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Lost and Found   Leave a comment

libraryii

I lost my library card.

It’s one of my most important forms of identification. I’ve held in my hand far more often than my driver’s license or my passport.

I knew the card was easily replaceable, but I’ve had this particular card for 27 years. Before that I had the one issued to me when I was in high school, but I had to relinquish it when I changed my last name. I was attached to the card as much for the length of time it’s been in my possession as for the access it’s provided to feed my imagination and my intellect.

I’d removed the card from my wallet just before a trip out of the country; I knew I wouldn’t be checking out any books in a Mexico City library because I suspected it wouldn’t be accepted anyway. One of my first stops upon returning home was to my local branch. Fortunately, my license was accepted as alternative ID for the book I wanted. Yet, I worried. I couldn’t remember where I’d placed the card.

purse spew

I went through my wallet multiple times; I ransacked my purse – just in case. I searched drawers, underneath piles of papers and books. I ended up organizing the clutter around my computer.

I wondered if I’d left in it the car. I hadn’t. I rearranged more untidiness. I opened one more drawer.

The next best thing to finding something that’s been lost is that sometimes it results in a little bit of cleanup.

library card

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Sometimes it Takes More Than a Village   Leave a comment

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Fredrik Backman hit the bestseller list in the United States with A Man Called Ove in 2013. (Several of his books are reviewed here on The Blue Page Special). Beartown, his most recent, is as engaging and character-driven as his previous work. Yet, in many ways, it’s also a departure.

The small, isolated town of the title is cold and bleak, where hockey reigns, followed closely by poverty. This is a story about fitting in, motivation, pain, teen angst, adult misperceptions and misplaced loyalty. It lacks the blatant quirkiness of some of  Backman’s earlier novels and teeters near the edge of predictability. Its salvation lies in the strength of the characters. Some fall into the cliché category while most are remarkable and credible, if not always likeable.

The first sentence is a grabber; actually, it’s more like a full body check: “late one evening toward the end of March, a teenager picked up a double-barreled shotgun, walked into the forest, put the gun to someone else’s forehead, and pulled the trigger.”

The town’s economy depends on the success of its junior ice hockey team winning a championship. It’s well positioned to do so thanks to the group of players who have been together for years and the exceptional talents of a particular player.

However, as Backman describes the players, their families, fans and town residents, it becomes evident that all is not as it appears. This is about secrets, self-identity and the drive not just to succeed but to survive.

Beartown
Four bookmarks
Atria Books, 2017
432 pages

No Buttermilk Biscuits Here   Leave a comment

crisp interior

One of my middle son’s favorite foods is fried chicken; I’ve jumped on that band wagon with him. It started with my introduction to Bouchon’s buttermilk rendition. It soon evolved to include waffles. But, for now, I’ll stick to the hens.

When Food and Wine magazine listed the best places in the country to find the crispy comfort food it was like finding a treasure map. The timing was perfect as I was making a trip to Chicago, which boasts three of the 33 on the list. We only had time to try one: Crisp.

crisp chicken

When we wandered into the small, unimpressive order-at-the-counter eatery I was surprised. The preparation here is not what’s served with mashed potatoes and peas. This was Korean fried chicken, which sent my taste buds in a completely different direction than they’d traveled before.

First, diners choose between wings or boneless strips. Then there’s a choice of sauces. These range from plain, slightly sweet, a smoky spicy and a Buffalo spicy. I went with the sweet. Honey, ginger, garlic and soy were the obvious flavors coating crispy pieces of chicken that had been flash-fried twice. They were sticky, thanks to the honey, but not at all greasy.

crisp chickens

Crisp also serve sandwiches, Buddha bowls and Korean burritos. Sides include brown rice, onion rings, greens, kimchee (sic) and shoestring potatoes.

I have my go-to places for traditional fried chicken. Nonetheless, I don’t mind continuing the quest for perfect poultry, especially when I find such different spins like Crisp’s.

crisp inside

Crisp
Four Plates
2910 N. Broadway
Chicago, Ill.

Disconnecting the Dots   Leave a comment

 

A Separation

The narrator in Katie Kitamura’s novel, A Separation, is never named. Nonetheless, we learn other, more intimate details about her.

The title has multiple implications beginning with the fact that the narrator is separated from her husband, Christopher, and has been for six months. The couple has not announced the split; in fact, the pair has promised vowed to continue waiting before going public with the news.

Kitamura is terse in her descriptions. Yet her characters are well-developed, even the ones we never actually meet. Christopher, for example, has gone missing in Greece. Still, he is seen through the narrator’s eyes and experience.

In London, his mother Isabella, who is unaware of any change in Christopher’s marital status, contacts the narrator since messages to her son have gone unheeded. In just a few sentences, Kitamura deftly portrays the uncomfortable relationship the women share. Isabella is incredulous that her daughter-in-law has no idea of Christopher’s exact whereabouts. Both know he is in Greece and the resort hotel he checked into, but nothing beyond that.

