Friday, July 19, 2013

And The Mountains Echoed by Khaled Hosseini

Overall rating:★★★★
The third and latest novel by Khaled Hosseini, And The Mountains Echoed, tells the story of different characters and the turns and detours their lives took. They all have one thing in common: they are related or became in contact with Pari and Abdullah’s involuntary journeys.
Abdullah was Pari’s older brother who felt and exercised the responsibility of a father. Abdullah was seven years older than Pari. Their mother died after giving birth to Pari. Abdullah took care of Pari as a parent would: he fed her, consoled her, played with her…
A series of events took place resulting in Pari and Abdullah being separated for the rest of their lives. It was indescribably painful but life goes on and they had to adjust to their new environment.  It is incredible how many consequences one decision could have! The title could not be more appropriate.
The main story, as well as the secondary ones, is very deep and powerful. The sense of emptiness that Pari and Abdullah separation caused was captured and transmitted superbly to the reader. While I was reading this novel I felt the desolation that the characters must have felt in those years.
Mr. Hosseini takes the readers across different continents and cities; Kabul, Paris, California, Tinos… Life can chance in an instant, people adapt to the new situations, but at the end of the day the love we experienced and knew will never go away… in the worst case it would stay as a ghost or as in Pari’s case as an absence of something vital.
This book is available in hardcover and Kindle.
Use and beauty of language:★★★

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Portrait in Sepia by Isabel Allende

Overall rating:★★★★
Portrait in Sepia is the second book of the unusual trilogy that started with Daughter of Fortune and ends with House of Spirits. Aurora Del Valle decides to write her story and the experiences of the people around her. Aurora grew up with her paternal grandmother, Paulina Del Valle. The events take place between 1862 and 1910.
Paulina Del Valle was not the end-of-the-19th –century typical woman. She had a keen sense of business and made a deal with her husband to have her own bank account in England with the profit her business ventures brought. In a time when women depended completed of the closest male relative this was extraordinary.
Aurora grew up with this model of feminism. With time Aurora was able to become an avant garde woman herself. It is true that the beginning of the 20th century looked promising for women as some rules were relaxed, still it was not well accepted that a woman worked outside the house, had a trade, and even worse, had a lover while still married (divorce did not exist back then).
Portrait in Sepia starts in San Francisco, specifically in Chinatown. Isabel Allende, once more, makes a great job of describing the smells, people’s physical appearance in a way that immediately transported me to where the scene was taking place. From San Francisco, Aurora and Paulina traveled to Europe, and after Paulina’s husband death, back to Chile permanently. Once in Chile, Ms. Allende takes the reader somewhere south of Santiago (I suspect to the Puerto Montt area) where the landscape was generous and paradisiacal.
The connection to the next book, House of Spirits, is a subtle one. Rosa and Clara, Nivea and Severo’s daughters (two of the main characters in House of Spirits) are mentioned once in Portrait in Sepia. I remember when I read this passage the first time. I became a little dizzy with the realization that I was being taken back to where everything started.
This book is available in paperback..
Beauty and use of language:★★★★

Monday, July 15, 2013

Bulla Gastrobar

Overall rating:

Last week my family and I ended up in Bulla Gastrobar almost by accident. We were looking for a Spanish restaurant in Coral Gables and voila! It was a Tuesday night so it was not very busy.

We ordered different tapas (small appetizers), one main dish, and two desserts to share. It was more than enough.

The food was really good. I was particularly surprised with the gazpacho – for a cold soup it was much better than I expected. Our entrĂ©e was one of the specials: monk fish with clams, shrimp, and calamari in a red sauce, very good as well.

We had a great time at Bulla. Our waiter, James, was very nice and attentive. I would go back.



