WHAT I'M COOKING: This Week's Menu

My parents are coming into town tomorrow morning so my menu reflects that. My parents are actually the trickiest people to create a menu for. Why? Because I want to 1) create something really impressive so they’ll see how awesome I cook and that I’m not picky anymore, 2) create something that won’t take all my time so I can enjoy being with them, and 3) create something that will satisfy my ex-football-player dad’s appetite without breaking the bank. So here’s what I came up with:

FRIDAY: BLTs, herb salad, potato chips (local New York chips). I actually use brioche for my BLTs – I love the play of the sweet bread with the salty bacon. The sandwiches are really big, and my dad can eat lots of chips if he needs more food. I'll do a really simple vinaigrette for the salad because the herbs have all the flavor you would ever need.

SATURDAY: We actually got the sitter and we’re going out to eat. Yay!

SUNDAY: Tuna strips with espelette pepper (that’s the name of the recipe, but I don’t have espelette pepper so I use paprika), butter-warmed corn kernels with fresh cilantro (some friends reading this may recognize this recipe), chips and salsa. Yeah, the tuna is rather spendy, but it’s really good stuff and my parents like it rare. And we have the chips and salsa for my dad to munch on.

MONDAY: Spaghetti alla Carbonara; arugula, pine nut, and parmesan salad. The Carbonara is Tyler Florence’s recipe, and the salad is ridiculously simple. But the flavor is amazing. This is going to be a good dinner before the first day of school – all warm and home-y and comforting.

I don’t have any plans for dessert, which is fine. My dad doesn’t really have a sweet tooth – he’s a fan of all things salty and crunchy. And I know all I need to make my mom happy is good cheese and good chocolate. What a better world it would be if everyone realized that good cheese and good chocolate are what it’s all about!

Review?! What review?

Who was I kidding? Definitely not going to get around to that Gennifer Choldenko book review today. Perhaps tomorrow? In the meantime, though, here are a few morsels:

Courtesy of my American Libraries Direct email, the Australian government spent millions of dollars on internet filtering software and some 16-year-old kid broke through in about 30 minutes. I don’t know who this kid is, but he is one sharp cookie. Not so much because he broke through the filter – lots of 16-year-olds can do that sort of thing – but apparently he has been very vocal in telling the government that they were focusing on the wrong issues. The issue isn’t children seeing inappropriate content on the internet. The primary issue, he says, is cyber bullying and educating children on how to protect themselves and their privacy. Now what are the chances the government will listen?

Again, courtesy of my American Libraries Direct email, I found out that the fabulous Amsterdam Public Library that I blogged about in July was robbed. Now who the heck does that?! It’s a library! Access is free! No need to attack guards – just walk right in during normal operating hours, you schmucks.

Lastly, Horn Book has created a Labor Day booklist. I’ve never seen one before so this is a great unexpected resource. Thanks to Read Roger for the link.


Heirloom Tomato Tartlet update

So I made the darn tartlets. Why "darn"? Because they were less than ideal. I didn't have heirloom tomatoes available to me, for one thing. And I think I really messed up the puff pastry - I didn't curve it up and around the tomato. So they looked kinda funny. Here are the pics (eat your heart out, Gillian and Travel Boy):

So you can see in the first photo that I didn't get them curved up around enough. But then I had too much puff pastry in the second photo and curved up too much.

The important thing, though? They tasted amazing. The tomatoes cooked just enough to make them incredibly sweet, and the pastry was really light and crispy. I served them with Patricia Wells' walnut/goat cheese/parsley salad. It was an ideal summer meal - light and satisfying. (Note: FYI - no one ate the weird, morphed tartlet below- it's like an enormous amoeba was trying to eat that tomato! How weird. Instead, Adam thought we might actually eat it later. So it's actually been sitting in our fridge for 3 days. God. Any of you tomato lovers out there will know exactly how disgusting this is.)

And for anyone wondering if I actually talk about children's literature anymore (I don't on Wednesdays anyway), I'll post a review of Gennifer Choldenko's If a Tree Fell at Lunch Period tomorrow. Happy?


Last week’s so-so NYT dining section has long since been put in the recycling bin and been replaced by this week’s really fantastic one. Here’s the round-up:

  • A group called Sustainable Table is promoting local, sustainable agriculture by doing a cross-country road trip in a bio-fueled tour bus; they’ll end the trip in NYC with the Farm Aid concert on Sept. 9th. The article talks a little bit about the changing role of Farm Aid – that it began in the 80’s mainly to help corn and bean farmers from losing their land. Ironically, we now promote moving away from those commodity crops and Farm Aid is working to save the “family farm” where the crops are diversified and sustainable agriculture is practiced. It’s crazy to think about the changes in the past 20 years – we’re so clearly a country in need of some kind of food culture.

  • Wanna hear something weird? Apparently residents in the Lower East Side had issues with Whole Foods opening a wine shop in their neighborhood. So what did Whole Foods do? They opened a beer room where they stock some 300 beers and you can get 64 oz. jugs of the stuff! Am I the only one that sees this as being…odd? Wine, NO! Beer, okay? I see no logic behind this. Anyone have any explanations?

  • There was also a review for a restaurant in Prospect Heights called Franny’s – sounded completely intriguing. Except that it’s in Brooklyn. Worth the trip from Queens? Highly unlikely. But I’ll still keep it in mind…you never know.

  • And lest you think this whole post is about food, on the back page of the dining section, there was a full-page ad for the NYT's Times Talks” series. And guess who’s doing a talk? Philip Pullman! It’s called “The Golden Compass: A Conversation with Philip Pullman.” And it isn’t sold out. You know which talk is sold out, though? Ben Affleck. Seriously? Sheesh.


