Our Summer Reading List Barometer

Recently Laura Trevey of Bright Bold & Beautiful asked followers about their favorite summer memories. As I pondered the question, I kept picturing myself at various ages curled up outside under summertime shade reading a book. Whether under a tree, poolside or on the beach, I have always cherished my summer escapes into a good book.

reading on the beach © The Gracious Posse

Of course under a beach umbrella is the best place possible for reading, and as Ellen gets packing for her annual getaway to Sunset Beach, she is looking for a good book to put in her beach bag. I’ve been polling some of the posse and taking notes from other bloggers to put together this list of summer reading possibilities. Everyone always assumes that light reads a la Elin Hilderbrand and Dorothea Benton Frank are most appropriate on the beach. Sometimes, though, I prefer to do my heavier reading on the beach when a glance up at an ocean view keeps me from being dragged down too deeply into the dark mood of the book.

As Ellen checks her reading barometer for the type of book she wants to immerse herself in, here from my sources is a forecast of some she might enjoy.

Sunny and Breezy

Elin Hilderbrand will take you away to summer in Nantucket almost from the first page of each of her books. Silver Girl and Beautiful Day are two of my recent favorites. Her latest

The Matchmaker should probably be listed under Cloudy as the main character faces breast cancer, a diagnosis with which Ms. Hilderbrand was confronted shortly before this novel was published. You can read her take on life imitating fiction here.

Suggested by Carpool Goddess, Lisa Scottoline and her 20-something daughter Francesca have written a book of humorous essays about learning to stay close while living apart. It sounds perfect for Ellen and lDd who vacations with Ellen and whose oldest just graduated from college.

Our favorite book reviewer, Ashley Farley of Chronicles . . . of an Avid Reader and Indie Author, recently featured Dorothea Benton Frank’s most recent, The Hurricane Sisters. I love listening to Dot Frank’s stories on my Audible app and am looking forward to hearing her latest on one of my many upcoming road trips.

After enjoying several delightful tour guides in Italy, I have put Too Much Tuscan Sun: Confessions of a Chianti Tour Guide on my to-read list. Ellen included it in her Italian “Poscritto” reading list, and it sounds like a lark. Both of us must find time for it out this year.

JK Rowling is out with the second in her series about private detective Cormoran Strike written under her pseudonym, Robert Galbraith. My book club loved The Cuckoo’s Calling, and after reading the Richmond Times-Dispatch review on Sunday, I can’t wait to start The Silkworm in which Ms. Rowling apparently slips in some digs at the publishing industry which revealed the secret of her alter ego.

If, like us, you love vintage shopping as well as a good read, try A Vintage Affair by Isabel Wolff. Vintage fashion and wartime friendship is vaguely reminiscent of Jojo Moyes’ The Girl You Left Behind (see below) though much lighter.


While Ellen was visiting A Gentleman’s Farm, cCo recommended The Bees by Laline Paull. Told from the perspective of a maiden bee in an ancient culture, it sounds truly original. Whether Ellen starts a colony of her own or not, this novel should capture her imagination.

bMt told me that she is rereading Unbroken: A World War II Story of Survival, Resilience, and Redemption by Laura Hillenbrand. In light of Louis Zamperini’s recent passing and the movie premiere of Angelina Jolie’s version of the book later this year, this summer seems the perfect time to recall Mr. Zamperini’s remarkable life.

From the author of Loving Frank, Under the Wide and Starry Sky imagines the real-life relationship between Robert Louis Stevenson and an American mother who left her philandering husband for a new life with her children in Europe. sMm has recommended this work that is reminiscent of The Paris Wife.

Ashley of Chronicles has gotten me hooked on Australian Liane Moriarty’s books. Quirky characters dot Liane’s homeland settings that she paints so vividly. Now I’m longing to visit Australia as I await her next offering, Big Little Lies, out next week.

If you like Liane’s books, you’ll love these from Jojo Moyes. A British writer who brings unlikely characters together, her moving novels stay with the reader long after she turns the final page. Her latest, One Plus One, is on my to-read list.

Every year I like to read one classic that I have yet to attempt. In recent years, I have undertaken Atlas Shrugged and Swann’s Way. Both were worth the extensive time it took to finish them. Ashley at Chronicles recently posted Top Ten Classics I Want to Read. Catch-22 is on her list, and I’ve added it to mine, too.

Dark and Stormy

I just finished Pulitzer Prize-winning The Goldfinch and am still not sure whether it belongs under Cloudy or Dark and Stormy. The plot line takes the reader to many dark places (e.g. terrorism and drugs), but one of the central characters, Carel Fabritius’s The Goldfinch, provides such hope and beauty that I still can’t quite decide how to characterize this book that has been on the NY Times bestseller list for 38 weeks.

The movie version of the remarkable The Fault in Our Stars is out this summer. While I don’t know how it plays out in the big-screen interpretation, the story, though categorized as Young Adult, is for all grown-ups. The plot of this beautifully written novel revolves around two teens with cancer and has struck a chord with many.

sMm also recommended Summer House with Swimming Pool. A psychological thriller with detestable characters, readers say you can’t put it down but you’ll want to wash your hands afterwards.

