12.31.2008

Foodie Books for Kids: the Last-Day-of-2008 Edition!

It's time for another edition of Foodie Books for Kids! There are a few of these that I read ages ago and some that I've just discovered:

- Pizza for the Queen by Nancy Castaldo, illustrated by Mélisande Potter (Holiday House, 2005). I actually tripped upon this one while looking for Today is Monday by Eric Carle. It's pretty wordy but beautifully written - true food writing. The illustrations aren't my favorite style but it works.

- How My Parents Learned to Eat by Ina Friedman, illustrated by Allen Say (Houghton Mifflin, 1984). I hadn't read this one in years, and I was delighted to re-discover it. The idea of food as a means of courtship and a basis for a relationship is priceless.

- Bee-Bim Bop by Linda Sue Park, illustrated by Ho Baek Lee (Clarion, 2005). Quite frankly, I am not a fan of the cutesy rhyming text. However, the illustrations are full of fun and movement, and I particular enjoy the depiction of food as a family ritual, as well as the focus on food as culturally and generationally significant.

- Fast Food by Joost Elffers and Saxton Freymann (Levine, 2006). I don't know that this could be called a foodie book - I do expect some food descriptions and food writing, and the text here is all about different types of movement. However, the characters made out of food is undeniably fun and gives a whole new meaning to "playing with your food." And this has lots of appeal for toddlers (budding foodies...) as well as school-age kids.


Eat, drink, and use chopsticks as well as a knife and fork.
Other Foodie Books for Kids posts:

Most Improved Cover 2008: The Glitch in Sleep

Here is the cover for the 2007 hardcover edition of The Seems: Glitch in Sleep by John Hulme and Michael Wexler (Bloomsbury USA):



It left me scratching my head. It's very busy with the pipes at the top (are they pipes?), the lettering, the wrench, the saying around the wrench, and then the houses. Wha...?

Then came the 2008 paperback edition (Bloomsbury USA):


Much improved, dontchya think? It has much more kid appeal. And apparently Bloomsbury USA realized this because here is the 2008 hardcover sequel, The Split Second:


Bravo to Bloomsbury! And just in case you haven't had enough, look at THIS*:



* Taken from the authors' website: The Seems.

12.30.2008

Favorite Covers 2008: Baron Von Baddie and the Ice Ray Incident



Baron Von Baddie and the Ice Ray Incident by George McClements (Harcourt)

The cover made me laugh, the title made me laugh, and the story made me laugh. And any book in 2008 that made me laugh got major brownie points.


12.29.2008

Sometimes it's fun to come back from vacation...

I need to forewarn you that I'll be blogging little this week - I'm working all week, my mother-in-law is in town, and I'm cooking and eating a lot.
I do want to share a couple of book-ish things that greeted me at my desk this morning. First, I was ecstatic to have a galley of Almost Astronauts waiting for me. I'm ultra-excited about this one!

Second, I had a galley of this book waiting for me:

And that cover scares the sheez-it out of me. Make it go away! Which is probably the vibe the designer was going for...and they succeeded.

Lastly, I found out that the new Georgia Nicolson book is coming out June 2009!!!! Blimey O'Reilly! At this point, HarperCollins isn't giving up a name, only "Georgia Nicolson 10" and this is the only cover art I've seen:

Between this and The Luxe*, HarperCollins is showing little regard for how impatient I can be! Oh, the long wait begins...
* ONLY FOUR MORE WEEKS!

12.23.2008

Christmas Day menu

This Christmas Day it will be only Adam, Kiddo, and me.  If you knew both our extended families, you would know how strange this is going to feel – I’m so used to having lots of family around and lots of noise. 

Luckily, we have our urban family.  In particular, we have Lori and Josh.  They actually do have family in town for the holidays, but they have graciously invited us to join them for dinner on Christmas Day.  I feel completely blessed to have a chosen family with whom I can share my daily joys and trials…and with whom I share endless amounts of food.

 Josh is a skilled gourmand, and some of my favorite meals have been at his table.  So he’s putting in about twelve hours of cooking between tomorrow and Christmas Day to create a veritable feast for all of us.  Check out the menu:

String beans and pecans, roasted, tossed with goat cheese and dried cranberries
Roasted squash and sweet potato soup with blue cheese drizzle
Slow-roasted ham with brown sugar glaze
Homemade noodles
Roasted broccoli w/ garlic, lemon, and parmesan
Roasted new potatoes with rosemary and thyme
Mac 'n' cheese with shiitake and cremini mushrooms and truffle oil
Cranberry sauce

Apple pie
Lemon-meringue pie
Salty White Chocolate Oatmeal Cookies

We’re bringing two bottles of Rioja to drink with dinner, recommended by the trustworthy folks at Chelsea Wine Vault (I was thinking Pinot Noir or Côtes du Rhône…I was shocked when Adam came home with Rioja).  Adam is beer shopping at Whole Foods and he’ll bring a couple bottles that compliment the meal.  Kiddo…well, Kiddo is hopefully bringing her more adventurous eating personality.  The one that wolfs down smoked salmon and clams…rather than the one that won’t touch a speck of parsley.  Here’s hoping!

Happy holidays to all of you!  And the very best in 2009!

Cooking: a new adventure every day

A couple months ago, Michael Ruhlman blogged about the reissue of Fernand Point’s Ma Gastronomie. Ruhlman shared some gems from the book, but my favorite quote was actually shared by a commenter: "Every morning the cuisinier must start again at zero, with nothing on the stove. That is what real cuisine is all about.”

This statement entirely sums up my feelings about cooking. Every day is something new, every day could bring a brilliant discovery. I’m never bored: if I’m not trying a new recipe then I’m playing around with an old one. There’s always a new wine/food combo to try. Each season brings different produce and flavors.

On the flip side, with the start of each day, any culinary failures I previously had, any culinary sins I may have committed, are a thing of the past. This just might be the day when I make a successful soufflé. You never know.

Michael Ruhlman* is going to be speaking at the Institute of Culinary Education. Anyone want to go with me?


* I'm enamored with his book The Elements of Cooking. Excellent resource for the novice foodie.

"Oh, honey, you shouldn't have!"

Adam and I have been married for 11 ½ years and I have to admit that we’re showing our age. Physically, of course, but also in the area of gift-giving.

