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Tuesday, June 30, 2009

California Dreaming

We've been back for a week but if feels like a year. I miss California! The sun, the laid-back, permanent vacation vibe, and of course, the FOOD. I proved what a weak sauce food blogger I am by refusing to bring my camera into the French Laundry, but here are some other pics of our trip.This is the view from our sun deck off the hotel room in Napa Valley. I can now highly recommend the Auberge du Soleil to anyone looking for an extremely luxurious, pampering Napa getaway. At one point, I seriously considered chaining myself to a wicker poolside chaise and refusing to leave. Ever. I have a pic of Stinger in all his early-morning glory sitting at our little outdoor table surveying the gory remains of our room service breakfast, but I'm too good a wife to ever think of posting it. Of course I am. So here, instead, is a shot of the pool area where we spent a fruitful, relaxing, (and, for Stinger, lobsterfying) afternoon.You can see why Stinger stayed out too long. It was enchanting! And the pool boys would bring you lovely cocktails and chilled gazpacho and stuff. Win!
For dinner that night, we met our friend Enrique at Go Fish!, a seafood restaurant run by the Queen of Napa Valley Cookery, Cindy Pawlcyn (whom you might recognize if you've been watching Top Chef: Masters!) The menu was fun, full of classics like Shrimp and Crab Louie (the salad I eventually settled on, which was a huge mass of fresh, crsip lettuce, sweet seafood, and the best thousand island dressing ever) and Lobster Mac & Cheese. But the best part was the sushi. Above is the extensive sushi bar, which shared space with a raw bar laden with an enormous variety of oysters, clams, mussels, etc.
We had a Dragon Roll (eel and avocado wrapped around shrimp tempura) and a Spicy Crispy Roll (yellowtail, scallion, tobiko, and tempura flakes with a spicy mayonnaise.) It was honestly some of the best sushi I've ever had--and I went through a phase where sushi was all I wanted to eat. Seriously, on Senior Skip Day in high school, while everyone else was up at the lake getting drunk and skinny dipping, my best friend and I drove an hour to the next town for sushi.

For the rest of the trip we stayed with friends, so these first couple of nights were our little mini-vacation-within-a-vacation. It was Stinger's 30th, we planned it for a year, and we went all out. Stay tuned for the rest of the trip later this week!

Friday, June 26, 2009

Consider This Counter-Programming to all the MJ Stuff

Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince is almost my favorite of the entire series. The movie comes out July 15th, and boy does it look like they're not skimping on the dark stuff! Which works for me, because it's all a ramp up to the big final showdown in Deathly Hallows, but I hope they don't short shrift the romantic stuff in HBP. My favorite thing so far, though, is this poster of Alan Rickman as Severus Snape.

A thread on the Romance Divas forum yesterday asked about people's favorite movie villains, and as I thought about it I realized how many of them were played by Alan Rickman! The Sheriff of Nottingham in the otherwise-forgettable Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves, Hans Gruber in the first (and best) Die Hard, and of course, Severus Snape. With that gorgeous baritone and those deep, dark eyes, he's a perfect typecast villain. But what makes his portrayals of bad guys interesting and memorable is the depth of feeling he brings to the character. There's more going on for these villains than the simple wish to do evil. The inner life Rickman creates for his characters shines through his eyes, his face, his body, and comes perilously close to making you root for the bad guy to win.

Especially as Snape. Severus Snape is one of the most conflicted, embattled characters in modern literature, and Alan Rickman was inspired casting. I can't imagine anyone else in the part, and I can't wait for this movie!

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Home is Where the Hot Is

If the title of this post made you think it was going to be sexy, I'm very sorry to disappoint you. Our a/c is broken. It is currently far too hot in my house for holding hands, much less anything more athletic.

Still, even with the temperature issues, it's good to be home! We had a great time in San Francisco/Napa Valley/Big Sur/Santa Ynez. Yes, the trip was as long as it sounds. I did get a bunch of writing done, though! Traveling can be good for that, I guess because it's so stimulating. I also got some good reading done--finished Blink (finally), which I'd rank below The Tipping Point and Outliers, but I did like it. And I'm nearly caught up on Eloisa James's Desperate Duchesses series! Those are compulsively readable. This Duchess of Mine is next, then I'm all ready and waiting for Villiers's story! He's the character I've adored the most through the entire series, so I'm truly looking forward to it.

In the meantime, it's back to deadlineville! I'll post pictures of the trip tomorrow, I promise. It's too hot right now to go upstairs and find my camera cord.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Dakota Cassidy Rocks

<=====[Edited to correct book cover] Is this [STILL] not one of the cutest covers you've ever seen?? I might even love it more than The Accidental Human!

Dakota Cassidy is chatting online with TKA next Thursday, June 25th @ 9pm ET about her new release, KISS & HELL. This fab novel is the first in a new series.