What ensues is the narrator’s trip to Greece in search of the man from whom she is no longer in love. He’s not been seen at the hotel for several days, although all of his belongings are still there.  She’s curious,  but her heart isn’t in it. Her voice is stoic, matter-of-fact, with occasional flashes of anger or disappointment as she discovers new secrets and is placed in the awkward position of being presumed a devoted wife.

A Separation
(Barely) Four Bookmarks
Riverhead Books, 2017
229 pages

Museum Kitchen Artistry   Leave a comment

 

museum moose

It’s not unusual for museums to have exceptional gift shops and restaurants. The National Museum of Wildlife Art earns kudos for both. The aptly named Palate offers a creative menu and expansive views of the National Elk Refuge just north of Jackson, Wyo.

Several bronze sculptures are visible from U.S. Highway 191, but the collection is more impressive in the museum’s parking lot and lobby. Still, it’s the food that recently garnered our attention.

Salads, pasta, soup and sandwiches comprise the menu. An extensive wine list also available.

We opted to share three plates: the Pork Belly BLT, Bison Gyro and Roasted Green Beans.

palate blt

The BLT had several spins, besides the fact that it featured pork belly. With arrugula and tomato jam, the sandwich was further elevated thanks to lemon caper aioli and sunflower pesto. The works were served on ciabatta making this no ordinary diner mainstay. House-made chips completed the plating.

The gyro was, perhaps, my least favorite. This may have been only because the BLT was so exceptional. Shredded meat with creamy, whipped feta, pickled onion and cucumbers were served on Indian frybread. It was also accompanied by chips.

palate green beans
Almond vinaigrette and thin crispy slices of onion covering the roasted green beans. These were hard to share.

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Harder to share was the Peanut Butter Chocolate Bar not only because it was delicious, but it was difficult to cut. The rich peanut butter mouse on a pretzel crust topped with chocolate was like an upscale Reese’s Peanut Butter Cup.

Palate
Four Plates
National Museum of Wildlife Art
2820 Rungius Rd.
Jackson, Wyo

Stop When Passing Through   Leave a comment

chillgrill1

For most, Rock Springs, Wyo., isn’t exactly a destination spot, but if traveling in either direction on Interstate-80 or heading north to Jackson Hole, it’s good to know there’s at least one spot to grab a quick, and tasty, meal. Besides, it’s hard to pass up a place called Chill Grill.

This is mostly a burger and fountain joint, without a counter. The space is small and decorated with 45s, and 33s on the wall. There’s a tribute to Elvis on one side and Marilyn Monroe on the other. Chill Grill evoke memories of the Fonz and Happy Days even without carhop service.

chillgrill2

The menu offers sandwiches, burgers, hot dogs and salads, along with multiple pages of ice cream treats.

The juicy cheeseburger came with fresh-cut French fries. A “burger bar” lets diners add their own basic extras like pickles and onions.

chillgrill3

Crispy chicken caught my eye; it’s available as an entrée or on top of salads. I had the latter. Sliced chicken breast served on a bed of greens with tomatoes and honey mustard dressing. I wasn’t a fan of the dressing, but the chicken was indeed crispy and I let myself believe I was having a healthy meal.

I was tempted to have a strawberry shake, but resisted only to succumb to a chocolate chip cookie dough ice cream cone so large I couldn’t finish it. The hot fudge sundae featured the real stuff, although the topping wasn’t hot enough to even threaten melting the vanilla ice cream.

Chill Grill
Four Plates
1758 Elk St.
Rock Springs, Wyo

At Sea Without a Clue   Leave a comment

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Not all mysteries are thrillers; I like those that make me want to sleep with the light on – lots of lights. I expected to be kept awake by Ruth Ware’s The Woman in Cabin 10. I wasn’t. I enjoyed it as a mystery, but it fell short as a thriller.

The story is intriguing enough: a small group of passengers aboard a boutique luxury cruise liner bound from England to Norway’s fjords. The 10-cabin ship is owned by an exceptionally wealthy man who has invited a few friends and members of the media for the maiden voyage. Part of the problem is the main character: Laura “Lo” Blacklock, a travel magazine low-level journalist who lucked into the assignment. Ware doesn’t imbue Lo with many attributes that evoke much empathy or interest.

The mystery begins when, after drinking too much on the first night of the cruise, Lo is convinced that the woman in the cabin next door (#10) was thrown overboard. It’s the same woman who had earlier lent mascara to Lo. The problem is, according to the ship’s manifest, the cabin is unoccupied.

Lo knows the woman existed; she had proof. The narrative follows her efforts to determine what became of the woman in the face of incredulity from others. In this, Ware is successful. However, the lack of intensity as Lo strives to prove the reality of what she saw, keeps the novel from reaching the level of thriller. It was easy enough to turn off the lights.

The Woman in Cabin 10
3.5 Bookmarks
Scout Press, 2017
340 pages