We’ve struggled with gift-giving, for multiple reasons, for our entire 15-year relationship. But this year just seemed more difficult than most. Come this past Sunday night and we still had nothing for one another…with Christmas three days away.

Obviously, we laughed: if this was the most serious problem in our marriage (which it is) then we had to admit that we’re doing pretty good. But we also knew that we needed to pay this some serious attention.

So here is our gift to each other: A class together at the Institute of Culinary Education*. Here is the description of Gourmet Breakfasts:

Start your day in style with four-star breakfasts that will transform even the dreariest morning into a celebration. Pastry Chef-Instructor Chad Pagano will lead you through the steps of sophisticated dishes such as Cornmeal Blinis with Homemade Fig Preserves, Poached Mission Figs and Hand-Whipped Cream; Eggs Benedict with Smoked Salmon and Dill Cream Cheese; Three-Cheese Frittata (fresh mozzarella, Grana Padano, Parmigiano Reggiano) served with Roasted Red Peppers, Pesto and Broccoli Rabe Sausage; Potato Fritter Pancakes with Foie Gras and Balsamic Syrup; Poached Eggs served with Toasted brioche, Spinach, Cabot Cheddar Sauce and Center Cut Hickory Smoked Bacon; Croissant French Toasts Stuffed with Goat Cheese, Herbs, and Champagne Grapes; and Mushroom Omelet with Shiitake, Portobello, Cremini, and Oyster Mushrooms, served over an Onion Marmalade.

And we’ll be taking the class on a holiday while Kiddo is at day camp. So it’ll be a lovely holiday-weekday thing…thus we don’t have to pay for a babysitter. Perfect.

Eat, drink, and do so with your life partner.


*ICE also has gift certificates, in case you're looking for a last-minute gift.

Favorite Covers 2008: Violet the Pilot


Violet the Pilot by Steve Breen (Dial)
Colorful, funny, action-packed, clever...this book was made to be put on display. The glorious thing is that, once kids take it off the shelf and look inside, they won't be disappointed. Fantastic perspectives, loads of humor, and nonstop action sequences await them. This is one my favorite books for the whole year.

12.22.2008

Foodie Books for Kids: Madame Pamplemousse and her Incredible Edibles



Do you talk with young fans of the movie Ratatouille? Maybe…maybe not…as it was *such* an adult film. Nevertheless, Madame Pamplemousse and Her Incredible Edibles by Rupert Kingfisher (Bloomsbury USA, 2008) is a good book recommendation for those kids that love food, Paris, Ratatouille, dastardly villains, quaint stories…or a combination of these.

Madeleine (of course!) spends every summer working for her sinister Uncle Lard in his touristy, despicable Paris restaurant, The Squealing Pig. Naturally, Madeleine would slaughter Uncle Lard should they be pitted against each other in an Iron Chef competition…and Uncle Lard knows this, which is why Madeleine is relegated to dishwashing and errand-running all summer long. It is on a shopping trip for pâté that she follows a white cat (yes, there’s totally a parallel between this and Lewis Carroll’s White Rabbit) into a rundown shop tucked away in a dark alley. Madeleine meets Madame Pamplemousse who gives her “Pâté of North Atlantic Sea Serpent with Green Peppercorn Mustard”. Afraid of Mme Pamplemousse, Madeleine quickly pays for the pâté and runs away. Unbeknownst to Uncle Lard, the mysterious pâté is fed to his customers. They swoon, mistake Uncle Lard as the chef responsible, and he skyrockets to super-stardom in the Parisian restaurant scene.

What follows is something very similar to Ratatouille: eventually, the world finds out that Madeleine is a great cook and Uncle Lard is a fraud. We find out that Mme Pamplemousse’s edibles evoke warm memories and feelings in those who eat it (Remember the scene in Ratatouille when the critic remembers scenes from his boyhood upon eating a bite of Remy’s ratatouille dish?). Naturally, the ending is happy and lovely.

You librarians will know what I’m talking about when I say this is not a “circbuster”. However, it shouldn’t be overlooked. It’s a frothy, light gem of a story, perfect for the more serious and quieter intermediate reader who wants a cozy read. It has a delicate, subtle quality to it that we often associate with la belle France.

The illustrations by Sue Hellard suit the story perfectly – they have that refined line and quality that remind one of picture book art from another era. Some might find it odd that Uncle Lard is drawn as an anthropomorphic pig and the food critic (again, Ratatouille anyone?) is drawn as a weird beak-nosed, sunglass-wearing creature; this could confuse young readers. Ultimately, though, I enjoyed Hellard’s approach: I don’t believe Uncle Lard or Monsieur Langoustine actually looks like this, but Hellard was capturing their core personalities and depicting them physically. It’s quirky…which is so French.

The food writing? Wonderful. Kingfisher describes fantastical bottles in Mme Pamplemousse’s shop and the reader will wish they could peruse the shop themselves, exploring its nooks and crannies and all the food within. There are two passages that I particularly loved, and I want to share them both. Here is the first:

It took a moment for her to adjust to the candlelight, but what she noticed first was the smell. A cool, musty odour, like the air in an old church – but one that was made entirely out of cheese. She could detect a deeper, spicier note beneath that was warm and exotic and reminded her of a Middle Eastern bazaar. But that was not all, for Madeleine had a highly developed nose; there was also a scent like lavender that has been drying in hot sunlight.

Um, I can’t recall ever before getting such a tremendous sense of place through the smells described to me in a book. But I certainly did here. And the second passage:

But even though Madame Pamplemousse sells the most delicious food ever tasted, her shop is by no means famous in the city of Paris. And nor would she ever want it to be. For she makes enough to get by and is happy each day to awake at dawn, drink a small black coffee and open up her shop, serving her customers and meeting with her suppliers. And come sundown she likes nothing better than to sit on her balcony above the rooftops with her cat, Camembert, discussing the day’s events over a bottle of Violet-Petal Wine.

Now, I don’t know what Violet-Petal Wine is but don’t you wish you could try some??? Me too. This is about the only passage that delves into Mme Pamplemousse’s character, but it’s just the perfect amount. It’s restrained, telling you enough but not too much. Again, so French.