I thought I was done stressing about summer reading for my children, but recently my son and his fellow incoming freshmen received this book in the mail to read in preparation for small-group discussions during orientation at the beginning of his fall term. I was curious and had to check it out. Graphic and brutal in a Faulkner-esque style, Salvage the Bones reminds the reader of As I Lay Dying as it recounts 10 days surrounding Hurricane Katrina in the Mississippi Delta. At first disturbed that he was supposed to read it, by the time I finished it I was encouraging him to pick it up.

A couple of months ago, we introduced you to Shannon Geary Weisleder who has an essay published in Nothing But the Truth So Help Me God: 73 Women on Life’s Transitions. Each of the 73 essays is thought-provoking for its female audience, and most everyone will find amongst the book’s pages one or two essays that she can’t forget.

Your Summer Reading Forecast

So what’s the forecast for your summer reading? Have you got any suggestions for Ellen to take to the beach? Just enter it and the barometric category you think it fits into the comments box below under Speak Your Mind (I’ve been trying to change that title but still can’t figure out how). I know the posse would love your suggestions.


July 23, 2014

Three Secrets to Recreating Pesto alla Portovenere

Portovenere from the Cinque Terre ferry © The Gracious Posse

I returned from our Italian family adventure motivated to get cooking in the kitchen. Once we were wheels down in RVA I knew that my first culinary venture would be pesto pasta. Inspired by one of our favorite treats from Portovenere just south of the Cinque Terre, I couldn’t wait to try to recreate the light coating covering the trenette pasta that we picked up

Portovenere street © The Gracious Posse

along the narrow winding way up to the remarkable

Church of San Pietro © The Gracious PosseChurch of San Pietro.

The first bite of this fresh pesto

pesto shop in Portovenere © The Gracious Posse

from a shop window was a revelation in how pesto is meant to taste.

Portoverere pesto on pasta © The Gracious Posse

The lightness made me think that the Italians add more olive oil than Americans do to the standard list of pesto ingredients: basil, pine nuts, parmesan cheese and garlic. My own first attempt with a lot of good olive oil just wasn’t right, so I started a more deliberate hunt for the secret. In the process, I stumbled on Ellie Krieger’s pesto recipe and consulted Rick Steves’ Italy, as well. With their guidance, I have discovered three secrets for making pesto that tastes almost as unforgettable as our Portovenere al fresco delight.

1. Lemons

The Italians grow amazing lemons along its mountainous coastline.

Cinque Terre lemons © The Gracious Posse

Big in the north, Italian lemons become mammoth as you move further south to Positano. Not just good for Italy’s ubiquitous limoncello, fresh lemon juice helps preserve

making pesto © The Gracious Posse

the spring green color of the pesto while lending a bit of fresh citrus to it.

2. Pecorino Cheese

Rick Steves revealed that the flavor of the Cinque Terre pesto is enhanced with an equal combination of parmigiano and pecorino cheeses. The sheep’s milk in the pecorino gives the pesto some tang, too, without overpowering the other ingredients. I now shred equal amounts of each with a Microplane Classic Zester/Grater.

3. Light Hand

In the past, I’ve just doused my pasta with all the pesto that I made in a batch. When my son complained that one of my concoctions tasted too basil-ey, I realized my error. Everything in moderation ~ especially to recreate the lightly coated pasta that we so enjoyed. You need to taste as you gradually fold your pesto into the pasta to get it just right.

With these 3 secrets now figured out, I’ve been whipping up pesto for more than just

trofie pasta alla Pontevenere pesto © The Gracious Posse

pasta. Ellie Krieger suggested it on potato salad, and I was thrilled to take

pesto potato salad © The Gracious Posse

this offering (recipe below) to Ellen’s Potluck. Then as I was contemplating dinner the other night, I thought of our family favorite, Chicken Tortellini Salad. Instead of the normal balsamic vinaigrette, I added

pesto on Chicken Tortellini Salad © The Gracious Posse

my Portovenere-Style Pesto while taking out the shredded basil that I normally include.

Now that I’ve got this recipe down, it takes me no time to whip up a batch. The hardest part is finding 3 loosely packed cups of basil. Fortunately,

bumper crop of basil © The Gracious Posse

Ellen has a bumper crop this year that I can harvest when I can’t get to

farmer’s market basil © The Gracious Posse

the farmer’s market.

Summer is the perfect time for making pesto. I may turn a little green, but Portovenere-Style Pesto will be making regular appearances at chez Fauls until the temperatures drop in the fall. Have you got any suggestions for what else will work great with this pesto?


