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Showing posts from May, 2013

Book Review: The First Rule of Swimming

It seems rather fitting that just after reading and reviewing a novel last week centered on two brothers that I would pick up The First Rule of Swimming by Courtney Angela Brkic, a gripping story of two sisters. Magdalena and Jadranka are from a small sheltered Croatian island and their lives and those of their whole family have been shaped by a war that tested the bounds of their family’s loyalty. In the Babic family, keeping secrets pushes loved ones away and years later revealing secrets proves just as forceful, propelling Jadranka to run straight into danger, her uncle Marin and her mother Ana to face emotions they’d long since buried, and Magda to begin a journey across the ocean that will ultimately change her circumstances forever. Brkic has crafted a story that is heavy with emotion and draws out our sympathy for not only the protagonist, Magda, but her entire cast of supporting characters. Each member of the Babic family has a complex persona derived from their past experienc…

Book Review: In the Land of the Living

I just finished reading In the Land of the Living by Austin Ratner. It’s powerful novel, a tale of men – fathers, brothers, and sons wherein women play the supporting background roles. The story opens on three Hungarian brothers, Burt, Isidore, and Dennis, all of whom have a difficult relationship with their father, Ezer. And so a significant portion of the early chapters in the novel focus on the tension between father and sons and Isidore is distinguished as the story’s original protagonist. Later, the novel follows Isidore through college and medical school and unfolds his romantic relationships and eventual marriage. His love for his sons is in the forefront in these chapters, while his angst for his father still bubbles to and breaks through the surface occasionally. Chapter nine showcases the notes Isidore keeps on his growing son’s toddler years and it’s beautiful to read. Eventually the focus of the novel turns to Isidore’s sons, Leo and Maxwell, and the novel shifts to the co…

Benevolent Sexism

I started down a rabbit hole of googling because a woman on a message board I frequent was upset that men at her workplace act chivalrous- holding open doors for ladies, carrying boxes, letting them into elevators first, lending umbrellas, etc. She wanted to know if this was actionable under a typical HR department as sexism or discrimination. Several folks who replied said it is called ‘benevolent sexism’ and is a bad thing. So I found this article that summarizes research that indicates chivalry is the carrot (positive reinforcement) afforded to women who maintain the feminine gender role and is the flipside of the stick (derision, violence, ridicule, etc) used when women step outside of the feminine gender role. I never thought about chivalry like this or that it had that sort of subconscious purpose and effect. Now I happen to enjoy (a lot) the traditional gender roles and conforming to the feminine expectations of society and while I don't support the stick to keep people in …

Canning: My First Adventure

I’ve always had a passion for collecting and sampling unusual jams. My pantry is currently stocked with more than 20 varieties of jam from all over the world. Recently our roommate pointed out to me how much money I could save if I just canned my own jams. And then he let me sample his homemade blackberry jam and I thought he was really on to something. So, with his guidance, hubby and I picked out a pressure canner that will work well with our flat-top ceramic stove (the common modern flat-tops rule out many popular brands of pressure canners so make sure to do your research). We also purchased several sets of canning jars in half pint, pint, and quart sizes, tools for handling hot jars, and dissolvable fancy labels for our jars. I’m getting pretty excited about our first canning session, and in preparation I’ve marked a number of recipes from Ball Complete Book of Home Preserving, Put ‘em Up: A Preserving Guide and Cookbook, and Mes Confitures: The Jams and Jellies of Christine Ferb…

Book Review: The Girls’ Guide To Love and Supper Clubs

One of my friends on goodreads.com recommended Dana Bate’s new novel and so I thought I’d give it a read. I’m a foodie that dabbles in gourmet dinner parties, I live in the metro DC area, and I’m pretty interested in the underground restaurant scene that is all the rage lately. These circumstances and my love of breezy ‘chick lit’ meant that The Girls’ Guide To Love and Supper Clubs was sure to be a book I’d enjoy and it was.The protagonist, Hannah, is a smart and resourceful young woman living in DC and working the typical think tank job. She’s dating a handsome, wealthy, and upper crust type of fellow who is employed in the political arena. From the outside, life seems perfect, but on the inside, she’s unhappy. Like many DC types that have come before her, Hannah actually wants no part of the political policy scene and would rather spend her time on other pursuits, namely cooking. Cue a round of applause from the true life wonk who dropped out of life on Capitol Hill to open up Cake…

Book Review: Plenty

I am always on the prowl for the latest and the greatest cookbook. Everyone has their preferences and I lean toward cookbooks that feature fresh ingredients, gourmet preparations and presentations, and an international flair. I picked up Plenty: Vibrant Vegetable Recipes from London’s Ottolenghi by Yotam Ottolenghi with these criteria in mind about a year ago when it was making the rounds as the hot new vegetarian cookbook. The author is originally from Israel and so of course middle eastern culture, ingredients, and technique heavily influence his repertoire. He owns a restaurant in London and for several years he wrote a column for The Guardian press on vegetarian cuisine. Pretty good for a chef who isn’t actually a vegetarian. He became well known for his creativity with fresh vegetables and the recipes laid out in Plenty are those that have appeared over the years in his Guardian column. The cookbook itself is beautiful. The cover art (a shot of a row of roasted eggplants dressed …