I loved this book, and it might just be my favorite non-picture foodie book for kids thus far. Which is saying a tremendous amount, as I loved Dear Julia and The Year the Swallows Came Early. In fact, I might be doing all three of these books a disservice by comparing them, as they are all so very different from one another. Want to read good food writing and a book for young people? Madame Pamplemousse, Dear Julia, and The Year the Swallows Came Early are the go-to recently published books.

Eat, drink, and dream of Violet-Petal Wine.


Slightly OT: Jose Cuervo Christmas Cookies

Hey, maybe I should start baking! Thanks to the Husband for making me laugh!


Jose Cuervo Christmas Cookies

1 cup of water
1 tsp baking soda
1 cup of sugar
1 tsp salt
1 cup of brown sugar
1 cup of lemon juice
4 large eggs
1 cup nuts
2 cups dried fruit
1 bottle of Jose Cuervo Tequila

Sample the Cuervo to check quality. Take a large bowl, check Cuervo again to be sure it is of the highest quality - pour one level cup and drink. Turn on the electric mixer........Beat one cup of butter in a large fluffy bowl. Add one tsp of sugar..........beat again.

At this point it is best to make sure that the Cuervo is still okay, try another cup.........just in case. Turn off the mixerer thingy. Break 2 leggs and add to the bowl and chuck in the cup of dried fruit. Pick the friggin fruit up off the floor...........Mix on the turner. If the fried druit gets stuck in the beaterers, just pry it loose with a drewscriver. Sample the Cuervo to check for tonsisticity.

Next, sift two cups of salt, or something. Who giveshz a sheet. Check the Jose Cuervo.

Now shift the lemon juice and strain your nuts. Add one table. Add a spoon of sugar, or somefink. Whatever you can find. Greash the oven. Turn the cake tin 360 degrees, and try not to fall over. Don't forget to beat off the turner. Finally, throw the bowl through the window, finish the Cose Juervo, and make sure to put the stove in the dishwasher.

CHERRY MISTMAS!!!!!

ENJOY!!!!

Thinking about the Honeysuckle Rouge...

It's that time of year. The time of year when I cease to get anything done and just start doing things for pleasure...or when I force myself to be idle for a change. My attention span is zero because there are just so many fun things to be doing and I want to do it all Now. With that in mind, here are a few of the things I've been looking at today:

- Let's start off with The One That Freaked Me Out. Apparently, my Biggest Phobia has come true. I got the link from Ananka's Diary (aka Kirsten Miller) butI can't bring myself to thank her for it. I'm terrified.

- Fuse #8 has a fantabulous review up for the new Sesame Street book, Street Gang: the Complete History of Sesame Street by Michael Davis. I'm with Betsy: that title is awesome and I can't believe they got away with it. I'm adding this title to the top of my teetering reading list...or very near the top.

- Apparently there are places in the world where it is not 28 degrees with 45 mile-per-hour winds. It's called Australia and Justine Larbalestier is bragging about all the lovely produce she's getting this time of year in her homeland. I'm not so jealous now, as I'm still enamored with butternut squash, apples, and pears. But come March...I'll be revisiting her post and turning green with envy.

- Thought my what-to-drink-with-children's-literature post was the mumblings of a functioning alcoholic? Not so fast! The New Yorker has come up with a cocktail - Honeysuckle Rouge - inspired by Winnie the Pooh. Tequila, honey, red wine reduction...oh my! See, I'm not the only one who comes up with stuff like this!

- I've been staying out of this whole debate about the Newbery award for multiple reasons. However, I have to link to this article at Slate: "Captain Underpants Doesn't Need a Newbery Medal" by Erica S. Perl. Yeah, what she said.
And that has been my morning. More to come this afternoon!
Eat, drink, and try a Honeysuckle Rouge.

12.19.2008

Favorite Covers 2008: Too Many Toys


Too Many Toys by David Shannon (Blue Sky)


As if the bright colors weren't enough, the maniacal toy-crazed look in that kid's eyes should snag you into picking this book up. The great use of white space makes everything else pop out that much more. Shannon proves once again that he totally *gets* kids.

12.17.2008

Favorite Covers of 2008: Rumors

You didn't expect me to go entirely lee-ter-ah-ture on you, did you?

Rumors by Anna Godbersen (HarperCollins)

I have costuming friends (you know who are you...Lori, Laura, and Gillian) who rag on these covers for not being appropriate for the period, blah, blah, blah.  But when I get 'em in a corner they'll agree with me: they're visually stunning.  My job dropped when I saw this, as it did when I saw the first one.

Now I have to wait just over ONE MONTH until Envy comes out!  Maybe they'll have galleys at ALA Midwinter...hoping, hoping, hoping...  

Want to save money? Give him THIS for the holidays!

I have been going on and on and ON about how much I love Joanne Harris' and Fran Warde's cookbooks.  I'm a friggin broken record.  But, ah, I've had an ace up my sleeve, the pièce de résistance to show off how truly awesome these books are.

Remember Chocolat (the movie)?  When Juliette Binoche (whose wardrobe in this movie I want for my very own) makes the hot chocolate for Judi Dench?  Of course it has the chili pepper in it and, upon first sip, Judi Dench gets that sexy smile and laughs that deep sexy laugh.  Who knew that Judi Dench could be sexy?  It must be the hot chocolate.

Without further ado, I give you - from My French Kitchen - Vianne's Spiced Hot Chocolate:



* the crowd goes WILD! *

My pictures suck as usual but all I have to say is...DAMN.  This was amazing.  I'll just give you the recipe and you'll understand what I mean:

1 1/2 c. milk
1/2 vanilla bean, cut in half lengthwise
1/2 cinnamon stick
1 hot red chile, halved and seeded
3 1/2 oz bittersweet (70 percent) chocolate
Brown sugar to taste (optional - I left it out and encourage you to)
Whipped cream, chocolate curls, cognac or Amaretto, to serve

Place milk in a saucepan, add the vanilla bean, cinnamon stick, and chile, and gently bring to a "shivering simmer" for 1 minute.  Grate the chocolate and whisk it in until it melts (I didn't grate it - I had those bite-size chocolate pieces and just added them in one by one).  If you're adding brown sugar (don't do it!), this is the point where you put it in.  Take off heat and allow it to infuse for 10 minutes (this is where it gets all thick like molasses...in the best way possible).  Remove the vanilla, cinnamon, and chile.  Return to the heat and bring gently back to a simmer.  Serve in mugs topped with whipped cream, chocolate curls, or a dash of cognac or Amaretto.

