This Week's Menu: Food as Life

I've had one of *those* weeks. You know the ones. First, I was sick so I missed lots of work and sat around the house. Second, I had to make some difficult Life Decisions - those choices where you know the answer but you hesitate to take that leap. These Decisions aren't easy to make and are the cause of many, many tears...yet when the choice is made, you feel lighter inside. Anyway, I had to make one of those Decisions. Last, because I was out of town last weekend, I didn't do any food shopping for this past week...so you can't imagine the haphazard, crappy way we ate this whole week. It made me feel discombobulated and out-of-sorts.

So today I made the menu for the upcoming week. Here it is:

Sunday - Goat Cheese Tart, green salad (tart recipe from The French Market)
Monday - Butternut Squash and Sweet Potato Soup, ciabatta bread with dipping oil
Wednesday - Blue Cheese Pasta (from Real Fast Food)
Thursday - Grilled cheese sandwiches, red pepper soup

When I looked at the menu, I realized what I had done unconsciously: I had created a healing menu. These are comforting foods, unapologetic in their warmth and simplicity. And I love the power of food - and the prospect of sharing it with my family - to make me feel better.

Eat, drink, and find comfort.


Ace of Cakes book

I didn't know until recently this was a HarperCollins book, but it is: Ace of Cakes: Inside the World of Charm City Cakes by Duff Goldman and Willie Goldman (William Morrow, 10.20.09). Naturally, the first thought in my head was "Duff has been in this building?" Followed shortly by: "Does that mean that Geof has been in this building?!" Because he's the one who really does it for me. Here's the book trailer:

I'm oddly obsessed with this show, as is Bug. Forget the glory days of my youth, watching "Growing Pains" and "Who's the Boss?" together as a family: these days, it's "Ace of Cakes" all the way. With Duff's chainsaw in the credits and all. I'm raising my child right.

Eat, drink, and - I'm so sorry but I have to - let them eat cake.

REVIEW: Fat Cat by Robin Brande

Yes, yes, I know I questioned whether I could talk about specific books anymore, now that I'm working on the publishing side of the aisle...but I just have to chat about this one.

I got a galley for Fat Cat by Robin Brande ages ago at a Random House preview and, I have to admit, I sort of tossed it aside. To be even more honest, I dismissed it as a "weight loss" book - or, worse, a "fat girl" book - which just didn't sound interesting to me.

Oh, how WRONG I was and happy to be so. This, my friends, is a book for foodies! Cat is passionate about science, and she's funny and kind. She's also fat. When Cat needs to find a topic for the competitive science fair, she turns herself into an experiment, reverting to the ways in which early hominids lived. She stops eating as much processed foods as possible and begins cooking for herself. Even more, she can't use the microwave, only the stove to the stimulate fire. She can't drive - she walks everywhere (with some exceptions).

Not surprisingly, her weight drops off. The surprising result is that her relationships evolve as well - guys that never used to pay attention to her are suddenly taking notice, and the childhood friend who made fun of her weight has his eye on her too. Again, I think this part of the book could have gone bad under a different author's watch: now Cat is "HOT" and, see, isn't being beautiful and thin so great? But it doesn't go there. Cat is insecure and unsure; she takes all the attention in stride and applies scientific principles to all the ways in which her life is changing. Additionally, the relationships and friendships in the book are really wonderful - I love that there isn't a single "mean girl" in the whole book...and what a sad commentary on current trends that I found it both surprising and refreshing.

Like I said, this is a food book. Cat isn't DIETING - she's discovering the pleasures and beauty of fresh food, recipes, and cooking. Her family is supportive, and her little brother even more so since he is overweight as well. And I appreciated the other aspects of Cat's experience: in addition to Cat seeing a nutritionist, her changing digestive system is even given some page time. This is great - the reader gets to see what a changing diet will really do for a person. It's not about just losing weight; instead, it's a whole body experience. Brande also manages to describe Cat's life changes without getting too preachy, and she achieves this because she addresses the joy and pleasure of the whole experience.