Manic Monday

What a fun morning in the blogosphere! Let’s get started!

  • There’s an article in the L.A. Times discussing why Stephenie Meyer’s books are so popular. It really hits the nail on the head (even discusses the series’ appeal for adult readers, like me…something about bodice-ripping?)…and it gave me the huge news that the next book will be the last in the series, which I hadn’t read anywhere else. I’m actually excited about that, as you may have guessed from my previous comments about Eclipse. I hardly think she’ll end it with Edward vampirizing Bella, do you? And is there anyone else – like me – that is beginning to sorta-kinda wish Bella would choose Jacob? Thanks to Big A little a for the link.
  • Penguin UK just won the Publisher of the Year at the British Book Awards and, to commemorate the occasion, they’re reissuing 36 current bestsellers in the retro Penguin paperback look. So. Cool. This makes me want to buy a copy, beat it all up (as all books with this kind of cover should be so that we know they’re well-loved), and get it all coffee-stained at some non-chain coffeehouse. Like The Governor’s Cup in Salem, Oregon. Oh, I miss the Governor’s Cup. These books feel like the types that should be read there.
  • Here’s another take on the whole people-not-reading thing. Which sums up my feelings on the matter as well. Sure, let’s be concerned about the literacy rate. But is all the alarm and Armageddon necessary? Or is that my vacuum-packed worldview getting in the way again? The iPod comment in this article made me snicker.
  • Everyone is buzzing about KT Horning starting her own blog so I’ll jump on board! In particular, she has a fantastic post about Louise Fitzhugh’s forever lost lesbian novel. Which we’re all dying to read because it’s…well…forever lost. But the best part? Roger Sutton made the hilarious comment that Fitzhugh looks like “James Dean’s love child” in the photo on Horning’s blog post. Why is that so hilarious? Because it’s dead-on right.
  • Speaking of Roger Sutton, he linked to a site with really inappropriate ads. Try – just try – not to laugh. You'll love it. But you'll feel guilty about it.


Tomato controversy!

Read one of my favorite sections of the NYT this morning: the Travel section (the Real Estate section makes my heart race too). The front page article, "Spain's Quiet Corner" by Sarah Wildman, has a fabulous quote by the movie-director-winemaker Jose Luis Cuerda:

"Wine is bottled time," he mused at one point. "It is a whole year encapsulated in a bottle. And that has something similar to cinema, which is also a simulation of bottled time."

God, if only we could all be so eloquent! Read the article. It'll make you want to hop a flight immediately to Galicia. Anyone care to join me?

The other thing is...well...I'm having a bit of a dilemma. In my last post I mentioned that I got some plum tomatoes from the little market down the street. Remember? Well, last night I was cutting them up and looking at the clamshell case they came in...And I discovered they were from HOLLAND! Holland!!!! Well, doesn't that just go against all the Farm Bill/local food/sustainable agriculture I've been spewing about since I started this blog! I was shocked! Holland?!?!

So here's the dilemma...

They were about the sweetest, juiciest, most decadent things I've ever eaten. They were like little pieces of candy. Some of the Best I Have Ever Had. On the one hand, I can't possibly boycott the things simply because they're not local and sustainable, can I? I mean, eating them was an experience. But on the other hand, shouldn't I boycott them? It's not responsible, it's not sustainable...why would I eat something that had to be flown in a plane to me? But they're soooooo gooooood. Anyone have thoughts on this? I'm conflicted.


This post is kinda like a bouillabaisse!

All kinds of fun, newsy tidbits are floating around. I'm home from work taking care of a sick kiddo today so I've been able to browse the web while she lies comatose on the couch. And I'm feeling chatty.
  • Finished Eclipse yesterday, just in time because today is sunny and 85 degrees. I'm so very happy I waited until I was in the right mood because I just enjoyed every minute of the book. Stephenie Meyer could really be underestimated, as a lot of people could dismiss her books as frothy teen romance. But I would beg to differ. The reason why Stephenie Meyer rocks at what she does is because she captures the teenage voice as only a select few authors can. Think back to your first love in high school with all its angst, desperation, drama, and passion. Remember how deeply you felt every moment? How every single word was ripe with meaning and portent? Well, Meyer will take you right back there. It actually creeps me out a bit when I read her stuff because I'm reliving my own first love all over again. No wonder teenage girls love her books so much - she has put into a story exactly how they feel, given their loves and passions a voice. No small feat, my friends. Don't ever write off Stephenie Meyer's near-genius talent. If only half the YA authors out there could be so lucky as to have her skill.

    Note on the epilogue in Eclipse: Ms. Rowling, that is how an epilogue is done. My only wish is that Ms. Meyer would end the entire series right there. It would be such an intriguing, courageous way to end it. Never mind that teenage girls everywhere would FREAK OUT and RIOT if that were the case. In my world, though, that ending would be perfection.

    And those magnificent covers that Little, Brown designed? Genius. Nothing short of genius. Twilight was picked up by teens based on the cover alone...luckily, the story inside ended up being pretty darn good.

  • 27% of Americans didn’t read a single book in the past year. So says CNN.

    I wasn’t surprised to read this. What surprised me was that I wasn’t that bothered by it. Isn’t that weird? Shouldn’t I be more bothered? So here’s my theory: I am just so far removed from that section of the population – it’s a whole other world. The world I exist in doesn’t reflect that statistic at all. Everyone I know reads – Isabell’s own library, Adam’s audiobooks, Andrea’s medical journals, the librarians I work with, all the people I see reading on the subway. I’m surrounded by readers. It’s difficult to muster up indignation and shock when, all around me, I see enormous evidence to the contrary. Which is perhaps the point. I’m guessing the 27% of the country not reading are concentrated in specific areas. Because chances are good that where one non-reader exists, lots of them exist. I exist in a vaccuum, apparently.

