Book Recommendations for Quarantine
This hasn’t been a creative time for me AT ALL. Yes, we have the time, but the time is also surrounded by immense anxiety about the world, our families and ourselves, and doesn’t leave much room for creative inspiration. Never mind the lack of sleep and chronic nightmares. This is the first thing I’ve been able to write since the middle of March. I started off strong with my work outs, keeping up with my Italian, learning piano, and a month and a half later, stuck in a stuffy apartment, it takes effort to get myself to do these things. It’s the sluggishness and lethargy that comes with being cooped up for so long, stacked on top of missing and worrying about your family, and waiting for that unemployment and stimulus check that may never come.
The one thing that I’ve really gravitated towards during the quarantine is reading. Curling up with an amazing book in my cozy robe, wrapped in blanket with an adventurous story ahead of me gives me such peace and relaxation and a sense of accomplishment when I’m done. If the only thing I come out of quarantine with is a list of finished books, I am totally fine with that.
I figured I share some of my book recommendations to you in case you were looking for something to read. I have most of my books at my parents house (thanks parents for housing my extra stuff that could never fit in my New York City apartment). So these are the books I have here with me now. I really hope they bring you as much joy as they brought me!
By Elton John
Elton John’s autobiography was unexpectedly hilarious. It chronicles his rise to fame and also his personal trials and tribulations along the way. It feels like he’s your best friend regaling you with hysterical and at times really intense moments. I flew through this.
By Laura Hillenbrand
This is a serious page turner and a story that is heartbreaking but so full of resilience. It’s about the amazing WWII hero Louis Zamperini who in one life time was an Olympic track star, and a WWII soldier who survived the most horrific experiences. I don’t want to give too much away. This story is truly incredible!
Life, on the line
By Grant Achatz
You become fully invested in this book right away. All you need to know is that it’s about Chef Achatz, a person whose life revolves around creating dishes, who is diagnosed with tongue cancer. Highly recommend.
By Julie Andrews
If you’re a musical theater soul you will love this one. Julie Andrews takes you through her early days as a Variety show child star and into her Hollywood career. I found out while reading this that we had actually performed on the same stage, the Schubert Theater in New Haven! It was 60 years apart but still pretty awesome.
The Six Wives of Henry VIII
By Alison Weir
This is the incredible true story of Henry VIII and all of his tumultuous marriages. The story is so captivating, and written like a novel which is the best part about it. I read this book so fast and I’ve read all of the books written after to follow the lineage and the DRAMAAAA of the monarchy. All the follow up books are written by the same author, Alison Weir.
Marie Antoinette The Journey
By Antonia Fraser
This is the biography about the misunderstood Queen of France, Marie Antoinette. It starts with her early life, being ripped away from her family in Hungary at the age of 14 to marry a complete stranger in a country far away from her own, and ends with the French revolution. It paints her in a much different light than what we are used to hearing.
A Song of Ice and Fire
By George R.R. Martin
If you’re looking for a series to delve into then I 100% recommend Game of Thrones. Most people have already seen the show, but I would say that it diverges a bit from the books so I would try it out. I read it before I had watched any episodes and I thought it was phenomenally written. So much detail and passion in the writing. George R.R. Martin even wrote an index of all the houses and families so the reader could keep track. It was so intense I had to take breaks between each book and read something light because I was so deep into this violent though very entertaining world.
By J.K. Rowling
This one needs no introduction and I’m sure I’m not the only one who’s been reading Harry Potter in quarantine. YOU CAN’T NOT LOVE the wizarding world of Harry Potter! It’s full of magic and non stop adventure and makes you feel like an excited kid again. I’ve read through this series so many times and I’m so in awe of the world that J.K Rowling built. From the spells she created and the storyline from the first to the seventh book, she is a genius.
The Count of Monte Cristo
By Alexandre Dumas
Such a classic fast moving story of a man wrongly accused and his road to vengeance. It’s so thrilling and set in Europe which I always love. Where else are you going to go during quarantine? Hunker down with this one.
By Andy Weir
I picked up this book on a whim in a bookstore in Ireland. I had never heard of it nor do I have any real interest in space and science but I really loved it! It’s about a mission in space, something goes awry, and that’s all I will say. I was so impressed at how someone could be not only a great writer, but so knowledgable about space at such an in depth level. Major props on this one Mr. Weir.
The Godfather By
Better than the movie dare I say! Great story to get enveloped in.
This one will turn your soul inside out, especially if you are going through any of the three phases.
Falling in love, heartbreak, and healing. WOW.
