Win Tickets to 50 Shades! The Musical in NYC

Whether you’re a 50 Shades of Grey fanatic or you couldn’t get through the first 10 pages…

You’ll enjoy 50 Shades! The Musical – The Original Parody, now playing Off-Broadway at the Elektra Theatre in New York City.

Be prepared for a bit of raunch, and a lot of skin (no nudity, however)! The story starts with Carol, Pam, and Bev deciding the next selection for their book club. When they choose 50 Shades of Grey, the fun (or should we say, fantasy) begins. Clever lyrics, lively dancing and a cavorting cast of real characters, from virginal college student, Anastasia, to illustrious businessman, Christian Grey (this one has a paunch to go with the raunch).

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{FOFantasy Bracket} Final 4

After a dramatic Elite 8 round, we’re down to the Final 4—highly-seeded Meryl Streep was sent home, and no more r-e-s-p-e-c-t was given to Aretha Franklin. Helen Mirren, Nora Roberts, Tina Turner, and Hillary Clinton won their respective categories, but the challenge is just beginning. Winners or losers, it’s all in good fun!

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{FOFantasy Bracket} Elite 8

We bid farewell to some fan favorites in the Sweet 16—Judi Dench, Bette Midler, and Ruth Bader Ginsburg are now watching from the sidelines. Hillary Clinton and Queen Elizabeth were neck and neck, but Hillary ultimately scored the win. Alas, we’re down to the Elite 8. Some of the most anticipated games are ahead—Meryl Streep and Helen Mirren are battling, and Aretha Franklin and Tina Turner will have a full house watching their game. Winners or losers, it’s all in good fun!

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{FOFantasy Bracket} Sweet 16

We saw some big losses in Round 2—Helen Mirren crushed Susan Sarandon, Barbra trumped Cher and the jury picked Sandra Day O’Connor over Sarah Palin. But the games must go on! We’re down to the Sweet Sixteen, featuring some heavy hitters, including Meryl Streep and Queen Elizabeth. Winners or losers, it’s all in good fun!

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Cary Grant, Meet “Judy, Judy, Judy!”

Meet the 3 Judys, authors of Getting Older Never Looked So Good: A Head to Heels Guide To Ageless Beauty.

Judith Taylor, aka Southern Judy (pictured on right), is married to a short, bald businessman who is the “love of her life.” They have a daughter who is an RN and a son who teaches computer science at Vanderbilt University and is finishing his doctorate. They reside in Nashville.

Judith Graham, aka Sassy Judy (left), is married to a stockbroker and lives in New York. They have no children.

Judith Herbert, aka Spikey Judy (center), is married to an engineer. They have four dogs and two horses (which Spikey jumps) and live in Simi Valley, California. She also is a facilities construction manager, drives a motorcycle and makes wire and beaded jewelry and art pieces.

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Are American Women Un-Chic?

If our generation spent the time that would be needed to read the collection of beauty, fashion, health, relationship and other advice books that are being written for us, we’d be dead by the time we finished. So if we’re going to read—and heed—any of these books, we should make our choices pretty darn carefully.

A (American) woman (who lives in France) recently wrote a book on how French women stay Forever Chic, for all of us (presumably) un-chic American women. I could start following every tip in that book (never wear sweat pants, adorn my neck with scarves and wash my hair once a week), learn to speak French fluently, and perhaps even move to Paris, but none of it is going to magically turn me into a French woman. Besides, I like sweats!

But a book called Getting Older Never Looked Good: A Head to Heels Guide To Ageless Beauty, written by three FOFs who live right here in the United States, intrigued me by its unpretentiousness, lack of glossy photos and illustrations and no-nonsense advice.

To wit:

  • “When it comes to getting older, pretending does not work, trying too hard does not work, trying to dress like your teenager does not work. The right bra works, the right underwear works, the right makeup works, the right hairstyle for your face works, and so does knowing when your clothing is too short or too tight or too low cut! Learning to accept what we have to work with works big time. Being you, only better, works every time.”
  • “Thickening waistlines make us look a little like SpongeBob SquarePants. Wearing boxy tops is not the solution to square. Select tops that give the illusion of a waist; just don’t cut straight across the stomach. Ruched tops are always a good choice. Ruching is a miracle; it adds soft gathering or pleats without adding bulk!”
  • “Beware that Crocs croak! If you can hose off your shoes along with your patio furniture, they don’t belong on your feet. Save the Birkenstocks, loafers, sneakers and Doc Martins for the farm or the gym.”

