New York Times article: "Cost and Shortages Threaten Farmer's Crucial Tool: Fertilizer"

I picked up the New York Times this morning and what do I see? A picture of a hog farm under the article title “Cost and Shortages Threaten Farmers’ Crucial Tool: Fertilizer" (by Keith Bradsher and Andrew Martin). Well, I wanted food to come to the forefront of U.S. debate and I suppose I got it. It was completely fascinating. educational, and scary to read. I found myself on the subway, digging around in my bag for a pen so I could circle passages. Here is what I highlighted:

Fertilizer is plant food, a combination of nutrients added to soil to help plants grow. The three most important are nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium. The latter two have long been available. But nitrogen in a form that plants can absorb is scarce, and the lack of it led to low crop yields for centuries.

That limitation ended in the early 20th century with the invention of a procedure, now primarily fueled by natural gas, that draws chemically inert nitrogen from the air and converts it into a usable form.

The next paragraph says that fertilizer accounts for how the population was able to jump from 1.7 billion in 1900 to 6.7 billion today.

Vaclav Smil, a professor at the University of Manitoba, calculates that without nitrogen fertilizer, there would be insufficient food for 40 percent of the world’s population, at least based on today’s diets.

To use a Scott Westerfeld-ism, that’s a little “nervous-making”, yes? The article goes on to discuss the environmental implications of farmers using hog manure for fertilizer; the run-off nitrogen is encouraging algae growth in the water and has created more than 400 “dead zones” from the coast of China to the Chesapeake Bay.

This month, a United Nations panel called for changes in agricultural practices to make them less damaging. The panel recommended techniques that offer some of the same benefits as chemical fertilizer, like increased crop rotation with legumes that naturally add more nitrogen to the soil.

But others say those approaches, while helpful, will not be enough to meet the world’s rapidly rising demand for food and biofuel.

The article ends with a very apocolyptic quote from the 1970 Nobel Peace Prize winner Norman Borlaug: “Without chemical fertilizer, forget it. The game is over.”

It's too bad that this is what it takes for to get food on the front page of the paper, versus the Dining section where anything food-related is usually relegated.

Eat, drink, and try not to panic.


President Bush Urges Support of Local Farmers

Courtesy of The Daily Table, President Bush has declared that the best way to deal with the rising cost of food is to give your local farmers' markets and your local farmers your business. Hallelujah! It's certainly a first step and I hope he (and whoever follows in the next administration) puts their policies where their mouths are. Part of supporting the non-subsidy farmer is making sure he/she can actually sustain themselves so, in other words, stop the criminally uneven commodity crop subsidies.

Finally, I feel like our country is at a point where we can seriously talk about how we're feeding ourselves and in what direction we want to go. Food is at the forefront like it hasn't been in decades.

Am I wrong to feel somewhat pleased about the skyrocketing food prices in the U.S.? After all, that's what happens when much of your food distribution relies on petroleum...

Eat, drink, and discuss.

Foodie Books for Kids

Still wondering why I would combine a blog about children’s literature with a blog about food? The sheer number of children’s books about food should convince you. I’m starting a series – albeit a sporadic one – where I list children’s books about food. And not generic books about eating, like My Little Sister Ate One Hare by Bill Grossman and illustrated by Kevin Hawkes; I’m going to include foodie books for kids. Without further ado, here’s my first list:

Chicks and Salsa by Aaron Reynolds, illustrated by Paulette Bogan

Crêpes by Suzette by Monica Wellington

Duck Soup by Jackie Urbanovic

Green Eggs and Ham by Dr. Seuss

How Do Dinosaurs Eat Their Food? by Jane Yolen, illustrated by Mark Teague

How Pizza Came to Queens by Dayal Kaur Khalsa (unfortunately for all Queens librarians, this book is now out-of-print)

Kids Cook 1-2-3 by Rozanne Gold, illustrated by Sara Pinto

The Latke Who Couldn’t Stop Screaming by Lemony Snicket, illustrated by Lisa Brown

Two Eggs, Please by Sarah Weeks, illustrated by Betsy Lewin

Eat, drink, and remember the wide variety of food writing!


Jamie Oliver's ice cream with olive oil and fleur de sel

As if I needed another cookbook! Nevertheless, I bought Jamie Oliver's Jamie's Italy this past weekend. First, it made me long desperately to travel. Second, it inspired me to take my cooking to the next level.