The Girl With the Lower Back Tattoo
By Amy Schumer
I laughed so hard reading this book and was actually hysterically crying with laughter at some points. It’s full of stories about her life before and after fame. So worth reading especially if you need a pick me up!
By Sebastian Maniscalco
I really loved this one and read it in less than two days. He talks about his experiences before becoming a worldwide comedian and all the efforts it took to get there, including a tearful phone call to his mother asking for money from L.A. It’s really funny, honest and inspirational. Bonus points if you’re Italian and can understand the cultural references!
The Four Agreements and The Mastery of Love
By Don Miguel Ruiz
I love books that really make me think and reflect, that help me get out of negative habits and to appreciate things more. They are the kind of books that you just pick up every so often and read through again as a reminder to keep your chin up, be a good person and just allow yourself be happy damnit! The world has definitely screwed us up so it’s about unlearning all the BS we were taught to believe about ourselves. In my opinion, its not too new agey or hippy. I think it’s the perfect balance !
By Debora L. Spar
Written by former President of Barnard College, it discusses the role of women in the past 50 years, what has changed and what has not. It also talks about the challenges working moms face today, trying both to be 100% present as a mother and as an employee. What got me were the statistics of how many years men vs women spend grooming themselves over a lifetime. Makes me never want to waste time brushing my hair again! A GREAT read.
The War of Art
By Steven Pressfield
I really loved this book. It highlights the resistance you feel when you are pursuing anything that will bring you from an amateur to a professional. One of my favorite parts, "Henry Fonda was still throwing up before each stage performance, even when he was 75. In other words, fear doesn't go away. The warrior and the artist live by the same code of necessity, which dictates that the battle must be fought anew every day."
How to be a Bawse
By Lilly Singh
She just had so many nuggets of wisdom for up and coming entertainers. She’s funny, really honest and transparent about her struggles, plus she was an underdog who knew no one in the industry and got to where she is today. She went from being completely unknown to collaborating with her idol, The Rock!
The Success Principals
By Jack Canfield
He was the creator of the Chicken Soup for the Soul Series, which was a huge series when I was young. He pitched it to over 100 editors they all said no but one. That editor is the reason why he was able to get his message to the world. So keep pushing people!
Rise and Grind
By Damon John
The one thing that stuck with me from this book was when he talked about being 20 years old and making over $1000 a week being a club promoter.
He said, “I was making money but I wasn’t making progress.” That woke me up.
Wake Up Happy
By Michael Strahan
I love Michael Strahan’s attitude. After practice, he would stay on the field hours longer, working harder than all his teammates to be the best. What I loved was his advice of making your alarm clock go off to a song that you love, so you don’t feel irritated first thing in the morning. It really was a game changer. No more annoying iPhone dings that make me want to throw my phone at the wall!
What are some of your book recommendations!? Let me know !
This past week I flew to Arizona from New York to do a show. Literally one show. It was actually the shorter version so it was 90 minutes long. So yes I flew across the entire country to do a 90 minute show. But listen, when you’re freelance, and it’s a dry time, no desert pun intended, you WILL FLY 6 HOURS TO DO A 90 MINUTE SHOW.
On the plus side, the cast decided to take a red eye home the next night so we were able to explore the area. And by explore the area I mean spend all the money I made flying to Arizona in the first place. But at least I got to see some really cool stuff!
We spent the day in an awesome resurrected/rebuilt ghost town called Goldfield.
In 1892 gold was discovered here and the town grew to about 4,000 people. Five years later the gold ran out and the town was deserted. It briefly came back to life when new mining methods were created before eventually becoming an official ghost town in the 1920’s. In 1943 an accidental fire destroyed most of the town. It wasn’t until the 1980’s that someone bought the property and created an exact replica of the old town from the 1890s, whorehouses and all!
Entrance to the town and parking is free. You can purchase tickets for tours and other things you want to do once inside.
Here are some of the fun things to do in Goldfield!
Eat at The Mammoth Saloon
Enjoy live music sung by a cowboy and down your prickly pear margarita with a side of golden nuggets all while taking in the gorgeous mountain range and array of cactuses, cactii??
Visit the Siphon Draw Apothecary
This was one of my favorite things in Goldfield. I’m a sucker for natural creations and remedies and I could have spent hours in this little shop. Hand made soaps and bath bombs, natural deodorants and chapstick, herbal teas blended locally in Arizona, raw local honey and so much more. I left with 5 shower bombs that the clerk infused with a sinus relief essential oil blend, and of course a hair and scalp treatment called “Horsetail” because I’m still hoping I’ll get that Disney princess hair one day.
