The One About Yesterday's NPR article

This morning a work colleague directed me to this article on NPR, “Creative Play Makes for Kids in Control" by Alix Spiegel. I haven’t had the chance to listen to it yet, but the article made for fascinating reading. Some of you may already know about “executive function”, but this was the first I had heard about it: it’s the ability to self-regulate one’s behavior, emotions, and impulses. The argument is made that the onslaught of videogames and the tendency of parents to overregulate their children’s schedules has caused a decrease in executive function abilities in children. Videogames don’t encourage it and overscheduled children always have adults present to regulate behaviors for them.

I appreciated that the article made the point that a lot of kids "diagnosed" with ADHD could simply have an underdeveloped executive function, which makes complete sense. They aren't actually being hyper...they only lack the skills to self-regulate. And there was also the interesting section at the end that talked about Wii's role in executive function: while it does get kids moving and may help with childhood obesity, it doesn't encourage executive function.

What I found frustrating was that, even with an innovative program like the one discussed in the article, the end result - how the kids "perform" - is still a major focus. I'm just irked in general at the mentality that kids are "products" of their parents, their upbringing, their generation, and we measure their "performance" in order to make us adults seem productive and successful. Ugh. I'm tired of the whole thing.

And reading the article made me wish I was working directly with kids again: I would love to play the "Freeze" game with them! What a fun thing to work into a program!


Quack Quack here and a Quack Quack there*

A couple weeks ago – yeah, I know I’m a little late on this – I found this recipe for braised duck legs on one of my favorite food blogs, Amateur Gourmet. I love duck with a passion, and I’m always looking for super simple new recipes. So I was intrigued by this one. It just sounded like the perfect accompaniment to the chilly winter weather: earthy, simple, and colorful.

Amateur Gourmet wasn’t lying – this really is the simplest dang recipe in the world to make. The AG says you need one onion, one stalk of celery, one carrot, and a knob of ginger. It looked like too little to me so I added another carrot and another stalk of celery. Even then, I could have added more veggies – I’m always a fan of more fresh ginger. The point is that this recipe is ideal for improvisation, which is always a plus in my mind. I didn’t have the lemongrass, which wasn’t missed at all, and I also didn’t have “five spice powder.” Instead, I used the “Thai seasoning” I had on hand and that worked brilliantly. You simmer all the vegetables, put the duck on top of them, and into the oven for 2 hours. Done. That simple, really. And WOW it tasted perfect.

The only problem was that I got my worst kitchen burn to date making this one. I used my stainless steel skillet so I could go from stovetop to oven without any problems, and I pulled the skillet out of the oven with my oven mitt and placed it on the stovetop. Then I put the oven mitt back in the drawer. But I’m so used to grabbing pans on the stove that I went to pick up the skillet with my bare hand, lifted it up, and received burning skin in return. Adam sprayed a ton of Bactine anti-burn stuff on my hand, I ran my hand under cold water, and I said every swear word in the book through clenched teeth. And I spent our entire meal with an ice pack on my hand to stop the throbbing. So not fun. But I don’t know – is it completely nuts that I sort of take pride in these moments? Like it’s a battle scar. It means I’m a serious cook because, you know, I’ve sustained injuries. See? Look, how hard-core I am! Yeah, I even got blisters. Rad, right?

And as if this amazing meal wasn’t enough, I was able to skim off all the rendered duck fat and keep it in the fridge for those roasted potatoes I had been dying to make. I roasted some Yukons up, all crispy with their duck fat-infused smokiness…and topped it off with crème fraîche, salt, pepper, and fresh thyme. Yeah, it was just as good as it sounds.

Bon appétit!

* God, I loathe coming up with titles for my blog posts. I'm going to start naming them like Friends episodes, i.e. "The One about French Milk" or the "The One about the Random House Summer 2008 preview."

Children, learn from my mistakes

I had a hideous kitchen adventure last night that completely irked me. Remember I talked about buying The French Market by Joanne Harris and Fran Warde? Well, last night I made a recipe from it: Monkfish with Chanterelles. Only there aren’t chanterelles to be had this time of year so Adam bought baby portabellas instead. And this is where I made a gargantuan mistake: I bought the monkfish from Fresh Direct. I know, I know. It was completely asinine of me. Especially when Adam works across the street from Chelsea Market and could go to the fish monger there. And there’s actually a very nice fish monger, Forest Hills Fishery, just down the street from me. I can only claim laziness in its basest form.

