Eclipsing Cliches   Leave a comment

The Boys in the Boat isn’t compelling as a title until considering the subtitle: Nine Americans and Their Epic Quest for Gold at the 1936 Berlin Olympics. That, believe it or not, provides just the amount of spark to pick up the book. Once in hand,  Daniel James Brown’s account is riveting. Sure there are a few spots where it catches a crab, in rowing vernacular where an oar doesn’t completely come out of the water and slows the pace of the shell (boat). Fortunately, Brown keeps a mostly steady tempo.

The narrative follows the unlikely evolution of nine young men who find their way to the University of Washington rowing crew. Much of the story follows Joe Rantz, a particularly poor young man with a heartbreaking past: his stepmother convinced his father to essentially abandon Joe. His history, along with that of his crewmates and their coaches, provide the book’s heart, literally and figuratively. Each chapter begins with a quote from George Yeoman Pocock the boat builder who served as a mentor to Joe and others.

Interspersed with descriptions of the men’s pasts, their grueling training and the exciting races — particularly those against California – Brown describes events in Germany before the world fully understood the atrocities occurring there.

Even though the outcome of the race is known from the start, how the American crew made it to Berlin is fascinating. It’s a story of indomitable spirit that demonstrates the power of hard work, friendship and the American dream.

The Boys in the Boat
Four Bookmarks
Viking Adult, 2013
416 pages

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Three’s a Charm   5 comments


Thanks WordPress for letting me know this is our third anniversary. I don’t have a book or restaurant to review right now, but I did make my 275th post earlier this week.

The traditional gift to commemorate three years is leather. Hhmmm. Sounds like I need to get a book to celebrate!

Thanks WordPress, but more importantly, thank you readers! It’s nice to know I have followers who aren’t related to me, although I am very grateful to those who are for being so consistent in your love and support. I’ll keep writing and I hope you’ll keep reading. Here’s to three more — at least!

Lotsa Luck   Leave a comment


Lucky Us by Amy Bloom is a great title, because it can be uttered in different ways: with a note of sarcasm or with an emphasis on appreciation. Thanks to Bloom’s strength as a story teller, the reader is the lucky one.

From the onset, this is a captivating story of how families get by, not in a financial way but emotionally. It’s a look at the way we create families when those we’re born into cause disappointment and pain. This is the case for all of the main characters. Twelve-year-old Eva, abandoned by her unmarried mother, is left to live with her father and his daughter, Iris. Iris’s own mother has recently died and the girls are motherless, but now each has a sister. The two are as different as salt and pepper, but together they add zest to what could otherwise be uneventful lives.

The book has a surprisingly large number of significant characters who appear like traffic cops signaling directions. Bloom moves her characters from Ohio to Hollywood to Brooklyn – and points beyond. Yet, no one is superfluous.

Love, both carnal and platonic, is a major force, but the strongest elements are familial connections. Eva and Iris support each other’s strengths: Eva has brains, Iris has beauty. Both have limited common sense. The appeal of Bloom’s writing escalates as the friends/family they add to their circle grows. At times it seems far-fetched, but mostly it’s a matter of luck, the kind we all know: good and bad.

Lucky Us
Four Bookmarks
Random House, 2014
240 pages

Words for Dinner?   Leave a comment

Eat Your Words by Charlotte Foltz Jones (and illustrated by John O’Brien) is an entertaining look at the evolution of idioms associated with food. Although written as a children’s book, this should appeal to anyone with an interest in sustenance and words. It has nothing to do with nutrition and diets.

Foltz’s conversational, easy-to-read history of food and the language associated with it is immediately engaging because of its emphasis on fun. She shares how certain dishes or snacks came to exist. I suspect we all know about sandwiches and their debt to the Fourth Earl of Sandwich, but new to me, at least, is Sylvester Graham and his role in the cracker that bears his name.

Fun, often obscure, facts related to food are shared, including a section on what Foltz justifiably identifies as “silly food laws.” Who knew that in Lexington, Ky., for example, that “it is against the law to carry an ice cream cone in your pocket”? Of course, the larger question is who would want to? Food-related events are also listed, including the Berrien Springs, Mich., annual Christmas Pickle Festival. This suggests mistletoe isn’t the only reason to pucker up.

The book is written in an amusing tone, but it also contains interesting facts associated with the foods we consume every day. Get the book for a kid, but be sure to read it, too.