Pentecost

Today is Pentecost. Today marks the celebration of the Christian church as a body and the moment when the church began - when the Holy Spirit descended upon the disciples and first believers in front of a great multitude of witnesses. I give you Acts, chapter 2:2 When the day of Pentecost came, they (from Acts 1:15 we know there were about 120 in this group here referred to as ‘they’: In those days Peter stood up among the believers, a group numbering about a hundred and twenty) were all together in one place. 2 Suddenly a sound like the blowing of a violent wind came from heaven and filled the whole house where they were sitting.3 They saw what seemed to be tongues of fire that separated and came to rest on each of them. 4 All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit enabled them….22 “Fellow Israelites, listen to this: Jesus of Nazareth was a man accredited by God to you by miracles, wonders and signs, which God did among you through …

Book Review: Southern Pies: A Gracious Plenty of Pie Recipes, From Lemon Chess to Chocolate Pecan

Every home cook has a few favorite cookbooks. You know the ones. The cookbooks are filled with easy to follow recipes that look amazing and taste even better. Full color photos accompany several of the recipes and much like a good restaurant, you can’t go wrong no matter which item you choose from the offerings. Southern Pies: A Gracious Plenty of Pie Recipes, From Lemon Chess to Chocolate Pecan by Nancie McDermott is just that kind of cookbook. I got interested in recreating authentic southern pecan pie after I enjoyed the house recipe while dining at the Eclectic Café in Memphis, TN (you really must go there if you’re passing through Memphis). I picked up Southern Pies in the hopes that at least one of the pecan pie recipes contained within could approximate the fantastic pie served at Eclectic Café. I wanted to save my formal review of the cookbook until I’d attempted the pecan pie recipe but the results of the two recipes I have already tried have been so great that I didn’t want …

Book Review: The Glorious Pasta of Italy

We have a tenant staying with us in our home this year. He knows I love to cook and so he procured a copy of Domenica Marchetti’s The Glorious Pasta of Italy for me as a Christmas present at the close of last year. I have very high standards when it comes to Italian cookbooks, having long ago fallen head over heels for the legendary work of Marcella Hazan and her Essentials of Classic Italian Cooking which sets the standard for Italian cookery. So while I accepted Marchetti’s book gracefully, I  remained skeptical. Thumbing through the book it’s obvious that it’s well planned. The chapters are thoughtfully arranged, with the first devoted to the basics of pasta enjoyment – the necessary equipment, a encyclopedic listing of pasta types, common pasta dough recipes, and the most essential of sauces such as fresh tomato. Subsequent chapters address pasta soups, pasta with sauce, stuffed pastas, baked pastas, quick pasta entrees, classic pasta recipes, over the top pasta “showstoppers”, an…

Book Review: Salad of the Day

Georgeanne Brennan has authored a new cookbook in 2012, Salad of the Day, 365 Recipes for Every Day of the Year. The chapters are laid out to follow the calendar year, with a large 2 page calendar spread at the beginning of each chapter giving a once glance view of the entire month’s recipes. In the subsequent pages of each chapter, Georgeanne provides the detailed recipes, including thoughtful comments. There are also many full page pictures of salads throughout the book. I picked up this cookbook at Williams Sonoma in the beginning of April and have been cooking from it ever since. I love the organization of the recipes and I love that Georgeanne strives to highlight seasonal ingredients as we progress through the calendar year of recipes. I’ve made at least a dozen of her salads so far and I haven’t found one dud in the bunch yet! There are warm salads such as her Grilled Salmon, Potato, and Asparagus salad sprinkled throughout the cookbook and the cold salads are by no means tradi…

Mother’s Day and Getting What You Asked For

Another Mother’s Day has come and gone. It’s always been a bit rough for me and this year I kept a handle on my emotions by staying away from social media until the day was nearly over. As a daughter I find Mother’s Day to be a painful reminder of the joy and emotional intimacy between mother and child that I have always wanted but never experienced. My mother is still alive, but our relationship has always been strained and when I see the happy pictures of my friends celebrating with their mothers (especially the ones where they look so much alike) and read the ode to mother tributes I feel the little stabby pains of envy creeping in. I let myself grieve a bit each year when this special day rolls around for what was never to be and I turn the hurt over to God because he is the only one that can full the dark corners in the heart where a mother’s love should reach but couldn’t. As a woman who is childless by choice Mother’s Day can also be a painful reminder that society not only val…