The trio of FOF authors, each named Judy, knows that “getting older” isn’t always fun, but the goal of their book is to help us all get “over the bumps” without going into a tailspin. I applaud them for approaching the subject with honesty, heart and humor. While other authors pompously preach, the 3 Judys are a joy to read and even a bigger joy to meet. Click over to my interview with them to see what I mean.

{FOF Book Critic} “My Favorite Books of 2012” by Linda Wolfe

“I’m already looking forward to a whole new year’s worth of books,” says FOF book critic Linda Wolfe, the award-winning author of 10 books and a 12-year veteran of the National Book Critics Circle. “But, before the new starts jostling the old off the shelves and out of the easy reach of memory, here are the books I loved most in 2012.”

What were your favorite books of 2012? Share them in the comments, below.

A Hologram for the King by Dave Eggers
McSweeney’s Books

This fast-moving, spare novel is about Alan Clay, a down-on-his luck, out-of-money, middle-aged American businessman. Alan hopes to make a comeback by setting up a communications system for a model city being built by a Saudi Arabian prince. The book will make you sad, the way Death of a Salesman did, but also will make you laugh with its depiction of the absurdity of life on the sandy edges of civilization. Eggers’ hero, alienated from his family by divorce and his friends by death, waiting and waiting for a King who never comes, embodies Eggers’ dire vision of the plight of the contemporary middle-class American man.

American Tapestry: The Story of the Black, White, and Multiracial Ancestors of Michelle Obama by Rachel L. Swarns.
Amistad/HarperCollins

American Tapestry is much more than its subtitle suggests.  Swarns, a New York Times reporter, is not just a portraitist but a landscape artist. An energetic researcher, she goes beyond telling us the tales of as many of Michelle Obama’s ancestors as she could unearth through assiduous digging, but renders the history of the places and times in which each of those ancestors lived. She has written not just a work about specific individuals, but one about slavery, Reconstruction, the Great Migration and the different social climates of the North and South. It’s a work rich in information, rendered in a highly readable engrossing style.

Behind the Beautiful Forevers: Life, Death, and Hope in a Mumbai Undercity by Katherine Boo.
Random House

A devastating tale about life in a Mumbai slum, Behind the Beautiful Forevers tells the story of a group of individuals whose existence would be unendurable to most of us. New Yorker staff writer Boo’s lower depth characters, as vivdly drawn as the characters in a Dickens novel, have little to their names but their will to claw their way out of poverty . Garbage pickers, prostitutes, drunkards, they live within sight of a luxury hotel, yet sleep eight or ten to a room, dwell in houses made of cardboard and stray pieces of tin and walk along unpaved alleyways ankle deep in filth and debris. Boo spent years living among and researching the lives of these  unfortunates. Although she’s technically a journalist, she writes with a great novelist’s grace.  Not to mention a great humanist’s compassion, showing us the human spirit that cannot be quenched, no matter how harsh life is.

Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk by Ben Fountain.
Ecco/HarperCollins

Short story writer Ben Fountain was inspired to write this book by seeing a Dallas Cowboys game on TV, watching the flashiness and lushness of the halftime entertainment while reflecting on his usual TV diet of grim news reports about the bloody Iraq war.  You don’t need to know or care anything about football to appreciate his dazzling first novel.  Billy Lynn is the Catch 22 of the Iraq war, the sweet spot where satire and heartbreak, scintillating language, unforgettable characters, and sharp-eyed insight into American life combine to make a book unlike any other you’ve read.