We only used the whipped cream (homemade, of course), and I don't see myself ever adding in the cognac or Amaretto.   The hot chocolate was perfect without it and one doesn't mess with perfection.  And I don't mind adding that drinking this with Adam after Kiddo went to bed was downright sexy.  Seriously, you must try this.

Eat, drink, and indulge in perfection.

Favorite covers of 2008*: Lincoln and his Boys


There are two things about this cover: 1) this picture does it no justice - it's even more stunning in person with its matte cover that begs you to touch it and feel the textures, and 2) this is a prime example of why I love P.J. Lynch.  Lynch is everything in an artist that I want Jerry Pinkney to be: impressionistic but solid, detailed but sacrificing no emotion.

I hadn't intended on doing a Favorite Covers list, but this one has inspired me.  I'll be posting more soon.

* I didn't realize until halfway through this post that this is technically an '09 book.  But it's sitting on my desk at work, in final copy, right now, in 2008.  So there you go.

12.16.2008

Flourless Poppy Seed Cake

I blogged about Clotilde's Flourless Poppy Seed Cake here.  And it was delivered to me as a gift today:


Thank you so much, Kathryn!  It's about time I get to use the cake plate that sits in the back of my cabinet!

Eat, drink, and be thankful for friends!

Foodie Books for Kids: More baking fun!

A couple of new foodie books for kids are coming out in the next few months:

Yum, Yum: What Fun! by Mara Bergman, illustrated by Nick Maland (Greenwillow, Jan 2009)

and 

Pastry School in Paris by Cindy Neuschwander, illustrated by Brian Langdo (Holt, May 2009).

I've also been doing some research for an article and came across How to Save Your Tail by Mary Hanson (originally published by Schwartz & Wade in 2007).  I remember putting it on a selection list for Queens librarians, but it still flew under my radar.  Very Ratatouille-esque.

Keep in mind I haven't read any of these titles so I'm not recommending them at this time.  But I don't think it's a coincidence that we're seeing so many new food-related books for kids at a time when feeding the world has become such a political (and trendy) topic.

NOTE: I apologize for the links to Amazon (I normally link to Powells or Strand) but Amazon was the only place I found artwork and the titles available.  Even the publishers' sites didn't have the artwork available!

12.15.2008

"You jump, I jump. Remember?": Trusting your cookbook's author*

Thanks to my pal Ellen, I now subscribe to Publishers Weekly's "Cooking the Books" newsletter. In the latest email, there is a brief interview with Ina Garten. The interview isn't all that illuminating, but I did love this quote at the end:

"I think it’s served me well that each of my books has more than just recipes, that it has a story and a reason for being. The thing about a book is that it has a personality, whereas a recipe on the Web doesn’t. There’s a trust that comes with a person."

She hits the nail on the head. I had never been able to articulate that, when it comes to my cookbooks, there is a trust relationship with the cook who wrote the book. For instance, I trust Ina implicitly: she tells me it's good and I should make it...you bet your arse I'll make it. Another example is Jamie Oliver. We're friends and he's done some good things for me...but he's also a pretty flaky friend: he doesn't tell me how high the heat on my stove should be and why, oh why, didn't he give me a specific cooking time? And Jamie doesn't seem to know anything about my life as a full-time working mom in a metropolitan area. So he and I have a rocky relationship: we love each other and then hate each other. Someone else who I trust with the health, pleasure, and soulful nourishment of my family and me? Joanne Harris and Fran Warde (My French Kitchen and The French Market). They have charmed and seduced me, and we have the most lovely relationship these days. I encourage you to trust them as well.

Eat, drink, and develop trust relationships with your cookbooks.


*Yeah, I quoted Titanic in the post title. I still love that movie. Judge away.

12.14.2008

Back to Basics: Best Ina?

So I'm beginning to suspect that Barefoot Contessa's Back to Basics is the best one yet.  I recently had a failure but, even then, I was able to tweak the recipe and create awesomeness.  

The original menu plan was to make the Chive Risotto Cakes with the Parmesan Roasted Broccoli as a side*.  I don't know what the hell I did wrong, but here's how the broccoli turned out:


See the brown pieces?  Yeah, that's the garlic.  If you've burned garlic before, you know exactly how rank my kitchen smelled.

As I often do, I halved the recipe so, instead of 4 pounds of broccoli, I used 2 pounds.  But I kept the cooking time the same: 20 minutes at 425 degrees.  I'm not giving up on this recipe but, for the time being, this dish had a date with the trash.  But what to do with the lemon-olive oil-pine nut dressing I had already whisked together for this?  

I looked in the fridge and, sure enough, I had salad greens.  So the would-be broccoli dressing became the dressing for a light salad.  Yes!

The Chive Risotto Cakes were friggin sublime.  I had a bit of a problem when it came to coating the cakes with the panko because I hadn't let the mixture refrigerate for 2 hours to overnight like Ina said; instead, I did the holy-crap-I-have-to-refrigerate-this?! thing and stuck the bowl in the freezer for 30 minutes.  But hear me now: Ina's serious.  Refrigerate this properly.

Nevertheless, it turned out okay.  Crispy on the outside, creamy and decadent inside.  The recipe calls for chives in the mixture but, naturally, Kiddo won't touch anything with foreign green thingies in it.  Instead I just sprinkled the chives as garnish for me and Adam.  The results:


The great news?  We had a ton of leftover cakes so I reheated them the next night (350 degree oven for about 20 minutes) and they were every bit as crispy and creamy as the night before.  The second time around, I added some sour cream on the side for dipping.  I mixed some chives and fresh pepper into me and Adam's - it was phenomenal with the cakes.

All hail, yet again, to Ina!  And I can't recommend Back to Basics enough, particularly if you're just starting out in the kitchen and want to launch right into impressive but deceptively easy-to-make recipes.

Eat, drink, and be a problem solver in the kitchen.


* Okay, librarian friends, I need some copyright help.  I thought that I wasn't able to print a recipe here if I had followed it exactly.  I can only print it if I've altered it and, even then, I still have to give credit to the original source, right?  I haven't been printing any recipes but, sure enough, I look on the blogosphere and bloggers all over have printed Ina's Chive Risotto Cakes recipe.  What's the story on copyright?  And why, as librarians, are we always so obsessed with copyright?