Take a tour of Lulu’s Bordello
This was definitely a highlight! The tour was only $4 and the history behind it was incredible. Women lost husbands who went to mine for gold out west and had to make a living for themselves. They were lucky if they had the education to be a school teacher or nurse, but if they weren’t they worked at the bordello, sleeping with 30-50 men a day! Inside the bordello are actual coins bought at the local saloon and used at the bordello. Fun fact, the women used these coins as an IUD so they wouldn't get pregnant!
Forget about calories and give in to that sweet tooth!
Stop into the Miner’s Grill and Ice cream Parlor, the Cantina Bakery or the Fudge Shop. The scent of warm waffles cones and cinnamon buns will make your eyes spin in your head like a cartoon character!
Walk through Church on the Mount
There are actual services held here on Sundays, and the inside is beautiful with pews built in 1931.
Shoot a Gun
See how many moving targets you can hit in the Eagle Eye shooting gallery. Compete with your friends to see who can get the highest score!
There’s so many more colorful and fun shops where you can buy art, handmade jewelry, hot sauces, precious stones and a ton of other things to do including horseback riding, a train ride around the town or watching a gunfight between cowboys! (on the weekends)
After we spent the day at Goldfield we headed to the Scottsdale entertainment district that was buzzing with people and packed with bars and restaurants.
We sat down and enjoyed delicious wines at the LDV Winery Tasting Room.
I would recommend it as a relaxing place to sit on the patio with a glass of wine while the sun is setting just before you head out to dinner.
Any of the neighboring restaurants looked amazing, but we were hopping on that red eye (remember how I did all this plus a show in a day and a half?!) so we wanted to find something on the way to the airport.
Cotton & Copper
This spot caught our eye because of their use of quality local ingredients and really interesting menu items like rabbit and spatzle, roasted quail salad, corn dumplings and jalapeño lasagna! Of course we HAD to start with a basket of their assorted house made breads with compound butter. Unbelievable!!!
Thanks for hanging with this starving actress!
We New Yorkers just love to go off about the hot summers and frigid winters but let’s be real. We live in the best place because we get to experience seasons! They break up the year, give us something to look forward to and come with their own slew of fun unique activities. As much as I’m missing the warmth of summer, I’m so excited about the fall. Fresh crisp air, crunching leaves, pumpkins, apple picking, sweaters, candles, beautiful foliage, Halloween and of COURSE wineries!
I just visited Warwick Winery in upstate New York and had the most relaxing day. Here’s what you can find at this cozy winery
On the outdoor patio for only $6, you can sample up to 5 wines in a beautiful Warwick Winery wine glass that you get to keep! They also do tastings for ciders and spirits. My favorite was their white Harvest Moon. Just be sure to get there earlier in the day because it can get pretty busy.
A tractor picks you up at the winery and takes you on a ride to the apple orchard. There’s all different types of apples and the tractor ride plus 20-25lbs of apples cost $30. The best part is OBVIOUSLY the bag of apple cider donuts! $6 for 5!
This winery is loaded with different food options. They have a grill with things like burgers and BBQ and lord help us, truffle fries. They also have a homemade ice cream truck, and all different kinds of delicious pizza. The pizza lines can get crazy so I suggest packing some snacks while you wait so your hanger doesn’t cause you to smash every wine glass in the place. Just me? Ok then!
Enjoy your wine and pizza with some fun live music, and after a few glasses you’ll be joining the rest of the drunken dancers up in the front!
Take Your Favorite Wine Home
Pick up your favorite wine from the store inside, they are all under $17! Put up your feet and enjoy it in the comfort of your own home!
There’s also a lot of pumpkin patches along the way to the winery if you want to add pumpkin picking to your day!
Ah, Washington. Home of the space needle, Nirvana, Pearl Jam, and of course Twilight.
Ok fine there’s definitely more to credit this beautiful state with other than Edward Cullen. But come on, have you seen how perfect he is? YOU JUST CAN’T FIND LOVE LIKE THAT IN REAL LIFE.
Anyway, I’ve always wanted to go to Seattle because in my east coast mind the Pacific North West sounded so exotic. Dreary and rainy, the place that kickstarted the grunge movement. It all sounded so emo and dramatic, so I parted my hair over my face, packed my bags and set out to the Emerald City.
Seattle is a place where you can lose yourself exploring the bustling metropolitan areas and also take advantage of the incredible natural surroundings. They don’t call it the Emerald City for nothing. Here are some of the things I loved and recommend!
