The Book of Salt by Monique Truong is well written, has been well-reviewed, and is an interesting story. So why didn’t I like it more? The Book of Salt is the story of a Vietnamese cook named Binh who is banished from his job and his family for being homosexual, and eventually ends up in Paris, cooking for Gertrude Stein and Alice B. Toklas. The book spends time on Binh’s past in Vietnam with his abusive father and loving but docile mother, and also spends time in Paris with the women whom Binh refers to as his “mesdames.” The story is an interesting take on the well-covered material of the expatriate artists in Paris in the 1930’s, but I was bugged by the detachment of the narrator and his tendency to refer to characters with nicknames – “Old Man” for his father, and “Sweet Sunday Man” for his romantic interest. He also mentions his habit of cutting his fingers to put his own blood in the food he cooks, but after he is admonished by Alice B. Toklas, this habit is never mentioned again, and it seemed an arbitrary, precious detail to include. Sometimes the quality of a novel and personal taste don’t coincide, so I would never put anyone off this book. But then again, it probably won’t be making my top ten list anytime soon.
Drop City takes place in Sitka, Alaska, so I figured it would be a great book to read on my Alaska cruise. While the scenery and chatting with my friend distracted my from getting much reading done, Drop City was an extremely enjoyable book. The book takes place in 1970, with two parallel stories – one about a commune in Northern California which eventually moves to Alaska, and the other about a young married couple living off the land in rural Alaska. Their stories come together, of course, and while the book could become melodramatic, it never does. Both stories have sympathetic characters and interesting stories. When I finished a chapter, I wanted to stay with the story I had been reading, but I quickly became just as absorbed in the other story. The book really makes you feel the vibe and also the frustration of living in a hippie commune in 1970, as well as the harsh winter of rural Alaska. I highly recommend this book.
I like chick lit as much as the next gal, but this was decidedly mediocre. The cover is great, with a picure of an Audrey Hepburn-like woman, so I had high hopes. A woman whose marriage is on the rocks finds an old style book called, Elegance, written by a French woman. Over the course of the book, the protagonist picks up style tips and eventually gains the self-confidence she’s lacked. I was hoping to pick up some style tips myself, but I’m just not that interested in furs or when you can wear your alligator purse. If you need a chick lit fix, just re-read Bridget Jones’ Diary.
I picked this up on the free rack at my local library, signed by the author no less! A would-be screenwriter moves to LA with his brash, sitcom actress best friend, and they experience the adventures of living in LA trying to break into the entertainment industry. It was a fun vacation book – a quick, light read, nothing to go out of your way to find, but entertaining enough if you happen to pick it up. For those of you who don’t live in LA, 213 is our area code.
Celebrity Cruise Food July 28, 2009
Wendy’s Word has been on vacation – on a cruise to Alaska – and rather than try to capture the incredible beauty of the landscape in a blog entry that won’t do it justice, I’ll stick to my comfort zone and write about the food. After all, food is a huge part of going on a cruise.
While planning the cruise, my friend and I scoured the foodie blogs trying to determine which cruise line had the best food. The consensus seemed to be that no cruise line could really cook gourmet food for the number of people on a huge ship (about 1,900 passengers and 900 crew) so the smaller the line, the better. However, Celebrity got pretty good reviews, so Celebrity it was.
Cruise lines feed you constantly from the moment you board, and it can get overwhelming. However, if you work it right and can figure out where to eat and when, you’ll have a pleasant food experience. Here are my recommendations.
Breakfast: The first day, we ate at the dining room, thinking it would be better food than the buffet. When I finally identified the grey disk on my plate as hash browns, I realized that was not a correct assumption. The rest of the time, we ate breakfast at the buffet. The buffet had everything you could possibly imagine, from an English breakfast station with mackerel, to an Asian breakfast station with two kinds of congee and tofu with bok choy, to the standard omelets, eggs/potatoes/breakfast meats, pancakes/waffles/French toast, and more. There were chocolate and regular croissants, sticky pecan buns, and other pastries. I was excited to find hot milk at the coffee station so I could have cafe au lait. Ok, a far cry from France, but it was still good.