Directions even I can understand!

Need a quickie snack?  Have last-minute dinner guests?  Just want a simple appetizer?  Look no further:


I cut up a baguette, which I always have on hand thanks to Fresh Direct's parbaked breads selection.  I didn't toast mine, mostly because Kiddo doesn't like "crunchy bread", but you could easily toast the bread beforehand.  Then I added fresh ricotta.  Don't have access to great-quality fresh ricotta?  Make your own!  I added a drizzle of my best extra-virgin olive oil as well as a sprinkling of my thick-as-honey best balsamic vinegar.  I finished it with salt, pepper, thyme, and parsley.  Seriously, that's it!  It just goes to show you that, if you use excellent quality ingredients, there's really very little you need to do to them.

Eat, drink, and don't be intimidated!

Foodie Books for Kids Review: The Year the Swallows Came Early by Kathryn Fitzmaurice


Several months ago, I went to a class – “Sharpening Your Senses” – at the Institute of Culinary Education.  We discussed how comfort food has nothing to do with haute cuisine or, indeed, any sort of quality; comfort food evokes memories and emotions, in spite of the sometimes dubious origins of the food.  Take macaroni and cheese.  I’ve made Ina Garten’s ultra-luxurious homemade version with the crispy bread topping, and I swooned when I ate it.  But it will never work for me on a chilly winter’s day or cheer me up on a rotten day like a box of the original Kraft macaroni and cheese (or Kraft cheese and macaroni, for those of you old enough to remember that).  I remember how grown-up I felt the first time my mom let me mix in the cheese powder, milk, and butter by myself, and I remember the delight in taking a “test bite” off the end of the wooden spoon.  I also remember how my mom would change it up sometimes and add cooked hamburger, though I don’t know if she did this for added nutrition, or because she was bored with the plain version, or both.  I don’t make the hamburgerized version now, but I still make boxed macaroni and cheese for Kiddo (granted, it’s Annie’s Organic these days) and I let her stir the ingredients together.  She’s never been interested in taking a “test bite” but she giggles when she sees me doing it.  Old habits die hard.

I was reminded of all this while reading The Year the Swallows Came Early by Kathryn Fitzmaurice (Bowen, Feb. 2009).  Eleanor “Groovy” Robinson plans on going to culinary school and becoming a chef when she grows up.  That is until her loving but irresponsible father gambles the money away that was being saved for her education.  Convinced there must be some confusion and wanting earn extra money, Groovy begins selling chocolate-covered strawberries at the nearby store that her friends own.  However, when Groovy comes to terms with what her father has done, she sinks into a depression and gives up cooking and baking.  Her mother and her friends try to snap her out of it with no success.  When the swallows return to their California town and her friends rally together, Groovy is able to see people for who they are and come to terms with the changes around her.  Groovy’s life comes into full focus and she knows what she must do.

First and foremost this is a story about forgiveness and the idea that, if you never forgive anyone, the anger “will turn you to stone.”  It’s also a coming-of-age story and we experience Groovy’s changing relationships with her mother and father as she matures.  Lastly, this is a lovely friendship story – Groovy’s friends are the lifeline that gets her through difficult times, and one gets a sense of this beach community’s strong ties to each other.  In many ways, I was reminded of Polly Horvath’s writing while reading this, particularly My One Hundred Adventures (but without the pseudo-magic-realism): it’s quiet, sweet, introspective, quirky.  I don’t read a lot of reviews that mention a book’s mood but, like Horvath, Fitzmaurice does a fantastic job of setting up the ambience of the story.  In the case of this book, the mood was slightly melancholic with lots of hope woven throughout, which is exactly the type of book I like to read in the autumn and winter.

So what about the food writing?  Fitzmaurice does an excellent job of describing an 11-year-old who loves to cook.  Groovy doesn’t make unrealistically elaborate meals (which just wouldn’t jive), but she makes chocolate-covered strawberries and fish sticks.  What makes her original and endearing is that she keeps a notebook where she collects the appropriate dishes for particular occasions: “Say you are needing to tell your parents about a worse-than-normal grade you got on a test.  I have a recipe for that: macaroni and cheese.  Or say you are wanting to ask for something new, like a pair of tennis shoes.  I have a recipe for that: French toast with whipped cream.”  And rather than cookbooks, some of Groovy’s recipes are made up but she admits that most of them are from Vogue and Bazaar because they are “the only ones Mama got.”  Lastly, Groovy’s naïveté is both age-appropriate and charming: “…I’d planned on becoming a real chef.  I’d planned on it so much it felt like my true destiny.  And with my favorite color being white, the actual color real chefs wore: it was meant to be.”

I only had one minor quibble with the story.  Groovy’s mother is really into astrology (“I wonder what sign Betty Crocker is,” Mama said one day.  “I bet she’s a Pisces.”).  I found this interesting and enlightening, as Groovy’s mother is the grounded one in the family; the feeling is that she is the responsible one because she has to be and astrology is her foray into something more cosmic and creative.  Or her way of making sense of things.  Not to mention that the astrology comments peppered throughout the story provide some light humor, particularly if the reader knows basic astrological traits.  So I was confused and, I must confess, a bit disappointed when Groovy’s mother forsakes this at the end of the book.  Instead of reading her horoscope in the paper, she goes to church with Groovy.  Why couldn’t she consult her horoscope and go to church with Groovy?  Why must it be one or the other?  I didn’t understand the necessity of making this change in the mother’s character, and it just tweaked me a bit. 

Overall, the book is cozy and lovely…just as your favorite helping of comfort food should be.  From a librarian’s perspective, it’ll need to be booktalked: the title and cover are vague enough that a kid won’t know what the book is about just by looking at it.  Nevertheless, for those quiet, more serious readers that go for more character development rather than plot-driven storylines, this will be a perfect match.  They’ll be sure to connect with Groovy on multiple levels.

 


Best first line(s): “We lived in a perfect stucco house, just off the sparkly Pacific, with a lime tree in the backyard and pink and yellow roses gone wild around a picket fence.  But that wasn’t enough to keep my daddy from going to jail the year I turned eleven.”

