Nibbles and tidbits

There seems to be soooo much going on lately - in my own life, in the lives of my friends and family, in the world - and I feel sort of frenzied to talk it all over with you. Which is why I'm going to bullet-point. I think sooooo much more clearly and concisely when I bullet-point. So here's what I've been collecting:
  • Interesting article in The Times where Anne Fine is quoted as deploring the "gritty realism" of recent children's books. I don't really agree or disagree with her, but it seems to me this is just another case of adults arguing over what they think is best for children, forgetting that raising readers is nothing but gray areas. Truly, I believe there is a place for both edgy realism and naive hopefulness. Why must we choose?

  • Frank Bruni's last column as New York Times' food critic is wonderful. If you're a New Yorker who dines out, this is a must. Even if you're not, he has great recommendations for figuring out what to order at any restaurant.

  • I hate to embed this in my bullet points but it's next on my mind: as most of you kidlitters know, the Third Annual Kidlitosphere Conference is taking place in Arlington on Saturday, October 17th. Liz B and MotherReader both announced it. I'm interested in going - it's such a short train ride away! - but this gets into the growing-pains-from-my-new-job thing. I consider myself an avid fan of all things kidlitosphere...but does it work having a publisher-type person there? Even if I don't go in that capacity? If I go as just...me? Thoughts, opinions?

  • OMG, I want one and I want one NOW. Which reminds me that PMS is a bitch.

  • Julia Child is back! As if she went away. I enjoyed this article but thought I was going to blow a gasket when I read about canned cream of mushroom and canned French onion soup. Last I checked, those weren't exactly a low-fat, healthy substitute for butter. Don't even get me up on my soapbox.

  • So I apparently live in a bubble and had no idea that Tomie dePaola has his own blog but, thanks to Jarrett Krosoczka, now I do. Apparently the blog is maintained mostly by his assistant, but I still love seeing all the pictures of flowers and the photo of Tomie's new muddler from Williams-Sonoma. And back to Jarrett Krosoczka, don't forget to check out his new Lunch Lady graphic novel series. It's an absolute hoot to read, and each title keeps getting funnier and funnier. I mean, you can't fail with a crime-fighting cafeteria lady, right?

  • I read stuff like this and am reminded how totally uncool and unhip I am...tragically so. That aside, the Mondrian cake? Brilliant.

  • I'm reading nothing inspiring lately, sadly. I've gone back to Sense and Sensibility. Thus far, it is the only book in my life that I have read multiple times. I'm just not a multiple-times-type reader. But Sense and Sensibility? I don't know, I just keep going back to it. I am not being melodramatic when I tell you that it gives me a sense of calm in a world full of chaos. Stop smirking. I'm serious.

Coming up, hopefully: a blog post about my loverly weekend with Soul Twin. Multiple restaurants, the High Line, and Julie & Julia were involved. As well as a laughter-and-heckling-filled viewing of Twilight. This past weekend might have been my favorite of 2009 so far.

Eat, drink, and get by with a little help from your friends.


Four Beautiful Words





Find the recipe at Not Without Salt.

I may never, ever, not never link to another cookie - or indeed anything requiring baking - recipe again because, as far as I can tell, this is the end-all, be-all recipe to end all recipes. I want it and I want it now.

The End.


More non-cooking...

Tonight's dinner wasn't strictly non-cook but, once again, I'm using Patricia Wells' Vegetable Harvest. It's a wonderful cookbook because it really celebrates fresh, seasonal, raw ingredients. So while I did apply heat for this meal, it was minimal.

I made Tuna Strips with Espelette Pepper on top of Butter-Warmed Corn with Cilantro. It's one of my favorite summertime meals and I'm so relieved, in the midst of my anti-summer pouting, that I didn't forget to make this before the leaves changed color. Here is the final product (note my heavily marked cookbook in the background:

Tuna Strips with Espelette Pepper
from Vegetable Harvest by Patricia Wells (Morrow, 2007)

1 lb. "ultra-fresh" tuna fillet
2 tbsp. extra-virgin olive oil
2 tsp. ground Espelette pepper (Note: I found this by chance at the O & Co. shop in Grand Central Terminal...I had been looking ages for it. If you can't find it, I've used paprika in the past to great effect)
Fleur de sel (sea salt to the layperson)

1. Cut tuna into strips about 3/4 inch thick and 4 inches long (note: I'm never this exact - I quote PW directly here). In a large bowl, combine the strips of tuna, olive oil, and the pepper powder. Toss to blend. Marinate at room temp for 10 minutes.