Lunch: There was so much to do on the ship, we didn’t want to spend a lot of time eating lunch in the dining room so we went to the buffet. However, the overwhelming amount of food and food choices as well as the crush of people and the lines at each station really depressed me, so I avoided it for the rest of the cruise. For those of you with stronger constitutions, you can find anything you want at the lunch buffet. Deli sandwiches and paninis, pizza, pasta, all kinds of salads and soups, stir fry, and much more. But for me, the find was the AquaSpa cafe. In the indoor pool and spa area, there was a cafe that served small portions of healthy and tasty food. Rather than cooking for thousands, they are cooking for fewer people so the food is better. There were fresh fruit platters with papaya, cold turkey breast slices (real, not processed) with wild rice salad, gravlax salad, and a quinoa enchilada that my daughter ate without realizing there was quinoa in it until the end. One day, my friend and I had poached salmon on a bed of julienned vegetables with steamed broccoli. A much better alternative to the buffet, and allowed me to pace myself between the huge breakfast and dinner (not to mention snacks…..).
Snacks: You can always find food on a cruise, no matter when. (We found our kids eating Sour Patch candy at the most random times!) The trick is finding the best snacks at the best places at the right time. The Cova Cafe served pastries from 3-5 and appetizers at 6. Just right to tide us over until our 8:30 dinner! The buffet served sushi every day at 5, which was fun until about day 3 when the public health side of me kicked in and wondered how they could keep raw fish fresh that long. There was always coffee and tea available. We spent wonderful afternoons staring at the incredible scenery from the top deck of the ship while sending our kids down to the buffet to bring us snacks. They were only too happy to comply – after all, that’s where the Sour Patch candy and ice cream was!
Alcohol: Alcohol is one of the few things not included in the price of the cruise, but it’s readily available all over the place. There was a martini lounge and a champagne lounge, in addition to several bars. A sommelier comes to the table every night help you with wine choices. Lesser known is that Celebrity lets passengers bring two bottles of wine on board per stateroom. They charge $25 corkage if you bring it to the dining room, but you can drink it elsewhere on the ship at no charge. Between our two bottles and our friends’ two, we had a lovely cocktail hour (ok, wine hour) in a tucked away part of the ship with a great view.
Dinner: Dinner was alot of fun, especially watching my 11-year-old foodie daughter order 4 or 5 course meals. She tried escargot and frogs legs! We loved our waiter, assistant waiter, and maitre d’, and loved ordering multi-course dinners without getting a bill at the end. The food varied in quality. The appetizers were all pretty good, as were the soups, and entrees depended on what you ordered. One night I had lamb chops that were well-cooked and deliciously seasoned. I also had a delicious seafood risotto. However, the steak was so tough I couldn’t eat it, as was the lobster tail. The night I had the unfortunate lobster tail, my friend’s son had Chilean sea bass which was excellent. Lucky for me he was a small eater. The desserts were all mediocre.
Miscellaneous Eating Opportunities: Three more food experiences to talk about – brunch, elegant tea, and the dessert extravaganza. One morning, there was a brunch to rival the fancy hotel brunches. It was well organized, to avoid long lines at any one station, but honestly, when much of that food is available at the breakfast buffet anyways, it seemed a little extraneous. But who’s complaining. I had high hopes for elegant tea, since we cancelled our reservation to have high tea at the Empress Hotel in Victoria. (Save that for another time, when we’re not on a seven day eating binge.) But unfortunately, we were seated behind a post, and it was the only time on the ship that we received bad service. The tea sandwich tray came to us many times, but the scones and pastries almost never made it. Sadly they were out of fruit tarts by the time we wrangled a waiter with the pastry tray to come our way. I almost had to go into diva mode, but couldn’t quite swing it. The dessert extravaganza, held at 11 p.m. in the night club lounge, was beautiful but culinarily overrated. The creme brulee was great (but then, it would be hard to get me to say anything bad about a creme brulee) but everything else (and there was A LOT of everything else) was take it or leave it. The ice sculptures were fun though – what’s a cruise without ice sculptures?
The Gym: Yes we did go to the gym every day! I’m sure my workout didn’t make a dent in the calories I consumed, but what the heck. The gym was at the front of the ship with a full view of the scenery. My friend and I also braved the wind and did daily walks on the top deck jogging track. Fun! Now it’s back to reality and one-course dinners that I have to make (and serve!) myself. My kids are disappointed, but what can you do?