So I get the fish, wrapped up in paper and sitting in a Styrofoam tray, from the refrigerator. The first thing I notice is that there’s a ridiculous amount of fish for just me and Adam. Fresh Direct screwed up and gave me 2 lbs. rather than 1 lb. So the fish ended up costing me $30. No biggie – I’ll just freeze half of it. I unwrap it all and think to myself that the filets are awfully thin for monkfish; they didn't seem to have monkfish's typically firm texture or pink color. But I push the thought aside and cook it, searing it for one minute on each side, as the recipe dictates. And the fish is nearly fully cooked and just falls apart on me as I transfer it to a plate. What??? Okay, monkfish, the “poor man’s lobster”, most definitely does not behave that way. It should not have flaked apart like that. Hmmm…I don’t think this is monkfish. Needless to say, the taste and texture confirmed it. I’m all irritated with Fresh Direct but, really, it’s my own fault. This is what laziness about my food will get me: really expensive monkfish-that’s-really-more-like-cod. My only remaining issue is whether Fresh Direct knowingly jacked me (twice!) or if this was an honest mistake*.

The meal ended up not being too bad, but the flavors and textures were rather odd together. The recipe says that the fish and mushrooms can be served over rice, steamed potatoes, or shell pasta. I chose to serve the mushrooms and non-monkfish over rice, but portabellas have such a deep, earthbound flavor that they didn’t mesh well with the rice – it would have been more successful over steamed fingerlings. The non-monkfish didn’t help – it’s extremely light, flaky texture and flavor were a poor match with the portabellas. Oyster mushrooms would have been nice with the cod-like fish.

You know, as a full-time working parent, I need to take shortcuts while cooking on the weekdays. But now I know that taking a shortcut in the selection of my ingredients is not the way to go. Especially for such a fresh, simple recipe. I was left feeling like a schmuck for making such a novice mistake. Kids, don’t try this at home.

* Epilogue: Adam emailed Fresh Direct and they refunded us the full $30.00 for the non-monkfish.

Dreaming of other places

I’ve linked to Lucy’s Kitchen Notebook here before, but I have to do it again. A couple days ago, Lucy talked about the 43 outdoor markets in Lyon, France alone. That’s just in Lyon! She’ll be spending the next few months visiting each of the markets and telling her readers about each one…including gooooorgeous photos. So she went to her first market and…wow. Just wow. Are you a Francophile? Are you tired of winter? Would you love to see breathless reverence for food in the U.S.? Get thee over to Lucy’s Kitchen and behold it all…or as Lucy likes to say, “Come visit!”

I also got a comment on MySpace from a friend of mine (hi, Amy!), beckoning me to the CIA campus (Culinary Institute of America) in Napa – she told me she went there for an open house…but gave me no more information than that (that’s right, Amy, I’m calling you out)! I know I have an unrealistic, idyllic vision in my head of how that all goes…nevertheless, California is totally calling me right now. I want to go to the CIA with Amy where, in my head, we leisurely learn how to cook from gentle, passionate, earthy chefs. Drinking a glass of wine in class, of course. Then I open my own cheese shop where you can also find some locally made breads, carefully selected cookbooks, and local olive oil and wines that will complement the cheeses. Because I’m guessing there probably isn’t a shop like that in Napa, right? Right? And I’ll have a house with some property – because those are easy to come by in Napa too – and I’ll have a small herb garden and some grapevines. You know, something like that.

Don’t mind me – it’s just the 20-degree weather talking.


Random House Summer 2008 Preview*

Love was in the air at the Random House Summer 2008 preview (it was on Valentine’s Day)! Instead of the usual rows Random House has us sit in, they had us in a Golden-Globes-esque set-up where we sat at little tables with our colleagues. The tables had confetti lips scattered on them with chocolate kisses and cherry-flavored gummy lips. Fun, right?