  • The Guardian reports that being a writer is the one job Brits want more than any other job. Again, I’m not surprised by this. First, there’s the need to be creative – or to wish you were more creative. Second, there’s the romanticized view of what a writer is and what a writer does. Sure, I’ve absolutely envisioned myself as a writer. Do you remember those Corona beer commercials? With the person lying on the tropical beach doing idle things? That’s my life as a writer! I’m sitting on that white sand beach on a lounge chair, wine in hand, and a laptop open with my latest and greatest novel on it. And I’m sure all you aspiring writers out there can confirm that this dream of mine is completely bogus. Third – and I think J.K. Rowling has something to do with this – there’s a little bit of a Lottery Ticket Syndrome that’s involved with writing. Out of all the people in all the world writing, your book is going to be the multi-million copy book. Reference ShelfTalker’s post on this topic. As The Guardian points out, “don’t give up your day job.”

  • And I was inspired by Fuse 8’s comment about being an American-based publisher of international children’s books. Yeah, that job would be pretty damn great. My recent favorites are listed below – wouldn’t it be marvelous to find treasures like these as your job? And at the very least, I’ve heard the Bologna book fair is a complete hoot. I would love to go to that as my job, too.

    Short and Happy Life of Riley

    Cherry Tree
    Mini Mia and her Darling Uncle
    Bridget and the Gray Wolves

    The Zoo
    J.A. Teddy
    My Cat Copies Me

  • I read a really wonderful article on bouillabaisse in Saveur. I swooned. It was one of those articles that shook up my worldview - it made me realize that all the bouillabaisse I've had in this country is just a pale imitation of the real thing, completely lacking in authenticity. But I say that with affection - as a statement of fact rather than a criticism - because America's food culture is so diverse and young. We're never going to get all those Mediterranean fish because...well...we don't live there. Even if I could get all those ingredients, I wouldn't - I'd still be cooking it in my crappy apartment kitchen with fish completely lacking in freshness. I'd still be creating an imitation. So in the meantime, I'll continue to enjoy what I can get here, live vicariously through Saveur magazine, and hope that one day I can get to the Mediterranean and taste the real thing for myself.

  • I tried to find heirloom tomatoes to make that tartlet thing in my previous post but all they had at the little market by my house were red tomatoes on the vine, cherry tomatoes, and some spiffy plum tomatoes (Naturally, I bought the plum tomatoes to have with some buffalo mozzarella and basil tonight. It won't be much longer that I can enjoy the fruits of summer!). Hopefully I'll make the tartlets soon - stay tuned!
Happy weekend to all!



Actually, nothing too terribly interesting in the NYT Dining Section this week, except for this:

Multicolored Tomato Tartlets

2 to 3 small firm heirloom tomatoes, preferably in different colors
Flour for dusting
1 14-ounce package puff pastry, defrosted but cold
1/4 cup mascarpone, optional
2 tablespoons chopped fresh basil
Coarse sea salt, to taste (fleur de sel is a good choice)
Freshly ground black pepper
2 tablespoons grated Parmesan cheese.

1. Preheat oven to 425 degrees. Line a baking sheet with parchment or waxed paper. Slice stem and bottom ends from tomatoes. Slice remaining tomato crosswise into rounds 1/2 inch thick. You will need 6 or more nice rounds (see Step 2). If you like, you can cut rounds from 6 different-colored tomatoes. (Use leftover tomato for another recipe.)
2. Dust a flat surface with flour, and unfold pastry onto the surface. Cut pastry into circles about 1 inch wider than tomato slices. You will need at least 6 circles. (If your tomato slices are small and you can cut more than 6 circles out of the puff pastry, cut more rounds of both tomato and pastry. The important thing is that the pastry circles be close to an inch larger than the tomato slices.)
3. Transfer pastry to baking sheet. Spread some mascarpone, if using, over each pastry circle. Sprinkle pastry with basil; top with a tomato slice. Pinch edges of pastry up around edges of tomato. Season tomato rounds with salt and pepper. Scatter Parmesan over rounds. Bake until pastry is puffed and golden, 10 to 12 minutes. Serve warm.
Yield: 6 or more tartlets.
How divine does this look?! Guess what I'm making this weekend!

Had too much fun...

…and forgot to use inovatorka at dinner last night. And I had lots of opportunities! The chef using crushed pistachios as a crust on the warm goat cheese? He’s an inovatorka! “Let’s go see Wolves in the Walls on stage!” Neil Gaiman? Certainly an inovatorka! A patron at my colleague’s library branch wears tight hot pink pants with a denim trenchcoat and recites poetry and talks about his “crazy Uncle Mo.” Now, he is an inovatorka.

Alas. Opportunity missed.


Pre-Autumnal Ramblings in the Rain

So read the brutal review of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows here. While I tend to shy away from terms like “moral vision,” particularly when it is applied to children’s literature, I still found myself actually agreeing with many of the author’s points. Warning: there are lots of spoilers here and the author uses the word Nazi without much rhyme or reason. Also, be prepared for wanting to argue with someone, anyone, after you read it. Thanks to fuse8 for the link...even if she did say that the review made her eyes bleed a little.