Where I felt the book did get preachy was when Cat ponders the pros, cons, and ethics of going vegetarian. Brande's bias (I believe it was bias) come through loud and clear. There is a scene when Cat and the nutritionist are talking about factory farms: Cat has done lots of research about the topic. So Cat comes to the conclusion that, because factory farms are so evil (they are), then vegetarianism is the only option. I really disagree with that, as you can imagine: it's an extremist view that doesn't take every side into account. First, there is no discussion of locavorism and pasture-fed, pasture-raised, non-CAFO animals...and for a protagonist who so loves science and research, I found it unbelievable that Cat wouldn't have considered this in the discussion. Second, there really isn't any discussion of eggs and dairy. Where does Cat stand on those issues? Lastly, I was annoyed that a nutritionist, while talking vegetarianism with a patient, wouldn't talk about all these things and provide more balanced, unbiased information. A teenager inspired to consider vegetarianism after reading this book would need much, much more information. Now, I understand that it might seem odd to want all these things in the book but it's not all about me: I found the lack of this information inconsistent with Cat's scientific nature.

All that said, in the advanced readers' copy, there is a "further reading" section that includes Omnivore's Dilemma and In Defense of Food, both by Michael Pollan and Animal, Vegetable, Miracle by Barbara Kingsolver. Excellent recommendations, especially for those considering vegetarianism.

Overall, I was thrilled to be proven wrong on this book. Smart, strong, and confident characters combined with a joy of eating, cooking, and food make for a fantastic read.

Eat, drink, and celebrate food in books for teens.

Note: Find more reviews of this book at Lauren's Crammed Bookshelf, Mrs. Magoo Reads, Reading Rants!, and Sarah Miller's blog.

Just when I thought I had seen it all...

A cookie diet. A cookie diet?!?!

* picks up keyboard and smashes it against her forehead *


My world has been rocked...

...because of Gourmet closing. Not because I was a huge fan of Gourmet - I wasn't. But it made me realize how easily my favorite foodie mag, Saveur, could go under in this economy.

I urge any and all of you to get a subscription, not so much because I'm worried about you. Oh, no, it's all about me. Buy a subscription so that I can continue to be a happy, well-balanced person. Thank you.

In the meantime, take their fun and fluffy quiz about what kind of a foodie you are. Here are my results:

Your Profile: Classic & Comforting

You learned to cook alongside your grandma, and still think her teachings are gospel. You believe the correct answer to the question of olive oil or butter is both. You're happiest around a chattering table, doling out heaping plates to crowds of friends. You just had your tattered, original copy of Joy of Cooking rebound. You're certain there's nothing that melted cheese can't make better.

Describes my style perfectly, except for the grandma bit. Except for her pie crust recipe - it's foolproof. Even I can make it.

Eat, drink, and come sit at my classic & comforting dinner table!


Take my breath away

My friend Laura sent me a blog post link from Curious Expeditions, and here was my favorite:

It's the Handelingenkamer Tweede Kamer Der Staten-Generaal Den Haag, the Hague, Netherlands.

I'm inspired. One more thing to do on my Life To-Do list... Check out the other stunning library photos on the blog post and let me know which is your favorite!



Still working on the story and, being set in Paris and Brittany, I found these slideshows the perfect motivation to keep writing!

Eat, drink, and find your inspiration!

But where's the joy?

In my last blog post, I mentioned this week's New York Times Magazine, which is the "Food Issue." Last year's issue starred Michael Pollan, and this year it was Jamie Oliver. Oliver is taking on the town that has been unflatteringly deemed the Unhealthiest In America. It was an interesting article because Oliver really is doing some wonderful work on behalf of promoting healthy eating and cooking - certainly more than most celebrity chefs - and yet there is still some smoke and mirrors about how he goes about it. He's going into a town that doesn't necessarily want him there, a proud group of people that won't take too kindly to some good-looking Brit coming in and telling them that they're bad parents and irresponsible people. There's the idea that obese people don't necessarily want to change their ways.

There is also a more scientific and, honestly, more snooze-worthy article about calorie restriction in aging humans, rats, and primates. Seriously, it was rather boring. I skimmed it. Not my cup of tea.

I really like Mark Bittman's short article about online food shopping. As a weekly devotee to Fresh Direct, I agreed with everything he had to say about how the experience in no way caters to the consumer; instead, online food shopping is all about pushing products to the consumer, whether he wants them or not. It seems ludicrous that the process isn't more user-friendly, especially when you consider sites like iTunes and Amazon. Both of those sites allow the user/client/customer to really tailor the selections to what he is interested in. Why not online food shopping?

"No Polenta, No Cry" offered a voyeuristic look at all the little rules and restrictions we give ourselves as eaters. I felt like the author was unhinged at first...but then I realized that I think everyone eats like this a little bit. Whether it makes good sense or not.