One of the first books I got excited about was presented by the Golden House group: The Big Tidy-Up by Norah Smaridge. It was published in 1970 – this is a reissue – and I’m not familiar at all with the original. But this just looks darling. (Note: the endpapers they showed us for the book were fantastic) 5.13.08
Elissa’s Odyssey by Erica Verrillo is the sequel to Elissa’s Quest, and I’ve read neither at this point. Nevertheless, Elissa’s Quest circulates quite nicely in Queens so I’ll be sure to order the sequel. 6.24.08

This looks insanely promising, and it’s called Heck: Where the Bad Kids Go by Dale E. Basye. A colleague of mine started it and wasn’t terribly happy with it…but also claimed that she may have just been feeling grumpy that day. So the verdict is still out. Nevertheless, I think you could put it on display and it’ll fly off the shelves based on the name and cover alone. 7.22.08

The Order of Odd-Fish by James Kennedy has a cool cover and the editors described it as “Roald Dahl meets Monty Python.” Could be cool. 8.12.08

The editors also talked about the reissue of Sweet Valley High, a well-covered topic on this blog. Needless to say, lots of people cheering in the room about this one (someone even yelled "Elizabeth and Jessica forever!" when the book was announced)! 4.22.08

For you Giselle Potter fans out there, Schwartz and Wade promoted their book, Wynken, Blynken, and Nod, illustrated by…you know…Giselle Potter. The trouble is that I’ve never been a fan of her work. It’s not that I don’t like it…it’s just…meh. And her faces remind me of all those Middle Ages paintings where the babies have the faces of grown men. But that’s just me. 5.13.08

Yay! Lenore Look, author of the Ruby Lu series, has a chapter book coming out for boys: Alvin Ho: Allergic to Girls, School, and Other Scary Things. It’s next in my stack of galleys to read. Can’t wait! 7.8.08

Meghan McCarthy is doing astronauts this time in Astronaut Handbook. I received the F&Gs and my initial impression is that it’s really fantastic. Especially as we see the space program being phased out, it’s good to see a book that will capture kids’ imagination and encourage them to dream about being astronauts. A few more years and this book might seem more nostalgic and, perhaps, old-fashioned. But it’s just right for now. 6.10.08

The Penderwicks are back in Jeanne Birdsall’s The Penderwicks on Gardam Street. I feel like I’m the last librarian to not have read the first book! Nevertheless, I guessed that most of you would be happy to hear about this so here it is. 4.8.08

And, once again, my love of food and youth literature collide in the form of two books: A La Carte by Tanita Davis and High Dive by Tammar Stein. In A La Carte, an African-American, vegetarian teenager dreams of having her own cooking show. There are recipes at the end of each chapter. In High Dive, Arden travels around Europe, taking in all the culinary pleasures. Naturally, I have both books at the top of my huge galley pile – you can imagine how stoked I am. A La Carte - 6.10.08, High Dive - 6.10.08

Last, Wendelin Van Draanen was the guest, promoting her upcoming non-Sammy Keyes book, Confessions of a Serial Kisser. Wendelin was a complete treat and she table-hopped while we ate lunch…meaning that I was able to be a bit of an arse and tell her how much Sammy Keyes reminds me of my own daughter, blah, blah, blah. God, just don’t let me be anywhere near authors. There are two authors I have never been a jerk around: Peter Sís (because I had no idea who he was until 45 minutes into the conversation – which is why everyone should where name tags at the damn conferences) and Patricia MacLachlan (because she’s so down-to-earth, she wouldn’t have stood for any fussing, and my daughter fell in love with her). Except for those two, I’m an idiot. Serial Kisser - 5.13.08

And on another culinary note, marketing extraordinaire Tracy Lerner passed around really pretty iced cookies while we were talking with Wendelin. Naturally, they were heart-shaped.

* Keep in mind I'm only mentioning the books that were of interest to me. There are many, many books I didn't mention here, like Judy Blume's Cool Zone with the Pain and the Great One (5.13.08). Check out Random House's website for more info on books I didn't mention.

Note: Copyright stuff baffles me to no end. Can anyone tell me if I'm breaking copyright laws here by posting the pictures of the book covers??? God, I hope not.


I'm eleven years old again!

Just when I thought I couldn't be any geekier about my renewed obsession with Sweet Valley High, I had to sit next to Carlie at the Random House preview and she introduced me to this.

Thanks to Carlie over at A Chair, A Fireplace, & a Tea Cozy for the heads-up...and for sharing the geekdom.