Book Review: From a Polish Country House Kitchen

My experience with Polish cuisine has been less than satisfactory, but until I visited Poland I assumed this could be blamed on lackluster American copies of Polish originals. I’d tried pierogies from the frozen section of the supermarket and kielbasa from Hillshire Farms and neither suited me. When I tried a fresh kielbasa prepared by a Polish housewife at an upstate New York church supper in the late 1990s, my theory was reinforced. This,THIS kielbasa wasn’t smoky or salty, it was sweet and rich and delicious hot off the grill. I dreamed of going to Poland one day to taste more of this meaty perfection and to sample the rest of what I was sure would be fantastic cuisine. I finally visited Poland in late 2011- Krakow and Warsaw both. I eagerly stood in line at the Christmas Markets is downtown Krakow to taste authentic kielbasa. Guess what, it tastes exactly like Hillshire Farms! Sidenote: I contacted that Polish housewife when I returned to the states and she confirmed that fresh (n…

Potato Soup with Dill

Note: I made this soup patterned after a recipe I found online, but have since been unable to locate that inspiration recipe. There's a lot of flexibility in this soup - to use leeks or onions, to add in celery or not, to puree or not, to finish with cream or not. Let your mood and your ingredients on hand guide you. Serves: 2 (with leftovers) Season: Summer, Fall, Winter, Spring 1.5 pounds russet and/or Yukon gold potatoes, peeled and chopped 1-2 Tbsp. olive oil 1 large leek, rinsed well and chopped (use just the white portion, discard the green tough tops, and make sure to really clean the leek well while fanning out the layers to get the dirt/sand out from between the layers) OR substitute 1/2 large onion, chopped1 carrot, peeled and diced 1 rib celery, peeled and diced (optional) 2 cloves garlic, minced 3 T white wine, any variety 2 T unsalted butter 1 quart chicken stock (I use chicken base + water) 1 bay leaf salt and pepper to taste copious amounts of fresh dill milk or cr…

Beginnings and Endings

This week marks the end of my first full semester of graduate school at the University of Michigan in the MS in Computer Science and Information Systems program. I was enrolled in coursework in Autumn 2012, but those classes were actually senior level computer science undergraduate courses recommended by the university to fill the gaps in my knowledge due to not having a Bachelor’s of Science degree (I have a BA in psychology from New Mexico State University). It was a very challenging semester both in terms of the content of the coursework (so much math at times) and the requirement to balance the coursework with my full time career, my full time role as a wife and my leisure hobby of weekend travel. There were quite a few weekends whilst we were en route to Asia that I had to maintain the self-discipline to study on the plane. Luckily, I was smart enough to enlist the assistance of both my husband and and my closest female friend to help keep me on track with accountability and peer…

Book Review: The Daily Soup

I’ve owned The Daily Soup  by Leslie Kaul and Bob Spiegal since 2005. It was that year that I decided to establish a weekly ‘Souper Saturday’ tradition in our home (wherein we enjoy soup paired salad or sandwiches each Saturday) and so was on the prowl for high quality soup recipes. The Daily Soup has not disappointed. The instructions are clear and easy to follow, the ingredients are easy to source, and the soups that result are delicious. My favorite soup so far from the collection is ‘Roasted Eggplant Parmesan’ (p.29). It’s everything wonderful about traditional eggplant parmesan, ladled into a bowl. There are soups for everyone in this cookbook including vegetarian and dairy free. The recipes are grouped by major ingredient such as corn, tomato, or grain, which is useful when you have specific ingredients you’d like to use and find a recipe to accompany. One suggestion for this author team or for other authors putting together a soup cookbookany cookbook is to include more picture…

Book Review: Amity and Sorrow

Amity and Sorrow is quite the unusual novel by Peggy Riley. It opens on the scene of a mother, Amaranth, driving her two daughters, Amity and Sorrow, down an Oklahoma country road. It quickly becomes evident that they are on the run from someone or something. Because the daughters are literally bound to one another via their arms in the backseat, and because the language is evocative of the south, I first assumed this was a story about an escape from slavery. Which it is, I suppose, but not in the traditional African slave trade context. Amity and Sorrow are the daughters of a polygamous cult leader and his first wife (among many many wives). They’ve escaped from the cult’s homesteading compound in Utah following a police raid. As the story slowly unravels we learn more about the destructive power of the cult and their father’s leadership. The family is in shambles emotionally and financially and their cultural identity and experiences are very different than those of the people they …

Book Review: Beautiful Ruins

While traveling cross-country last weekend, I passed the time reading novels I’d recently received. One of these was Beautiful Ruins by Jess Walter. The book is simply fantastic. Walter presents a moving story encompassing friendship and love that spans a lifetime. Pasquale is a deep and soulful innkeeper in a rarely visited, small Italian village. He dreams of running a large, profitable, and popular resort that would serve as a beacon for adventurous American tourists but when Americans do venture onto his island home they are few and far between and transpires is nothing as he’s imagined. It’s better. The novel unwinds Pasquale’s story and those of his two American guests, tracing their paths across continents and back together again to a satisfying and beautiful conclusion. Walter draws a portrait of each character so multi-faceted that we learn to love and identify with each of them, regardless of their foibles. Walter even manages to weave in real-life events and figures (Elizab…