Bring Up the Bodies by Hilary Mantel.
Macrae/Holt

A sequel to British novelist Mantel’s glorious Wolf Hall, the almost equally glorious Bring Up the Bodies takes up the story of the brilliant and complicated Thomas Cromwell as he assists his master, King Henry VIIIth, in getting rid of his second wife, Anne Boleyn. Cromwell is just as fascinating as he was in Wolf Hall, but he’s not quite as loveable, for in Bodies, Mantel gives us the side of Cromwell–masked in the first book–that is capable of suppressing doubts and foregoing moral principles to hold onto power. I wanted to go back and enjoy it again as soon as I got to the last page, and I suspect you will, too.

Sweet Tooth by Ian McEwan.
Nan A. Talese/Doubleday

McEwan’s fifteenth novel is a work about writing and creativity masquerading as a spy novel.  The canny author explores the similarities between spying and writing and the emotional havoc these pursuits can wreak on both the spied-upon and the written-about, as well as its subversive effects on the practitioners of these dark crafts. More witty and at times downright funny than filled with chills and thrills, Sweet Tooth is nevertheless thrilling, because McEwan’s writing is so remarkable– smooth as velvet, vivid as a motion picture–and because embedded in the novel is the story of spy-crossed lovers that is surprisingly moving.

This Is How You Lose Her by Junot Díaz.
Riverhead

Stories about love and loss told by a writer with a vibrant and utterly unique American voice.  Diaz, a Dominican American, won the Pulitzer Prize for his previous work, the novel The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao. Here, writing about cultural differences, familial conflicts, and love and its discontents, he mixes elegant English with Hispanic street slang, creating prose that is not just exhilarating but supremely exciting.

{Books} The 8 must-read books for FOFoodies, this year.


‘Twas the week before Thanksgiving and there was turkey to brine, vegetables to chop and pies to bake. Didn’t we just do this?

Whether we have passed the fork to an FUF hostess or still host Turkey Day dinners in our own homes, cooking and food become top of mind this week. For those doing the hosting–the supermarket scramble, labor-intensive prep, mad rush to get the dishes from oven to table in time (and all at the same time), is enough to leave a bitter taste in the mouths of even the most passionate FOFoodies. For those of us who are guests to our Thanksgiving feasts, we still have to navigate busy grocery stores, stand on bakery lines and interpret our hosts subtle hints or in some cases, very particular instructions on what to bring.

Enter Annette Gallagher Weisman. Annette is a freelance writer, book critic and award-winning essayist. This week, she shares four scrumptious cookbooks, two fabulous chef memoirs, a marvelous new book about wine and a book of witty personal essays on the history of food trends. Just when you were about to put down that spatula and call it quits–these 8 books will get you excited about cooking, again.

Talking With My Mouth Full: My Life as Professional Eater by Gail Simmons
Hyperion, 288 pages.

Gail Simmons, currently the host of Top Chef: Just Desserts and the Special Projects Director at Food & Wine magazine, has been a permanent judge on Bravo’s Top Chef, and traveled worldwide to taste, judge and experience a mind-boggling array of foods. The subheading for her memoir is “My Life as a Professional Eater.” How does one become that, you may ask? Simmons says she had no idea after graduating from college what career path to follow. So, she made a short list of things she loved to do and came up with four: Eat. Write. Travel. Cook. Then she connected the dots and followed the food line. Ingenious.

She left Canada, where she’d grown up, attended culinary school in New York, and  worked on the line briefly at two top New York restaurants, Le Cirque 2000 and Vong. She also  became an assistant to eminent food critic, Jeffrey Steingarten. Simmons admits she was fortunate; she had a smooth path without many obstacles, in work or in life, to hinder her from reaching the top of her profession. Today, when Gail Simmons talks about food, people listen. In her memoir, she is personable, telling us anecdotes about her Jewish background in Toronto, her marriage to her husband, Jeremy, and other life experiences, but her main focus is food.  In a simple and frank manner, she gives us the story of what it’s like to work behind the scenes of the culinary world.  If you want a step by step guide as to how she earned her food stripes, with an overview of the flourishing food biz, this book is for you.

Restaurant Man by Joe Bastianich
Viking, 288 pages.