Bright colors in the middle of winter

I’ve been wanting to talk for days about Educating Alice’s post about Christo and Jeanne Claude’s The Gates in Central Park. At the time, Monica took her class on a series of field trips to the gates, and she includes some magical photos in her post. They’re the perfect pictures to cheer you up when the weather is cold!

I was still living in Arizona when The Gates were here and, even on the other side of the country, I was hearing and reading stories about how jaded New Yorkers were poking fun at the art installment. Snickering at it*. All of it I gave little attention to because I was living in Arizona…and I had never even been to NYC at that point. Monica’s post let me see how much I was missing, and it reminded me of the importance of art, creativity, and beauty in children’s lives. I only wish my daughter had seen The Gates – she would have loved it.

Truly, I can’t put my finger on why I feel so inspired by Monica’s story and her photos. Perhaps it’s because I just finished ranting about the deprofessionalization of libraries. Perhaps because I’m wintered out. Perhaps it’s because I feel like my daughter’s homework consists mainly of drilling her in “math facts” and leveled reading. Perhaps because it reminded that I wasn’t looking through the eyes of a child enough.

The glorious thing, though, is that sometimes even New Yorkers – and, especially, the children growing up here – can be inspired by bright swaths of orange in the middle of a gray winter. I can hardly wait to read Jan Greenberg and Sandra Jordan's Christo and Jeanne Claude: Through the Gates and Beyond!

Thanks to Monica at Educating Alice!

* See this blog dedicated to The Gates.

I earned my MLS and all they gave me was this stinkin' shirt

Walter Minkel, over at The Monkey Speaks, has an alarming post up right now. Wausau, WI has demoted all of its librarians (all of the Librarian I positions, anyway). Instead of Librarian I, they will now be “customer service librarians,” which also comes with – BAM! – a $10k annual pay cut.

This, of course, is part of a reorganization to save the flailing budget of the city. The library director, Phyllis Christenson is quoted in the Wausau Daily Herald as saying, “I would rather keep people on staff at a lower pay than fire somebody.” Well, dur! Once again, this is an example of library upper management coming to a half-assed decision because they’re afraid to make the difficult choice and have the difficult conversation. Never mind that you’ll have people on your staff who are undervalued and demoted so you have to guess that the morale at the Marathon County Library System is swell, right? Right? Sheesh. Not to mention that Christenson also states this reason for the reorg: “Librarians today do less complex work, she said -- calling for pay adjustments and more technological assistance.” Whoa. That smells like a cop-out to me. A big, ol’ stinky one. I have seen nothing but evidence to the contrary in my own day-to-day job. Nevertheless, library science/information science programs nationwide should pay attention – if library directors are seeing our work as relevant, then Master’s programs will need to double-time to make sure that they’re producing librarians well-versed in all things relevant to libraries today…like how to be a manager or a director.

I can only hope that this is not going to be a trend elsewhere in the country. I can only hope that this is just the misguided attempts of some Midwest councilpeople and library directors to save their own jobs. Otherwise, that Master’s degree in Food Studies at NYU is starting to look more and more promising…

For an alternate perspective, check out the Annoyed Librarian's post about this.


YAY! The NYT Dining Section round-up on time!

God, is anyone else utterly mired in the doldrums of winter? I’ve had it. Truly. I want tomatoes, I want corn, I want cherries, I want a PEACH. I want basil that hasn’t been sitting in my freezer for three months. If I eat another apple or another bite of winter squash or parsnips, I’ll freak out. Don’t test me on this. I really will freak out.

So I felt like I had a bit of a respite when I bought the NYT yesterday. Right there on the Dining section front page was a large, bright photo of fresh milk, butter, ice cream, and yogurt. Aaaah. Thank goodness there are so many small dairies in the NY area! As it is, I already get nearly all our dairy products from Ronnybrook. Nevertheless, I hope to try some of the others listed soon.

There was a small article about medlar preserves from France – the medlar is a small fruit that only softens when it gets frostbite or when in storage. It has a pearlike flavor with a hint of cinnamon, apparently. Which sounds awfully cold-weather-esque to me right now and you all know how I’m hating on winter. Nevertheless, I might be up for trying some of this in the fall.