Remember I said I couldn’t read Eclipse? Well, it’s back on. Yesterday and today have been the loveliest and most welcome pre-autumnal days ever – drizzly with temps in the mid-60’s. I’ve been wearing sweaters! Well, it turns out that this is just the weather to turn me on to Eclipse again. The only caveat is that I have to hurry – it’s supposed to be 90 degrees and raining by this Saturday. Read, woman, read! (Embarrassing admission: I got so wrapped up in all this weather that I even downloaded most of the songs on Stephenie Meyer’s stellar Eclipse playlist).

And thanks to Chicken Spaghetti for her fantastic hold list. I now have The Year of the Goat and A Year Without Made in China on my own list!

I know I’m probably the last children’s librarian to know about this, but I just discovered Scott Westerfeld’s blog: westerblog. In particular, he shares the cover of his book So Yesterday, which has been translated into Slovenian. Apparently, the Slovenian translation of “innovator” is inovatorka. That’s awesome. I’m going to incorporate that word into a conversation today. The good thing is that I’m having dinner with my children’s librarian friends tonight and, given the enormous range of topics we discuss, it shouldn’t be too difficult to fit inovatorka in at some point. I’m on a mission.


Turn, Turn, Turn

Anyone out there who blogs can confirm if this is true of all bloggers…or if it’s just me…but this is the first time I’m writing because I feel I should, even though I don’t really want to at all. What is that?!

I suppose it’s my case of the blahs. I’m tired of summer. I want autumn here NOW. I want changing leaves, thick sweaters, fennel, potatoes, butternut squash ravioli, apples, hot chocolate, songwriter-based music, cozy books, cozy blankets, thick socks. I’m just over summer, you know?

I read about 100 pages into Eclipse by Stephenie Meyer yesterday, but I pulled out the bookmark and I’m putting the book on the shelf for a little bit. I love the Bella/Edward books, I do. But I’m just not in the right place for Eclipse right now. Bella called Edward her “personal miracle” at one point and I audibly snorted with cynical, bitter laughter. Clearly, I’m just not feeling it right now. And the worst thing to do is force-feed tragic teen romance down my own throat. So it’s on hold.

So instead I’m reading The House of Mondavi: the Rise and Fall of an American Wine Dynasty by Julia Flynn Siler. That seems much more in line with my mood.

I just read about a new Cinderella book: Walt Disney’s Cinderella. It’s written by Cynthia Rylant and features the original concept art of Disney artist Mary Blair. I haven’t gotten a hold of the book yet, but Hyperion tells me one is on the way soon. I’m very excited.

Lastly, remember I had high hopes for Good Reads? Well, I don’t anymore. Twice now, I’ve put lots of books in my “to-read-children’s-ya” list. And twice now, the books have mysteriously been deleted from that list so that when I log back in, it shows I have 0 books to read there. What is going on?! It’s proving to be just as clunky and un-user-friendly as LibraryThing. Argh.


Who Knew One Bill Could Do So Much?

A colleague recently made the comment to me – okay, fine, it was my mom who said it – that one of the reasons she tries to support small local farms is because she doesn’t support the hiring of illegal immigrants on the large farms. Or at least, that’s what I understood her statement to be – I don’t want to put words in her mouth. Her statement didn’t really hit home until I read Michael Pollan’s April 2007 article in New York Times Magazine, “You Are What You Grow.” Among other things, he talks about the upcoming Farm (Food!) Bill and its impact on immigration:

"To speak of the farm bill's influence on the American food system does not begin to describe its full impact--on the environment, on global poverty, even on immigration. By making it possible for American farmers to sell their crops abroad for considerably less than it costs to grow them, the farm bill helps determine the price of corn in Mexico and the price of cotton in Nigeria and therefore whether farmers in those places will survive or be forced off the land, to migrate to the cities--or to the United States. The flow of immigrants north from Mexico since Nafta is inextricably linked to the flow of American corn in the opposite direction, a flood of subsidized grain that the Mexican government estimates has thrown two million Mexican farmers and other agricultural workers off the land since the mid-90s. (More recently, the ethanol boom has led to a spike in corn prices that has left that country reeling from soaring tortilla prices; linking its corn economy to ours has been an unalloyed disaster for Mexico's eaters as well as its farmers.) You can't fully comprehend the pressures driving immigration without comprehending what U.S. agricultural policy is doing to rural agriculture in Mexico."

There’s food for thought – pun intended. Why we all aren’t taking more interest in the Farm (Food!) Bill is beyond me. And I can’t escape judgement – I keep blabbing about it and I still don’t fully understand what the darn thing does! But I’m working on it.

Here's my favorite part of the article, the part where (once again) I step aside and let more articulate people express exactly what I want to say:

At a minimum, these eaters want a bill that aligns agricultural policy with our public-health and environmental values, one with incentives to produce food cleanly, sustainably and humanely. Eaters want a bill that makes the most healthful calories in the supermarket competitive with the least healthful ones. Eaters want a bill that feeds schoolchildren fresh food from local farms rather than processed surplus commodities from far away. Enlightened eaters also recognize their dependence on farmers, which is why they would support a bill that guarantees the people who raise our food not subsidies but fair prices. Why? Because they prefer to live in a country that can still produce its own food and doesn't hurt the world's farmers by dumping its surplus crops on their markets.


Why didn't I think of that?!

Educating Alice had a great post about "Harry Potter as Global Folklore". She quotes Daniel H. Nexon as saying "Harry Potter is cultural globalization: it is part of the creation of transnational common currency of narratives, personages, themes, and other circulating commonplaces.”

Wow. Sometimes (or often, in my case) you need to just step aside and let infinitely more eloquent people do the talking.

