Pinot and Prose: The Super Bowl Edition

Troy Polamalu, Pittsburgh Steelers safety, as quoted in The Sporting News (September 2006):

"They call it culinary arts, because it is an art form.  If you look at a painting, you are left with a certain impression the artist wants to give you.  Food is no different.  The impression my wife will give me is different from the experience I will have at some first-class restaurant.  The food may taste good, but it's not as good for my soul as my wife's cooking."

REVIEW: Kitchen Dance by Maurie Manning

I have a crappy New York kitchen.  Seriously.  Granted, it’s not one of those really long and narrow “railroad” type kitchens, but still…

Nevertheless, it’s the room I love most.  I have a chair set up in the corner by the window and anyone who has ever had dinner with us has declared it “my chair” (I will admit, though, that Lori has sat there more than anyone…it’s kind of her chair).  I love that people sit in that chair and keep me company (and, subsequently, stay out of my way).  I love that there is always music playing in the kitchen.  I love that Adam, Kiddo, and I dance in there.  And we jokingly, lovingly call our kitchen the “Silent Room” because, when you are in it, you can’t hear a single thing going on elsewhere in the apartment.  I have laughed, sang, danced, argued, and cried in my kitchen.  My crappy kitchen has seen every important event in my family’s life.

Kitchen Dance by Maurie Manning (Clarion, 2008) gets this about kitchens.  Magic (of the emotional, child-like sort), love, and joy happen in the midst of washing dishes and making tamales.  Two children are trying to sleep but they’re awakened by the Clang! Scrape! Clunk! sounds from downstairs.  They tiptoe down to investigate and find their parents dancing, cooking, and singing in the kitchen: “My father sings a Spanish song into a wooden spoon.  Como te quiero!  Oh, how I love you.  Umm,hmm.’”  When the parents spy their children watching, rather than send them packing off to bed (as Adam and I would no doubt do), they sweep the children into their celebration, laughing and dancing: “We twirl around and around in a circle of family.”  Then “the kitchen dance slows” and Mama and Papa sway slowly with their children, lulling them to sleep.  They carry the kids to bed and tuck them in, as the little girl contentedly sighs “Umm, hmm” as she drifts off to sleep.

There is so much to recommend this book.  First, I love the multicultural aspect of it – the Spanish words peppered throughout the text, the tamales, the tango.  Unfortunately, there’s an elitist label that has been attached to being a foodie, and this story embodies the idea that all cultures, all races, all classes can have joy in the kitchen – even doing the dishes can be an opportunity to connect with someone. 

Second, I love the illustrations.  At the beginning, when we see the children upstairs in their rooms, the colors are muted; darkness is a deep lavender color.  This tone follows them downstairs but, when the kitchen door is opened, vibrant colors burst all over the page.  Mama is wearing a multi-colored tiered skirt, the dishes are vivid, the cabinets are lime green.  Papa’s bright white shirt glows against his dark skin, and his bright purple socks perhaps echo the deep lavender of the dark hallways outside the kitchen.  The children are brought from the darkness and into the brightness of their parents’ celebration.  As they drift off to sleep in their parents’ arms, dark purple seeps into the edges of the kitchen and the children once more enter that world of drowsiness and dreams. 

Lastly, this is storytime-ready, people.  Put on some samba music and encourage the kids to dance.  Heck, the text of this story begs you to dance: “A bump of her soft hips and cabinet doors shut – bang!”  How can you not do that hip motion as you read it? Pair this with Chicks and Salsa by Aaron Reynolds and you’ll have a party.

As if you didn’t already need enough motivation to pick this book up, here is a video that the author/illustrator created:



I know, right?

Ultimately, this book captures my deeply held belief that it doesn’t matter what you cook in your kitchen.  It doesn’t.  Being a foodie doesn’t mean truffles and soft-shell crabs and other such fancy accoutrements.  A foodie is someone who cooks from the heart, finds joy in the kitchen, and strives to bring happiness through what he lovingly prepares for family and friends.  Anyone who gets that is a foodie.  Kitchen Dance exemplifies that in a way that I haven’t seen yet in children’s literature, and it is a must-have in the canon of foodie books for children*. 

Eat, drink, and celebrate life in your kitchen.