July 21, 2014

Portovenere-Style Pesto
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  1. 1/4 cup pine nuts, toasted and cooled
  2. 1 clove garlic
  3. 3 cups fresh basil leaves, loosely packed
  4. ⅛ cup Parmigiano cheese, grated
  5. ⅛ cup Pecorini cheese, grated
  6. 1 T lemon juice
  7. ¼ cup olive oil
  8. ½ t salt (or to taste)
  9. freshly ground pepper to taste
  1. Add pine nuts and garlic to food processor and process until minced.
  2. Add the basil, cheeses and lemon juice and process until fully combined, stopping to scrape sides with spatula as needed. While processor is on, gradually pour the oil through the chute. Continue processing until well blended, while adding salt and pepper to taste.
  3. Fold into pasta gradually, tasting for light basil flavor.
The Gracious Posse http://thegraciousposse.com/
Pesto Potato Salad
Serves 8
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  1. 1½ lbs. red potatoes, washed and cut into bite size pieces
  2. Portovenere-Style Pesto
  1. Boil potatoes in salted water for 20 minutes or until fork tender. Drain, rinse with cold water and allow to drip dry in colander.
  2. Gently transfer potatoes to a large bowl and fold in ⅓ cup pesto until potatoes are well-coated. Taste and add up to ¼ more depending on how strongly flavored you want your potatoes.
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For Practically Stress-free Summer Entertaining Make It a Potluck

Summertime and the living is easy.

It’s too hot and erratic to plan fancy get-togethers. Who wants to get fancy anyway? Recently Ellen showed us how to host a gracious and easy summertime get-together complete with spouses.

summer potluck © The Gracious Posse

Choose a Weekday

First, she started by choosing a Thursday night. That night worked particularly well because her cleaning crew comes on Thursdays. Also, in these parts, summer weekends beckon people to the river, beach, mountains or children’s travel tournaments. Though my husband commented that it was a school night, he was glad to join the fun and, as always, was one of the last to leave.

Simply Email

Spur of the moment entertaining appeals to me because there is no time for over-the-top expectations. Ellen sent out a simple email to those she thought would be in town.

Hi all,

Please join Duncan and me for a potluck supper this Thursday night at 6:30. Once I know who’s coming, I’ll send out a sign-up so we don’t duplicate. We’ll provide BBQ and drinks.


Make It Potluck

mozzarella and strawberry appetizer at summer potluck © The Gracious Posse

The casual hostess need not feel obligated to provide every item at a dinner. In fact your posse wants to help if they can (that’s why they are your posse). Besides, how many of them have a “Gotta Try” file or Pinterest board filled with recipes that need guinea pigs? Potluck nights provide a great excuse to try one out like rBr did with this

Smoky Three-Bean Bake at summer potluck © The Gracious PosseSmoky Three-Bean Bake.

jCb was delighted to get creative with local produce in this

tomato salad at summer potluck © The Gracious PosseTomato Salad (recipe below).

Perfect Potluck makes creating a well-rounded menu easy. As hostess, Ellen provided the main course bbq from local favorite Buzz & Ned’s. She and LBD also provided the beverages. Ellen then fashioned the potluck sign-up to complement the bbq and provide sufficient provisions for the guests.

perfect potluck sign-up © The Gracious Posse

Minimal Decorations

potluck hydrangeas on the table © The Gracious Posse

Only a few summer flowers are necessary to complement your buffet table. Fortunately they are abundant and cheap, especially if they are growing in your own garden. Ellen cut hydrangeas for Ball jars and a few gardenias that had re-bloomed just in time for the evening.

Buffet with Paper Plates

potluck table © The Gracious Posse

Like I said, this potluck was not intended to be fancy. A simple buffet set-up with paper plates and bandanas for napkins added to the relaxed atmosphere and made clean-up a breeze. It’s always easier to get your spouse to pitch in when there is minimal fuss and stress, making it more likely you’ll do it again!

Just Do It

dNz's coconut cream pie © The Gracious PossedNz’s Toasted Coconut Pie

Too often I hesitate to entertain because I get overwhelmed by everything that I think needs to be done and offered to our guests. There’s a time and a place for that type of entertaining, but it’s not always necessary especially on a Thursday night in the summer. Ellen’s potluck evening proves that your posse will be thrilled to pitch in and make it a special night out for everyone, and I vow to do this myself this summer.

salutationa&eJuly 18, 2014

p.s. from Ellen ~ This potluck evening was not intended to be covered by The Gracious Posse, but it turned out to be blog-worthy because of its simplicity. Go ahead, potluck it!

Julie’s Tomato Salad
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  1. 6-8 tomatoes of different varieties - heirloom, Hanover etc - cut into bite sized pieces
  2. 1 large English cucumber - slices cut into quarters
  3. vidalia or sweet onion cut into half rings
  4. crumbled feta
  5. jar of kalamata olives, drained
  1. Balsamic vinegar
  2. good extra virgin olive oil
  3. Thyme or other herb
  4. Salt & pepper to taste
  1. Eyeball the proportion of salad ingredients based on number of people serving.
  2. Drizzle vinegar and oil over combined salad ingredients. Sprinkle herb and salt & pepper to taste. Blend well and allow to marinate for a few hours before serving.
The Gracious Posse http://thegraciousposse.com/