The Black Dahlia by James Ellroy

15 Aug

This is not a book I would normally choose, and to be fair to my great taste in literature, I didn’t choose it.  It was a selection from one of my book club members.  I finished this book about a month ago and have read several others in the meantime but it’s taken me some time to really digest my thoughts and compose them in such a way that I write a review that’s not just a rant.  It should have some value, right?  The review, not necessarily the book.

 If you’re not familiar with this book (or the movie that followed), it’s about the events surrounding the 1947 torturous murder of 22 year-old Elizabeth Short in Los Angeles.  What followed was the greatest manhunt in California history.  Sadly, even after reaching national attention and notoriety, 65 years later the murder remains unsolved.


The author took the basic facts of the investigation and wove in his own characters and details and ultimately solves the case.  In his young life, Mr. Ellroy experiences great trauma with his own personal and life-changing encounter with murder and clearly draws on that experience to paint a picture that’s dark and perverse.  It’s a book based on fact but rooted in fiction.  If after reading my review you decide to read the book, I would recommend you first do some research on the case itself.  It would be helpful to know where the lines of fact and fiction have been blurred.  Not blaming anyone for my own choice, but in hindsight, I wish I had researched a bit.  I was under the impression it was a book of actual events, not an author’s stab (no pun intended) at creative license.

The story is seen through the eyes of flawed Bucky Bleichert, ex-prize fighter and something of a boy wonder on the police force.  He and fellow cop (and boxing rival) Lee Blanchard are assigned the case together.  Collectively they delve into the short life and mutilation death of the young lady later dubbed The Black Dahlia.  Through the stress and obsession of the case, their friendship, work ethic and love for the same woman will be tested significantly. Both are fixated with the Dahlia, driven by dark needs to know everything about her past, to indentify and capture her killer and to possess the woman even in death. Their quest will take them on a hellish journey through the underbelly of post-war Hollywood, to the core of the dead girl’s twisted life, past the extremes of their own psyches-into a region of total madness.

Each character is described in great detail.  Corrupt cops, city officials, pimps, GIs, Mexican bar owners, prostitutes, society matrons… they tend to get confusing.  I found it hard to follow at times and wasn’t sure which characters needed to remain in the forefront and which could be forgotten.  Another aspect I struggled with was the vernacular.  I understand cop-speak and have read many books set in the ‘40s.  What was confusing was that the author used so many words and expressions that frankly, I got tired of looking up to understand what they meant.  Many I didn’t find at all.  I don’t typically read sitting in front of a computer with the internet to rescue me.  I found that when I encountered one of these characters or expressions, I would just continue on and hope it wouldn’t be important later. 

Ultimately I found very little was important and I pushed myself simply to finish.  Needless to say this wasn’t a book I enjoyed at all.  It was crude, violent, gratuitous and gory at every turn.  I don’t have a prudish outlook and can handle most subject matter, but it just felt as though the author tried to push this to the limit.  Maybe he wanted us to experience the gruesome and unfathomable crime that was committed.  Maybe he wanted some exposure to the notorious murder that might light a fire under a detective’s chair and get the case re-opened.  Maybe he wanted to tell a little of his own personal story and used the Dahlia as his vehicle.  Whatever it was, I found it fell short in every way.

Easy Pickled Banana Peppers

14 Aug

So as most of you know, I expanded my vegetable garden this year from one planter to two.  In the past the only kind of peppers I have grown were bell peppers (of which I don’t even like).  I love them when they’re red, yellow or orange, but once they turn green, I’m out. 

This year I planted 4 other varieties, one of which was yellow banana peppers.  My taste buds tend to gravitate toward the spicy, pickled, vinegar, garlic… must be the Italian in me.  Anyway, I put yellow banana peppers on every sandwich I eat.  So it just made sense to try and grow them myself. 





They start out oblong and yellow on the plant, and eventually become funny looking fellows.  I had no idea they’d get all curly.  Once I picked them and brought them in the house, I found after several days they started to turn orange and then red.  Pretty cool.



Now what to do with them?  They didn’t really taste very good in this raw state.  At least it wasn’t the flavor I was looking for.  I went online and found several recipes to help me pickle them.  Quite a few called for celery seed and mustard seed, but of course I don’t have those in my spice cabinet, so I searched until I found a recipe that included only the ingredients I had.  I know I could have just gone and bought the other ingredients, but why not just try this one? 

The recipe called for 2 pounds of peppers.  My goodness, how many plants do they have?  My plant typically yields about 2 peppers at a time.  Because I didn’t have as many peppers, I adjusted all the other ingredients to suit my crop.  Like I always tell you, it’s your kitchen, your rules.