REVIEW: Pija Lindenbaum books

I must be the only one left, but I have only just discovered Pija Lindenbaum’s wonderful books. In particular, I love Mini Mia and her Darling Uncle (R&S, 2007), as well as Bridget and the Gray Wolves (R&S, 2001). Are parents repeatedly asking you for “behavior” or “emotion” books? Look no further than these imported Swedish picture book titles.

Bridget and the Gray Wolves is about Bridget, a “very careful child.” She doesn’t have many experiences or adventures: she won’t pet a dog – it could bite her; she won’t jump a ditch – she could fall and scrape her knee. When she wanders too far from her day care group, she becomes lost in the woods. She befriends a pack of wolves, and plays games with them. The only trouble is that the wolves don’t want to play games that are dangerous. But they soon get over their fear as Bridget leads them in all kinds of rollicking activities. In the end, she leaves the wolves with the promise of more adventures to come.

There are two things that are so brilliant about this book. The first thing is the abundance of cleverness – my appreciation of European humor makes me suspect, once again, that I may be living in the wrong country. I love that Bridget’s sweatshirt is not-so-subtly red. I love that Bridget tells the wolves they have to go to the bathroom before bed and “they obediently go to their pee trees” (with an illustration of 6 wolves peeing on different trees). Kids love all that peeing – can’t you hear their squeals? I love Bridget’s line when she first sees the wolves hiding behind the trees: “Come on out! Bridget shouts. “I am a child who has lost her day care.” Every moment seems perfectly crafted and not a moment feels wasted. The other thing that is so brilliant is its total un-American-ness. Of course kids are jumping off the roof of their playhouse. Of course they’re jumping through a ditch with muddy water. Of course they’re picking up gross trash from the ground. I don’t think you’d see all that dangerous stuff happening at our playgrounds and day cares – it’s all about the kids being “safe”, after all. Lastly, you aren’t thwonked over the head with the idea that Bridget learned a lesson. The change is implied. The author trusts the reader’s intelligence. It leaves it open-ended so you can have that discussion with a child about how (or if) Bridget became more brave, more adventurous. Granted, the very last page has a small illustration of Bridget standing on top of the playhouse. But again, it’s not a THWONK…it’s more like, “Aaaaah, see? All’s right with the world.” American children’s literature isn’t subtle, as a general rule.

Lindenbaum’s latest is Mini Mia and Her Darling Uncle. Ella’s cool Uncle Tommy calls her “Mini Mia” because her favorite soccer player is Mia Hamm. As opposed to Ella’s other uncles, Tommy does fun things with Ella: dying her hair a different color everyday, listening to music, people-watching, jumping on both feet wherever they go. One day, though, “someone is sitting in Tommy’s kitchen.” It’s Tommy’s significant other, Fergus. Suddenly Mia is thrown into a fit of jealousy (she doesn’t identify it as such, of course) and she turns sulky and grouchy. It isn’t until Tommy gets sick that Mia discovers Fergus is really good at soccer and she warms to him.

Again, the things that made Bridget so brilliant are also prevalent here. The humor is fantastic. Ella’s other uncles? “I’m pretty sure my other uncles work in offices. Tommy doesn’t.” Ella’s sullen expression is spot-on…and hilarious. But the best part is a full-page spread with Ella laying like a zombie on the bed. Here’s the text:

Now no one is allowed to talk to me,
And I don’t want any dinner – just a little bit of jam.
I’m never going to hang out with Tommy again.
I’m just going to lie here. Bored stiff.

How hilarious is that?!

My only issue is my sense of dread over the fact that there will be librarians and library users who throw a fit over the Tommy/Fergus relationship. And to top it all off, there’s a locker room scene with a nearly naked Ella and the naked bum of another woman changing. Siiiiigh. I really don’t want to get going on a rant about this. I’m sure you can guess my thoughts.

Again, can I move to Stockholm? Or at the very least talk to Ms. Lindenbaum about how much I love her books?


WHAT I'M COOKING: This Week's Menu

Choosing the menu for the week ahead is one of the most frustrating and rewarding things I do in my daily life. It’s frustrating because there’s so much to choose from, I don’t know what I’ll be in the mood for from day-to-day, and I don’t want to repeat too many of my favorite dishes. It’s tremendously satisfying, though, because I love browsing my cookbooks and magazine articles, finding the perfect recipe, and feeling totally triumphant. So here’s what’s ahead for the week*:

Sunday (last night): Grass-fed buffalo steaks with sautéed pearl onions and shallots; roasted red potatoes with sweet paprika butter (which is a Rachel Ray recipe…and I used smoked paprika instead of sweet).

Monday (tonight): Chorizo and scrambled egg breakfast tacos. (From some magazine…I don’t have the recipe in front of me. This recipe might as well be called Taste Explosion.)

Tuesday: Chicken and Peaches Platter. (From Real Simple, I believe. This is one of my favorites: rotisserie chicken, peaches, romaine lettuce, bleu cheese, and chopped almonds with a light vinaigrette…thrown together on a big platter. So easy!)

Wednesday: Mushroom and Cantal Cheese Tartine; salad. (The tartine recipe is from the Chocolate and Zucchini cookbook. Combined with a salad, it’s the ideal meal when it’s still summer but you’re longing for fall: light but still earthy.)

Happy eating, all! I always love hearing about what others are enjoying so feel free to tell me about amazing meals you’re serving up at your table.

* I use the term “week” loosely…I rarely shop that far ahead. I usually shop only 2-3 days in advance.