However, I unintentionally ended up making an odd choice for my first go at his recipes: vanilla ice cream with olive oil and fleur de sel. Imagining the flavor combinations, I was immediately intrigued. Salty and sweet are one of my favorite flavor combos (caramel corn, sweet and sour pork, chocolate-covered pretzels, Ina Garten's 40 cloves of garlic recipe). Not to mention that I loathe baking and fancy dessert-making so this is the ideal choice for me.

Jamie recommended using the best olive oil and ice cream possible, and I had both on hand (Ronnybrook's vanilla ice cream is silky and divine). And I sprinkled gray salt on top. Here are the results:

That's right - I don't have a fancy ice cream scoop, hence the odd shaved shape made by my big spoon. But that matters little. The flavor was just amazing - so unexpected and unusual, yet so obvious and complimentary. This will be a standard for me when guests are here - no muss, no fuss...yet there is absolutely no skimping on the pleasure and flavor. Sounds perfect, right? Then give this a go tonight.

Eat, drink, and enjoy simple desserts

NYU Food Studies Program: getting my foot in the door

I'm on my way! After a couple emails hounding people at the Food Studies office, I found out how to register for a class in the fall as a non-matriculated student. I think, "Great! I'll stop by the office to pick up the application right before my French class tonight!"

And here I find it necessary to point out that the program didn't have the application available electronically because it had to be filled out "in triplicate." Really?! I didn't know that the college kids today even understood that term! The school is lucky that I'm old enough to remember the joys of carbon paper! I don't know why I should be surprised - you won't find more antiquated procedures than in a public institution. Just ask a librarian.

Anyway, then it occurs to me that the office may not be open as late as 5:30. So I call. Yep, they close at 5:00. Again, really?! How can a program claiming to be designed for the working professional have an office that closes at 5:00??

Never mind, I can do this, I tell myself. So I squeeze out of work 30 minutes early (which is completely justified since I rarely take a lunch break). "I can do this, I can do this," I repeatedly chant in my head. But wouldn't you know it - the F train decides it's going to go local instead of express. And I'm crushed. I can't even pick up an application - how the hell do I expect to juggle a class?! Never mind that I've been juggling French classes for the past 3 semesters - it doesn't matter because I choose this moment to have a crisis of faith. I fight tears the whole trip - I'll never make it before 5:00.

I come up out of the subway at 4:58 so I start doing that half-run, half-walk thing that New Yorkers do, all the while dodging puddles and yelling in my cell phone to Adam about my crisis. I make it to the office on the 10th floor at 5:07. I see the window is closed, the lights are dimmed. Fuuuuuu.....! But WAIT! There's a guy still in there! I gesture wildly to him and he lets me in. Yes, he remembers talking to me on the phone. Yes, here's the application (in triplicate!). Yes, this is what you do from here. Which, lucky me, requires that I return the paperwork to two different offices on campus...before 5:00 p.m. But that's an adventure for a different day - it's 5:15 p.m. right now.

All this, and I haven't even submitted an application to the actual degree program - this is only to take a class as a non-matriculated student. Sheesh.

Fortunately for me, underneath my perky exterior lies one of the most stubborn and determined people you're likely to meet. Stay tuned for more adventures!

Eat, Drink, and go electronic.


Guest Blogger: the Husband can cook!

Well, well, well, look who else can cook!

So about two weeks ago, I lost a bet to the lovely wife. You don’t even want to know what it was about but, suffice to say, the correct answer was White Men Can’t Jump, not Rush Hour. Damn it! I hate to lose.

What were the stakes, you say? It was a week’s worth of dinners prepared entirely by yours truly. Now for those of you who have not looked at a calendar in awhile, let me refresh your memory: that is seven (not necessarily in a row, given the fact that our family is busier than a one-legged man in an ass-kicking contest and the thought that we would all be together for dinner for seven nights in a row is….laughable). Now when I say entirely, that is a bit of an understatement. Turns out that this little adverb means oh so much!

What I was most surprised to find is that the cooking part was easy! Well, maybe not easy, but certainly do-able. They make directions for that piece. What I found to be the most challenging was deciding on dishes, finding quality ingredients, and having everything come together on the same day!

So let’s see, what should I do for the first meal? Something snazzy to impress the foodie wife…hmmmm…let’s see…maybe something she has never had before…maybe…ahhhhh…yessss…RABBIT! So the first meal up was Rabbit Armando by Mario Batali or as I liked to call it, Thumper and Shrooms.