There has been a lot of press lately about Kim Sunée’s book, Trail of Crumbs: Hunger, Love, and the Search for Home, and the NYT has an interview with her this week. I actually received the ARC of this book from my marketing friend at Hachette, but I haven’t gotten more than 20 pages deep. I found Sunée to be a very detached narrator, as if she was constantly holding something back, as if she constantly had her guard up. But I’ll have to give it another try after reading the article. (Note: since I wasn’t into it, I passed the ARC on to my mother-in-law. Last I checked, she was also having trouble really connecting with the book.)

That was about it. Winter is yucky and I’m tired of my neverending cold. Blah.

REVIEW: French Milk by Lucy Knisley

Huzzah, I found French Milk, thanks to a colleague that loaned me her copy (thanks, Jenn)! If you’ll remember, I was on a mission to find this thing.

A young 22-year-old woman, Lucy, and her mother decide to take a month-long trip to Paris together. They rent a darling apartment in the fifth arrondissement and explore the city from there. They see monuments and museums, but there are also instances where they’re hanging out in the Laundromat and using public toilets. Friends and family come to visit them and, naturally, they eat their way through the city. There is also a darling episode where mother and daughter get haircuts together “so we could go home looking frenchy and coiffed.” Then they do go home with a better understanding of each other and themselves…at least, that’s the impression you get.

I thoroughly enjoyed this, and Lucy Knisley really grasps the sense of place. Truly, reading this does make you wish you were in Paris, shopping at flea markets and eating croissants. Her descriptions and drawings of food were particularly appealing to me, of course. And their cuisine is so varied: Moroccan, French country, farmers’ market fare, cookies, café cuisine, and chocolate. Lucy eats foie gras like it grows on trees, and she develops a particular fondness for the rich, unpasteurized milk in France (thus, the title of the book). I also enjoyed Lucy’s imaginative touches: during a Laundromat mishap, she compares herself and her mother to Lucy and Ethel; she confesses that she sings the soundtrack to Funny Face under her breath most of the trip. In addition to being an autobiographical graphic novel (graphic journal?), Knisley also incorporates her own photos into the book, which provides a very personal and welcome touch: a picture of Lucy kissing Oscar Wilde’s grave, a picture of her mom leaning over the railing of the Tour Eiffel to get a better picture, and pictures of food.

That’s not to say that the book doesn’t have its problems, and I’m wondering if any of these will be addressed once Simon and Schuster reissues the book this year. First, one doesn’t really get a sense of Lucy’s relationship with her mother. The back of the book makes some mention of their “shifting relationship” as Lucy faces post-college life and her mother approaches 50…but I really got no sense of conflict or tension at all. Lucy makes references to conflicts with her boyfriend, but the reader never finds out what’s going on there. It didn’t bother me so much, but there really wasn’t a traditional story arc (or, one could argue, a story at all). They go to France, experience the city, and go home. Voila. I might have liked it better if there was a sense of personal journey, a stronger focus on Lucy’s self-discovery. And I definitely wanted to know more about Lucy’s mom. In true fashion for a 22-year-old, this book is all about Lucy: her appetite, her boyfriend, her insecurities, her menstrual cramps, her future. But her mom truly is part of this story so she should have been fleshed out, especially since Lucy’s friend David visits them and I got a much better sense of David as a person than the mom. Again, it’s typical of a 22-year-old protagonist to put her friends center-stage rather than her mother.

Overall, French Milk is a choice read for any teenage Francophile...or, in my case, any armchair-traveling, young-adult-book-loving, grown-up Francophile.

Other information:

Article about the book at PW

Lucy's website, Stop Paying Attention

Review of French Milk at Oops...Wrong Cookie

Review of French Milk at Try Harder

Lucy's awesome livejournal


Fighting a losing battle

I've had so much to blog about lately - a review of French Milk, a round-up of the Random House preview last week, yummy food pictures - but it's proven to be nearly impossible for the following reasons:

Sick kiddo

Sick me

Deadlines at work

Deadlines from SLJ

Parents in town from Cali

So you're all (all 10 of you, anyway) going to need to wait just a little bit longer for proper posts. But in the meantime, feast your eyes on this from last week's NYT Dining section:

Short Ribs with Coffee and Chilies

Fabulous, no? Stay tuned...


Sneak Peek, Part Deux: Graceling by Kristin Cashore

Thank goodness for sick kids! Because my daughter was home sick yesterday and catatonic on the couch, I was able to read through 300 pages in Graceling and finish it! Huzzah!