SPOILER ALERT! Review: Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows


Okay, I’ve had enough time to absorb Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, to contemplate the last book in the series. I’ve mulled it over and talked about it extensively with colleagues, friends, and Adam. I have a bajillion thoughts swirling in my head about it so, for the sake of organizing my head, I’ll bullet point my review. First, I’ll start by listing my problems with the book:

- Lack of editing…again. What is the purpose of waiting until Chapter 20 before the first Horcrux is found? Not only that, but by Chapter 20 there still was not a single mention of the Deathly Hallows. One of my friends brilliantly and succinctly pointed out that the book needed to be renamed Harry Potter and the Interminable Camping Trip. That sums it up right there.

- I felt the Deathly Hallows were superfluous. Seriously, didn’t Rowling have enough to worry about with the war between good and evil, the Horcruxes, all the romance, and tying up all the loose ends? Why would you introduce an entirely new storyline at this point?

- The epilogue. If you feel you must do one, then at least give us some real information! Is Harry an Auror? Is Hermione the Headmaster? All Rowling did was confirm what we already knew would happen. Another colleague made the good point that, since we missed out on 19 years, it felt like this tacked-on ending that we had no emotional investment in. To paraphrase from this colleague, “can’t you just imagine 17-year-old Harry with spray-painted gray hair and a fake mustache to make him look older?” The good news is that if you visit the Rowling interview I linked to in an earlier post, you do get some epilogue-related questions answered.

- Rowling was condescending in the way that she kept throwing her readers a bone. You all want to see Neville kick butt? Here, he can kill Nagini. There’s a bone. You want Mrs. Weasley to kick butt? Here, she’ll use the word “bitch”. There’s another bone. It had a hollowness to it or, as Adam put it, it felt “cheap”.

- This book is where Rowling showed her weakness as a storyteller – the rules of fantasy that she made for herself were broken repeatedly. How can they talk to some people in their pictures but not other people? Isn’t it convenient that they can summon elves to their side to help them out of sticky situations – why haven’t they been doing stuff like that the whole series? The explanation for how the wands work was out-of-control. Rowling was just pulling stuff out of thin air.

- Let the Pensieve die. She completely overused that tool.

- Rowling really gave Hermione and Ron the shaft on this one. They’ve become characters just as major as Harry, and they didn’t get their due. Hermione was Harry’s silent sidekick during the entire Interminable Camping Trip, and Ron’s whole experience apart from the other two was explained away in less than a chapter. Ron needed his own damn chapter! And why didn’t we see more of them in the Battle of Hogwarts? You can’t dismiss the importance of Ron and Hermione.

- Rowling sucker-punched me and I didn’t appreciate it. She had me thinking she might – just might – kill off Harry. That scene was so great where Harry was prepared to die, prepared to sacrifice himself to save his friends. I love his determination and the acceptance of his fate. How brilliant would it have been for Voldemort to kill Harry…and thus kill himself? I was so excited at the possibility. I thought, “She’s gonna do it! She’s really gonna do it!” Should’ve known better. Instead, it seemed like the whole scene was written only to set up that final meeting between Harry and Dumbledore. Which was a silly chapter. Harry and Dumbledore should have had that talk before Dumbledore died…or Harry should have found this out in some other way. The two of them having a conversation like that was just one more example of Rowling’s convenient fantasy rules.

Lest you think I hated the book – which I did not – here is what I loved about it:

- I loved Dobby’s death. It was really beautifully done, and I think Dobby’s devotion until the very last was touching and poignant.

- I also loved Hedwig’s death. In the interview with Rowling, she says that Hedwig’s death was absolutely necessary as a symbolic end to Harry’s childhood and innocence. Cool.

- I loved the way in which Rowling dealt with the Malfoys. That even when Narcissa fakes Harry’s death, it’s not out of any goodwill toward Harry…she’s still pursuing her selfish motives. That said, wouldn’t any mother do that in order to reach her child? It humanized her. And Draco is humanized as well. He never befriends Harry and Co. – that would have been unrealistic. But there’s still a begrudging respect in the end. I appreciate that Rowling didn’t separate them as necessarily good or necessarily evil – the Malfoys truly walk that fine line. They’re the most realistically portrayed characters in this final book, I think.

- I love the whole concept behind radio-free wizarding world. Too cool. I was completely cheering them on.

- The kiss between Ron and Hermione was AWESOME. That was well-worth waiting almost 10 years for.

- The death scene for Wormtail was perfection. So fitting. So deserved. It was just the perfect way for him to go, and I didn’t see it coming.

- I still loved Mrs. Weasley going crazy on Bellatrix. Mrs. Weasley has always been one of my absolute favorite characters so I was ecstatic to see her break out…and she did it protecting her family, of course. Absolutely perfect for her character.

- The scene with Ron and the Horcrux where we finally see all his insecurities and inner thoughts come to light was incredibly well-written. On one hand, I was riled up and cheering him on and completely ecstatic. On the other hand, it was moving and heartbreaking to see all that angst.

So ultimately, I enjoyed reading it. If for no other reason than it confirmed my opinion that Prisoner of Azkaban remains the best of the series. It was when Rowling’s editor still, you know, edited. The whole storyline was tight: nonstop action, the Dementors, Harry gets unprecedented insight into his father’s life, Sirius and Lupin are introduced, Hogsmeade, Hagrid becomes a professor. It’s fabulous from beginning to end and can be held up as a perfect example of an editor and an author working together to make a superior product.


YAY WEDNESDAY! The NYT Dining Section!