The trick with this meal was splitting the effort over two nights. Turns out the little fella needs to marinate overnight in a bowl of goodness: pancetta, balsamic, porcinis, and spices. So Night One was mostly chopping and slicing. However, butchering the rabbit was included in this knife-laden evening. Have you ever ordered a whole rabbit? There is a reason the word “whole” is in the title.

After 24 hours of soaking up the good stuff in the fridge, Thumper was ready for the heat. Along with a little wine to ease his pain, he simmered away while I worked a little novice magic on some mashed potatoes. A little roasted garlic, some browned butter, and a fist full of oregano made these babies sah-weet.

At the end I followed Anthony Bourdain’s advice in Kitchen Confidential: I piled it high, speared it with a little sprig of oregano and called it a meal.

Damn! I can cook! Feast your eyes on this gem.

I hope to be back later for other guest spots in the blogosphere, so tell your friends!

Eat, Drink, and don't bet against your wife.


Lunch with David Fickling of David Fickling Books

I went to a lovely lunch this past Thursday at Random House in honor of David Fickling’s annual trip to the States (of David Fickling Books). A small group of Random House people were in attendance, along with Jack Martin (NYPL), Barbara Genco (BPL),Caroline Ward (The Ferguson Library, CT), and Kathy Krasniewicz (Perrot Library, CT). I was lucky enough to get a prime seat right next to David and we chatted philosophically about how one doesn’t necessarily need to have daily interactions with children in order to understand what they like to read; there’s a certain inherent instinct that allows some of us to understand a child’s sensibility. The conversation was delightful and provocative, which was a nice respite from the nuts-and-bolts of my daily job (budget, circulation, statistics, finding out where everyone’s books are).

The important part of the afternoon, though, was hearing about the UK launch of David’s new endeavor, David Fickling Comics (or “The DFC”). You guys, this is really cool. And I don’t think I can do it justice describing it here. This is how David described it: it’ll be a weekly magazine, though “magazine” really doesn’t cover it, that will feature a number of different comic strips for a wide variety of ages. And the strips that David showed us were gooooood, including one written by a certain Mr. Phillip Pullman. Some were definitely for younger children (2nd – 3rd grade) and some were better suited for older kids (7th – 8th grade). What I appreciated, though, was that it wasn’t the content that separated the age ranges, which wouldn’t have worked. Instead, the art for the older kids is more detailed and it is much more text-heavy: in style, it is clearly for the older audience. On the other end, the younger stuff was much simpler, less cluttered…but still wicked smart and funny. In this way, I can see the younger kids challenging themselves with the older material and the older kids having fun reading the younger stuff. It really appears to be for all ages.

My only concern is the distribution and logistics of it all, which we discussed and brainstormed with David. The price he quoted was much better suited for the individual subscriber, and we all agreed libraries couldn’t afford it without a library rate (especially when you’re talking about 60+ subscriptions!). So there are definitely some wrinkles, but Random House and David Fickling didn’t get to where they are by giving up when some challenges arose. I’m confident that this will get off the ground in the States (no date is set yet for a release here, that I'm aware of), and I’m excited that there are so many innovators in graphic novel publishing right now (TOON Books, First Second, and now David Fickling). Good times, good times.


In search of a new tag line

Have you noticed that at the end of my food-related posts, I sign off “Bon Appètit”? Allow me to share (because, again, I’m feeling rather saucy today) that I intensely dislike that this has emerged as my signature. Lucy’s Kitchen Notebook has “Come visit” and Symon Says has “Live to cook”, both of which I love. So from this moment forward, I’m in search of a new tag line. I’ll try out a couple of different ones and see if any one of them sticks. In the meantime, I’m open to suggestions.

Eat, drink, and…you know

Back to the Blogsphere: the Children's Lit Version

Lots happening in the kidlitosphere, starting with that book. Oh, you know the one. The plastic surgery book. Read here, here, and here. Never mind that, by talking so much about it and ranting about its evils, we’re actually promoting it. Controversy is the best publicity.