A Grace is an extreme skill that someone is blessed with, and those who have one of these skills are called Gracelings – you can tell who is Graced by their different colored eyes. Katsa can kill a man with her bare hands and is sent out by her uncle, the king, to torture those who have wronged him. To undo the evil deeds of her uncle and the other kings of the six surrounding kingdoms, Katsa forms a Council. When a prince from a nearby kingdom is kidnapped, Katsa and her Council must rescue him and find out who was behind the kidnapping. Needless to say, the one behind the abduction is not who they expected and they encounter a Graceling that could destroy them all.

The premise of this book is fascinating – you can be endlessly entertained by people with superhuman powers: a Grace that allows you to swim like a fish! A Grace that allows you to read minds! A Grace that allows you to see approaching storms! And it’s not very often that I’m compelled enough to read a book in nearly one sitting - I was completely sucked into the story. That said, there were definitely some slow parts that could have used some tighter editing (think Harry Potter and the Interminable Camping Trip). Also, this book may be more adult…but with very strong YA crossover possibilities: when a book refers to the main character taking a “lover”, I tend to think that pushes it to adult. I don’t recall the ages of the main characters being mentioned, but I did get the distinct impression they were grown adults. But teens will still love this, and it should definitely be marketed to them. This should be enormously popular…though I’ll hold off final judgment until I see the final cover, of course. It all hinges on the cover, doesn’t it?

I did finally encounter Princess Bitterblue…and Ellen’s Cosmo-style quiz was right on with that description.

Note: to recap, the pub date for Graceling isn’t until October 2008 (damn) and I only read the ARC so the story can still change from here…and I didn’t see the final cover (double damn).

"Build a little birdhouse in your soul"

I remember being introduced to They Might Be Giants in the 9th grade: April Crittenden was listening to Flood on her Walkman on our way to a ski trip. I thought it was just about the weirdest thing I had ever heard and, truth be known, we totally teased April about it because it was all so strange and new.

Cue college and I fell in love with and married a huge TMBG fan.

Now I have a kid who watches the Disney Channel where it’s impossible not to hear They Might Be Giants.

So you can probably guess what happened: 18 years later, after making fun of April, I’m a dedicated fan of the band. Check out Zooglobble’s interview with TBMG member John Flansburgh as they chat about the new kids’ album, Here Come the 123s.


The One Where I Don't Mention Food

** U.S. News just came out with its list of Best Careers 2008, and Librarian is on it. And I’m just thinking, “Well, DUR!” We’ve all known this for awhile and now America is catching on. What raised a red flag with me is that the median annual pay is listed as $51,400. Really? I mean, reallllly???? I want to know why I live in one of the most expensive cities in the world, holding the position I hold, and I make well under that. Seriously, we’re talking $10k less than that. How annoying. The Man is damn lucky I like my job so much. Damn lucky.
Thanks to Annoyed Librarian for the link.

** Publishers Weekly has the scoop on the joint book tour with Shannon Hale and Libba Bray, and I just have to ask: are there two authors more fun than these two? I don’t think so. I just want to be best friends with them. (Thanks to PW for the photo!)

** The Oregonian has an interview with Beverly Cleary, who I can credit almost entirely with shaping me as a young reader. Ramona spoke to me as a child; she was a kindred spirit. Then I moved on to Dear Mr. Henshaw. Then it was Sister of the Bride, Jean and Johnny, Fifteen, and The Luckiest Girl. She’s the one single author I can say I grew up with; after all, I didn’t discover L.M. Montgomery until I was 15 and Sweet Valley High was just a phase. And I was never into Judy Blume as a kid. It’s delightful to see that, at 91, Cleary is as spunky as ever: when asked to comment about children reading so much less than they used to, Cleary answers: “I don't think I'm qualified…because I only hear from children who do read." Wonderful. I don’t have very many heroes, but she is one of mine.