It’s Wednesday. And guess what Wednesday means. The Dining section of the New York Times comes out! My routine is: I stop by the stand next to the subway, pay my $1.25, promptly throw the rest of the paper away, and take my Dining section down to the train with me. Granted, this morning I tucked the paper away and spent the next two hours trying to find a way to work because the subways were shut down because of flooding. But that’s a different story…

So I finally had the chance to look through the section and found two interesting articles. The first article was titled “Should This Milk Be Legal?” by Joe Drape, and it’s all about the raw milk movement. These raw milk fans are breaking the law to get the white stuff! And I’m all for it. Why shouldn’t we have the choice? It’s the same choice I make when I eat my steaks medium-rare and it’s the same choice I make when I eat my eggs easy. But here’s the most compelling argument (for me) from the article: “’We drink raw milk because we trust the traditional food chain more than the industrial one,’ said Ms. Planck…” Amen!

The other, less socially conscious article was about this place in Long Island City that rents kitchen space. So people can rent space in the professional kitchen to start up food-related businesses, prepare stuff to sell at farmer markets, and just practice their craft. I initially found myself intrigued by the idea, thinking “Hmmm…perhaps I should try my hand at this…” But then I quickly dismissed the idea. First, what would I possibly cook that could be translated to a business? I don’t jar or preserve anything, I really don’t like baking, and I’m not terribly experimental. Not to mention that the biggest joy I get from cooking is making food for my friends and family, laughing, drinking wine, languidly stirring a sauce…the idea of pushing myself that hard – in my “free time”, no less – to see if I have the chops to make it professionally just doesn’t sit well with me. I’ll continue to suffer in my crappy apartment kitchen, thank you. But the article was interesting, nonetheless, to see what’s out there.


REVIEW: Cherry Time by Daniela Bunge

How many of you have been fortunate enough to encounter books published by minedition? I have to officially gush over them – their international books are just a revelation to me. All the sweetness and poignancy that a picture book can possess…but without the cloying sentimentality that can be prevalent in American children’s books. I became familiar with minedition after reading Five Nice Mice by Chisato Toshiro and J.A. Teddy by John Rowe – both wonderful books. But I got a hold of Cherry Time by Daniela Bunge, and I’m officially in love. It’s a picture book about two shy children who find one another and become friends. Though one of them has to move away in the end, they still promise to “be brave even without each other.” The illustrations remind me a little of Giselle Potter – whose work I don’t care for – but Bunge’s art is more accessible and charming. And the text just rolls off the tongue: “Ruby showed me how to bake a cherry cake, and sometimes we got vanilla ice cream with warm cherry sauce. The whole summer tasted red and sweet.” I’m swooning. I found a new favorite picture book. Granted, I’ll have a new favorite two weeks from now, but still…

Rethinking my passionate love of mushrooms

Your Neighborhood Librarian gets the Funniest Post of the Day Award. You know you're obsessed with food when your first thought to this post is "Yeah, but are they edible???"

But then the very thought of eating those things made me throw up in my mouth a little.


Where has all the good mythology gone?

It’s a challenge to blog about anything but food – given that it seems I’m always thinking about it, not to mention that I eat more often than I read – but I’ll give it a try:

1. I just got a review copy of a book called Woolvs in the Sitee by Margaret Wild and Anne Spudvilas (Front Street, 2007). Strange, strange stuff. It’s scary in the same way I found Wolves in the Walls by Neil Gaiman (HC, 2003) scary. Or that Victorian short story, “The Yellow Wallpaper.” Sort of creepy. This boy is living in an apartment building and he’s lost his family to these mysterious “woolvs”. He only talks to his neighbor “Missus Radinski.” You never see these woolvs – they’re these dark shadows, which we all know can be much scarier than if we had seen the real thing. The entire text is spelled very phonetically (“I longs for bloo skys. I longs for it to rane.”), which is both infruriating and effective in portraying a locked-up, scared boy in what appears to be a post-apocalyptic setting. This is in a picture book format, but it’s really for an older child – about 4th grade and up. The cover is really striking – I can see it flying off the shelf if you display it in the YA section, perhaps. Overall, I really liked the book. It’s difficult to find good scary books, and the sense of foreboding and fear without giving away too much information make this a very smart addition to the genre. Just beware the spelling - it was difficult not to throw the book across the room.

2. I finally got an account at Good Reads. Right now the only method I have of keeping track of the books I read is an old Excel worksheet I created back in library school. And I haven’t used it for months. I tried LibraryThing awhile ago but found it horribly un-user-friendly. So hopefully Good Reads will fare better. I’m really horrible at remembering books I read so I really need this one to work out!

3. At work, I’m putting together a core mythology selection list. This is a list that the librarians can choose from to replace their older titles or flesh out their collections a little more. The trouble is, do you realize how many of the classic mythology books are out-of-print??? How is that??? Don’t kids read mythology anymore? They must because I’ve had a significant number of librarians ask me for mythology books. This list is not going well.

4. Lastly, I have to post this Unshelved strip. It’s one of my favorites. If only more librarians would have this attitude toward maintaining their collections…


Food Photography 101: Part Deux

Another reason I love living in NYC: Union Square Farmer's Market. Adam and I have started a routine that we seem to be repeating every Saturday lately:

1. We all wake up around 7:30 a.m.-ish.

2. Adam immediately gets dressed and is out the door by 8:00.

3. He heads to the Market, buying whatever strikes his fancy, talking to the purveyors a bit, loading up a big backpack he takes with him and carrying lots of bags.