Age ranging is coming to the UK, and books will begin to be labeled with the ages for which the subject matter is most appropriate: 5+, 7+, 9+, 11+ and 13+. I have mixed feelings about this for all the reasons you’d guess. First, this could be so helpful for parents browsing books on their own, and I know lots of librarians and teachers would appreciate this feature. However, I also believe that it’s just one more way that the thought and judgment process is being taken out of reading. Naturally, this is not going to alleviate the issue of all those parents who stomp and protest that a book isn’t appropriate for their child. I mean, you can say that the age range is for subject appropriateness, but anyone in libraries, schools, or bookstores will confirm that parents will not read it like that: “My 8-year-old reads at the 7th grade level.” But then they’ll throw a hissy when their child asks them about breasts, snogging, and wet dreams. Also, this is another way in which customer service is disappearing from our culture: why bother with booksellers and librarians when you can find out the age range online? Never mind that booksellers and librarians will have likely read whatever book is in question and might be able to tell you if it’s what you’re looking for or not… So while I think it’s a nice idea, I really question how much good “age ranging” is going to do.

The Monkey Speaks has a nicely worded post about information literacy and the disappearance of media specialists from schools across America. Go read Walter’s post since he is often more eloquent than I am. But take my generally snarky attitude, combine it with my bold mood today, and I have to point out that while the role of a school librarian is being undervalued and unappreciated in America, Laura Bush is awfully busy with the media outlets, promoting her new book about the importance of reading. Said book includes a boy who is directed to the school library by his teacher…little do they know, that there isn’t a professional there to staff it! Apparently Good Day Elementary School was the victim of budget cuts made in the name of No Child Left Behind.

I know, totally snarky, right? I’m being so against my better judgment, I assure you. I could very well live to regret this.

I also have lots of delicious (but not necessarily food-related) news about a certain Mr. David Fickling (of Random House) and the launch of his new comics line. But that will have to be saved for an entirely separate post. Stay tuned!

Back to the Blogosphere: the Food Version

I have felt like a ship without a rudder lately, for silly reasons, most of them inconsequential. Nevertheless, it is that sort of feeling that makes me want to cook…and do nothing else. I want to plant myself in my crappy kitchen and cook all day, trying out recipes, experimenting with no recipes, being creative, finding treasures hiding in the back of my freezer. Thus grounding me and making me feel more connected to my own life. I have eaten dinner out for the past two nights, and I can’t articulately express how excited I am to go home this evening and return to my kitchen. Eating out for extended periods does not suit me well at all.

My faithful readers will know how I aspire to write like Lucy Vanel over at Lucy’s Kitchen Notebook. She has another post up about a market in Lyon: Marché Fermier at Place Carnot. I don’t think I’ve ever seen such crooked, rotund, lovely asparagus and I’m longing to try the cream cheese tart. But what struck me was her next post, Diving for Pearls. I was touched by Lucy’s respect for history and her keen sense of nostalgia (without being cloying at all). I just find this sort of perspective lacking here in the U.S. – do you agree? My cookie sheet is rusting – I’ll buy a new one. Wet crumbling cardboard box at a flea market – I don’t want to know why the heck it’s wet. Dilapidated house too much work – raze it and build something new and shiny in its place. I distinctly feel that this is the country I live in, that this is the norm, and I often find myself swept into this way of thinking. But I'm pausing now to re-evaluate. As I type this, I look down at my shiny new cocktail ring – it’s fabulous and fun but I have no connection to it. But the earrings in my ears? They’re these tiny gold medallions that my mom wore for years, and I believe my grandmother wore them before her. On a recent trip, my mom bestowed them to me. And I understand exactly what Lucy is talking about.

And armed with this sense of history and nostalgia and feeling protected by the past, let me tell you about Cooked Books’ really cool post about A Soldier's Simple Cooking Recipes for Cooking in the Trenches and Billets (with vocabulary of French words). Learn how to make a Trench Cake! In library school, during the first hour of my one and only archives class, I discovered archival studies weren’t for me at all. But Rebecca makes me wish that it had been.

I don’t know if I should share this info but, what the hell, it’s Friday and I’m feeling bold. Remember I whined a couple days ago about Alice Feiring’s book not coming out until May 19th? I know, I was totally whining. But seriously, I’ve had that book on my Amazon wishlist for two months already! Anyway, my darling school & library contact at Harcourt read my mini-tantrum and is sending the book to me before the 19th!!! Really! It is probably uncool to admit this but that’s the first time that sort of thing has happened to me – I say I want something on my blog and someone says, “Okay! I’ll send it to you!” I’m starting to feel like Betsy! Thank you, Ellen, for totally making my week!

Lastly, I read a nice little article in my Saveur email, giving easy instructions on how to cook ramps. I’ve never tried ramps – shocking, I know. But I’ll begin seeking them out now since it’s driving me bonkers that there’s something out there that I haven’t tried but is so easy to prepare.

