Book review: Satan’s Lullaby by Priscilla Royal

Satan's Lullaby (Medieval Mystery, #11)Satan’s Lullaby by Priscilla Royal
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This is one of my favorite mystery series, and I hoard the author’s books until her next one comes out (I know–it’s a really bad habit). The actual mysteries in the series are somewhat secondary to the quality of the author’s research in the time period and her ability to reflect medieval attitudes on various topics without 21st century judgment.
In this book, the two main characters of the series have to deal with a bishop-to-be who is “auditing” the religious house. This religious house is unusual in that it is run by women, and it is clear that the bishop-to-be is less than thrilled by the fact that women are in charge (since women are naturally inferior, of course).
I enjoyed reading about how deftly this character’s obstinacy and sense of superiority were dealt with in order to solve the murder. The fact that the two main characters were to some extent sidelined gave the author more opportunities to round out the secondary characters in the series, which only adds to the series’s depth.
This is yet another solid addition to the series. If you like mysteries set in medieval times, this is definitely not to be missed! (The series is best read in order.)

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Inn at Little Washington weekend (aka I want to come back in my next life as one of my kids)

As you may have noticed from my blog posts, the Inn at Little Washington is a favorite restaurant of ours, with a combination of stunning food and warm hospitality.  (We always feel treated like family when we go.). This past weekend will be remembered in the family chronicles as the Inn at Little Washington weekend.
Jade wanted to hold a “thank you” party for her friends.  This all started in 7th grade during bar/bat mitzvah year.  She asked for a bat mitzvah party, and we pointed out that since we aren’t Jewish, that would be a tad difficult.  Jim eventually told her that we would throw her the equivalent of a bat mitzvah if she was accepted into Stanford (she didn’t have to go, but she had to be accepted).  Dinner at the Inn at Little Washington with her friends was what she wanted.
We booked both kitchen tables on Saturday night for the late seating and had a limo bus ready to go.  Everyone arrived early (our biggest fear, since punctuality is not her friends’ strong point, as fond as I am of them) and off they went.


All eleven friends elected to spend the night at our house, given the lateness of their return.  (Note:  12 teenagers in one house is not for the OCD amongst you.). Most importantly, everyone (especially Jade) had a fabulous time.  For some reason, no one was particularly hungry at breakfast the next morning.  Can’t imagine why.
Sunday was Marcus’s turn.  For his birthday, we gave him a dinner for 6 at the Inn.  So, Sunday afternoon, he and 5 of his friends piled into a different limo bus (one that was much more limo than bus) and went off to the Inn for dinner.


The three of us decided that we needed a dinner at the Inn as well but made sure we would be seated out of sight lines from the table of 9th graders.  In addition to the always skillful and imaginative food, we were pleasantly surprised to have new dishes to sample—all of which were delectable.
The new dishes included:
Carmelized Catalan Foie Gras Custard, which quite possibly is the best foie gras we’ve ever had:

carmelized catalan foie gras custard

Chilled Maine Lobster with Vichyssoise Puree and American Osetra Caviar

chilled lobster with caviar

Japanese Wagyu Beef Two Ways:  Seventy-Two Hour Braised Short Rib and Ribeye Sashimi with Potato “Noodles” in Fragrant Broth (possibly the best dish of the night, which is saying something!)

wagyu beef two ways

Raviolis of Ginger Scented Sweet Potatoes and Apples with Brown Butter, Sage, and Toasted Pecans

sweet potato and apple ravioli

Chocolate Mint Bomb

mint ice cream in a chocolate bomb

There isn’t a lot more to be said, other than the fact that the Inn could not have been nicer about having 12 high school seniors descend upon them one night and then 6 high school freshmen descend upon them the following night.  Their hospitality and graciousness created two evenings that will not be soon forgotten!

Chef Mavro (Honolulu)

Chef Mavro is the one restaurant through the years that we always ensure we visit when we are in Honolulu.  February is the tail end of black truffle season, and we were fortunate enough to ride the coattails of one of our favorite ingredients.  The restaurant is currently offering a four course chicken dinner option, and we immediately opted to try it, as this option is not always on the menu.

The first course was the meli-melo salad, served with Hamakua maitake mushrooms, seasonal vegetables, pan-fried panisse, and a roasted beet pepper vinaigrette.  There is no one who can make vegetables and raw ones, at that (I know, my Asian heritage is coming through) interesting like Chef Mavro.  The salad was delicious (for a salad).  🙂

The second course is one I have dreams about.  It is the Truffled Egg “Osmose” and is an egg served on a bed of potato mousseline with pickled shallots, prosciutto ribbons, and most importantly, black truffles!  The egg itself has been infused with black truffle flavor, and it is one of the most delectable dishes ever!

Next up was a truffled ballotine of thigh meat on frisee salad.  I am a dark meat person, and having dark meat chicken with black truffles is an absolutely fabulous treat.