12.13.2008

Things to Do Before I Die


As I've mentioned before, I have a "Things to Do Before I Die" list. I've saved it on the computer, and I add to it occasionally; when I've accomplished something, I highlight it and make note of the date.

Well, I've just added "Visit Trinity College library in Dublin" to my list. Thanks, Anali, for the beautiful photo.

Eat, drink, and travel.

12.12.2008

Friday morsels

Sooooo much to tell all of you about but sooooo little time. Here are a few bullet points:

- Nightshade Kittytoes (don't you love that name?!) has an interesting post up about Burger King and nutrition: apparently Burger King subjected villagers in Africa to a taste test between the Whopper and the Big Mac? NK asks for ideas on how to fix the problem. Let's start with significant subsidies for local farmers who sell at local markets. Revamp the FDA, USDA, DofA...it's a big ol' mess and it's high time someone fixed it. Dismantle the whole damn thing and start fresh, I say. Shouldn't bringing our troops home free up some cash?

- You won't believe what the Washington Post is spewing about children's and young adult literature. I thought we were sooo over this, but I guess we have to go there again. I'll save you my own rant and just send you over to Librarilly Blonde.

- What will they think of next? Customizable M&Ms!!! Thanks, Rachel!

- Ramona may finally be turned into a movie. I find her darling in print...I suspect I may want to slap her big-screen incarnation.

- I may be vocal about the fact that I don't bake, but that doesn't stop me from ogling others' delicious confections. My latest food porn is Clotilde's Flourless Poppyseed Cake. The offer is open again, readers: you make this for me, bring it over, and I'll serve you a phenomenal dinner. Wine included.

- Nick Kristof suggests to Obama renaming the Department of Agriculture for "change we can believe in."

- Got blog envy? I know I do. How do these people find the time????

Eat, drink, and finish your holiday shopping!

12.09.2008

REVIEW: A Pig in Provence: Good Food and Simple Pleasures in the South of France by Georgeanne Brennan


I’m a Francophile. I suspect this is some sort of residual frustration over my two-week trip to Paris and Northern France when I was 17 years old: naturally, I didn’t appreciate the culture as much as I could have and was more excited to just hang out with my friends and eat lots of pastries. So now I’m an adult and it’s incredibly complicated to get back to France, which is ironic since I would “get it” so much more now. And, in my more self-pitying moments, I think about the wasted opportunity. In my more generous moments, I'm happy to have had the opportunity at all!

So I read. And I cook. I’m fascinated by those people who have gone to France and had a culinary epiphany: Julia Child, Alice Waters, MFK Fisher. Curiously, Georgeanne Brennan hasn’t made it into the canon of cooks who have had a “conversion experience” in France (unless I’m just running in the wrong circles and more people know of her work than I’m aware). Either way, her name deserves to be spoken in the same breath as these other fine women.

A Pig in Provence is a lovely, cozy read with an exquisite sense of place. It begins with Georgeanne, her then-husband Donald, and her 3-year-old daughter Ethel (all Californians) moving to Provence to raise goats and make goat cheese in the old-style that was no longer being made in the village at that time. Donald had studied animal husbandry at UC Davis, but Georgeanne was more inexperienced, and their initial bumbling steps to achieve their dream are amusing and heartwarming.

On the other hand, Brennan doesn’t sugar-coat things: think twice before owning goats – it ain’t just a walk in the park. Brennan makes it clear that a simple life, like simple food, doesn’t necessarily equal an easy life: the people of the village, Brennan included, work incredibly hard to provide sustenance for themselves and others.

In the midst of all this hard work, though, there is great joy…and food….oh, yes, there’s food. Brennan does a remarkable job of describing food and the meals they eat; you can taste the textures and hear the hiss of fat on the fire. Respectful of les arts de la table, Brennan also describes place settings, lighting, and ambience and all you want to do is be at that table underneath the trees with Georgeanne and all the lovely people she befriends in Provence. Or, better yet, I want to go mushroom hunting with Georgeanne after reading her incredible chapter on gathering wild mushrooms in the forest.

There are recipes included, but I have to confess that I’m reluctant to try them. It’s clear that Brennan makes them from the freshest ingredients imaginable, and I hesitate to make the poor urban version I would no doubt create. There are a couple of recipes, though, where I know I can get fresh, local, seasonal ingredients at Union Square: Tomato Tart (tarte aux tomates) for summer and Braised Pork Shoulder with Mustard and Capers (porc à l’ancienne avec moutarde et câpres). Brennan also has additional recipes posted on her website.

I highly recommend this book for fans of Child, Waters, and Fisher. Or, quite frankly, for those who love France and food. If you haven't been to France, this book will make you want to go. If you've already been, then you'll be longing to go again.

12.08.2008

Think I'll have time to drink beer in a pub and philosophize?

I want to take a children's literature course in Ireland and Wales in the summer of 2009.

And with emails flying like banshees back and forth between Adam and I today, I think we're going to try to make it happen.

Stay tuned! And infinite thanks to A Chair, Fireplace, & Tea Cozy for the info!

2nd Annual Mock Caldecott Event at QL!

It’s that time of year again! Awards Season!

Queens Library is hosting its 2nd Annual Mock Caldecott Event on January 6th for its children’s librarians, and the planning committee has settled on our 6 finalists. Here they are:

-Baseball Hour by Carol Nevius, illus by Bill Thomson (Marshall Cavendish)

-Before John Was a Jazz Giant by Carole Boston Weatherford, illus by Sean Qualls (Holt)

-Cat and Mouse by Ian Schoenherr (Greenwillow)

-The Dog Who Belonged to No One by Amy Hest, illus by Amy Bates (Abrams)


-Wabi Sabi by Mark Reibstein, illus by Ed Young (Little Brown)

And since this isn’t the real thing, we can avoid that tedious veil of secrecy that keeps the actual awards so hush-hush. We discussed about 50 titles altogether during the course of 2008, and I do feel that these were definitely in the Top 10 books.

What I’m surprised about is that neither How I Learned Geography by Uri Shulevitz nor A Kitten Tale by Eric Rohmann made the cut. Personally, I was really hoping that Planting the Trees of Kenya by Claire Nivola would make it – it’s one of my favorites for the year – but it didn’t have a chance against some of the showier titles.