2. Heat a large, dry skillet over high heat (I use nonstick - PW doesn't specify). When hot, remove the strips of tuna from the marinade, without draining, and place in the skillet. Working quickly (she does not kid here), sear the fish for about 15 seconds on each side for rare tuna, longer for well-cooked tuna. Immediately transfer the tuna strips to warmed plates. Season with fleur de sel and serve. Serves 4 - I halve for us.

Butter-Warmed Corn Kernels with Fresh Cilantro Leaves
from Vegetable Harvest by Patricia Wells (Morrow, 2007)

3 ears fresh corn, shucked
1 tbsp salted butter (I've used unsalted too)
1/4 c. fresh cilantro, coarsely chopped
Zesty lemon salt (Note: this is what PW calls for - there's a recipe for it in the book. It's a great salt and I use it on a ton of stuff. However, I have also used plain kosher salt and then grated lemon zest over the corn. Messing about with "zesty lemon salt" SO isn't necessary)

With a sharp knife, scrape the kernels of corn from the cob. Melt the butter in a large skillet (again, I use nonstick) over moderate heat and cook the corn just until warmed through, tossing the corn in the skillet for about 1 minute. Transfer to a bowl, shower with the coriander leaves, and season with lemon salt. (Note: this is SO child-friendly because you can easily give them non-cilantro corn before dousing your own with the glorious green stuff) Serves 6. (Note: PW says this serves 6. Puh-leease. I make this full recipe for the 3 of us. And you'll want to as well.)

Lastly, I consulted What to Drink with What You Eat for the perfect wine to pair with this and ultimately chose (and I might butcher this) Weingut Jakob Schneider 2008 Riesling Kabinett. It complimented the meal perfectly. Thanks (again) to Karen and Andrew for their fantastic reference guide!

Eat, drink, and admit that summer isn't all bad!

I'm official...more so, anyway

Looky, looky, looky! My friend Shannon is a fantabulous graphic designer and she recently started her own company (in addition to her day job), War Admiral Press. As a birthday gift to me, my mother-in-law (MC) commissioned Shannon to create some Pinot and Prose business cards for me; there have been multiple instances where I've been promoting myself not as a librarian or a publishing-type person but as a blogger, and I needed something to give people. So after lots of back and forth, sharing ideas, here is the finished product:

Shannon used two different kinds of paper - I had to crop this heavily so my phone number wasn't showing, thus the white card is obscured, but the design is the same.

I'm ecstatic with the final product! Shannon is ridiculously creative and has all kinds of fun and unique ideas. Thanks so much to both Shannon and MC for this lovely, lovely birthday present!

Eat, drink, and ask for my card next time you see me!


Links à deux

Rarely do I care that I don't bake. I just don't have a sweet tooth so I'm never motivated to go through the effort. People often ask me how I can have "only one" square of chocolate after my lunch: "You can stop at only one?!" Why, yes. Yes, I can.

What no one comments on is how I manage to scarf down an entire plate of nachos by myself. I exercise little to no restraint for nachos. I make room because I love all things crunchy, salty, and cilantro-y. On nacho nights, I consciously eat light the entire day because I know I'm going to go the distance for dinner. That's just me. Desserts? Meh. Chips? Awwww yeah, baby.

Anyway...every once in awhile, someone makes me wish I baked. Usually when they bake something savory. I give you Simmer Till Done's Upside-Down Tomato Basil Bread. Holy crap. I want it and I want it now. And Marilyn gives fantastic instructions in case things aren't looking right - she's making baking sound do-able...even for me. However, the very idea of cranking my oven up to 400 degrees for more than an hour is unthinkable right now, my un-air-conditioned kitchen being the gateway to hell in the summertime. But for all you people lucky enough to cook in air-conditioned bliss, you're welcome.