The main course is a whole chicken, carved tableside by the chef, served with garlic creamed corn and an au jus sauce with black truffles.  It comes with a side of caper-olive oil mashed potatoes.  Yum, yum, yum.

mashed potatoes

And, finally, dessert was roasted pineapple served over a light yuzu crumble and a scoop of bay leaf ice cream.

Oh, and let’s not forget the after-dinner treats of green matcha chocolate squares and passionfruit pate de fruits (I must learn how to make these).

All in all, another amazing meal from a fabulous restaurant!

Chef Mavro is located at 1959 S. King Street, Honolulu, HI (www.chefmavro.com)

Hawaii (without the kids)

For our annual “ditch the kids” vacation, Jim and I went back to one of our usual haunts—Honolulu.  (My parents were kind enough to come and stay with the kids.)  It was a beautifully relaxing and restful vacation where we took long walks around Diamondhead and ate our way through the city.  Some highlights include:

Seeing a junior high/high school friend that I haven’t seen in over 30 years (he did the math of exactly how many years it has been, but I am officially not acknowledging the actual number);

Visiting the Punchbowl, officially known as the National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific, which is a terrific place to appreciate the sacrifice that members of our military have made throughout the years and which also has an amazing view of Honolulu.

view from the Punchbowl

Paying a visit to the Bishop Museum, where Jim decided that stuffed tiger sharks were perfectly acceptable.

Bishop Museum

And eating some amazing meals from old favorites (Chef Mavro, the Pig and the Lady, and Town) and new discoveries (Yauatcha).  (More on Chef Mavro and Yauatcha later.)

pho french dip from The Pig and the Lady

There are few places that can rival Hawaii for beauty.  I can never decide which is more beautiful—the days


or the early mornings


or the dawns.


Or we can just keep going back to try and decide…

Book review: Mary Russell’s War by Laurie King

Mary Russell's War: And Other Stories of SuspenseMary Russell’s War: And Other Stories of Suspense by Laurie R. King
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I love this series. I love everything about this series. I love the fact that it’s Sherlock Holmes. I love the fact that Sherlock Holmes found an apprentice worthy of him. I love the fact that the apprentice happens to be female. I love the fact that the books are (mostly) written in her voice. Did I mention that I love this series?
This particular book is a collection of short stories that either help flesh out cryptic details from various other books or add to the depth of particular books. It does NOT work as a standalone book as you will miss much of the context if you haven’t read the other books in the series. (If a female apprentice to Sherlock Holmes appeals to you, start at the beginning with “The Beekeeper’s Apprentice.”)
I am generally not a fan of short stories, especially for mysteries, because the length constraint prevents a mystery from properly unfolding. But the author is a gifted writer who can pack several clues within a single sentence. And since the short stories generally happen in between her full-length books, the short stories work.
If you are a fan of the Mary Russell series, this is a very good addition for your collection. And if you haven’t yet discovered this series, what are you waiting for? Head immediately to your nearest bookstore/library for “The Beekeeper’s Apprentice!”

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Book review: Everything Under the Heavens by Dana Stabenow

Everything Under the Heavens (Silk and Song Trilogy, #1)Everything Under the Heavens by Dana Stabenow
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I bought this book because it is uncommon to find English language historical fiction books about China. This book takes place in 14th century China, at the end of the reign of Kublai Khan (the grandson of Genghis Khan). The main character is the granddaughter of Marco Polo and, due to a variety of reasons, leaves her home to find her grandfather’s people. She is accompanied by various friends and relatives.
The historical period is interesting enough, and the historical detail is well integrated throughout the book. But I found the writing flat and without depth. And the characters were not interesting enough for me to be deeply invested in their fate. In fact, the story ends on a cliffhanger (which also annoyed me because even in a series, each book should be self-contained enough to stand on its own), but even that is probably not enough for me to read the next one in the series.
I say this with some disappointment, as I was truly hoping I would like the book. And I did enjoy it–it was a fast and easy read of an interesting historical time. Unfortunately, the book just wasn’t compelling enough to entice me to read the next one in the series.

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Deer Valley 2017 (aka Flight from DC)

Washington, DC area locals know that every four years in January, it is best to leave town, no matter who has been elected president.  Downtown DC is shut down for security reasons, traffic is even more horrible than usual, and the kids get a day off of school.  We fled town for Deer Valley at the invitation of some friends.
Locals in Deer Valley tend to flee to other destinations because this is the first weekend of Sundance.  But if you can find a place to stay (and thanks to our friends, we did), the slopes are empty.  In addition, Friday saw an additional 4-6 inches of snow, and the conditions were perfect for skiing.  (I say this as if I have knowledge and expertise, but I am merely parroting those who do.)  Our friends are expert skiers, but they were gracious enough to keep the kids company and ski at their more rudimentary level.
Neither Jim nor I ski so we spent the days grocery shopping and cooking meals and walking through Park City.  Marcus had spotted the actor who plays Turk on “Luke Cage” at the Salt Lake City airport baggage claim while Jim and I caught part of the Women’s March in Park City and spotted the actress, Olivia Wilde, on the streets right after the march ended.  Park City is a cute town with interesting art galleries, jewelry stores and bookstores.  Many of the art galleries had been converted into theaters for Sundance, but there were still enough to make for interesting window shopping.  And thanks to Sundance, the people-watching was especially fascinating.
And just to put things in perspective, when we mentioned to the Park City locals that we were fleeing DC because of the inauguration, the typical reaction we received was, “Oh, right, that’s this weekend.”  Proving yet again that the center of power is economic and not political.
Thanks to our wonderful friends, the weekend was perfect and filled with the 3 Fs—friendship, fun, and food.