Eat Your Words
Four Bookmarks
Delacorte Press, 1999
85 pages including bibliography

Family Faultlines   Leave a comment

The Family Fang by Kevin Wilson is exasperating and slightly intriguing. Camille and Caleb Fang are performance artists in the extreme. Their definition of art is to create irresponsible chaos amidst the realities of daily routines. The Fangs have children, Annie and Buster, who are used as props and/or unwilling co-conspirators. The kids, also known as A and B, have no interest in being part of their parents’ far-fetched ideas. Once old enough they leave home to pursue more traditional artistic endeavors: Annie is a film actress and Buster writes novels.

When the novel begins, however, both Annie and Buster are experiencing low points in their lives. Though resistant, they return to the family home. Wilson creates a palpable sense of anger and frustration on A and B’s part. This spills onto the reader. In a way Camille and Caleb are like the king who wears no clothes when they create their exaggerated scenarios, most of which are ill-conceived. It’s their children who wonder why no one else can see what they do.

Wilson combines a fair amount of humor, elements of a low-key mystery and the pathos associated with children who have been psychologically harmed and become adults who haven’t outgrown the affliction.

Unfortunately, the narrative doesn’t work. Too many questions arise making suspension of disbelief impossible. For example, if the Fangs are so successful as performance artists why aren’t they recognized? More importantly, why didn’t anyone call social services to keep Annie and Buster out of the fray?

The Family Fang

Three Bookmarks
Ecco, 2011
309 pages

Tamales Without the Blues   Leave a comment


Up until a few years ago, anyone who drove through the if-you-blink-then-you-miss-it town of Hartsel in Colorado’s South Park was familiar with the neon-blue storefront housing Dorothy’s Tamales. Decades ago, Dororthy (there’s an actual Dorothy) started selling tamales in her home a few miles east of town and then moved to what can best be described as a wide trailer – painted that distinctive blue. It was a great place to stop for good Mexican food and pick up tamales to take home after a day spent in the mountains.


Without fanfare, Dorothy moved from Hartsel to Fairplay, well, to the southside of Fairplay along U.S. Highway 24. Gone was the color, gone was part of the smaller town’s character and, most importantly, gone was the ease of stopping.

Finally, we visited the new location. The restaurant faces the highway but it’s on a frontage road, so access is somewhat complicated. It’s a much larger facility but the menu appears pretty much the same. Oh, did I mention the restaurant is also a bowling alley?


Even with a new address, the tamales are worth the extra effort to reach. Filled with chicken, pork, vegetables (I’ve never tried these), cheese or buffalo, the tamales can be smothered in red or green chili. I opted for the pork with red. The shredded meat, masa and chile are well-balanced so no single element overshadows the other.

It’s nice that frozen tamales are still available to bring home for later; so we did.

Dorothy’s Tamales
Four Plates
12771 US Hwy 24,
Fairplay, Colo.

Comfort Classics   Leave a comment

It’s important to use the full name when discussing Twist On Classic Comfort Food, even though it’s easier to refer to this exciting restaurant simply as Twist. The eatery has established itself as a major culinary player in Breckenridge thanks to the spins it puts on mostly-familiar dishes. It doesn’t hurt that Twist is located in a Victorian-style home, another comfort source.

Although it was busy, service never wavered; on a few occasions a server other than our own stopped to see if we needed anything. That’s a nice touch.


The best strokes, though, came from the kitchen. Meatloaf reigns high on the comfort food throne, here it’s made with chorizo and bison. Although it sounds intriguing, we didn’t try it. Instead, the Braised Short Ribs and the Jackfish comprised our orders. Properly braised meat should fall off the bone, which is exactly what happened. Jasmine rice, peach pickled ginger gremolata, cauliflower and a wonton crisp were served with the tender pork.


The Jackfish was a nightly special, and since I was unfamiliar with it I thought I should go for it. This grilled, mild fish was a bit dry but the squash ratatouille provided contrasting texture. A small amount of tomato basil sauce enhanced the not-quite-parched fish. I probably wouldn’t have this again, but am glad I tried it.


This time of year in Colorado, Palisade is synonymous with peaches. The featured dessert was a hand pie filled with blueberry and western slope peaches served with vanilla gelato. The crust was flakey, but the fruit and gelato stole the show.

Four-and-a-half Plates
200 South Ridge St.
Breckenridge, CO


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