Perhaps, like me, you saw Joe Bastianch along with Gail Simmons recently on Dr. Oz. I was struck by the quiet-spoken, calm demeanor of this trim, elegant bald-pated restaurateur. You’d never think he’s the same one who uses the F word throughout his memoir. Like Anthony Bourdain, author of food classic Kitchen Confidential, Bastianich has an in-your-face style of writing: a tell-it-like-it-is replete with colorful language.

Joe Bastianich’s father, Felice, ran a family restaurant in Queens, his mother, Lidia, is a well known chef and author of several cookbooks. Joe himself, partnered with Mario Battali to found the famed Babbo restaurant in New York together, going on to participate with him in ventures like Eataly, an Italian megamall of artisanal food and wine and several boutique restaurants and shops. He reveals all the nitty gritty details about running a restaurant, the day-to-day stuff, the costs and how to cut them, the staff, and the food and how wine is marked up. In fact, there’s a great deal about wine. Not to mention a year spent in the vineyards of Italy where Joe, post stint on Wall Street, learned to make wine. Bastianich looks fit (he lost a considerable amount of weight marathon training). Yet, he says he drinks about a bottle of wine a day!

Bastianich also offers many revelatory anecdotes about celebrity diners.  Entertaining and informative, this is the real dish about what it’s like to be in the restaurant business today.

A Table At Le Cirque: Stories and Recipes From New York’s Most Legendary Restaurant by Sirio Maggioni and Pamela Fiori
Flammarian, 256 pages.

It is a fact: Le Cirque is a fabulous restaurant. It has been in New York in three different locations, since 1974. It opened in the Mayfair Hotel on East 65th Street, in 1974, moving from there to the Villard Houses in the New York Palace Hotel in 1997. Then, in 2006 it moved again to its current more contemporary home at 1 Beacon Court, across from the Bloomberg Tower, where a formal jacket is not needed at the bar and a more casual menu is offered.

If you don’t live in Manhattan or can’t afford to dine there, this book will make you feel as though you know the restaurant well, are familiar with its cuisine and haven’t missed out on the dish about the celebrities, powerbrokers and socialites who are regulars. A Table at Le Cirque is not a cookbook, rather a story book with prized recipes.

Owner Sirio Maccioni is the ringmaster of “The Circus” as well as the ultimate meeter and greeter. Page after page of fantastic photographs show him welcoming innumerable stars and notables including Jackie Onassis, Sophia Loren, Andy Warhol, The Reagans, Danny Kaye, Barbara Walters and royalty from many countries, even Pope John Paul ll. No matter how famous the person, if you think you saw them at Le Cirque, you did.

While Maccioni used to be a one-man show, his co-author Pamela Fiori says his three sons Mario, Marco and Mauro now relieve the pressure of running this restaurant by weighing in on every major decision. Fiori, former editor of Travel and Leisure and Town & Country is an elegant woman who knows a thing or two about spectacular restaurants. She speaks fondly of Maccioni, Le Cirque’s almost 40-year history in its three different locations, and the fact that until now Sirio has never published a cookbook.

About half way through the book we are treated to the recipes of the chefs who have been part of the Le Cirque family, from Jean Vergnes, co-owner initially, to the current chef Olivier Reginensi, and those in between including Daniel Boulud and David Bouley. These treasured recipes such as Black Tie Scallops, Bouillabaisse Le Cirque, and Spaghetti Primavera (still an off-menu request) are accompanied by full color photographs.

Ricky Lauren The Hamptons: Food, Family and History by Ricky Lauren
Wiley, 256 pages

Ricky Lauren is the kind of fab woman many of us would like to be. After all, she is brilliant—an author, photographer, artist and psychotherapist. She is also beautiful and married to a handsome man, Ralph Lauren, the arbiter of American good taste. It’s a given any book she writes will exude style and grace.

In this, Lauren’s fourth book, she depicts through family recipes the homes she and her husband  have lived in over the past forty years: in Southampton, Amagansett, East Hampton and Montauk. But, the book is not only a collection of recipes by one of its celebrated residents; you will also find inside essays about the history of the area, its architecture, culture and lifestyle. If you’ve never been to the Hamptons you will enjoy this exclusive resort vicariously. If you have, you will relate through these culinary scenes the appeal that attracts so many to the Hamptons way of life.