Visit Pike Place Market and book a food tour
This amazing market place is 111 years old and it’s famous sign is the oldest neon sign on the west coast! It’s a winding maze of fruit stands, restaurants, crafts, bookstores and so much fresh seafood, another thing the Pacific North West is famous for. You peruse for hours hearing live musicians busking on the corner, the fisherman shouting and throwing fish to one another, the smell of freshly baked bread wafting from the Russian bakery. Around the corner is the famous gum wall, the second germiest tourist attraction in the world! (The first is the Blarney Stone that people kiss in Ireland) Gross!
I recommend booking a food tour with Savoring Seattle. The passionate tour guides give you a fun history lesson and of course show you the best bites around the market. After I finished the tour and stuffed myself with doughnuts, crab cakes, mac and cheese, chocolate and god knows what else, I bought some used books, art for my apartment and hand made souvenirs for everyone back home. The one spot you DO NOT want to miss is the Russian bakery Piroshky Piroshky. They sell savory and sweet hand held pies and the dough is so buttery and luxurious you’ll never look at a pastry the same again. I got the smoked salmon and the cinnamon roll both incredible and rich and I wish I could carry the little chef back to New york with me. Truly some of the best I’ve ever had.
See an improv show
The Market theater right around the corner, nestled safely between two gum walls, is home to some great improv. Have an espresso martini next door at il Bistro or a delicious sushi dinner at Umi Sake House then head over to the theater and get ready to laugh your a** off!
Buy A City Pass
For $99 I would highly recommend getting a City Pass which allows you into 5 different tourist attractions. Each ticket individually is over $30 so it’s well worth the money!
Go to the top of the Space needle (City Pass)
You can’t venture out to Seattle and skip the iconic landmark built in 1962 for the World’s Fair. Take the elevator to the very top and get a gorgeous view of the entire city through the open air glass walls. You can sit on one of the benches and take it all in with a glass of wine in hand from the indoor cafe. On the way down stop in to see The Loupe which is a revolving glass floor. The city moves beneath your feet and it’s a total mind trip!
The Museum of Pop Culture (City Pass)
Also known as MoPOP, this was on of my favorite attractions! It had everything I loved, music, movies and literature. There were exhibits dedicated to Pearl Jam, Nirvana, Hendrix and Prince. With clothes, hand written notes, videos and lots of history. After the music, I ventured into the horror movie exhibit, which was incredibly designed. I felt freaked out walking down the red lit stairs and hearing screams! They had props from some of the biggest movies like the mask from Halloween, the axe from The Shining and Gizmo from Gremlins.
In another area there’s a sound lab with all types of instruments set up and you can jam by yourself or with friends. I spent hours in this museum, I absolutely loved it.
Walk through the Chihuly Garden and Glass Exhibition (City Pass)
Right next to the MoPOP is a gorgeous exhibit of hand blown glass sculptures by Dale Chihuly, a Pacific North West local. These are stunning colorful sculptures and worth taking the time to walk through and see first hand.
Take an Argosy Cruise (City Pass)
Is there anything better than a boat ride and a drink? This is a beautiful way to see Seattle, the shipping ports and Puget Sound. Sail around the bay (with cocktails in hand) and enjoy the the 1 hour narrated cruise about Seattle and all it’s history.
The Seattle Aquarium (City Pass)
Who doesn’t love a good ol’ aquarium? If you love sea life or just want to get the most out of your city pass, enjoy the aquarium which is just a couple of blocks away from the Argosy Cruise.
Visit the dispensaries
Seattle is neck and neck with Denver as one of country’s longest standing recreational pot scenes. There are over 50 dispensaries and because it’s legal, its pretty cheap. I had never been to one before and as a New Yorker where marajuana is very illegal, I was blown away. You just walk right in like it’s a CVS and buy whatever you want. A joint, a drink, a pack of brownies. It’s all there for the taking. Whether or not it’s your thing, it’s still pretty cool to see it so out in the open like that!
Go on a hike
Like I mentioned, Seattle is nick named the Emerald City because of its beautiful greenery year round. Going on this hike (to Rattlesnake Ledge) had to be one of the highlights of my trip.
Walking the trails and being surrounded by those Pacific North West trees was an immediate de stressor from my hectic NYC life! I made sure to stop and really take it all in. The sound of the birds, the way the sun came through the trees, the crunch of the gravel under my hiking boots. It was perfect. The view from the top was absolutely mind blowing! I wasn’t prepared for how gorgeous it would be. I sat there for the next hour with my triple decker peanut butter and banana sandwich and it was pure relaxing bliss. There’s a ton of different hikes you can do including a day trip to Mt. Rainer, which is an active volcano.