* Didn’t know there was a canon?  Well, I just declared there was one. 


A Day of Loss

I can hardly believe this is my first post upon returning from ALA Midwinter...

As most of you librarian/publishing folks know, Kate McClelland and Kathy Krasniewicz - beloved librarians and friends - died on Wednesday in a hit-and-run accident while on their way to the Denver airport.  I am brokenhearted and mourn deeply for their families.

To read lovely comments and tributes to them, see the ALSC blog.

As far as sharing stories, I am at a loss for words.  So I'll direct you to this post where I shared the story of when "Kathy Kras" met Ina Garten in the halls of Random House.

Eat, drink, and raise a glass to two extraordinary, sassy, and eternally beautiful women.


Take a breath and do the difficult thing first...*

This may help ease me into the world of hosting dinner parties. I like the idea of not only trying new things myself but encouraging others to do the same. But I might be too much of a control freak to allow others to cook in my kitchen... Thanks, as ever, to Sustainable Table for blogging such creative ideas and solutions!

On another food-related note...but not related to the above...

I had an interview at ICE yesterday evening. I'm considering a culinary degree**. Because I don't have nearly enough to do already.


Eat, drink, and be adventurous.

* I'll be taking a short break from blogging - I'll be in Denver for ALA Midwinter until next Wednesday.

** Heaven knows, though, that I've done A LOT more research on this one than I did with the Food Studies program at NYU. Sheesh. It just wasn't my bag, baby...and I would've known that ahead of time if I had done proper research.


Reviewing Foodie Books for Kids!

So I've been doing some reviewing for School Library Journal and sort of enjoying it...

...however, I recently shared with the reviews editor that my passion was food and food writing, and I (professionally, of course, because I am nothing if not professional) begged her to give me food-related books to review.  So in the mail today, I received THREE books to review...all
 FOOD-RELATED!  So coming up:

- Sylvie by Jennifer Sattler (Random House, May 2009)
- I Love Chocolate by Davide Cali, illustrated by Evelyn Daviddi (Tundra, Feb 2009)
- The King's Taster by Kenneth Oppel, illustrated by Steve Johnson & Lou Fancher (HarperCollins, June 2009)

Want to know what I'm most excited about?  That there are three upcoming food-related books for kids...and those are just the ones I'm reviewing, let alone the multitudes that I am not!  Between that and the Disney Channel episode this morning, among other things, I'm feeling wildly optimistic today.

No Roquefort for you!

I have recently discovered Civil Eats and, oh boy, am I glad I did!

Check out this post.  Apparently the Bush administration gave one last middle finger to France by imposing a tariff on Roquefort, of all things, making it nearly impossible to import it into the U.S.

Which, of course, just proves the argument that the president we vote into office does indeed have an influence over the food we eat and the health of the entire nation.

(NOTE: Also read the post for a hilarious, yet provocative, story of Paula's French husband trying to buy grass-fed meat in NYC)

Pass the Plate

Kiddo was watching Disney Channel this morning and this was what we saw: proof positive that the revolution in food is trickling down to our children (or at least our children's programming).

What I appreciate is that the focus is on food and recipes, rather than nutrition.  Locally grown food is good nutrition.  At the same time it doesn't ignore the global nature of food, which I also appreciate: there's an emphasis on awareness and knowing where your food is coming from.  Not to mention that Disney's approach is colorful, fun, and interesting.

I'm thrilled about this.  Now I have ammunition for those friends and colleagues who try to tell me how evil Disney is.


A Tour of the Week's Foodie Articles

I've been doing some touring of the major newspapers today, reading the food and wine sections. Here are some gems:

In Paris, a Critic Criticized by Elaine Sciolino (NYT)

Wow. I had the BEST time reading this article. Chefs and restaurant critics…they suit each other so well, as it’s all ego…and then more ego on top of that. Mr. Simon is certainly correct in trying to take chefs down a notch, but he has also clearly been put on a pedestal (perhaps he put himself on that pedestal). Anyway, it’s all subjective, isn’t it? How many times have I sat at a table with my husband, my family, my friends…and we have all had different impressions of a meal. Or of a restaurant’s ambiance. Food, and the experience of it, is such a deeply personal, sensual, and entangled thing that I – quite frankly –find the role of the critic superfluous: the experience that a single food critic has in a restaurant cannot possibly relate to the experience I would have, even if he and I were in the same restaurant on the same day at the same moment. Indeed, even if we were at the same table. So then what is the role of the critic other than to listen to themselves criticize?