Sneak Peek: Graceling by Kristin Cashore

Oooooh, everyone, I am in the middle of a way cool YA book: Graceling by Kristin Cashore. Don’t bother looking for it; its pub date isn’t until October 2008. When I went to dinner with Harcourt at ALA Midwinter, Ellen Greene (marketing gal extraordinaire) had arranged for all of us to get this ARC and she also did this fabulous Cosmo-style quiz where we find out which of the characters in Graceling we most align with and which Grace we have. I got the relationships grace, shared by Princess Bitterblue. So I’m about one-third of the way through the book and Princess Bitterblue hasn’t appeared yet – I can’t wait to read about her! But Walter Mayes was sitting at my table and he got the fighting grace, aligning himself with Prince Po. Now I’m reading all about Prince Po…who is rather strong and dashing…but I keep seeing Walter’s face with that big ol’ beard. Weird. Nevertheless, this is proving to be an excellent read…and I don’t normally go for fantasy. Keep an eye out for this one in the future!

And I’m consciously not giving you any more information about the book because I don’t want to be one of those bloggers that gives everything away and causes the publisher to stop giving out ARCs. Without this ARC, I’d be reading the book 7 months from now and, thank you, I’d rather be reading it now. So mum’s the word.


Kid lit and food collide...again…sort of

So with the husband gone all weekend, I thought the girls – my daughter and I – could do some shopping. We bought pear-scented conditioner for the kiddo, pajamas for both of us, and then hit Barnes and Noble. I know, B&N is evil. But as I’ve whined before, Queens seems to have no indies to speak of. Alas. So we’re in B&N and I drag the kiddo over to the cookbooks, promising her we’ll hit the kids’ section if she can behave while I peruse books for myself. And my rad daughter proceeds to take her journal out of her purse, sit down, and start writing with abandon. I had a ton of time.

See, I was on a mission: to buy a non-Food Network cookbook. I have cookbooks by Rachael, Ina, Michael (Chiarello), Tyler, Nigella, Jamie. I’m all about the celebrity chef. The only non-FN cookbooks I use on any kind of regular basis are by Patricia Wells*. So I decided I would blind-buy whatever cookbook caught my eye. I found a gem: The French Market: More Recipes from a French Kitchen. It was pure eye candy. And the recipes seemed real simple with really accessible ingredients. I snatched it up. So I’m flipping through it when I get home, and I become curious about who wrote the book: Joanne Harris and Fran Warde. Who are these women? Yep, it’s that Joanne Harris. You know, she wrote Chocolat** and, with the publication of Runemarks, she is now a YA author. Wow. I created this food/children’s literature blog because I couldn’t decide which I was more passionate about. But I keep finding that these subjects aren’t entirely exclusive. Which makes sense because food is truly all-important and of course it’s going to intertwine itself in every aspect of one’s life. If it doesn’t, then you need reassess your priorities.

So I can’t make anything from my new cookbook until Wednesday this week: I begin my French class at NYU on Monday and the husband is taking a class of his own on Tuesday. So we’re going to have to pull out the old warhorses at the beginning of the week: antipasti on Monday and poached eggs with creamy polenta on Tuesday. But come Wednesday…well, let’s just say you’re probably all going to want to come to my apartment for dinner. I’m just sayin’…

Wednesday: brioche with mushrooms/brioche aux champignons, salad with walnuts/salade aux noix

Thursday: cauliflower soup/soupe au chou-fleur

Friday: chicken breasts with Dijon mustard/poulet à la moutarde de Dijon, salad with an herb vinaigrette

Bon appétit!

* How telling that every single one of these chefs has a glossy, pretty website of their own!

** And this is actually Joanne Harris' second cookbook. The first one was The French Kitchen and it actually has a recipe for " Vianne's Spiced Hot Chocolate" from the movie, Chocolat. I know I spent my previous post practically bragging about my lack of a sweet tooth, but I think I have to make this hot chocolate at some point. How could I not???


Life would be sweeter with a sweet tooth

You know, I’m not a baker. I’ve always argued that it’s because I don’t care for the precision baking requires – I’ve never liked math, and baking seems to require too much of it for my tastes. So there’s that. But the other thing is that I just don’t have much of a sweet tooth – give me crunchy or salty or cheesy any day over dessert. If I’m going to have dessert at all, I’ll go for a scoop of sorbet. And the rare time I order something sweet and rich, I either share it or I’m perfectly happy eating only three bites.