Lauren describes her homes, such as the one in East Hampton, in a way that captures their relaxed lifestyle. “The patio outside our living room had a low wall of flat stones around a rectangular terrace. The wall was an excellent place for perching. To turn the patio into a lounging area, we placed denim-covered mats against the inner walls and added tray tables. To this we added a multitude of bright-colored throw pillows. We often picnicked there under huge Italian Veronese marketplace umbrellas. If it rained, we could pile everything indoors to suggest sofas in an empty corner of the living room.”

The recipes are easy to follow and focus on healthy and colorful ingredients. They include Morning Smoothies, Cinnamon and Vanilla Challah French Toast, David’s Pea Soup, a Hamptons Beach Party Barbeque, Seafood Frittata of Shrimp Scallops and Crabmeat, Dylan’s Sunshine Salad, Nana’s Hungarian Beef Goulash, her Rum Laced Brownies, a Strawberry Soufflé along with Andrew and Ricky’s Chocolate Mousse are all worth the small effort to prepare. The full page color photographs of each recipe look like culinary art.

The Hamptons by Ricky Lauren would make an ideal gift for anyone who is hunkering down for the winter and dreaming of summer by the sea.

Lunch in Provence by Rachel McKenna and Jean-Andre Charial
Flammarian, 232 pages/245 color illustrations

The cover photograph of a weathered gray wooden table, set with just three pieces of old silverware conveys the feeling from the outset that simplicity equals beauty. Such evocative images by Rachel McKenna and the clear layout of recipes have a calming effect. It’s as if we are transported to Provence and held in a state of reverie; life slows down and so do we just by turning the pages.

The introduction is written by award-winning American chef and author, Patricia Wells, who herself has homes in Paris and Provence. But the star of the book is a French chef, Jean-Andre Charial, owner/winemaker of several Michelin-starred restaurants in Provence, the most celebrated being Oustau de Baumaniere. Throughout the book he gives opinions about life and cooking and the importance of fresh ingredients.“The best food is the simplest–it should just be an expression of the produce and then it is tres bon.”

There are 35 recipes, one to a page, with full color photographs alongside typical Provencal dishes such as grilled sea bass with ratatouille and leg of lamb rubbed with rosemary and anchovies. The text is laid out sparingly, and includes quotes from famous authors and chefs, so you can read it easily with time to ponder over each one.

What this book does best is convey the sensibility of the region along with gorgeous images of the French countryside and its produce.  If you’ve been to Provence it will evoke happy memories. If you haven’t, you’ll  feel like you have.  And your favorite Francophile will appreciate the gift of having Lunch in Provence, too.

The New York Times Book of Wine: More Than 30 Years of Vintage Writing edited by Howard G. Goldberg
Sterling Epicure, 592 pages

Overheard at a wine tasting, “Hmm it has an amusing bouquet with just a hint of
apple strudel, a lively torso and long legs.” Do you a) concur, b) laugh or c) vacate the premises?

While the above comment is fictitious, it is not far off from some of the creative descriptions one will hear after a person you barely know has sniffed, swirled and tasted a wine you thought was just okay. But the comment is perplexing. Is it good or bad? Do you care? Wouldn’t it be fun to respond with some enigmatic repartee?

Kick lack of knowledge and pretension to the curb, and buy yourself The New York Times Book of Wine. Encompassing 30 years of vintage writing by Eric Asimov, Frank J. Prial, Florence Fabricant, Frank Bruni, and as they say, many more, all in the capable hands of esteemed editor Howard G. Goldberg, this book is a treasure chest filled with opinions about wine.

The best way to discover something, I find, is by osmosis. Whether it is watching your mother cook as a child or listening to a bedtime story with a message, the process becomes effortless. You’ll find 156 articles in this book, which are just like stories to be read individually, in a cluster, or out of sequence at bedtime or any other time. They are by no means dry tales, but interesting, useful and often funny accounts of every aspect of the wine biz.