Tuesday, July 9, 2013

Yellow Green Farmers Market

Yellow Green Farmers Market is located in Hollywood, FL and it is open all year round on Saturdays and Sundays from 8:00 am to 4:00 pm. I love going there to buy fresh vegetables and fruit at a great price. Also, I like to see and taste some of the local vendors with their baked goods, accessories, soaps, etc. There is live music, which makes the experience even more enjoyable.

More recently, there are new stands of wild caught fish, and products from the Wisconsin Amish - I have tried the cheese and eggs; the taste, texture, and consistency of the products is so different than what we are used to from the supermarket. These items are more expensive so we try to buy them every other week or so to balance the house economics. At the end of the day the extra dollars are totally worth it!

Monday, July 8, 2013

House of Spirits by Isabel Allende

Overall rating:★★★★
House of Spirits was Isabel Allende’s first novel. By coincidence of magic, it became the third book of the unusual trilogy (Daughter of Fortune, Portrait in Sepia, and House of Spirits). In this story, narrated by Esteban Trueba and his granddaughter Alba, we follow the events in the Trueba family, its branches, and the other families connected to them. The events take place, according to my calculation, approximately from 1900 until the military coup to Salvador Allende in the mid 1970s.
This novel tells the story of at least four generations having Esteban Trueba and Clara Del Valle as the central couple. Esteban Trueba is a man who acquired a huge fortune by angrily working first in the gold mines, and later in the farm inherited from his father. Later in his life, Esteban becomes a senator for the Conservative Party. This man is so angry all the time and has so many episodes of wrath that his existence has to be necessarily fictional – a real person would have died of a heart attack much earlier.
Clara Del Valle is an ethereal woman who is more concerned with the whereabouts of spirits than the common activities of the everyday life. She married Esteban and they had three children: Blanca, and twins Jaime and Nicolas. Clara was the center of the family and she gave Esteban the stability that he needed.
This is the second time I read House of Spirits. I liked it as much as the first time. It is a story of love, passion, sensuality, anger, and the desire to change the destiny of a nation and society. Ms. Allende cleverly incorporates important events of the Chilean history giving even more significance to the story.
This book is available in paperback.
Beauty and use of language:★★★★

Sunday, July 7, 2013

Goat Cheese and Leek Quiche

This quiche was a very pleasant surprise. The combination of tastes of goat cheese, leeks, and nutmeg was amazing. The result is a light and tasty quiche that goes well with a green salad. This recipe is very easy to make - I bought a pie crust and just took care of the filling. 

To access the recipe, click here

Friday, July 5, 2013

Museu Calouste-Gulbekian - Lisbon, Portugal

This museum is one of the best ones in Lisbon. It was built in 1960 and its collection ranges from tapestries, Persian rugs, Chinese porcelain to Rembrandt and Rubens.
For art lovers it is possible to spend the whole afternoon without being bored. It is not as big and grandiose as other museums in Europe but it is exquisite. I was fascinated by the rugs, vases, and illustrated bibles from Armenia and surroundings.
To get there, take the red or blue line to Sao Sebastiao (both red and blue) or Praca de Espanha (only blue line). The entrance costs 4 euros per person and it is worth every dime.

Thursday, July 4, 2013

The Leader's Code by Donovan Campbell

Overall rating:★★★
‘The Leader Code’ by Donovan Campbell gives an overview of the 6 virtues that all leaders should cultivate: humility, excellence, kindness, discipline, courage, and wisdom. In addition to developing these qualities, the writer suggests, and I think he is right in doing so, to define a mission and become a servant for the people or teams we lead – I personally prefer the term service provider since servant could be so easily misinterpreted.
Donovan Campbell makes a good attempt at explaining the “leader-servant” model as well as the six traits that all leaders should have. The book is full of stories – too many in my opinion – some of them interesting, some of them not so much.
I liked the idea of creating the mission statement and becoming a service provider for others, especially those we are assigned to lead. The six qualities described in the book – humility, excellence, kindness, discipline, courage, and wisdom – are great to have not only if we have the role of leaders. Not much is new in this book; mostly is common sense, but it is good to have a reminder.
Mr. Campbell is part of the Marine Corps. Most of the stories and examples in the book come from the military. This concentration of source makes the book boring for people, like me, who are not part of the military environment, and frankly does not see it as the greatest organization in the world.
‘The Leader Code’ is a good read for someone who is starting his/her path in self-improvement and to learn about leadership. For seasoned readers on the subject of leadership, it may be repetitive, without substance; for the civilians, it may become boring after the third story about war, battle, or military exercise.
This book is available in hardcover and Kindle.
Applicability to real life:★★★