4. He brings the bounty home and I figure out what I'm going to do with it all weekend.

So for lunch today we had farm-fresh eggs, fresh bread, and bacon - all from the Market. Tonight we're having grass-fed buffalo medallions, mushrooms, onions and shallots, yellow squash, tomatoes, bread, and cheese. All of which is coming from the Union Square Market so it's all local growers and most, if not all, of the food is organic and/or sustainably farmed. How can I feel anything but warm and fuzzy over such amazing wealth?

So here are my attempts at capturing Adam's haul:

Food Photography 101

Here are my first attempts at food photography. I was hesitant to share them...but then I thought about all the ones I wasn't going to share and decided that this was nothing! Oh, the horrible pictures I've taken!

Squash blossoms with microgreens from Satur Farms

My summer staple: buffalo mozzarella, tomatoes, basil, olive oil, basalmic vinegar, lemon salt, and pepper. Heaven on earth!


TGIF: Miscellaneous stuff

I've got a mishmash of stuff for this Friday afternoon:

1. After almost 10 years of thinking hard about doing it, I finally submitted a book review and got it published! Here's the review from this month's School Library Journal:

BLUME, Judy. Soupy Saturdays with the Pain & the Great One. illus. by James Stevenson. 104p. Delacorte. Aug. 2007. Tr $12.99. ISBN 978-0-385-73305-2; PLB $15.99. ISBN 978-0-385-90324-0. LC number unavailable.
Gr 1–3—This book expands the picture book The Pain and the Great One (S & S, 1984) into a beginning chapter book. Third-grader Abigail calls her little brother "The Pain" because he causes so much trouble. Jake is in first grade and calls his older sister "The Great One" because she thinks so highly of herself. The book doesn't follow a traditional story arc; instead, it is a series of vignettes in which the children continually clash and then reconcile. While the stories are funny and sometimes poignant, often they're a bit heavy with sentimentality and nostalgia. The theme is that arguing with your sibling is part of the fun of growing up, but there isn't much child appeal in that adult perspective. How many kids enjoy being told that they really love their brother or sister, despite all the bickering? Nevertheless, the stories are sweet and accurately depict the growing pains of childhood. Stevenson's black-and-white ink illustrations are entertaining, particularly the drawing of mashed potatoes with peas strewn across the page. Overall, this is a successful effort with great illustrations and humor, but it's not an essential purchase: the picture book was more succinct.—Laura Lutz, Queens Borough Public Library, NY

Yep, that's my name in print. I feel a little exposed and self-conscious about it - it's not comfortable knocking a book by Judy Blume so publicly. Especially when other reviews that have been printed about it are more positive than mine. But I'm excited nonetheless and stand by the review.

2. I also spent some time this morning reading a great interview with JK Rowling. It was an online interview and she got 120,000 questions! There's spoilers galore here so don't read it until you've read the whole Harry Potter series. But I was happy to have some questions answered after reading the interview.

3. I've mentioned the "Chocolate and Zucchini" site to a lot to people, but I want to draw particular attention to the picture gallery on her blog. Clotilde Dusoulier's recipes and narrative are wonderful, but I love her pictures the best. I've been trying to take more pictures of the meals I make, but they're not fit to print compared to hers. Try to look at the pictures without having your mouth water profusely.


Batter up!: What I'm Reading

Here’s the list of books I have lined up to read in the next…um…oh, I have no idea how long it’ll take for me to get to all these:

CURRENTLY READING: The Quantum July (Ron King) – I’m reading it for School Library Journal…otherwise, I don’t think this is a book I would have been motivated to read.

1. Omnivore’s Dilemma (Michael Pollan) – I was halfway through, but I had to stop so that I could read Harry Potter and The Quantum July.
2. Elijah of Buxton (Christopher Paul Curtis) – it’s getting Newbery buzz so I’ll jump on the bandwagon and read it.
3. The Mysterious Benedict Society (Trenton Lee Stewart) – this one has been on my list for ages and I’m beginning to fear that I’ll never read it.
4. Michael Tolliver Lives (Armistead Maupin) – I love the Tales of the City gang and looking forward to reading this new one.
5. Slam (Nick Hornby) – I started this one at ALA and loved what I read. Can’t wait to finish it.

And then I pre-ordered Stephenie Meyer’s new one, Eclipse, which is coming out August 7th so obviously I’ll drop whatever I’m in the middle of and read that one immediately. Meyer has compared the storyline of Eclipse to Wuthering Heights…Needless to say, the 7th can’t come soon enough.


Food and kids' lit meet?

It’s not very often that my love of children’s literature and my love of food intermingle – the only example I can think of is the D.I.S.H. series where a group of young girls start a cooking group (though I won’t even get started on the newly reissued covers that are ridiculously YA and completely incongruous to the book’s audience).

So I was pleased while reading an ARC of The Quantum July by Ron King (Delacorte). Danny’s dad is a talented cook, and he’s making pancakes for his family in the shape of medieval weapons. And he also makes vegetables at dinner the shapes of woodland creatures. So when Dad is probed as to why weapons are appropriate for breakfast and forest animals for dinner, this is what Dad has to say:

“'Because, my son, dinner is about making peace with the day. But breakfast,' he said, dropping five or six pistachio bombs into the pan, 'is about preparing for it, and things might get ugly.'”

I love that. It makes me re-think my breakfasts…I’d love to work more power into my morning – attack the day with the foods I choose to eat. But incorporate softer, milder flavors into my evenings, making peace. Tonight we’re doing an enormous antipasti layout for a few guests…I think that’ll be perfect. Buffalo mozzarella with olive oil, fruity balsamic vinegar, lemon salt, and pepper is the perfect way to close a day and get to my Zen place. With a bottle of red, of course.