Fresh Start for the New Year? Let's Begin in the Kitchen by Mark Bittman (NYT)

Mark Bittman (or “Bitty” as Mario Batali calls him in Spain…On the Road Again) lists pantry must-haves for the New Year. I love what he says about lemons: “I never put lemon on something and regret it.” Ditto. Also ditto on the dried parsley and basil – this isn’t a matter of opinion, people…get rid of them. He also recommends banning canned beans and going for fresh instead. I’d like to take issue with this: I’m a working mom, and it’s a challenge to get even canned beans on the table…let alone something that needs to soak overnight! But he might sell me on this – if I could exhibit a little foresight, I could do it over the weekend and freeze them in serving sizes. I’m open to trying it; I just have to get in touch with my Inner Planner. And I absolutely agree with him on the tomato paste – buy it in a tube versus the can. Also, he’s right on the prosciutto or bacon – having either or both of these on hand has saved me on many, many weeknights.

She Brings Enthusiasm to the Table by Lisa Zwirn (Boston Globe)

This is an interesting piece for all you working parents out there. Unfortunately, I found the article a little too slapdash: “See, working moms and dads? It’s easy and simple to have family dinners every night!” I get a little rankled by broad generalizations like that. Minus the 1-2 “adult dinners” that Adam and I have each week, we do eat dinner as a family every night. But I won’t try to tell you it’s easy, and I don’t think others should. It’s a challenge and it takes lots and lots of planning, practice, and fine-tuning. It doesn’t just come naturally. I felt like this article made it sound as if it did…but I suppose that helps sell books. You don't sell books by telling someone how difficult something is.

Animal, Vegetable, Mineral, Magical by David McIntyre (Washington Post)

I loved this article on Cotes du Rhone wines because Adam and I have been growing particularly fond of them, but we do experience some sticker shock from time to time. This article has some really good tips for buying these French wines. I don’t know about you but I’d rather have the “simple-sounding ‘country wine’” any day over a mass-produced, natural-flavors-added, overblown, corporate wine. (Note: all the wines mentioned in this article are $15 and under…my kind of prices!)

At S.F. Shop, Cooks Find Pages from the Past by Tara Duggan (SF Chronicle)

Shamefully, I have not been to Kitchen Arts and Letters here in NYC. In fact, chances are quite good I’ll go to Omnivore Books before I end up at Kitchen Arts and Letters, given that I visit family on the West Coast and have friends who live in the Bay Area. Just ask me how badly I want that MFK Fisher first edition…there aren’t enough words to express it, really. Speaking of which, to digress a bit, I’ve started reading The Art of Eating by MFK Fisher (a Christmas gift from my brother and his wife)…and I’m thinking I might stop. I don’t know if there’s anything that can make a wannabe writer feel more inadequate than reading MFK Fisher.

Eat, drink, and rejoice in all the great food articles that appear daily!


A New Year

Here’s something you need to know about me: I take New Year’s very seriously. As someone who really struggles to be “in the now” and “in the moment”, New Year’s is the time for me when there isn’t a present – there is only the year that came before and the year to come, only past and future. I can reflect on where I’ve been and where I’d like to go. This is the time when I indulge in major introspection and evaluate my life and its direction.

That said, I don’t care for resolutions. I mean, why set myself up to fail? Rather, I make a list of goals…because I’m just that anal-retentive. I’m *such* a list maker! I like a list that I can check off; it helps me feel like I accomplished something when I see a list of crossed-off things.

So after some reflection, here is the list of my current goals for 2009, as they pertain to children’s literature and food*:

- Host a dinner party. A proper one. None of this “hey, dudes, come on over!” sort of willy-nilly thing I do. But a real event. Something coordinated and planned. I want multiple courses. I want ironed table linens. I want candlelight. I want a coordinated playlist on my iPod. I want eight people – enough that I have to put the leaf in my table. Hell, I might even bake. I’m already formulating my invitation list…and you may just be on it (though you will have to trek to Queens)!