Inn at Little Washington December 2016

Another one of our annual traditions is to go to the Inn at Little Washington after Christmas and spend the night.  While Jim and I usually do it with just the two of us, this year, we took the kids.  (I know—I want to come back in my next life as one of our kids, too.)
The Inn was kind enough to sit us at the kitchen table, which made the entire experience even more memorable.  Unlike many kitchens, especially in New York, the kitchen at the Inn is quiet and serene, at least on the surface.  The stress and tension are definitely there, as it is in every high-end restaurant kitchen, but yelling and profanities are not acceptable behavior.
We started off with a family favorite—truffle popcorn.  As much as I love every dish at the Inn, there are times when I think that the truffle popcorn is all I need to keep me happy.  It truly elevates popcorn so that you’ll never be happy with the movie theatre version again.

truffle popcorn

Next up, was the amuse-bouche.  We were treated to the chip-and-dip served on an (inedible) stone.

In addition, there was a bite of pork belly served with a hoisin sauce.

pork belly

And, finally, there was a brioche with a quail egg and quince jam.  Everything was quite delectable.

brioche

Next up was an oxtail consommé with a miniature grilled cheese sandwich studded with black truffles.  The oxtail consommé used to be part of a regular dish on the menu, and it was one of my favorite dishes on the menu.  This taste brought back a lot of lovely food memories.  Virtually any savory dish can be improved upon with the addition of black truffles, and the grilled cheese sandwich was no exception.  Heavenly.

oxtail consomme & grilled cheese

Another Inn favorite that is no longer on the menu is the fire and ice—seared tuna served on a bed of cabbage “noodles” topped with cucumber sorbet.  We took advantage of its availability that night.

fire and ice

Our son had the carpaccio of lamb loin with caesar salad ice cream.  It’s a favorite of his.

lamb carpaccio

The mousse of foie gras with sauternes gelee and red plum preserve is another family favorite and is often ordered when we are at the Inn.

foie gras mousse

Another past menu item that made a brief return was the roasted pheasant with cabbage

roasted pheasant

Jim took advantage of white truffle season and ordered the spaetzle “risotto” with a poached farm egg and white truffles.

white truffles galore!

Our daughter had the pan roasted lobster with tomato butter, spinach, and garlic custard (among other things):

lobster

The pan-seared diver scallop with artichoke puree, capers, and tomato tartare was excellent,

scallop

And the Inn always does a fabulous job with its version of roasted duck topped with foie gras and served with pickled cranberries (which were amazing!):

roast duck

Here is the delicious pork jowl with braised red cabbage and walnut ravioli:

pork jowl with walnut ravioli

The most amazing dish they served us in an evening of amazing dishes was a black truffle, which they had roasted in the ashes of the fireplace in the kitchen.  It had been wrapped in foil and was warm and sat in its own lovely truffle juice.  It was then sliced and served over a simply dressed salad with the juices poured over it.  Those truffles were one of the most wonderful things I have ever put in my mouth.

roasted black truffles!

Desserts included the painter’s palette of sorbets,

the chocolate mint fantasy,

a chocolate hazelnut mousse tart,

and a honeycrisp apple tart.

While the food is definitely delicious and artistic and memorable, the service is even more exceptional.  The staff always looks happy to see us (they are excellent actors all!), and we are treated like valued guests.  We already are looking forward to our next trip there!

Book review: The Trouble with Dukes by Grace Burrowes

The Trouble with Dukes (Windham Brides, #1)The Trouble with Dukes by Grace Burrowes
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This is the first book I’ve ever read by Grace Burrowes, and I was very pleasantly surprised. (I know–I’m on a romance kick.) The characters are deftly drawn, especially the secondary characters, which made the book particularly enjoyable. I expect the hero and heroine to be portrayed well in any romance, and they definitely were. But to have three dimensional secondary characters was a lovely surprise. The relationship between the heroine and her extended family was funny, perceptive, and humorous. Anyone with a large extended family would enjoy the interactions between the Windham family members.
If you’re looking for a fun and fast read where there are strong female characters and a happy ending for everyone but the bad guys, this is definitely your cup of tea!

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