Bon appètit!


Taking a bit of a break

Sorry for my absence, all - I've had looming deadlines, a sick daughter (always!), and my mother-in-law visiting so my blog has taken a bit of a backseat. Look for me again later this week or next week.
In the meantime, I'm still reading so I give you this link to Alice Feiring - it's an early review for her book The Battle for Wine and Love: or How I Saved the World from Parkerization. If you haven't already fallen in love with Alice's writing, then you're about to. Unfortunately, mortals such as myself have to wait until May-friggin-19th to read the book. Boo.

And courtesy of two of my favorite guys, Bill Barnes and Gene Ambaum, aka "the Unshelved guys":

EDIT: So I was at my local Barnes & Noble today (4.26) and saw Battle for Wine and Love. I read two different sources that told me the pub date was 5.19.08. So either my sources are wrong...or my local B&N is in trouble! Nevertheless, I'm waiting for my copy from the lovely Ellen.


Joie de vivre and all other things French

I wrote on Fuse #8 this morning that Inga Moore’s illustrated version of The Secret Garden was the best thing to see while stuck in an office on a sunny Friday.

I was wrong.

The best thing to see is another one of Lucy Vanel’s market posts over at Lucy’s Kitchen Notebook. Today it’s La Marche de la Croix Rousse, and the photos are stunning (as usual). Lucy took a picture from the top of a hill, looking down on Lyon, and it actually makes you feel, if only for an instant, that you are in France as well. Feeling like some armchair travel today? Go visit Lucy.

This naturally fueled my fire for all things French, being a confessed Francophile. Last week, the New York Times Dining section had an interesting article, “There’ll Always Be a France, Especially in New York,” about the rebirth of old school French restaurants in NYC. For awhile it appeared that traditional French dining was dead in the city, doomed to cookie-cutter “bistros” where the same French warhorses are served year-round (steak au poivre, mussels in broth, frisée salads with lardons and poached egg, etc.). But there seems to be a resurgence of traditional, lovingly created French dishes, like cassoulet. We’ll see… My favorite part of the article, though, is when Alain Ducasse says, “[French cuisine] has never been trendy. That’s what makes it last.”

My latest issue of Bon Appètit (May 2008) is dedicated to travel, and much of that travel involves France. There’s an article, “Ten More Things We Love About France”, that lists, among other things, duck-fat fries! Did I ever post the picture of the duck-fat fries I made at home? Hmmm…I’ll find out and get back to you on that. But the best article was Molly Wizenberg’s “Cooking Life: Everyday Soufflé.” It’s a lovely article that tries to discredit the myth that soufflés are temperamental and difficult and argues that every home cook needs to have a soufflé in their repertoire. Having never tried to make a soufflé, this article completely inspired me to give it a try. I haven’t had time yet but it’s high on my list. Imagine my surprise when I called my best friend and fellow lover of all things French-related (though I speak French and she does not*) to tell her all about this soufflé thing and she nonchalantly says, “Oh, yeah. I’ve done a soufflé.” “You have?!” I asked her, incredulous. Apparently Ina Garten has a blue cheese soufflé that’s a cinch to make. Of course she does. Because Ina is not only a goddess, but the savior and inspiration for all us home cooks. Well, the home cooks I know anyway…

Last, but never least, La Tartine Gourmande has a beautifully photographed blog post up about mackerels. But since this is my French-related post, I have to point out the two phrases on her post: J’leur ai fait leur fête and J’suis cuit. I have never seen the j with the apostrophe like that before a word starting with a consonant. What is that? So I’ve written both phrases down and will have to ask my French professor next time we have class on April 28th. Unless someone can solve the mystery for me before then?

It’s such a stunningly beautiful Friday. Bon appètit, everyone!

*I only feel it necessary to point this out since she has made a soufflé and I have not.


"18 Cinematic Trips to the Library Stacks"

Courtesy of my American Libraries Direct email, I had a delightful time this morning reading Entertainment Weekly's "18 Sexy Trips to the Library Stacks". There are a couple of really rad ones, but here are my favorites:

Am I the only one that finds Nicholas Cage totally unbelievable in this role (well, in fact, in most his roles)? This last one is unintentionally hilarious. How does he always manage to look so confused?


Pasta with Balsamic Tomatoes & Jamie Oliver's Pan-Fried Steak with Olive Oil Mash

I've had a couple of successes lately, which is always a boost to one's ego. Especially since I've had quite a few misses, which I suppose is a sign that I'm growing confident enough to take more risks...thus creating more failures!

