Month: October 2013

Burning Leaves Cocktail


2 oz. Scotch Whiskey

1 oz. Brandy

1 oz Carpano Antica Sweet Vermouth

2-3 drops of Bitters

This cocktail is a fall campfire in your mouth. The key ingredient, Ila scotch is known for its smoky flavor profile. Choose an Ila depending on your preference in taste or smokiness.

The “hog” is always experimenting, and thinks this is only the first step in a developing cocktail. So stay tuned for further developments!


Book Review: Far From Here

Far From Here

Author: Nicole Baart
Publisher:  Howard Books
Release Date: February, 2012
Pages: 352
Genre: Fiction

Danica Greene has always hated flying, so it was almost laughable that the boy of her dreams was a pilot. She married him anyway and together, she and Etsell settled into a life where love really did seem to conquer all. Danica is firmly rooted on the ground in Blackhawk, the small town in northern Iowa where they grew up, and the wide slashes of sky that stretch endlessly across the prairie seem more than enough for Etsell.  But when the opportunity to spend three weeks in Alaska helping a pilot friend presents itself, Etsell accepts and their idyllic world is turned upside down. It’s his dream, he reveals, and Danica knows that she can’t stand in the way. Ell is on his last flight before heading home when his plane mysteriously vanishes shortly after takeoff, leaving Danica in a free fall. Etsell is gone, but what exactly does gone mean? Is she a widow? An abandoned wife? Or will Etsell find his way home to her?

Danica is forced to search for the truth in her marriage and treks to Alaska to grapple with the unanswerable questions about her husband’s mysterious disappearance. But when she learns that Ell wasn’t flying alone and that a woman is missing, too, the bits and pieces of the careful life that she had constructed for them in Iowa take to the wind. A story of love and loss, and ultimately starting over, Far From Here explores the dynamics of intimacy and the potentially devastating consequences of the little white lies we tell the ones we love.

Initial Thoughts: This was acquired through an acquaintance who recommended it. I trust her judgement.

My Take: Danica met handsome and charismatic Etsell in high school. We learn that she gave up any ambition beyond living in Blackhawk, Iowaa when Etsell proposed. She effectively tied herself to his life, but Etsell was not tied to his home the same way she was.  As a pilot, he was a man of land and air and Dani’s fear of flying cut her off from that part of his life. (I also have a fear of flying, so can’t imagine ever tying myself to someone like Etsell even if he was the hottest guy in the town.)

We learn that Etsell’s plane is missing in Alaska. Our viewpoint of Etsell is entirely filtered through Dani’s perspective. Her flashbacks are meant to provide a window into their love but Dani most times comes off as dependent on Etsell. No wonder he felt compelled to escape to Alaska.

Dani and Hazel (Etsell’s mother figure) decide to travel to Alaska just to make sure that yes, his plane really is missing. They learn that another person named Samantha may also have been in the plan with him. Dani begins to question his fidelity, asking around about this mystery woman. Once again, Dani is ineffective, trapped by her grief. While I’ve never been in this position myself, reading a female character with little to no conviction can be frustrating. Sam is found and questioned but they leave Alaska knowing little to no more about this woman or where Etsell may have gone down.

With Etsell’s death pretty much settled, Dani must wade through her grief with a dysfunctional family by her side. The mother and sister characters were my favorite simply because their love for Dani seemed in earnest. This is when we come to know Benjamin, her neighbor a little better. If you’re going to introduce a potential love interest to a mourning woman, it needs to be done carefully. Their friendship is centered around the garden- a good metaphor for the time and love that must go into creating something new.

Dani’s deals with her grief in many ways through the novel, and I liked the many outward steps that she took to begin her new life. From the garden and her hair salon to Dani’s refurbishing a trestle table. Baart showed us instead of telling us about her journey. The reappearance of Sam later in the novel provides a revelation that will test Dani who is trying to move forward.

Overall: A young widow must confront not only her husband’s death, but her future without him. Her journey to discover herself outside of her husband’s love serves to strengthen the bonds of family. With a great supporting cast of characters, the dramatic scenes between mother and daughters ring true. If you can get over Dani’s lack of independence, you will enjoy this book.

Rating: 3.5 Stars

“When she was seven, Dani had rescued a stuffed seal pup from the secondhand store in Blackhawk. She never named him, but her seal’s pebbled fur has been loved smooth in a decade of nighttime cuddling. Before she happened across the sleek pup, Dani hadn’t known that she forstered an enduring affection for animals who could live on and and sea, effortlessly part of two wholly different worlds. She would have loved to see a seal in real life; to touch the glass were water and air were divided in half in perfect cross section.”

About The Author:

Nicole Baart lives in a small town in Iowa and is the mother of three young sons. After the adoption of her second son from Ethiopia, Nicole discovered a deep passion for global issues and co-founded a non-profit organization, One Body One Hope, that works alongside a church and orphanage in Monrovia, Liberia. An accomplished novelist, she was a 2009 Christy Award finalist for fiction.


*This book was acquired on my own. All thoughts are my own.

Fall into Fall Cocktail

Fall is upon us, whether it’s in the cool and crisp mornings, the changing leaves and early sunsets, or the roar of football fans on the weekends. A good drink to bid adieu to the hot summer nights and usher in the sights and sounds of fall is this simple cocktail made from a pear and sage reduction.


2 oz. Few American Gin*

1 oz. Pear Sage Syrup

1 oz Lime


Add all ingredients into shaker with ice. Shake vigorously. Strain into glass. Garnish with Sage leaf.