- Delve into some other international cuisine. I know, “delve into” is vague. But I can’t “master” anything…god knows I’m far from mastering anything. But I want to explore and become familiar with some other cuisine. This French…Italian…pseudo-Spanish thing I have going needs to be put on pause. It’s not so much a rut as it’s a…habit. I was thinking Indian initially, but more and more I’m thinking Latin America. I just love the flavors, particularly on these dreary cold NYC days. Any cookbook recommendations or chefs I need to be aware of?

- I want to be a little more serious in my reading. It was embarrassing talking to Betsy yesterday: I told her I hadn’t read The Underneath…or any other book in Newbery contention. She said, “Well, you’ve read Chains, right?” Um…negative. “Graveyard Book?” Yeah, no. Her eyes bugged out of her head. How embarrassing to admit that I’ve spent all my time reading foodie books, The Luxe, and Georgia Nicolson. Particularly when I have Newbery Committee aspirations. I’ve got no street cred among my peeps. Again, this goal is kind of vague…but I’ll work on it nonetheless.

- Master the soufflé. It will be mine. Oh, yes, it will be mine. Even if I have to go All The Way to Brooklyn and make Ellen teach me.

- Finish the article I’m working on for a children’s book review publication. It’s meant for a particular journal, but I don’t feel comfortable sharing that here. But I do want to submit it for publication. The key is that I have to…you know…actually write it if I expect to finish it.

- Re-read some classics. I spend so much time forging ahead with my books that I don’t often go back and revisit some books I have loved in the past. Some ideas: The Neverending Story by Michael Ende, Picture of Dorian Gray by Oscar Wilde, Catcher in the Rye by JD Salinger, The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett, The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald (I actually hated this in high school…I’m hoping I’ll appreciate it with an adult perspective), Nothing’s Fair in Fifth Grade by Barthe DeClements (I loooooooved this as a kid – I thought it would be fun to re-read it). And for heaven's sake, I will read my first Roald Dahl book this year.

- Be more active in the blogsphere. Join Barefoot Bloggers. Or do Poetry Friday. Or go to a Slow Food NYC event. Get more involved.

- Try more foods. I will try foie gras this year; I’m ethically opposed to it, but I still want to see what the fuss is about. And I have never had a brussel sprout – must do. Haven’t had a beet either so I’m doing that this year as well.

- Continue to combine my love of food and books. In particular, plan an outing. I talked with Andrea about it…and now Molly and I have talked…and I want to get my foodie book friends together for food adventures in the city (or outside of it...road trip to wineries on Long Island, anyone?). Starting with Calexico in Brooklyn…I’ll make the trek for a mission-style burrito, especially one Andrea swears by. And I want to eat at Union Square CafĂ© since I’ve never been…and I’ll invite my foodie book friends…we’ll channel Ina Garten who says it’s her favorite restaurant in the city.

- Split a CSA box with friends this summer. Really, there is no excuse in the world why I shouldn’t.

And those are just a few of the things I want to do this year…

Eat, drink, and make the most of every year…and every moment.

* Because you don’t need to know about the other ones, like go to the dentist (you couldn’t begin to guess when my last visit occurred) or declutter my closet.


At night, they call to me!

Okay, stick with me on this...

I feel enormous pressure to read.  I never seem to read as fast as I would like, thus I never seem to read as many books as I feel like I should.  It really is troublesome because, frankly, feeling this way prevents me from leisurely enjoying what I'm reading.  Instead, it feels more like, "Hurry!  Hurry!  There are SO many other books to read!"  The Books I Have Yet to Read are 
crowding around me, demanding to be read, shouting, "Read me!  Pick me!"  I'm haunted by all the books I haven't read, thus all the vicarious adventures I haven't had and the information I 
haven't learned.
Case in point: for a month now I have been reading The Discovery of France: A Historical Geography, from the Revolution to the First World War by Graham Robb.  It's a 450-page tome but, one month in, and I've only read about 150 pages.  But I feel as if I'm learning when I read it.  I feel smarter by reading it.  Not to mention that it's absolutely fascinating...I never thought about the
 origins of French national identity - it has always seemed this ubiquitous thing - and it never occurred to me that, even as recent as the late 19th century, France was a divided, disjointed
nation.  The idea of "national identity" came out of Paris, of course, and the villages in France weren't buying what they were selling.   