The weather is so deliciously wonderful here in New York, and I couldn't resist buying some Campari tomatoes at the nearby crappy grocery store the other day. The oddest thing was that the tomatoes came from Canada. Canada??? How can Canada produce such pretty jewels but I can't get anything local except for root vegetables and micro cilantro? Nevertheless, I bought the tomatoes, telling myself that buying tomatoes from Canada was better than buying them from Mexico or California - I mean, at least New York shares a border with Canada! So here' s what I made:

I marinated the tomatoes in olive oil, balsamic vinegar, salt, pepper, and rosemary. Then cooked up some fresh linguine. Tossed it all together, shaved some parmigiana reggiano on top, and - presto! - I had the most delicious meal on the patio to celebrate spring! And so easy!

Here's another good one:

This one is from Jamie Oliver's Cook with Jamie: Pan-Fried Sirloin Steak with Simple Chianti Butter Sauce and Olive Oil Mash (you can see the cookbook picture in the background). The dish was very good, but I think it could be better - I'll keep working on it. First, I used Yukon Gold potatoes so I didn't peel the potatoes, like Jamie recommends. I actually really like the texture of the skins so I try to keep them in mashed potatoes when I can. The potatoes turned out excellent. Here is what I would change: I didn't get a very good cut of meat (thanks again, Fresh Direct). Fresh Direct only had choice cut in the antibiotics-free steak, and the lower quality cut really showed here - it didn't have that buttery, melt-in-your-mouth texture. It was too chewy. The other unfortunate thing was that I wasn't sure I would have enough sauce for both servings so I really skimped on my sauce but dumped it on Adam's plate (the picture above is Adam's). As a result, mine was a little bland and dry. Adam moaned over his serving. So I'll have to be a little less stingy with the sauce next time...or give the plate with less sauce to Adam!

Bon appètit!

Hitching my wagon to a star

I want to be Adam Roberts...or work at the Food Network. Is that too much to ask?!

(And I want to try out that chestnut, ricotta, and balsamic dish that David Mechlowicz, the "culinary purchasing manager", is preparing)

The One Where I Can't Think of a Clever Title for Children's Literature News

I've been home with a sick kid all day - this winter has been so brutal! - and I had all kinds of lovely intentions to put up several posts. Then I had to do some work because I had a deadline today. And then I started reading (and finished) Rumors, the sequel to The Luxe, by Anna Godbersen (*whispers aside* - it was deliciously wicked and indulgent, just as good as the first). Then I had to watch Hairspray with the coughing kid. Then I had to have lunch. Now it's 4:00 and I've posted nothing. Siiiiigh.

I have had the chance today to collect all kinds of information, though. First, Matt Holm, of the famed Babymouse series, has a fantastic blog post up about a French comics creator, Cyril Pedrosa, who is apparently declaring that there is no such thing as a graphic novel. Naturally, all of us librarians, know this is a ridiculous assertion. Matt does, too. Go check out his great response.

Apparently there's a new children's book coming out: My Beautiful Mommy by Dr. Michael Salzhauer. It's written by a Floridian plastic surgeon and it's a way to help explain to kids why mommy is getting plastic surgery. According to this article, the plastic surgeon (named Dr. Michael, of course) is portrayed as a superhero, making mommy "feel better" and be "beautiful." You know, it would be soooooo easy to rip this book apart. It's so tempting. But I'd like to play devil's advocate here and say that this could be a useful tool for parents. As a mother myself who has toyed with the idea of a tummy tuck, one of the biggest challenges in my mind has been how to explain to my daughter why I'm doing what I'm doing. Granted, I wouldn't buy this book to do it. But, still... Far be it from me to deny it to another parent who needs a little help. All those issues aside and on a more professional level, the cover illustrations look like classic amateur self-published quality (read: bad). I'm just sayin'.... (Thanks to Big A little a for the link)

And oh my god, I had no idea that Jim Dale, the narrator for the Harry Potter audiobooks, was the Dr. Terminus in Pete's Dragon!!! Did you?!?! Thanks to Sarah Miller for providing my shocker for the day: no, darling, you're not the last to know - I am!