 7-8 peppers, varying in color (because they were varying in how long they’d been sitting in my kitchen)

4 cloves of garlic (sliced in half lengthwise)

¾ cup water

¾ cup white vinegar

2 tsp salt



  1. Wash the peppers, cut off the tops and remove the top section of seeds (it’s like a ball)
  2. Slice the peppers into rings of whatever thickness you prefer
  3. Put the rings and garlic pieces into a glass jar that has an airtight seal when closed (Mason jar, etc.) 
  4. In a small saucepan add the water, vinegar and salt.  Bring to a boil over medium high heat
  5. Remove from heat and pour over the top of the rings and garlic
  6. Use a butter knife to move the peppers around to remove air bubbles and get the peppers and garlic submerged in the liquid
  7. Seal the jar and set aside on the counter overnight – the peppers will fade in color a bit
  8. After 24 hours, refrigerate for up to 2 weeks



After they had been in the refrigerator for a full day I thought I’d give them a try.  And I really loved the way they looked; red, yellow and orange all swimming in the delicious pickling juices.  Everyone getting along.  I wasn’t sure what to expect taste-wise though.  Would the flavor be just like the ones I buy at the store?  Would it be better?  Worse?  They were pretty darn good, I must say.  My daughter’s first thought was they could use more “bite”.  I already know what you’re thinking…  Maybe if I’d used the mustard or celery seeds it would have provided that extra spice.  Don’t misunderstand, my batch is good, they have a nice tangy flavor, they’re just not hot.  Do I need this batch to be hot?  Absolutely not.  Now bring on the sandwiches, I’ve got peppers to eat!


Personalized Individual Homemade Pizzas

12 Aug

I was watching The Dr. Oz Show the other day and he had a few celebrity chefs as guests who had come up with lower calorie recipes for our favorite take-out dishes… Hamburgers, pizza and tacos.  I thought I’d be most interested in the taco, but after watching Chef Todd English prepare his pizza, I was convinced I needed to try it.


Now, if you’ve read my recipe posts before you know I never follow a recipe exactly.  Sometimes it’s because I don’t have the exact ingredients on hand, don’t care for a particular ingredient or frankly, I just forget a step or two.  Let’s face it, if I were a master chef I’d have my own TV show and wouldn’t be writing this silly blog.  Having said that however, let me say that my pizza was Uh-may-zing!


Growing up, one of my favorite dinners was to make individual pizzas. Everyone got to make whatever they wanted, pepperoni, sausage, pineapple, green pepper; if you wanted it you could have it.  No rules, nothing was out of bounds.  But if you made it, it was dinner.  I’ve carried on the pizza tradition with my daughters as well and it’s always been a favorite for them too.  It’s so much fun to design the perfect pizza in your mind, create it in your kitchen and enjoy it in your belly.


The recipe I followed (for the most part) from Todd English called for whole wheat Naan, but of course I forgot that part and picked up a package of whole wheat pita bread instead.  I’ve listed my pizza ingredients below, but feel free to check out the original recipe and short video if you want to see the real deal.




1 cup quartered artichokes*

2 tsp Mezzetta chimichurri sandwich spread*

2 Tbl low fat ricotta

4 or 5 large basil leaves, cut into thin ribbons

¼ cup shredded low fat mozzarella

4 or 5 cherry tomatoes, halved or quartered

½ cup arugula

1 tsp EVOO

1 tsp lemon juice



*Chef English’s recipe called for grilled artichokes, but I just used the regular quartered ones out of a can.  He also used what he called artichoke spread, but I couldn’t find that at my grocery store, so when I found the Mezzetta sandwich spread on the shelf I chose the chimichurri flavor (cilantro, parsley and garlic).  It sounded like the perfect complement to the other flavors in the pizza.  Well, needless to say it smelled and tasted delicious.  I definitely see sandwiches in my future with the spread on the bread (can’t have the rest of the jar go to waste!).



Pre-heat oven to 350.  Spread the chimichurri across pita to create a thin layer.  Add quartered artichokes and tomatoes.  Mix the ricotta and basil to create a smoother creamier texture.  Drop a few dollops on pizza.  Top pizza with shredded mozzarella.  Bake for about 7 or 8 minutes.  Ricotta mixture should begin to spread out a little bit.  It won’t melt down completely, just settle in.

While pizza is cooking, put arugula in a small bowl, add EVOO, lemon juice and a little bit of salt. Toss by hand to coat completely.  When pizza is ready, top with fresh arugula salad… sounds unconventional I know, but trust me you won’t be disappointed.

I was able to use fresh basil and tomatoes from my yard (always a bonus) and maybe next year I’ll have more ingredients for this pizza growing in one of my gardens.  My pizza was so yummy, it was… is  yummilicious a word? If not, it should be.