But it's slow-going.  And other books are calling to me...screaming at me, really.  I just finished E. Lockhart's Dramarama so I was able to read that and
 Discovery of France at the same time.  But still...they keep calling to me...I hear their voices...

Teashop Girls by Laura Schaefer: "I have delectable treats and lovely passages about loose tea.  Not to mention that Betsy called me 'THE foodie book of 2008'.
  Read me!"

The Art of Eating by MFK Fisher: "Mouth-watering food descriptions and achingly eloquent prose await you.  Get lost in my pages!"

The Underneath by Kathi Appelt: "I might be a big award winner.  And you're the
 ONLY LIBRARIAN who hasn't read me!  Don't be left out!"

Lucky Breaks by Susan Patron: "You know you're curious.  Come on, read me.
  You're a librarian - you know you should read me."

Food Politics by Marion Nestle: "Patricia just told you she's going 
to ALA Midwinter, and you know she'll ask you if you've read me yet.  And you haven't...7 months after she recommended me to you.  And she read Omnivore's Dilemma after you recommended it.  You have an obligation to read me!"

Brooklyn Bridge by Karen Hesse: "You haven't read me yet?!  Really?!  Come ON!"

Yes, my books heckle me.  It's exhausting.

So do I give up Discovery of France to appease the other books?


Cabbage Galette: Take Two

Remember?  You probably don't.  It's okay, I understand.  So let me refresh your memory...

...Back in April 2008, I tried to make the cabbage galette recipe in My French Kitchen by Joanne Harris and Fran Warde.  It was a failure in every way: I forgot major ingredients (I blame the wine I was drinking...and the fact that Adam and Kiddo were gone and I couldn't concentrate with all the silence and peace around me) and the whole thing went directly into the trash.  There was no saving it.  Here is how it turned out back in April:

So fast-forward to early December where I had a half-head of cabbage to use and I was looking for ideas.  Try the galette again!  Here is how that turned out:

I remembered all the ingredients, did everything according to plan, and - for the most part - it turned out great.  It was earthy and smoky in flavor, but the textures were light and fresh.

After about 35 minutes in the oven, the top wasn't nearly as golden as I wanted (like it is in the cookbook photo) so I added 5 minutes.  But it still wasn't quite right.  Next time I'll add 10 minutes to the cooking time and see what happens.  Maybe I should turn up the heat?  Any and all suggestions are welcome.

Cabbage Galette

1/2 head green cabbage, preferably Savoy, cored & roughly chopped
2 tbsp olive oil
7 oz slab bacon, cubed (I used thick-sliced pancetta)
2 large eggs
3 shallots, finely diced
Bunch of flat-leaf parsley, finely chopped
3 garlic cloves, chopped
Sea salt, to taste
Freshly ground pepper, to taste
1 c. milk (I used whole milk)
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour

Heat oven to 350 degrees (I think I might try 375 next time to get the top browner).

Steam the cabbage for 3 minutes over boiling water.  Smear a pie dish with olive oil and heat it in the oven.

In a large bowl, mix the bacon, eggs, shallots, parsley, garlic, salt, & pepper.  Add the milk and flour, and mix into a smooth dough.

Remove the hot pie dish from the oven.  Spread half the dough over the base of the dish, pile on the cabbage and pack it down with your hands, and cover with the remaining dough.  Bake for 35 minutes (I'm adding 10 minutes next time), until golden and firm.

Serves 6 (this served the 3 of us...and we had fantastic leftovers for what seemed like ages afterward).

Eat, drink, and persevere in the kitchen!


Queens Library's 2nd Annual Mock Caldecott Event!

Yesterday Queens Library held its 2nd Annual Mock Caldecott Event! As reported earlier, we discussed 6 books:

Baseball Hour by Bill Thomson
Before John Was a Jazz Giant by Carole Boston Weatherford, illustrated by Sean Qualls
Cat and Mouse by Ian Schoenherr
The Dog Who Belonged to No One by Amy Hest, illustrated by Amy Bates
Don't Worry Bear by Greg Foley
Wabi Sabi by Ed Young

And our two Mock Honor books are:

Cat and Mouse by Ian Schoenherr (Greenwillow)


Wabi Sabi by Ed Young (Little, Brown)

Our Mock Caldecott Award goes to...

