs of digital technology”.  I would suggest this as the perfect summer read – preferably on a beach with no cell service.