The other link I offer you is Amateur Gourmet's review of Julie & Julia. He said it perfectly and he convinced me that having the juxtaposition between Julie Powell and Julia Child not only worked but was necessary to the movie. And I teared up a bit when he mentioned the movie being about connections: Julia and Paul, Julie and Eric, Julia and her collaborators, Julie and her friends...on and on. I was already feeling so glowy and happy about the movie, and now I love it even more.

Eat, drink, and make Upside-Down Tomato Basil Bread so I can live vicariously through you!


My fickle friend, the summer wind

I don't like summer.

There. I said it.

Sure, I like the sun. Of course I love all the great produce. I'm all about the beach reads. But is summer my preferred season? Absolutely not.

This wasn't always the case: when we lived in Oregon and Washington I lived for summer. Then we moved to Arizona. Seems like a weird place for a gal who dislikes summer, right? Not really. It's only 3 months of the whole year that you're totally miserable and the rest of the year is incredible. Not to mention that summer brings entire weekends spent in the pool and monsoons that shake your house and thrill you to your fingertips. No, I really liked summers in Arizona.

The Northeast did me in. That's because I can honestly say I never experienced autumn until I moved here. It seems to me the world is really alive - with color, with flavor, with texture. My reading tastes change and I open up my cozier books - a good example of this was when I read Stephenie Meyer's Eclipse. It came out in August 2007, and I was reading it on the train in summer, reading all about the rain in Oregon. It was moody and atmospheric...just not the kind of book for a summer day. I got about 20 pages in and realized I needed to wait until November, at which point I read it and swooned. Among other books, right now I'm re-reading Sense and Sensibility by Jane Austen. It's a horrible summer read (for me, anyway), but I am reading it in anticipation for the cooler weather to come soon.

Most importantly, though, I loathe summer here in New York because I don't cook. My kitchen isn't air-conditioned and it gets no airflow through its window. I made paninis for lunch yesterday and I was a sweating lunatic by the time it got to the table, the heat in my kitchen driving me to the brink. I'm all about the no-cook, no-heat, no-effort meals in the summer. Last night I made Berry, Goat Cheese, and Pistachio Salad (Bon Appètit, 2007) for dinner. It had phenomenal flavor...but I also felt dissatisfied by it because I didn't do anything other than assemble parts. That's what it comes down to: I'm tired of assembling parts. I want to cook, to create!

Tonight, the same lack-of-drama ensued. I made Patricia Wells' Cucumber, Spring Onion, and Goat Cheese Salad Le Cinq-Mars. It was fresh, crisp, and lovely. But for heaven's sake, I wanted to COOK. I loved it, I did. But is summer over yet? What's a gal got to do to roast some root vegetables???
Cucumber, Spring Onion, and Goat Cheese Salad Le Cinq-Mars

Adapted from Vegetable Harvest by Patricia Wells (William Morrow, 2007)

1 cucumber, scrubbed and trimmed
3 scallions, trimmed and peeled
Several tablespoons Creamy Lemon-Chive Dressing
2 thick slices of bucheron (you can also use 1 goat cheese crottin and split lengthwise in two)

1. Score the skin of the cucumber all along the vegetable, using a fork or (in my case) this zester. This just makes it pretty. Cut the cucumber lengthwise in half. With a grapefruit spoon or (again, in my case) this deseeder. Discard the seeds. Cut each half into 1/2-inch-thick slices. Place in medium bowl.

2. Cut the onions crosswise into very thin slices. Separate into rings and drop into the bowl. Add just enough dressing to lightly coat the cucumbers and onions.

3. Arrange the salad on individual salad plates. Place a slice of goat cheese on top of each salad.

Some notes: I served this salad with slices of ciabatta bread and dipping oil. Additionally, I made the full amount of dressing, which is way too much for this salad. But I thought I'd use it for another salad this week. So feel free to halve the dressing recipe.

Eat, drink, and dream about my wool sweaters, waiting to keep me cozy and warm!

Bit of a giggle, dahlins!

It's getting entirely too serious around here for me - we need to have a good laugh. In light of my best friend coming for a visit this coming weekend, I give you the riotous Ab Fab ladies in one of their absolute best skits: wine tasting in France! Soul Twin, this one's for you!