Dakota is well-known for her hilarious ACCIDENTAL books. The third novel in the series, THE ACCIDENTAL HUMAN, premiered in March. We have a lot of fab giveaways planned for the chat, and Dakota is personally giving away a $25.00 Amazon gift certificate! Here are the deets on KISS & HELL:

Delaney Markham doesn't just see dead people, she hears them too. And FYI-communicating with tortured souls all day can really wreak havoc on your love life. After all, no one wants to date the crazy chick that talks to herself. Sans boyfriend, Delaney makes the best of her gift by holding séances and earns a pretty penny for them too, that is until one incredibly annoying ghost just won't go away.
Now, if she could only get her hands on him.
When he materializes wearing nothing, Delaney knows something's up. Besides being sinfully hot-in a college professor sort of way-all signs point to Clyde Atwell being much more than the ordinary spirit. In fact, he's a newbie demon whose first assignment is to take Delaney back down to hell with him. Yeah, like that's gonna happen on the first date. If Delaney's old nemesis Lucifer thinks she's going down without one hell of a fight, he's got another thing coming…
What: Online Chat with Dakota Cassidy
When: Thursday, June 25th @ 9pm ET
How Do You Chat: Visit the chat room here: Enter a username and password (this can be any combination).
Your computer must be Java enabled to chat

Friday, June 12, 2009

I Heart Hubert Keller

Anyone who's obsessed with Top Chef knows exactly who Hubert Keller is: the dignified, no-nonsense chef/owner of Fleur de Lys in San Francisco, and the first guest judge ever to appear on the show. He memorably tossed the most aggravating contestant out of his kitchen for dipping his finger into a sauce rather than tasting with a spoon. Keller (or, Hubert, as I always think of him) has that peculiarly French attractiveness--it's not his somewhat angular features or his silvery gray mane of hair, per se, but some combination of looks, manner, and of course, the killer accent. I was immediately smitten and started making plans to stalk him visit his restaurant.

And now he's back, and on the business end of the judges' table! Hubert was one of the first round of contestants on Bravo's new spinoff, Top Chef Masters, where the chef'testants are all seasoned, successful chefs, many of them James Beard Award winners, and they're all playing for charity. The first episode was fun, even if I missed Tom and Padma more than I expected. Kelly Choi took over hosting duties, and she lacks Padma's appealing warmth and serenity. And the rest of the judges, or critics as they're called on this show, seem not to have been briefed on the show's ethos--meaning that the conditions imposed by the competition shouldn't be taken as mitigating factors. The chefs are supposed to rise above the fact that they had to make risotto on a hot plate in a dorm room. But there was a lot of "Considering the minimal tools they had to work with..." and "I can't believe how well they did with what they had at hand..." Gael Greene, legendary New York Magazine food critic, occasionally approached the take-no-prisoners attitude that made her famous, as did the British critic whose name I've forgotten, but James Oseland showed the same evenhanded, almost sleepy tone he often takes in his Letters from the Editor to Saveur Magazine.

All in all, it was still a pleasure to watch true top chefs at work. Their demeanor in the kitchen, their inventiveness and commitment to the task was fascinating and engaging. And of course, Hubert proved himself completely crush-worthy by trouncing everyone. Soft-spoken Frenchman for the win!

I'll definitely be tuning in next week.

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Lynchburg Farmers Market

In the immortal words of John Cusack's character in Grosse Pointe Blank, "You can never go home again. But I guess you can shop there." My little Virginia hometown looked and felt surreally different when I visited last weekend. A little more cosmopolitan than it used to be, a little more traffic. Some things were the same, though, among them the weekly farmers market downtown. Same beautiful bounty of produce, same friendly vendors willing and eager to offer a taste of their wares, same funny little place selling Filipino food. Unable to resist, and reveling in the fact that I was clever enough to bring a cooler in the car, we bought some gorgeous brioche and three different kinds of local goat cheese, including a brie-style cheese and one studded with dried cranberries, pecans, and candied ginger.
But, above all, there were the ham biscuits. Oh, ham biscuits! How do I love thee? Let me count the ways.
First of all, they're saltier than hell. Those who don't like salt should a) probably not be reading my blog and b) go for the chicken and waffles or something. Country ham, which I believe is called Virginia ham in places that are not Virginia, is salt cured, which gives it this lovely chewy texture and dark, almost smoky salt flavor. The best version of a ham biscuit involves a yeast-risen biscuit, not too fluffy or crumbly, slathered with mayonnaise and sandwiching thick slices of country ham and ripe, red tomato. Every bite yields a perfect combination of juicy, tart-sweet tomato, tangy mayo, buttery biscuit, and holy-GOD-salty ham.

