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Showing posts from July, 2013

Book Review: One Big Table

I picked up One Big Table by Molly O’Neill a couple years ago on sale. This is a big, heavy book resulting from the author’s quest to travel the country and document first hand what Americans are cooking up in their kitchens. It opens with a lovely illustration inside the front cover of the United States and its agricultural products with the products overlaid on a US map to show their origins. These clever and informative old-timey graphics are sprinkled throughout the cookbook and add to its charm, as do the little vignettes on American life and ingredients. Every recipe has its own backstory included, which is useful and entertaining and the patchwork variety of recipes really illustrates the diversity in heritage we celebrate as Americans. As for the recipes themselves, there are a lot of them. More than 600 in fact. I’ve made a handful over the years and haven’t found a dud yet. This month I dusted off my copy of the cookbook (I have 300+ cookbooks in my collection so rotation am…

Tomatoes and Berries: Preserving the Best of Summer

Like any other practical skill, canning and preserving take practice to build expertise. From my first canning session at the end of spring, I learned that you can’t shortcut recipes unless you know what you are doing and that you MUST make sure to cook down your jam until it reaches the gel stage. If it’s syrupy instead of gel consistency when it goes in the jar, it will be syrupy still when it comes out. To make myself feel better, I like to tell people I didn’t fail in making strawberry jam, I succeeded in making strawberry compote. Still, the lesson was obvious: cook the jams down properly. During my second canning session, or the weekend of 10 thousand peaches as I like to call it, I learned that pressure canning jams for too long (anything greater than 5 minutes) or under too much pressure (anything more than 6 pounds) threatens to break down the natural pectin gel you created with the concentrated cooking. I didn’t figure this out until I was almost finished canning (I had bee…

Book Review: And The Mountains Echoed

Khaled Hosseini has done it again. In his latest release, And The Mountains Echoed, he has written a heart wrenching best seller that gives us a window into Afghanistan’s culture and stirs the soul. Years ago I had a terrible nightmare wherein I had declined to marry my husband and we’d gone on to marry other people instead. Soon after the weddings, I realized with agony what a mistake I’d made and felt the full weight of despair as I understood I could never make it right; we could never be together now that we were committed to other people. It was such a deep and profound sense of agony and loss that I woke up from this terrible dream sobbing so loudly and in such a frenzy I literally made myself sick. This – this feeling of irreversible bitter pain and sadness that cannot be undone – this is what Khaled captures so perfectly in his stories. And The Mountains Echoed introduces us to two motherless siblings, Abdullah and Pari, and then subsequently tears them apart and keeps us pini…

Book Review: The Lebanese Kitchen

I received a copy of Salma Hage’s new cookbook, The Lebanese Kitchen a couple of weeks ago.The publisher, Phaidon, is well known for producing high quality books that are lovely not only to read but beautiful to hold and to look at and The Lebanese Kitchen is no exception. The pages are uniquely cut with a delicate zigzag edge and there are at least two colorful ribbons strings sewn into the binding for easy bookmarking. This is a heavy, large cookbook; an exhaustive encyclopedia of the best of Lebanese cooking. So many recipes to choose from in fact that I wasn’t sure where to get started. Over the past few weeks I’ve made Hage’s hummus with chili oil, eggplant and garlic dip, Lebanse mixed salad, and zucchini stuffed with lamb. Everything has been phenomenal and I’m really pleased to count The Lebanese Kitchen among my favorite cookbooks. The recipes are well written in that they are accurate (no typos or proportion errors) and easy to follow. Bonus: there are a number of full page …