Eat, drink, and mind the wine mustache!


REVIEW: Julie & Julia (the movie)

I just saw Julie & Julia (with blogging goddess Reading Rants) and, as you might suspect, I loved it. The food looked gorgeous, Meryl was superb, and my crush on Stanley Tucci was confirmed. I agree with most reviews in that I would have loved to have seen more of Julia Child, particularly her relationship with Paul, her father, and France...in fact, I would have been the most pleased if the movie had been a straight biopic, based on My Life in France. But that's me.

As I suspected, the movie brought out the introspection in me because to talk about Julia Child is not to only talk about food. Because food is not just food. How you approach your cooking and your kitchen and your table is a euphemism for how you approach your life. I believe that, truly. So to watch Meryl's incredible performance, as Julia, made me think about how I approach my life. And to juxtapose it with Julie Powell, or at least Amy Adams' depiction of her.

I saw so much of myself in Julie Powell's character...and I wasn't happy about it. The self-absorption, the neuroses, the hysteria. And - shhhhh! - don't start protesting in the comment section. Seriously, unless you're the Husband, I honestly don't know if you can speak to this. And I'm not being self-critical...I'm self-analyzing. ANYWAY, it just made me think about how I approach the kitchen and food...and, thus, life.

Then consider Julia Child's character: gusto, verve, passion. Was she stubborn as all hell? Well, of course she was. But I love the "never apologize, no excuses" approach. Her relationship with Paul is the type of relationship I emulate in my everyday life. I love the idea that when you're in your kitchen no one can see you - no one can see that you're not perfect. And that's okay. The kitchen is where you can shrug it off, patch things up, and move on. Make a mistake? Well, start again tomorrow. Being in the kitchen is all about second chances. Truly, Julia Child had that joie de vivre that I long for...and probably manage to achieve more than the next person. But that still doesn't keep me from constantly trying to attain it.

Ultimately, watching Julie & Julia was a good wake-up call for me. I don't know if this happens to any of you, but I can tell when I'm in a funk by my relationship with food. I eat more than I normally would because I'm unsatisfied not by what I'm eating but by something happening in my life. I drink more wine than I might normally not because I'm celebrating but out of habit and...something else. I eat crappy things I might normally eat and get no joy out of them at all. And I'm clearly in a funk right now.

So I'm shaking myself off and channeling Julia Child and remembering that larger than life is just the right size. I'm remembering that gorgeous moment when Meryl-as-Julia flips over the omelette and declares, "Don't be afraid." But wait...she was just talking eggs in a pan, right? Right...

Eat, drink, and bon appètit!


Growing pains, continued...

Yikes. I'm going to have to rethink GoodReads as well... I can tell you for certain, though, that I won't be publicly giving books stars anymore. I think I'll have to rate the books in my private notes.

In the meantime, I am having a blast reading and posting on Kristin Cashore's birthday poll. The comments involve me taking away people's kangaroo-summoning powers by yelling in Finnish through a foghorn. I know it makes no sense - just go read and have fun!


Book mojo!

Don't you love those times - I know you've had them too - when every book you read just seems to be awesome? You seem to go through your books so much faster because none of them drags, none of them sucks? I'm going through one of those periods right now. And I'm wearily excited because, inevitably, I know it will end. Eventually, I'll pick up a stinker.

For now, though, I'm enjoying the ride.

Here are the Harper books I have loved (and I'm soooo sorry about the pub dates!):

Here are the non-Harper books I have equally loved:

Great summer for reading! Now, all I need to do is get my hands on Dani Noir by Nova Ren Suma (per Molly's recommendation) and Winter's End by Jean-Claude Mourlevat, translated by Anthea Bell (per Chris Shoemaker's recommendation) and my August will ROCK!


Food playlist - the ZipCar version

When we moved to NYC, we sold both our cars and went ZipCar. ZipCar, for those of you who don't know, is...well, it's hard to explain. It's sort of like a rental car, except if the rental car was just sitting in a random parking garage somewhere and you could just pick it up on a moment's notice, use it for an hour to go to Trader Joe's, and then leave it where you found it. It's all very snazzy and technological and awesome. And it makes being without a car nearly effortless.