Intriguing titles like “Affairs to Remember,” “Pairing Wine with Chinese Food,” “Why Red Wine and Cheese Have Stopped Going Steady,” “A Sommeliers Little Secret: The Microwave, and What You Drink with What You Eat,” make it hard to stop reading. I’d love to quote from many of these essays, but by the time I finished we’d be up all night. However, I’ll leave you with a quote from “Words, Words, Words” near the beginning of the book. In this humorous piece by Frank J. Prial he cuts through the clutter of what he terms “winespeak.” This is one of many actual descriptions Prial found on a restaurant’s wine list, in this case about Gevrey-Chambertin, “that is fathoms deep and as pleasingly prickly as a kitten’s tongue.”

Despite the kitten reference, Gevry Chambertin remains one of my favorite wines. But don’t buy this book just to learn something. Buy it for the love of wine and a good story.

Martha’s Entertaining: A Year of Celebrations by Martha Stewart
Potter, 432 pages.

This one by lifestyle maven Martha Stewart isn’t new–it came out last year–but if you don’t already own it, you ought to. Or, at least give it to a good friend.  And considering I still have Martha’s first Entertaining book that came out in 1982,  it’s safe to say this bigger and better version will last a while.

What Stewart brings to the table is perfection. No matter what the time of day, breakfast, lunch or dinner, whether a picnic at sea, an ice cream social, bridal shower, Fourth of July barbeque, or Thanksgiving dinner, Martha has you covered with dishes like Lobster Sheperd’s pie, Wild mushroom lasagna, desserts to die for such as Pavlova, and special drinks, such as Elderflower martinis. And somewhere in the middle you’ll find a glossary of peonies. Trust Martha to think of that.

Weighing in at a hefty four pounds, this book belongs on a coffee table. It’s the kind of book you  “ooh” and “ahh” over, because the photographs by Frédéric Lagrange and others are so beautiful.

There are idyllic scenes, on a yacht, in the city, in the country, of houses, flowers, patios, and, of course, dishes so tantalizing you want to eat the pages. Though, in fact, one almost forgets about recipes until you come across them toward the back. Martha’s personal chef who compiled them is none other than Pierre Schaedelin, a former chef at Le Cirque, so you know these dishes don’t just look good, they will taste good, too.

One photo shows Martha sitting next to Billy Collins, who is standing and reading, presumably a poem. Nothing like having a former poet laureate for dinner! Perhaps it is an ode to Martha for a lovely meal. And why not?  I think I’ll write a poem myself to thank her for this book.

The Table Comes First: Family, France and the Meaning of Food by Adam Gopnick
Vintage, 336 pages.

Quickly: if you could ask anyone to a dinner party, who would it be? The first person who comes to my mind is playwright Oscar Wilde, famous for witticism such as “Always forgive your enemies; nothing annoys them so much,” and even on his deathbed quipped “Either that wallpaper has to go, or I will.” Unfortunately, Oscar’s not around anymore.  But another witty man and a know-it-all—in a good way–is–Adam Gopnick.  Longtime writer for The New Yorker Gopnik writes on any topic with erudition, yet his work is always punctuated by wit and verve.

His latest book, The Table Comes First has just come out in paperback, an ideal gift for the true foodie in your life. From the first restaurant in—where else–France, to famous names in gastronomy through the ages, to current day food trends, localism, organic farming, sustainable living, you name it, Gopnick explores it all. Call it a conversation with the reader about the meaning of food.

“The point of eating is to slow down life long enough to promote what Brillat-Savarin called, with simple charm, good cheer. It doesn’t just take time, but makes time—carves out evenings, memories.”

He also discusses food throughout the book via email letters to an art and food critic Elizabeth Pennell, who died in 1936, as if she were a confidante alive today participating in this epistolary relationship.

“Dear Elizabeth: I have read and reread your chapter on the perfect dinner party many times. And I like it. How hard we have to work to make perfection, and yet when it happens, the truth is that it falls on us like grace.”

Dinner parties are for guests who make us laugh and cry, who say things like, “Either that wallpaper has to go or I will.” And we all love being in the company of a person like that, even if, for those of us who don’t know Gopnick personally, we only get to be in his company while perusing the pages of his thought-provoking book.

images: someecards.com