Baseball Hour by Bill Thomson (Marshall Cavendish)

As we all know, this is anybody's year for the award and this was reflected in our voting: it was verrrrrry close. And I am thrilled with the results, as Baseball Hour is action-packed, dramatic, well-executed, and distinguished. It is stunning in its perspectives and it pulses with movement. Lastly, it has wild amounts of kid appeal, which is a nice bonus.

More than 60 librarians came together to discuss the books and vote on them. I was lucky enough to flit and float between the 7 groups and listen to what everyone had to say. The depth of the discussions, as well as the enthusiasm for the event, was thrilling and gave me much-needed inspiration to get through my day-to-day job. We used voting ballots and followed the actual voting criteria of the Caldecott committee (we took it straight from the handbook).
It was a fantastic day, and I look forward to doing it again next year!

Ann Coulter is calling me a conservative?!

I'm so not starting off 2009 on the right blogging foot...

...but moving on.

I've been actively following Obama Foodorama since its inception. The mix of politics, food, and snark is absolutely winning.

Not a fan of Ann Coulter? Then you must check out the post about Ann Coulter's thoughts on food. Foodorama quotes from an interview Ann Coulter did with Fave Foods of the Famous:

Fave Foods of the Famous: Choose some foods that are typically conservative, and those that are typically liberal.

Ann Coulter: Conservative: Things that taste good. Liberal: Things that are grown within fifty yards of where you're eating.

There really isn't anything else for me to say about that. Except that one of the staunchest conservatives I know (my dad...who doesn't read this) loves to mix up a protein shake in a blender in the morning...filling the whole thing...and drink it straight out of the blender. And that's his breakfast. Oh, and then there was the time he wanted to eat our garlic naan with his black-bean-and-corn salsa. None of that tastes good.

Eat, drink, and keep hoping the Obamas turn the White House lawn into an organic garden.


Graceling...and other stuff

When I first read Graceling, back in February 2008, I went berzerk over it (try here, here, and here). Well, how foolish did I feel when I only just now discovered that Kristin Cashore has a blog?! Reading it has been a loverly way to spend a Friday at work when I really wish I was at home...

I gushed over the cover of Graceling in one of my posts - it really is striking. But I just saw the Australian cover on Kristin's blog and...um...it kind of kicks some ass. I mean, really. Check this out:

That is just too, too cool. I'm not saying I like it better, necessarily, but it's equally as awesome as the shiny American version. You get a real sense of Katsa's character and what the book might be about in the Oz version and, I have to be honest, the same can't be said for the "USian" one...even if it is prettier.


In a totally unrelated thought process, I apologize for the lack of food posts lately. Most of my food blogging involves my computer at home (access to photos) and my mom-in-law is currently staying in our "computer room". But I certainly don't mind - my mother-in-law, hereby known as MC, is awesome and loves to eat and drink whatever we feel like cooking up (with the exception of cilantro, which she loooooves to hate more than anything on this earth). Nevertheless, with MC visiting, it makes blogging at home challenging, as I am spending lots of time playing board games with the fam and doing all kinds of fun things in the kitchen. So more to come on all our awesome food soon.

In the meantime, I hate to leave you empty-handed. So check out the following:

- Sausage and Smoked Mozzarella Rigatoni over at Elly Says Opa! Tell me that doesn't look incredible. Wow.

- The NY Times had a recent article on salted caramels. Read it and drool.

- While I don't necessarily agree with all their suggestions, the San Francisco Chronicle has a list of essential pantry items, and what better way to start the New Year than with a well-stocked pantry? (I was annoyed they only listed dessert ideas for dark chocolate...one of my favorite things to do with it, as suggested by Michael Chiarello, is to finely grate it over pumpkin ravioli with brown butter, sage, pine nuts and parmesan. Sound weird? Well, let me ask you this: have you tried it? No? Enough said.

Happy New Year, all! All the best in 2009!