Gathered around the dinner table tonight were my husband and one of my twin daughters. I made pizza sauce for their pizzas (my basic recipe: tomato sauce, garlic, basil, oregano, onion salt, and pepper).  My husband’s pizza was pepperoni, mozzarella cheese, pineapple and fresh basil.  He loved it.



My daughter made a pineapple and jalapeno pizza and as you can see I couldn’t get to her soon enough to take the picture before she started in on it.  She loved hers too.



Remember, it’s all about you.  What tickles your taste buds?  This isn’t a pizza you have to share; it’s yours, all yours.  Don’t be afraid to use this philosophy in other recipes too.  There are some rules you should stick to, like fish and cheese shouldn’t be served together, but for the most part, think outside the box.  If you like an ingredient, throw it in there.  If it doesn’t turn out, chalk it up to a learning experience, but imagine if it’s fantastic!  You could be the next big thing, if not on Food Network, at least in your very own kitchen. And which place is more important anyway?


Happy cooking.

Inspired by Hobbes…

11 Aug

My daughter just came in the room and said, “Mom, come look at Hobbes”.   Like most cats, he spends his time looking for something to sleep in or on and seldom has trouble finding it.  Today was no exception.



He’s the King of everything around here and doesn’t quite understand where he falls on the food chain.  4 adults, a dog, another cat. What does he care?  He’s Hobbes.  King.  He’s been ruling the roost for 12 years now.  He’s more dog than cat, he’s quite the snuggler and lovable to a fault. He doesn’t understand that “no means no” and can’t seem to leave our other cat Abby alone… Poor Abbygirl.



His antics make us laugh and his constant pleas for affection warm our hearts.  He needs to be close at all times.  Sometimes I think if he could fit in our pockets he’d climb in.  He only seems comfortable on our laps and sleeping on our heads at night.  Years ago my daughter started carrying him around her neck like a mink stole.  You’d think he’d protest, but I guess he just considers it another form of snuggling.  He’s also quite comfortable on his back stretched out.  She just flips him over, he stretches out and all is good in his world.



James Herriot said “Cats are connoisseurs of comfort.”  Do you think maybe he knew Hobbes?



Do you have a Hobbes in your life?

Room by Emma Donoghue

9 Aug

This book was recommended to me by my 22 year old daughter.  I admit I had some trouble getting into it at first.  I’ll also admit I knew absolutely nothing about the story so I didn’t know what to expect and wasn’t sure where anything was going.  I usually like a little summary of a book before I dive in, but most reviews tend to give too much of the story away, so I tend to stay away.  Having said that, a little history on this book would have been helpful for me.  

Because the story is so unique, I’m going to write my review in two parts.  If you’re like me and don’t want the story spelled out (read ruined) for you, read just Review #1.  If you’re okay with knowing more of the storyline and details, feel free to read Review #2 as well.  I’m an equal opportunity reviewer (smile).


Review #1

The first paragraph begins… “Today I’m five. I was four last night going to sleep in Wardrobe, but when I wake up in Bed in the dark I’m changed to five, abracadabra. Before that I was three, then two, then one, then zero. Was I minus numbers?”

The story is told from the perspective of five year old Jack.  It’s not easy to read at first, it took me some time to get used to the way he speaks, but once I got into the story, I could visualize Jack, Room, Ma and their daily lifestyle.  That made it much easier.  This is where a little background on the book would have been helpful.

In many ways, Jack is a typical 5-year-old. He likes to read books, watch TV, and play games with his Ma. His day is spent utilizing the few things they have, singing songs hearing stories his Ma remembers and enjoying the five picture books he’s had read to him over and over.

Room is where Jack was born.  It’s where he and his Ma eat and sleep and play and learn. At night, his Ma shuts him safely in the wardrobe, where he is meant to be asleep when Old Nick visits. It’s the only world he knows, but for Ma, it is a prison in which she has tried to create a normal life for her son.  Room is an 11×11’ space. 

Donoghue has done an amazing job of letting us think like an isolated, innocent boy whose life is turned upside down when he learns that Outside of Room is a big world. Up until his 5th birthday, his world was balanced, controlled and he missed nothing since he didn’t know of anything else. Everything beyond Room was Outer Space. Once he was told there was so much more out there, fear of the unknown crept into his world.

Having a child narrate the book is very clever in many ways. Jack is oblivious to the heroic efforts his mother makes to protect and entertain him, but these definitely don’t go unnoticed by the reader.

This is one of those books that sucks you into its world and makes you reconsider your own. It’s a quick read that’s highly absorbing. I was reminded of what the world could look like from the perspective of a small child. It makes a parent want to be more kind with their words, more respectful of what their child’s needs are, and more understanding when things seem confusing.

Okay, spoiler alert… if you’re not interested in the more detailed storyline, stop reading here.   Otherwise, scroll down.