As you can imagine, things get left in the ZipCars. In fact, I have laughed with Adam before about us leaving CDs in the player because, whoever has the ZipCar after us, will be greeted by the soundtracks to Mamma Mia, High School Musical 1 and 2, and Hairspray. Well, here is the text of the e-newsletter we received from ZipCar today:

That mix cd you left behind? Um, we found it.

Admittedly, we got a little ahead of ourselves and thought we'd seen it all: the good, the bad, and the ugly of mix CDs and iPod playlists. Over the years we've learned all of your darkest secrets and bad listening habits (which we actually love). And then recently we stumbled upon a playlist so original, so profound, so amazing that we think it could redefine the whole genre of the playlist. Enter, the fantastical, mind-blowing, "Songs About Food" playlist! (Yes, you know we immediately started compiling a "Songs About Vehicles" playlist which, naturally, will include lots of Beach Boys.) Check it out:

Everybody Eats When They Come To My House - Cab Calloway and His Orchestra
Red Vines - Aimee Mann
Know Your Onion! - The Shins
Bobbing for Apples (live) - Regina Spektor
Cigarettes and Chocolate Milk - Rufus Wainwright
Beans and Cornbread - Louis Jordan & His Tympany Five
Les Sucettes - France Gall
Eat the Music - Kate Bush
Breakfast in America - Supertramp
Quiche Lorraine - The B-52's
Red Apples - Cat Power
I Want A Little Sugar In My Bowl - Nina Simone
Warm Beer and Cold Women - Tom Waits
Black Coffee in Bed - Squeeze

Now while the idea of a food playlist isn't that original (see here and here and here), I still thought this one was a good one...I mean, Nina Simone, The Shins, and Tom Waits? Excellent!

Eat, drink, and rock ON!


Pinot and...I don't know...

I've been having a bit of a dilemma about my blog lately...and a sad one at that. As most of you know, I am no longer working as the children's materials selector at Queens Library, and I now work in school & library marketing at HarperCollins. This puts my book reviews and discussions in some limbo. While I'm thrilled about my new job, I'm realizing that I do have to give up quite a bit for it. In this case, I'm realizing I need to alter my blog.

Perhaps naively, I believed that I would go on blogging just as I have always blogged. Now I'm seeing that I really can't do that. I've mentioned books I don't like, and I've discussed aspects of books that I don't like. Obviously, I can't really blog that way in regards to Harper books anymore (that's a little thing they like to call conflict of interest), and it looks all wrong if I do it for others' books. Making me a biased and untrustworthy reviewer, n'est-ce pas? Which kills me. The idea that I could be considered as such. Nevertheless, that's how it goes. So where do I go from here?

1. I stop talking about children's books completely and become strictly a food blog. But I don't know if I'm hardcore enough for that. Books are a huge part of my life. Not to mention the "prose" part of my blog name...

2. The only children's books I feature are "foodie books for kids". Even then, I don't review them - I only bring attention to them, regardless of publisher.

3. I can still have general discussions about books and leave out specific titles. But I just don't know how effective that would be.

4. Have general book discussions and list books freely, as in the "What I'm Reading Now" type vein. Just steer clear of reviews.

So I'm at a loss. This is officially an identity crisis for Pinot and Prose. For now, I'm looking to Molly at Ten Block Walk who I think does a nice job of discussing books and keeping that separate from her job as a children's book editor. On that note, Brenda Bowen has also been successful at maintaining that balance.

Or I could chuck it all and create an anonymous blog, à la Editorial Anonymous, and just let my freak out. It's already my second week and I could already tell quite a few stories...perhaps covering myself in a veil of secrecy is the way to go...if I'm prepared to be fired should I be found out...and I'm awful with secrets anyway...

Maybe not...



Diary of a Wimpy Kid: The Movie

Thanks to Shelf Awareness, I found out that Steve Zahn will play Greg's father in the upcoming Diary of a Wimpy Kid movie. Frankly, I imagined Greg's dad to be more gangly and tall but, what Zahn lacks in spaghetti limbs, he certainly has in comedic timing.

I do worry about the movie, though. What seems like clever, smart observations in the books may just translate to another raunchy gross-out movie. Which, of course, will be wildly popular.