So, all that said, I still love looking at baking cookbooks and dogearing the desserts in all my cookbooks. And that goes for blogs lately, as well. Becks and Posh made some lovely, delicateJasmine Dragon Pearl Tea Cookies” that look divine. This is a dessert I can get on board with: crisp, light, subtle, only moderately sweet. I’m sooo tempted to make them. But can I use some other tea? I’ve got English Breakfast, San Francisco Spice (lots of cinnamon and cloves – it has a surprising amount of heat), some sort of peach tea, and lots of vanilla tea. As it is, Becks and Posh say that the original recipe calls for Earl Grey but they went with the Jasmine Dragon Pearl that they had on hand. Which really makes this the ideal baking recipe for someone like me: clearly, I can add any kind of tea I have on hand and see what happens. You can add something richer for winter, and I think my peach tea would be wonderful in the spring. Perhaps even lemon tea with some lemon zest too? So I’m adding this recipe to my already burgeoning list of dessert recipes I have squirreled away. And let’s hope I actually give this one a go. Thanks to Becks and Posh for the photo, recipe, and post.

Likewise, Cream Puffs in Venice is having a whole month of chocolate-themed posts so there’s just endless amounts of mouth-watering and eye candy on display over there. I will readily admit, though, that I’ll most likely never make this recipe – I would never make chocolate for myself when I get the most pleasure out of a small square of Dagoba Organic (have you not tried Dagoba? Shame on you. Do so the first chance you get - or go to the link and buy some online). Siiiiiigh. Nevertheless, I still love looking at beautiful pictures of chocolate desserts so feast your eyes on this:

The recipe is from Maxine Clark's Chocolate: Deliciously Indulgent Recipes for Lovers. Thanks to Cream Puffs in Venice. Like I said, it ain't my bag but I'm guessing some of you are just swooning in front of your computer screens right now.

I've got more tidbits to share, but the husband is golfing in NC right now so it's just the kiddo and me all weekend (who declared about the chocolate mousse picture: "Wow! Let's make that!"). Which means she's challenging me to a game of Uno as I type this. Gotta go show her who's the champion.


What I'm Reading

Oh, gracious. It’s Super Tuesday and I’m watching all the minute-to-minute updates on CNN.com. I will say this: the Bush administration sure has got people concerned about voting for a change. Don’t you remember 10 years ago when everyone was freaking out because only 30-something percent of the population was voting? Well, that’s changed, hasn’t it? People actually feel like their votes matter and they really can (and should) alter our country's direction. That's my impression, anyway.

Lest I digress waaaaay too much, I’d love to chat about what I’m reading. I’m in one of my schizo moods where I’m reading a little bit of everything, nothing is exciting me too much (or I’m getting excited about everything), and I can’t make up my mind.

Sammy Keyes and the Psycho Kitty Queen by Wendelin Van Draanen: I have to admit that this is my first Sammy Keyes book…and I’ll admit that I’m wondering what took me so long! I’m totally loving this. This is the perfect antidote to all those girly-girl books out there – which have their place too, of course – because Sammy just kicks butt. From wrestling at Slammin’ Dave’s to beating up the Queen Bee (deservedly), I’m having a blast reading it. Especially since I predict my 6-year-old daughter is a Sammy in the making. I’m two-thirds through and I’ll probably pick up another one when I’m done.

Jellaby by Kean Soo: I just got a review copy sent to me and I immediately picked it up because I had heard so many great things about it. I’m 35 pages in and I’m just charmed beyond belief.

A History of Western Art: From Prehistory to the 20th Century by Antony Mason. I received this from SLJ about a month ago to review it. And it’s taking me that long to get through it. It’s fascinating and I’m really enjoying it (I’m a frustrated art history lover), but it’s very dense and very browser-friendly so I keep sitting down, reading about 4 pages, and then moving on (it's taking me about 30 minutes to get through only 4 pages because there is just sooo much to look at!). The photographs and reproductions are wonderful quality.

Nigella Express by Nigella Lawson: It’s my newest cookbook and I’m loving it so far. When she says “express”, she means it. The meals I’ve made so far (mustard pork chops, Mexican scrambled eggs, quesadillas, et al) have been delicious and way easy. Not to mention that I love all the gorgeous photos. I will say, though, that I made the gnocchi with the mustard pork chops and I really screwed it up. I’ve never made gnocchi before – how do you keep them from turning into a globby mess???

I hope you voted, if you could, today and huzzah to the Giants for ensuring that the Patriots didn't get their perfect season (and proving - again! - that Tom Brady is useless without Adam Vinatieri)...And I digress again...