*A good alternative is the Junipero Gin.

What cocktail makes you think of fall?


Publisher: William Morrow
Pub Date : February 4, 2014
Genre: Mystery Thriller
Pages: 304

On an ordinary Friday evening at his favorite Boston tavern, George Foss’s comfortable, predictable life is shattered when a beautiful woman sits down at the bar, a woman who vanished without a trace twenty years ago.

Liana Dector isn’t just an ex-girlfriend, the first love George couldn’t quite forget. She’s also a dangerous enigma and quite possibly a cold-blooded killer wanted by the police. Suddenly, she’s back—and she needs George’s help. Ruthless men believe she stole some money . . . and they will do whatever it takes to get it back.

George knows Liana is trouble. But he can’t say no—he never could—so he makes a choice that will plunge him into a terrifying whirlpool of lies, secrets, betrayal, and murder from which there is no sure escape.

Initial thoughts: Love the cover and the title!

My Take: George is still haunted by his first love. His  brief but passionate love affair with Liana as a college freshman still lingers. We meet him nearing mid-life as a man unable to sustain a stable relationship with a woman and feeling the failure of his life choices.

Some chapters are told from the perspective of George when he was an impressionable young adult. He knows Liana as someone else entirely until George learns she won’t be returning to college from FL because she died. George takes it upon himself to travel to Florida to meet the family, find closure and mourn. The cathartic journey only serves to open up a bag of worms when he learns that Liana is alive and may have been involved in the death of the girl whose identity she stole. She disappears for good leaving George to sort through the detritus of their love.

Fast forward twenty years, when George spots Liana in a bar. She is still alluring and impenetrable.  George is unable to see that his infatuation makes him the perfect prey for someone like Liana.  He agrees to do a favor for her and quickly is embroiled in a murder which leaves him questioning his decision to fall for her charms.  Is she really caught in a web of crime that she can’t get herself out of or did she use George to pull of the perfect crime?

I was caught up in sorting through the enigma of Liana. George however, seemed very hollow, lacking any substance that would lead me to feel anything deeper about his situation. George was simply the vehicle for Liana and for the author as well.

Overall: Plenty of sexiness and  intrigue work together to create a careful crescendo of tension that will have you gasping for breath at the end. You will be more perplexed by Liana on the last page as George was from the first.

Rating: 4 Stars – A promising debut

About the author:

Peter Swanson’s poems, stories and reviews have appeared in such journals as The Atlantic, Asimov’s Science Fiction, Epoch, Measure, Notre Dame Review, Slant Magazine, Soundings East, Rattapallax, and The Vocabula Review.  He has earned degrees in Creative Writing, Education, and Literature from Trinity College, the University of Massachusetts at Amherst, and Emerson College.  He lives with his wife and cat in Somerville, Massachusetts.

Author website:


*I acquired this advance copy through the publisher. All thoughts are my own.

“Heart Like Mine” cocktail

This cocktail was inspired by secrets and things that are not quite what they seem. Much like the novel I recently reviewed, HEART LIKE MINE, the gin gimlet can be one thing and another without being wrong, it just depends on you, the drinker. While the gimlet can be made with vodka, we opted for gin in this week’s cocktail creation.


2 oz Junipero Gin

2 Limes

Splash of Martini Rossi Bianco Vermouth

Martini Shaker

Shaker Strainer


Fill shaker halfway with ice.  Squeeze juice out of  1 lime. Add remaining ingredients and shake several times. Pour through strainer. Use remaining lime to garnish.

Those who make the gin gimlet fall into two parties: Those who use fresh lime juice, and those who use Rose’s lime juice. We prefer the fresh lime for this drink. Some say the gimlet was first served by a ship’s doctor who made drinking lime juice to prevent scurvy more appealing by adding gin.

Do you prefer your gimlet with gin or vodka?

Neighborhood Talk: Logan Square

There has been a lot of activity in Logan Square in the past year and the rest of the city (and country) is taking notice. David Tamarkin of TimeOut Chicago has taken his assessment of this mixed neighborhood to Bon Appetit magazine which you can read here.

There is a lot to love about the area if you love diversity and young hip crowds. I’ve had the chance to sample some of the local “flavor” the best way I know how, eating and drinking. On my trips to Yusho, we’ve ordered a couple small plates, Octopus and Duck breast which were succulent and pleasing to the eye. The highlight for me was the tonics made in-house (This is the same case at Billy Sunday, which is also owned by Matthias Merges). Not being a fan of gin, it has turned me on to the traditional combo of tonic and gin. I recommend a seat at the bar where you can chat with the bartender and watch the preparation of your dishes.

We tried Parson’s Chicken & Fish the same week that it opened which may account for some of the disorganization. They had not yet started serving food on the patio which meant there was only room enough for 20 people inside the actual restaurant. Luckily, it was a beautiful evening and we gladly sat at one of the long picnic tables until our number was called. The ambience was akin to sitting at a company barbecue. I’m very glad that I ordered the Michelada and I thought it far superior to the one that is offered at Big Star. Once we made it to our spots at the counter we ordered the shrimp salad, fried chicken and enjoyed both immensely. I may return here for afternoon for a few drinks

Not to be missed in Logan Square:

La Boulangerie

City Lit Books

Tastee Feez (On a warm weekend afternoon)

The Whistler

Longman & Eagle (Make reservations or stop by for a drink)

What are some other spots you like to frequent in Logan Square?