I won't dedicate a whole post for it, but I finished reading the galley A La Carte by Tanita S. Davis; I received it in galley form at a Random House preview. If you'll remember from this post, I was very excited to see my love of food and children's/YA lit combined together. Unfortunately, there's bad news ahead: I didn't enjoy this book at all. Now, as a YA book, I suppose it was fine. It had all the requisite teen literature stuff: angst, romance, conflict, crushes, struggles with parents - you know the drill. But as food writing, it didn't work at all. When you read food writing, you need to be salivating. You need to have immediate desire for food because the writing has inspired it in you. You need to have all your senses engaged because the writing has brought it alive for you. A La Carte did not do any of that...at all...for me. But for teens that aren't budding foodies, then this book will suffice. I only fear that teens who are budding foodies will read this as an example of good food writing when they really need to be picking up Ruth Reichl.

Okay, one blog post down. Hopefully I can crank out one more - something food-related, of course, before the kid starts coughing again!


Why I love what I do

So I got off work a little early last Thursday so that I could go to the launch of TOON Books at Books of Wonder in Manhattan. And what a lovely party it was! Hors d'oeuvres, wine, books, fascinating people... Françoise Mouly, the editorial director of TOON Books, is every bit as elegant as you'd expect - I'm hoping she'll agree to trek out to Flushing to speak to all the children's librarians! - and I met several other interesting people who proved to be much better conversationalists than me! I know this will sound odd, but I'm completely relieved that I didn't have the opportunity to meet Art Spiegelman - as someone who turns into such a geek when meeting brilliant people, I have no doubt that I would have been incoherent at the crucial moment. Heck, I'm relieved that I kept it together while talking to Ms. Mouly!

The good news is that I saw colleagues there who didn't mind that I was all geeky: Betsy Bird and her husband (who actually knows a lot about children's literature!), Michelle of the CBC, and Colleen of Roaring Brook Press. Here's a photo, courtesy of Kyo Morishima, of all of us hobnobbing (I'm in the red):
I think this picture was taken toward the beginning because I remember it being considerably packed later on. More so than it already was in this picture.

Yep, my job doesn't suck. Thanks to TOON Books for the lovely shindig!


I don't always have time to...you know...cook

Sometimes it's all about having the free time...

And cava on the balcony...

Ice cream and shortbread on a sunny day...

And pizza delivered right to my door early on a spring evening...

Let's hear it for Epicurious! Woop! Woop!

So remember I bought pork shoulder from Flying Pigs Farms at Union Square a couple weeks ago? About a week ago, I used it for dinner - and, oh, what a dinner it was!

When I bought the pork shoulder, Flying Pigs Farms gave me a slip of paper with some pre-printed recipes but, when it came time to actually make something, I wasn't feeling either of the recipes. So I went to my trusty old friend, Epicurious. There were a couple options, but they all called for a bone-in shoulder, which I foolishly did not get because I can't seem to choose anything under pressure and the Flying Pigs Farms guy was standing there, waiting for my decision. Anyhoo, it was too late to do anything about the bone-in issue so I looked through the recipes as if I had a bone. So I landed on Michael Chiarello's recipe for Cocoa and Spice Slow-Roasted Pork with Onions. Mostly because I had made Chiarello's cocoa spice recipe before so I already had the ingredients and knew how simple it was. Here's how it went:

And 5 1/2 hours later, I had this...

It was super easy and nothing short of delectable. I halved the recipe since Michael's recipe is for 8 servings. And since it was just us, we still had twice as much as we needed. Don't worry about that, though - a piece of the pork with some of the onions, a little honey mustard, two pieces of bread and you have one of the best sandwiches ever. The onions were amazing - I've never cooked onions before to the level where they just turn into a sauce. They're sweet and rich and they melt on your tongue. I served the asparagus with just a tad bit of butter, salt, and pepper - you really don't need a rich side dish with this one. Steamed vegetables work just fine. Michael's recipe also calls for a Sangiovese but, unfortunately, I didn't plan that far ahead so I served it with a Rioja, which paired very well with the pork.

The recipe also called for a roasting pan with a rack but my Mario Batali Le Creuset knock-off worked just swell.

I made it for "just us", but next time my parents come for a cold-weather visit I'm definitely making this. What did I do while this was cooking? Blogged...emailed...watched "Dancing with the Stars"...read a book...drank wine. I mean, once I had the pork in the oven, all I had to do was steam asparagus! SO easy!

The sad news is that this will be the last slow-roasted pork of the season because there's not a snowball's chance in hell that I'll be able to have my oven on for 6 hours at a time now that the weather has reached over 50 degrees on a regular basis. My kitchen becomes a furnace in and of itself during the summer. Come next autumn and winter, though, this will my go-to recipe. Without the asparagus, of course.