Lastly, for the most part, the committee was in agreement that both House in the Night by Susan Marie Swanson, illustrated by Beth Krommes and Wonder Bear by Tao Nyeu left us scratching our heads and saying, “Wha..?” Beautiful, yes. But coherent? Well, that’s debatable. And we did debate it, I assure you.

Stay tuned for the results on Tuesday, January 6th. Let the games begin!

12.07.2008

Laura to the Rescue!

Today....today, I tried to single-handedly save the publishing industry.  You're welcome.  Unfortunately, the indie bookstores received no help from me.

As many of you know, the publishing industry had a bad week (see Bowen Press' lovely post here), and I've been worried about my friends, wishing the best for them this holiday season.  In response to Black Wednesday and the general economic climate there have been several movements to encourage book-buying for the holidays, such as Books=Gifts.  I decided I would do what I could this season...which, obviously, isn't too much of a stretch given that I'm a librarian and try to give books anyway.  

Long story short, I had all kinds of Big Plans to go into Manhattan today and hit up Books of Wonder and then McNally Jackson.  Didn't happen for a variety of reasons.  So I went to Barnes
 and Noble instead, which is about 2 blocks from my apartment.  I'd feel bad for the indie guys, except that Shelf Awareness keeps reporting on these mom-and-pop places that are actually doing quite strong; it's the big guys that are tanking!  (Also see this hilarious article from Reading Reptile!  Thanks for the link, Sarah!)

So I went on a shopping spree and here was my haul*:

For my niece Nola:
     Big Words for Little People by Jamie Lee Curtis, illus by Laura Cornell (HarperCollins)
     The Dog Who Belonged to No One by Amy Hest, illus by Amy Bates (Abrams)

For Baby Sellwood (my yet-to-be-born nephew):
     Gallop! by Rufus Butler Seder (Workman)
     Good Night, Sweet Butterflies by Dawn Bentley, illus by Heather Cahoon (Little Simon)

For my nephew Preston:
     Tip Tip Dig Dig by Emma Garcia (Boxer)

For my niece Olivia:
     Big Words for Little People by Jamie Lee Curtis, illus by Laura Cornell (HarperCollins)

For my dad (who doesn't read my blog so I'm not spoiling it by sharing here):
     The Last Voyage of Columbus by Martin Dugard (Back Bay)
     So Others May Life: Coast Guard's Rescue Swimmers by Martha LaGuardia-Kotite (Lyons)

For my grandmother-in-law:
     New York Times Large-Print crossword puzzle book

For my brother-in-law:

For my brother:
     Can't share because I think he occasionally read this...but I did buy something for him

For my mother-in-law:
     See above...she got some goodies from B&N as well

For Adam:
    Too many of my friends and family read this!

For Kiddo: 
     One Fish, Two Fish, Red Fish, Blue Fish by Dr. Seuss (she has been obsessed with this book!)

And naturally I couldn't leave without buying something for myself:
     Anne Taintor 2009 calendar
     Herbs & Spices: the Cook's Reference by Jill Norman (DK)
     The latest issue of La Cucina Italiana

Eat, drink, and READ!



* I've linked to all independent bookstores (Powells and Posman Books).  I may have needed to go Big Store today, but do try to go indie if you're able.


Homemade Ricotta

I've always wanted to make my own cheese.  

Okay, fine.  Not always.  But certainly in the past few years I've been thinking it would be a really cool thing to do.  So much so that it made it on to my "Things to Do Before I Die" list (which really does exist - I have it saved on my computer and highlight events as I accomplish them).

In the same vein, I have a few cheese making books on my Amazon and GoodReads lists: Home Cheese Making by Ricki Carroll and The Year of the Goat by Margaret Hathaway and Karl Schatz*, among them.

I'm here to tell you that there isn't anything easier than homemade ricotta cheese.  If you've ever thought about making your own cheese as well, this is the place to start.  Mario Batali has the perfect recipe, and it can be found at Food Network or in his new cookbook, Italian Grill.  Here is how it turned out:


Mario's recipe calls for a conical sieve with cheesecloth...neither of which I had...naturally.  So I just used a semi-circle sieve we have and that worked fine, even though I had to sieve it in stages.

I didn't want to skimp so I used Ronnybrook's local milk and cream, which was in no way inexpensive:


The experience was wonderfully simple and gratifying.  Nevertheless, I will readily confess that I won't do this often for two reasons: 1) as I said, Not Cheap, and 2) we actually have a phenomenal cheese purveyor down the street from our apartment, Cheese of the World.  They have an exceptional fresh ricotta that I buy regularly, and it is every bit as tangy and creamy as the one I made.  And it comes in more managable portions.  

To be completely frank, I'll save the homemade ricotta recipe for those guests that don't know much about food so the Wow Factor will be higher: "You made this?!  Yourself?!"  Anyone who knows anything about food will know exactly how easy it was and they are less likely to be impressed.

Eat, drink, and seek out food adventures!


* Year of the Goat is their very interesting, if out-of-date, website.

12.03.2008

Guest blogger alert!! The Husband is back!

Those of you that are regular readers of Pinot and Prose know that I periodically make a guest spot here.  And when I do, you can bet your bacon that the post is about food and not lit.  Speaking of bacon, as I often do, have I got a melt- in-your-mouth adventure to share.  Now I may not have a lot of friends, but I do have the right ones.  Who would that be?  Well…for starters, the Director of Food Services at the Goog.  Yeah, on the list of good people to know, he is near the top.  So here is my story:

As I walked into the café last Thursday around 1:00pm I was greeted by the smiling face of one Mr. K.  Now K always has this boyish look of delight when he has a little something special whipped up for his friends.  These dishes are never on the menu, and you can't ask for them at the grill.  These are the back room offerings that you only get by knowing the secret knock at the basement door.  So naturally, I was excited to see the smile. 

"What's cooking K?" I asked as the anticipation dripped off me like the green sweat in those Gatorade commercials.

"Feel like some bacon?" was the response.

Now this certainly makes humanity's all-time Stupidest Questions list, but I played along with his game of cat-and- mouse. 

"What do you have in mind?"

I wasn't ready for what he had in mind.  What he sent for was a work of culinary art.  The Mona Lisa of Bacon.  

"How about bacon pot roast?"