Book Review: Tender

Nigel Slater is an iconic food personality in the UK. From what I understand, he’s a bit like the British version of Julia Child. I picked up a copy of his cookbook Tender, A Cook and His Vegetable Patch a couple summers ago at the Strand in NYC. It’s a thick volume on growing and cooking vegetables, which each vegetable given it’s own little chapter. I’m not much of a gardener, and our soil and weather conditions here in the States are different that those in the UK, so in my case, the gardening anecdotes Slater provides serve merely as charming and interesting backstory points of references for the recipes versus practical, actionable advice. The recipes he’s provided are quite varied, ranging from ordinary preparations most of us are familiar with such as roasted asparagus to more unusual ideas like Slater’s Beet Cake or his Curried Tomatoes. Of course I skew to that which is novel and exciting so I had to try my hand at the Beet Cake. It’s really quite extraordinary and quite nutr…

Book Review: Foods of the Americas, Native Recipes and Traditions

One of the most interesting museums on the National Mall in Washington, D.C., is the Smithsonian National Museum of the American Indian. Ten Speed Press, in association with the museum has published a cookbook written by Fernando and Marlene Divina that celebrates the native ingredients of the Americas. Foods of the Americas, Native Recipes and Traditions highlights over 100 recipes featuring corn, potatoes, chile, berries, wild rice, and other iconic new world ingredients. In addition to the recipes, the Divinas’ have included a wealth of information on the history of such ingredients, the dishes created from them, and the people who have enjoyed them for centuries. The cookbook also features full color photography of recipes, ingredients, and historical vignettes. I have made the tomatillo salsa, guacamole, tamales, and the empadas (South American version of empanadas) featured in Foods of the Americas. Everything was quite enjoyable, although it was my preference to add more season…

On Dogs and Anxiety

More Adventures in Canning and Preserving

Book Review: Upgrade

There is no shortage of authors lining up to tell you how to run your life and your business better. A glut of self-improvement books are on the market. Likewise, there are numerous titles covering business how-to and new books are released at a staggering pace.Rana Florida (wife of “creative class” expert Richard Florida) has opted to combine a self-help and business guide in one handy book which she has titled, Upgrade: Taking Your Work and Life from Ordinary to Extraordinary. Florida’s writing style is effective and conversational. She doesn’t cloud her text in obscure academic terms or complex business language. Readers will find her writing easygoing and direct.  Her credentials in business include partnership in her husband’s successful consulting company, business school training, and years of corporate work as well as independent freelance jobs. In Upgrade, Florida lays down a blueprint for business and career success that emphasizes:1. Boldness in thought and action; taking r…

This Week is Brought to You by the Letter M

I really love to cook, the whole process from beginning to end (except the clean up; I hate cleaning up).  I enjoy putting together menus and choosing interesting dishes for my family to try. I feel at home in the grocery store, the farmers market, or specialty foods shop perusing the fresh items. Handmade pastas, delicate pastries, exotic produce, luscious yogurt, butter, and cheese. Fantastic! There’s a simple joy in feeling the weight of a ripe peach in my hand or bringing it closer and taking in its sweet scent. I feel connected to the land, connected to God, and bursting with love for my husband and our friends when I take the time to prepare good meals and offer hospitality. I’ve been in a bit of a cooking funk lately, where I’ve gotten out of the habit of putting much care and thought into my meals and instead have been just throwing things together at the last minute. Quick, easy, and lacking passion, this has been the status quo for our meals in June. Part of it no doubt is t…

Book Review: Songs of Willow Frost

One of the best aspects of being a book reviewer is the exposure to authors with whom I was not previously familiar. Instead of choosing books to read through my normal method - perusing the shelves at Barnes and Noble and admittedly judging by the covers – I’m voluntarily reading pretty much every book that comes my way via publishers seeking feedback.
This weekend I started and finished Songs of Willow Frost by Jamie Ford. It’s set in the early 20th century against the backdrop of the great depression and focuses on a Chinese mother and son that have been torn apart by excruciating circumstances. I absolutely could not put this book down. Ford’s prose is beautiful and evocative. He expertly pulls readers into the story right from the first pages. I identified with this young abandoned son as we came to know him in his orphanage home. I felt his sadness as it was recounted by Ford; my heart welled up with anticipation and hope as his heart pounded with excitement of the same. Buoyed…