There’s a lot of water sports you can do out in Seattle including kayaking, and stand up paddle boarding. Throw on a bathing and hit the water. We kayaked around Lake Union where you can pass by beautiful floating homes. Yes people actually live in these homes in the water! Feel the sun and the breeze and enjoy a lap around this beautiful lake. When you’re done, grab some delicious fish and chips for lunch at Ivar’s!
Enjoy the wine at Woodinville Wine Country
Home to over a 100 wineries and tasting rooms, there’s no shortage of delicious wines here. Sit outside, pour yourself a glass (or a bottle) and order a pizza as you listen to some live music.
Visit this beautiful park for a great view of Seattle. Then walk around the Queen Ann neighborhood (where Frasier the tv character lives) and enjoy all the incredible homes (that were way out of my price range)
I’m so glad I got to check Seattle off my bucket list. It was truly better than I even expected and it's a vacation destination I would highly recommend. It’s also safe and perfect for a solo trip like mine!
Have you ever been to Seattle, or want to go? Let me know in the comments. Thanks for reading!
“Forte e Gentile,” strong and gentle. That’s the motto of the people of Abruzzo, the region of Italy where my father grew up. As a kid, I would fall asleep every night to stories of his hometown in the southern mountains, where he would walk miles to get to school and where he was so poor he was sent to ask the neighbors for food. But despite this, he reflects on his childhood as if it was the happiest of times, full of adventure. Running through the pitch black mountains with his friends, dancing on table tops to make his mother laugh, a woman who was dealing with her own hardships having a husband off in the army, no steady income and losing two children. I go back to Abruzzo every summer, and each time, the older women take my hands as they reminisce about how generous my grandmother was, and how she was always smiling. That is exactly what “Forte e Gentile” means to me.
I met Tommaso Conte, chef and owner of D’Abruzzo NYC when I was doing pretastings with vendors for “The World’s Fare,” an international food festival in Queens. He invited the team and I into his home and prepared a hearty meal of polenta with sausage, pollotte, arrosticini, baccala, and other delicious Abruzzese dishes. It felt like home immediately, the sheer amount of food, the aromas, the energy, the conversation. I held my second glass of homemade red as we went outside to check out the grill where the star of D’Abruzzo NYC, the arrosticini, (lamb skewers) were being cooked. I’d only ever seen and eaten arrosticini in Abruzzo so I was incredibly excited that Tommaso was on a mission to bring this authentic regional cuisine to NYC.
The lamb is 70% meat 30% fat, butchered and skewered by hand. It’s assembled in a meat fat meat fat pattern, grilled to tender perfection with a hit of salt, and completely melts in your mouth. I can almost guarantee you haven’t had anything like it before.
As if that’s not enough to make your mouth water, he created a “lamb sammy” with the arrosticini, using grilled ciabatta bread, melty stracchino cheese, sweet housemade fig jam, olio santo (for heat) red onion and arugula. It’s an incredible flavor profile when it all comes together in that first crunchy melty sweet bite, and it perfectly encapsulates the “salt, fat, acid and heat” combination
He also sells pizzelles, an Abruzzese cookie that looks a like a thin waffle. I grew up with these at every family occasion. Eating them after dinner as the adults had their coffee and the cousins ran around chasing each other. They are light and airy and you can eat them by the dozen. D’Abbruzzo NYC has them plain or sandwiching fresh Nutella.
What I love more than anything about D’Abruzzo NYC, is that Tommaso carries on his grandfather’s traditions by making his own wine and tomato sauce, and growing vegetables in his garden with actual seeds passed down from his Abruzzese grandfather. I’ve seen first hand that this is much more than a business; it’s passion, it’s sacred. It’s keeping a family legacy alive, and every single arrosticini is skewered and cooked with an immense amount of love and care. Though they are sold in batches, Tommaso leans over the fiery grill overseeing that each one is roasted perfectly. I recognize that passion when I watch my grandmother in her garden. She’s 88 years old and the joy she gets from growing her vegetables and feeding her family is unmatched. It’s a gift to experience something so special.
Abruzzo is a region known for the strength of it’s people through hard times, and a place where nothing goes to waste. My dad told me that he ate stale bread every night because even if his mother was able to buy a fresh loaf, they would always finish what they had yesterday first. It’s so important for Italians, immigrants and first generation people like me, that this food that is so valued by its people, is being introduced and respected by a new international audience.
Thank you Tommaso!
In 2018, D’Abruzzo NYC won the Vendy award, and Best Vendor at The World’s Fare. These arrosticini are NOT to be missed!!
Catch D’Abruzzo NYC at Bryant Park’s Winter Village until January 2nd, and Saturday’s at Smorgasburg.
Follow D’Abruzzonyc on Instagram for more details!