But here's the thing: where was the joy? The "Food Issue", eh? I get that we need to talk about calories and locavorism and the ethics of meat. Important topics, all. But where was the article about the wonder and beauty and happiness in food and meals and cooking?

I remember how much I loved watching Julie and Julia because it captured how magical food can be in forging relationships and making connections. Today, on this sunny and cool autumn Sunday, I feel exhausted and maxed out on all the politics and science and showmanship of the "Food Issue." I eschew it with a firm hand and, instead, I'm looking forward to dinner tonight with my family: we've been looking forward to duck fat fries all week. I'll pour wine, and I'll play music while I'm cooking. Adam will pop in and out of the kitchen, kissing my cheek as he walks by. Bug will occasionally come in to dance to a song. We'll gather together at the table and, instead of saying a prayer, we'll raise our glasses to toast. Most likely we'll be toasting "a wonderful family weekend." That is what food is about.

For articles that really capture this feeling, I refer you to Saveur's "Dinner in the Piazza" by Beth Elon, Food and Wine's "Farm-Fresh French" by Rebecca Rose, and - one of my all-time favorite food articles EVER - Saveur's "Soulful Crepes of Brittany" by Nancy Coons* (unfortunately, this article is not available through Saveur's website so you miss the take-your-breath-away photography by Jorg Brockmann). THIS is good food writing. These are examples of how food affects our lives, affects real people, inspires cooks of every skill level. Read these before you go reading the "Food Issue."

Eat, drink, and find the joy in both.

*I loved this article so much when I read it from my library's copy that I called Saveur and tried to buy the back issue. It wasn't available. So I "lost" my library's copy. Lest you think that is ethically wrong, hopefully you'll think better of me when you find out that it cost me $20 to buy it from the library.

What I've Been Watching and Reading

I've been reading and watching some really interesting, cool stuff lately. Here's a sampling:
  • The Children's Lit Project is fantastic. I particularly liked Sarah Small's bit where she states that she doesn't necessarily write for children, which probably attributes to her books being universally enjoyed by both children and grown-ups. Thanks to Read Roger for directing me to the website.
  • You all should really be checking out the blog Sweet Reads: Books and Baking for Kids. Aside from having an awesome name, Rawley blogs book reviews with matching recipes. In particular, I liked her recent review of The Evolution of Calpurnia Tate, paired with "Callie's Old-Fashioned Apple Pie." Loads of fun.
  • In light of the recent release of Scott Westerfeld's Leviathan (which I am LONGING to read but have yet to obtain), I give you steampunk cakes. Excellent. And here's the trailer one last time:

  • In an odd twist, I discovered this week that Patrick Carman, author of The Land of Elyon series and one of The 39 Clues' authors, graduated from the same university I did. Which is a little random, seeing as not many people know Willamette University. Even crazier is that he was also a work-study student for my mother-in-law, who works in the Career Center at Willamette. Small, small world.
  • I loved this recent article in The New York Times Magazine where the ubiquitous Michael Pollan posts rules for eating. My favorite? "If you are not hungry enough to eat an apple, then you are not hungry." ~ Emma Fogt
  • I adored this recent article in Saveur, "Dinner in the Piazza" by Beth Elon. The photography was stunning* and it made me so happy to have recently received my new passport in the mail. Read the article and you'll be ready to hop on a plane too.
  • I'm a die-hard Georgia Nicolson fan, the star of Louise Rennison's series. The last book in the series just released last week, Are These My Basoomas I See Before Me?, and it was everything I could want in a series concluder. This series soooo makes me wish I were British just so I can make phrases like "daft tart" sound really gorgey and fab. I have yet to see the movie they made of the first book - my understanding is that it never released in Hamburger-a-gogo land, n'est-ce pas? Any of you seen the movie? Well, adieu, Georgia. I have loved following your adventures with the ace gang and, Louise Rennison, I can't wait to read your upcoming new series!
  • Last but not least, I'm going OT here. I want to thank Alvina at Bloomabilities for introducing me to this YouTube video. I dare you to watch it and not smile. Warning, though: prepare to have the song stuck in your head for days afterward!

Eat, drink, and go out and smash it. Like, oh my god.

* Note: none of the stunningly beautiful photos from the print version of the article are in the online version. All the more reason to get a subscription. Please, oh please, don't let Saveur suffer the same fate as Gourmet!