Wednesday, July 3, 2013

Top Ten Wednesday (TTW) - The First Ten Countries to Obtain Their Independence in this Continent

Since we are about to celebrate the 237th anniversary of the U.S.A. independence I thought that an appropriate subject could be countries who became independent after the U.S.A.
I am not a historian and clearly no expert in independence subjects… I can only imagine the strength of the desire to be free and become a sovereignty that people go to war, kill each other, and so at the end of the day the rest of us get to belong to the newly formed country.
Here is the list of the first ten countries in the American continent that became free. This time the order is from first to last one based on the declaration of the first independence date (some countries became colonies after the independence from the conqueror country).

1. United States

Independence was declared on July 4th 1776. Main figures in this event: George Washington and Thomas Jefferson. Capital: Washington, District of Columbia.

2. Haiti

Independence was declared on January 1st 1804. Main figures in this event: Jean-Jacques Dessalines and Toussaint Louvertoure. Capital : Port-au-Prince.

3. Ecuador

Independence was declared on August 10th 1809 lead by Antonio Jose de Sucre. Capital: Quito.

4. Argentina

Independence was declared on May 25th 1810 lead by Jose de San Martin and Simon Bolivar. Capital: Buenos Aires.

5. Colombia

Independence was declared on July 20th 1810. Main figures in this event: Simon Bolivar and Francisco de Paula Santander. Capital: Bogota.

6. Mexico

Independence was declared on September 16th 1810 lead by priest Miguel Hidalgo y Costilla. Capital: Mexico City.

7. Paraguay

Independence was declared on May 14th 1811. It seems that there was no one leader but a series of events that resulted in Paraguay becoming independent from Spain. Capital: Asuncion.

8. Venezuela

Independence was declared on July 5th 1811 lead by Francisco de Miranda and Simon Bolivar. Capital: Caracas.

9. Chile

Independence was declared on February 12th 1818. Main figures in this event: the Carrera brothers (Jose Miguel, Juan Jose, and Luis), and Bernardo O’Higgins. Capital: Santiago.

10. Peru

Independence declared on July 28th 1821 lead by Jose de San Martin and Simon Bolivar. Capital: Lima.

Tuesday, July 2, 2013

OTC Restaurants

Overall rating:

My friend K recently introduced me to this unpretentious place in downtown Miami. The differentiator is that OTC has beer from small breweries and I understand they also brew some of them.

The food was much better than I expected… also the portions were bigger than what I had anticipated. It is better to share if you don’t want to end eating all the calories by yourself. Everything I tried that day was great! I highly recommend the pesto quinoa – it is a guiltless pleasure.

The ambiance was relaxed. They have a combination of self-service and waiters. I ordered my food at the counter and someone brought it to the table. Other people in my group ordered directly to the waiter… I was a little confused, but I guess they’d play it by ear.

To visit their website click here.

Service:★ (partly self-service)


Monday, July 1, 2013


Overall rating:

IHOP may not be a fancy choice for breakfast or brunch but it is a convenient one. Last weekend I did not have time to plan and prepare a brunch at home as I usually do. Plan B was IHOP. I have to say that I was pleasantly surprised not only with the variety (after all they are a breakfast place) but with the healthy choices.

When in need, IHOP could be a lifesaver. We had the garden omelet and garden crepes. The food was good, vegetables were fresh. Our server was very nice.