I of course responded that I would be into bacon dirt if he had it, and so he sent for the dish.

At this point I am not sure what you are thinking, but I was thinking pot roast wrapped in bacon or maybe pot roast stuffed with said bacon.  What I got was neither of these things.  What I got was this little piece of heaven (sorry for the quality as it is a cell phone picture and I was shaking with delight):


 

This, my friends, is an enormous piece of slab bacon, roasted for 6-ish hours in the oven and then topped with the most amazing sauce ever to bless a pork dish.  Those little bits you see floating around, yeah, that would be more bacon.  There was also a background quartet of garlic, shallots, onions, and spices that was something roughly equivalent to…sex.

K said something about the sauce base coming from boiling some pigs feet in a bath of white wine and….but at that point I had started eating and everything else sort of drifted away.  Each salty, smoky, fatty bite better than the last and I found all of my senses focused on this jewel before me.  The way I could smell a bit of campfire and butter, the way I could hear my teeth sliding through each creamy bite, even the way the little pools of fat floating on top seemed to spell out "I LOVE YOU TOO ADAM".

Given that this dish was about as rich as if Bill Gates and Warren Buffett got married, I was sharing with friends after about 6 bites.  It was at this point that they echoed my earlier sentiment, "I may not have a lot of friends, but I do have the right ones".

REVIEW: The Disreputable History of Frankie Landau-Banks by E. Lockhart


Well, let’s just get this out of the way: I loved this book. It was funny, sarcastic, foreboding, serious, political, smart. I haven’t read What I Saw and How I Lied by Judy Blundell yet…but all I can say is that it must be the best book written ever to have beaten Lockhart out for the National Book Award.

Frankie has always been “Bunny Rabbit” to her family: sheltered, protected, underestimated. Previously a bit homely, Frankie returns for her sophomore year to the exclusive private school she attends, except since May she has “gained four inches and twenty pounds, all in the right places.” This gives her an “in” to the world of the rich and beautiful and she begins to date the most popular guy in the school. Frankie observes her privileged classmates, realizing that she’ll never have the carefree confidence they have. She then finds out about her boyfriend’s secret society, closed off to all but the guys from the oldest, most privileged, most moneyed families (nothing sinister – just a bunch of guys drinking beer and playing pranks). It is at this point where a change happens in Frankie. She’s tired of being underestimated and it occurs to her that, no matter what she does, she’ll never be part of the club, never be one of the guys. There will always be doors closed to her. Frankie decides to do something about it.

There is a perfect storm here. Frankie is wicked smaht: debate team, good grades, sarcastic. She comes into her own and gains confidence based on her looks, her acceptance into an exclusive peer group, and her inherent ambitious nature. On the other hand, what gives her such an authentic teen voice is that one minute she has all this confidence…and the next the reader realizes that all Frankie wants is acceptance and love. Realizing she won’t get it from the people and situations around her, she reacts. And the reaction is her growing desire to infiltrate and embarrass them, to dominate them. This story is a fascinating psychological study.

What struck me is how many themes Lockhart manages to weave into the narrative, yet I never felt the story was heavy-handed, clunky, or cluttered. Certainly, Lockhart explores feminism, and how there are certainly paths and doors that are still shut to women, and especially to teen girls entrenched in the politics and social hierarchy of high school. I would argue that this isn’t the central theme, though: rather, the main subject matter is power. Who has it? How does one get it? What do you do with it once it has been acquired? Power changing hands, losing power, domination, conformity, leadership, authority, patriarchal structures. Feminism fits into this idea because Frankie doesn’t have any power at the beginning because she is female; in order to gain power, she fakes an identity and becomes male. Only then does she rise to leadership.

Frankie has become one of my favorite female characters ever written (but no one compares to Anne Shirley): smart, complex, sensitive, independent, observant, sarcastic, confident. Lockhart writes her beautifully. Interestingly, all the other characters in the book are stereotypes…but in a hazy, impressionistic way. It’s as if every other character in the novel is sleepy, loopy, trippy. Then you have Frankie in sharp relief, and we see her so clearly. Everyone else is asleep and Frankie is wide awake at 2 a.m., seeing things for how they really are.

Lockhart uses a narrator’s voice that occasionally butts in on the story to make some observations about Frankie, or predict where the story could be going, or even tell the reader exactly how things are going to go down. I read a review that criticized this technique; the reviewer said that it kept her from really feeling connected to Frankie. I didn’t feel that way at all. Frankie spends the whole book making razor-sharp observations about the people and world around her. It only makes sense that someone would also turn that on her and put her under the same scrutiny. I felt that, while she was watching everyone and I was hearing her observations, I was also observing her and making my own judgments and drawing my own conclusions. It was an effective writing technique.

I don’t know if I could say this is my favorite children’s/YA title for 2008…mostly because, if you had asked me a couple months, I would have sworn it was One Hundred Adventures by Polly Horvath. I’m wishy-washy that way: I’m horrible at committing to a single title as my favorite or as the best. Nevertheless, I can enthusiastically recommend it to you. This book makes me wish I worked directly with teens again – I would so love to put this in the hands of those disaffected, smart, beautiful young women that I’ve worked with in the past!


Other reviews:

BlogCritics Magazine

New York Times

Teen Reads

Bookshelves of Doom

Reading Rants!




Thanksgiving: In Photos

Lest you read my previous post and think that I didn't document everything about Thanksgiving, I am here to reassure you that I took LOTS of pictures (or Adam did).  Here was our menu:

- Pork Loin Roast with Chestnuts (from The French Kitchen)
- Blackberry Crisp (the Soul Twin brought frozen wild blackberries
 that she gathered herself and used them in place of the apples in Ina Garten's recipe from Barefoot Contessa's Parties)

Now I'm going to let the photos speak for themselves:


For goodness sake, I have the most ridiculous hair!

"Would you like some fresh ground pepper with that?"
"Oh, honey, I think we could ALL use some fresh pepper."

(My eternal love if you know where this line is from)

The finished product.  Think we're a fancy schmancy family?  Check out the plastic wine glass with water for Kiddo.  You gotta agree that un-glams the table a bit!

I swear, this looked much more beautiful in person!


The motley crew (bottom left, clockwise): my other husband, the Soul Twin, Kiddo, yours truly, and the Husband.

Eat, drink, and happy holidays!