Heaven. In my mouth. And wow, I'm suddenly dying for a glass of water.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Top Chef Masters

Are you setting your Tivo? I know I am!

This is going to be AWESOME.

Monday, June 8, 2009

Haircut Results!

I'm pretty pleased with the new 'do! I have managed to style it on my own a couple of times, which equals big win, and it's way cooler (in the sense of temperature) than my previous length, which was long enough to be on my neck but too short to throw back into a ponytail. So I'm happy! And Stinger is happy, too; he loves short hair on me. I'm not sure why I keep going through these cycles of growing it out again. Maybe just to torture him.

Anyway, here's the pic. Please ignore the insanely mess and disorganized garage in the background.It doesn't look exactly like this when I do it. I'm still working out how to best use the flat iron my stylist conned me into buying. But I'm having fun with it! And managed not to look like an idiot at my oldest friend's wedding over the weekend. So, bonus! More on the wedding and our trip to my old Virginia stomping grounds later this week. Got to get to work.

Thursday, June 4, 2009

Drastic Measures

My sort of in-between-not-bob has been annoying me lately, and luckily, I have a haircut scheduled for this afternoon! I think something exciting may occur. Something along the lines of Alisan Lohman's short, sassy 'do:These are the pics I'm taking with me to the salon; not that my stylist, sweet as she is, has ever shown much aptitude for duplicating a hairstyle from an image, but I live in hope. We'll see what happens.

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

A Hint of Wicked by Jennifer Haymore

It's a big week for new releases! Jennifer Haymore's debut historical is out, and if you're an ebook reader, they're running a special $1.99 price on it at Amazon and Fictionwise (and with Fictionwise, you actually get an even lower price after the rebate.) It's a fabulous way to check out a new author; I definitely took advantage of it, myself!

A HINT OF WICKED by Jennifer Haymore

“A unique, heart-tugging story with sympathetic, larger-than-life characters, intriguing plot twists, and sensual love scenes make A HINT OF WICKED an impressive romance debut!”

– New York Times bestselling author Nicole Jordan

hint-of-wicked-new-coverCAUGHT BETWEEN DUTY AND DESIRE . . .

Sophie, the Duchess of Calton, has finally moved on. After seven years mourning the loss of her husband, Garrett, at Waterloo, she has married his cousin and heir, Tristan. Sophie gives herself to him body and soul. . . until the day Garrett returns from the Continent, demanding his title, his lands-and his wife.


Now Sophie must choose between her first love and her new love, knowing that no matter what, her choice will destroy one of the men she adores. Will it be Garrett, her childhood sweetheart, whose loss nearly destroyed her once already? Or will it be Tristan, beloved friend turned lover, who supported her through the last, dark years and introduced her to a passion she had never known? As her two husbands battle for her heart, Sophie finds herself immersed in a dangerous game-where the stakes are not only love . . . but life and death.

Read the beginning of A HINT OF WICKED here.
Buy it at Barnes & Noble * Borders
Also available in e-Book format

Monday, June 1, 2009

RED KISS by Deidre Knight

The second installment in Deidre Knight's hot new Gods of Midnight series, RED KISS is finally out! If you read the first one, RED FIRE, then you've been dancing on the same pins and needles I have waiting for River's story. These immortal Spartan warriors are all sexy and intriguing, but River was my favorite from the start.

And RED KISS totally delivers. River, an ex-slave who sacrificed himself to save his friends at the end of RED FIRE, is my favorite kind of hero; damaged and lost when he meets the heroine, who inspires him to strive to be a man she could love. Emma is that rarest of all heroines--a woman who is actually good enough for my beloved River! She is immediately drawn to him, and is protective of him without being a doormat. Their chemistry is ferocious and the final resolution...*sob* It's perfect. And now I'm panting after Ari...

Book description from Gods of Midnight site:

Immortal warrior and Spartan slave River Kassandros has a special gift—the ability to transform into any weapon. But in a recent battle, he was trapped as a dagger, unable to become human again. His one hope of salvation is a mere mortal…

When Emma Lowery beaches her kayak on an uninhabited island off the coast of Savannah, an ancient dagger seems to call out to her. Compelled by dark forces, Emma draws blood with his blade, freeing River. Now he’s stronger, angrier—and exudes more sensuality than Emma can resist.

But a sinister power wants to claim River’s destiny, and his precarious freedom. The pair must join the Spartan warriors to fight Ares himself. But can they face sacrificing their love to protect humankind from the war god’s demonic plan?

**I have five copies of RED KISS to give away. Leave a comment below to enter the drawing!**

The Summer Reading Trail

Today marks the official beginning of the Summer Reading Trail, a selection of fabulous free reads to help you discover new writers, check out new and upcoming books, and just generally keep you cool and happy in the hot months to come. For June's free reads, go here. New stories will appear every month, so be sure to check back!

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