Review #2
Room is home to Jack, but to Ma it’s the prison where she has been held hostage for seven long years. After being kidnapped as a teenager, she’s forced to live her life in the confines of this space and endure the nightly unwelcome visits of her captor. 

The sense of dread builds as Jack reports on his daily life in Room. The reader, who is smarter than a five year old, begins to understand the severity of the situation. The suspense builds beautifully and the pages keep turning.

Through her fierce love for her son, she has created a life for him in this 11×11’ space. With Jack’s curiosity building, together with her own desperation, she knows that Room cannot contain either much longer and she sets forth devising a plan for life on the Outside.

When their isolated and intensely private world suddenly reaches beyond the confines of their four walls, the consequences are unexpected and extraordinary at the same time. Despite its sad and disturbing premise, Room is filled with moments of hope and beauty, and the steadfast determination to live, even in the most bleak of circumstances. A dramatic story of survival in captivity; readers who enter Roomwill leave shaken and amazed, as though, like Jack, they are seeing the world for the very first time.  

Emma Donoghue builds a story of familial love and support that alternately both breaks and warms the reader’s heart. When the scene shifts, what happens “After” is as interesting, suspenseful and touching as what happened in Room.

Lifting a Foot Forward: A Lesson in Balance by Greg Morton

8 Aug

This book would be categorized as a motivational autobiography.  It’s a quick read about the life of a boy turned man who had experiences that would shape his decisions and his life. 

It’s broken down into three chapters; Learning to Walk, Off Balance and Balance.  Within them you follow his life as a young boy starring opposite Kate Jackson in the hit television series Scarecrow and Mrs. King and attempting to find his way among his peers and out in the real world.  He covers all the positive and negative experiences that accompanied the first of what would turn out to be many adventures.

While still feeling the bite of the acting bug, he made a decision to leave it behind and chase other interests.  Eventually entering the corporate world, he found his niche motivating others and becoming a master at problem solving.  Although he was good at what he did, he jumped from job to job never feeling fulfilled and never finding what he was looking for.  

That was, until a cold January day in 2008.  Many ordinary people have extraordinary experiences.  Thankfully for us, Greg is a gifted writer, who after having an extraordinary experience was able to put it not only in writing but in perspective to change his life. 



Follow his journey from childhood to present day and learn from his unique point of view.  You’ll get wrapped up in his storytelling and find yourself wanting to get out there and do something.  Anything. 


Mr. Morton is also the author of the action adventure series The Fury of the Bear and its sequel To Catch a Fox.  In 2011 he released a collection of untitled poems and original photography and will be releasing a book of short fantasy/adventure tales this fall.  His blog is followed by many who tune in regularly for their daily dose of inspiration, humor and thought-provoking posts.  I recommend you visit his Morton Design Works website where you’ll find not only his blog but can purchase his work as well. 

Oh, and after being my best friend, husband and partner for 20 years, he’s still the love of my life.

Three more saves…

3 Aug

“Three more saves and he ties John the Baptist.”

  ~ Hank Greenwald, on Bruce Sutter

Sticks and Stones…

2 Aug

“Sticks and stones may break our bones, but words will break our hearts…”

  ~ Anonymous

 Make a point to say something nice to someone today.  You never know what burden they’re carrying or how heavy their heart is. 


28 Jul

I love this time of year.  So many beautiful flowers are in bloom and there’s a feeling of life and hope in the air.  As I mentioned before, maintaining my yard is a full-time job but I get so much satisfaction being outside planting, watering, pruning…  It was in the ’80s today so I waited until early evening to go outside and do some weeding and watering.  I could have stayed out there for several more hours but the sun was going down and, well frankly my Angel game was already in the 3rd inning.  A girl’s got to have her priorities in check, right?

Black Eyed Susan

Paper Whites

Flowers seem to come in every possible shape, color and scent.  There are beautiful ones for every season and depending on where you live you can enjoy lush gardens all year long.




Right now I have several things I’d like to plant.  I tried agapanthus once and it didn’t make it.  I’d like to think it was the location, not my brown thumb.  I’m really anxious to try it again.  I have the perfect spot for it.  I’m a big fan of the purple variety but I’d like to plant the white as well.   I have a big area in the front yard that’s mostly shade and it needs quite a bit of filling in.  It’s just screaming for the lovely purple and white flowers.  When I plant them, I’ll post pictures.


California Poppy

Ice Plant

My yard is also filled with fun statues, birdhouses and other goofy decorative stuff.  I’ll do a post soon with more of them another time, but here’s a couple for now… stay tuned for more.

As I leave you tonight, I’ll give you the same advice I give all the living things in my yard, “Bloom where you are planted”.

Those who are…

27 Jul

“Those who are not looking for happiness are the most likely to find it, because those who are searching forget that the surest way to be happy is to seek happiness for others.”

  ~ Martin Luther King, Jr.

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