A phoenix rising from the ashes

So here were the ashes last night:

This pathetic mess is the Cabbage Galette recipe from My French Kitchen by Joanne Harris and Fran Warde. Based on the photo in the book, I expected soft green cabbage and a golden crust. So I kept looking through the window of the oven, wondering what the hell was going on. Then I realized: CRAP! I forgot to add two eggs to the crust mixture!!!! No wonder I didn't have enough to cover the top of the galette! No wonder I wasn't getting a golden crust! But with only 10 minutes left on the timer, I decided to keep it in the oven. When time was up, I took it out and noticed the cabbage was still raw and crunchy. Wha...?!?! I checked the recipe... CRAP! I forgot to blanche the cabbage first! It was just SO BAD that I laughed and told the husband to just dump it. Wanna hear why this happened? Because I was actually home by myself when I was making it versus the usual mid-week madness of my kiddo's homework and a schedule to stick to. I actually had time. So I leisurely prepared it, drinking wine and singing along to music. I got lazy. I wasn't vigilant. And this is what happens. I always knew I worked better under pressure but I learned last night just how true that is.

And here's the phoenix:

Instead I made the dinner I originally had planned for this evening: Jamie Oliver's Fifteen Christmas Salad. It was the first time I had made it (also the first time I tried the Cabbage Galette), and I can't even express to you how simple it is, yet how rich it is in flavor. First you start off with the mozzarella di bufala, which is on the bottom, and you sprinkle salt, pepper, and freshly grated lemon zest on it (Layer 1). Then the recipe calls for clementine slices next, but I used peeled cara cara oranges (Layer 2). Then you dress some salad greens in lemon-oil dressing and wrap them in some speck (smoked proscuitto, Layer 3). Then the recipe calls for shaved Parmigiano Reggiano on top, but I used pecorino romano, which didn't work so well - use Parmigiano Reggiano like Jamie says (Layer 4). Last, finish with a sprinkling of aged balsamic vinegar (Layer 5). It was textured, rich, and simple. It tasted decadent but was still surprisingly light on its feet. And it paired splendidly with the Bridlewood Viognier I had already poured. The best part? It took me about 20 minutes to pull together after my cabbage galette debacle.

Bon appètit!

NYT Dining and the food crisis in America

So it’s beginning to feel like I'm beating a dead horse (isn’t that how the horrible saying goes?). However, the issue keeps coming up over and over again, signaling to me that the “food crisis” in our country is relevant and important.

First, check out Nicole’s response to my posts: this brings the contrast between cultures into sharp relief. I was actually surprised by how many of the food displays included soda: U.S., Egypt, Mexico, Italy, Germany, Poland. I was particularly struck by Mexico – so much beautiful produce on display…and soooo much soda. Alas.

The Dining section of the New York Times has an article this week, “Good News About Rising Food Prices,” which discusses how the cost of food in the U.S. (is it happening elsewhere too?) is skyrocketing as a result of the rising cost of fossil fuels and ethanol. It’s costing a whole lot more to transport our food from Mexico to New York, from Holland to Chicago. Is this a blessing in disguise? Given the rising costs, will people really forsake their sodas? Will people turn to local produce and local purveyors of meat and dairy? Naturally, the article mentions Alice Waters, who has reportedly been a vocal advocate of higher food prices. I see her point: with food being more expensive, people will need to make smarter, healthier choices. If food costs more, people might eat less of it. On the other hand, lots of people argue her opinion is elitist and/or classist. Rising food costs makes me a little glad, I admit it. But what about the lower-middle class? People who are “on the fringe”? I honestly don’t believe they’ll suddenly see the light and start eating local, organic fruits and vegetables. It’s not as simple as that, as anyone will argue, I’m sure. You don’t have a paradigm shift in a single month or a single quarter. Heck, when we’re talking about an entire revolution in the way we think and we eat, that can’t even happen over the course of a single year. Eating is too emotional, too personal, too culturally entrenched. So do I think rising food costs are the magical solution? Absolutely not. But they just might be the impetus and, for that, I’m excited to see where we’re heading.

If you’ve read The Omnivore’s Dilemma, you know how Michael Pollan feels about corn. And he converted me to his way of thinking as well. So I read the Boston Globe’s headline, “Food Prices Might Increase as Farmers Plant Less Corn”, with a bit of warmth in my heart. Yay, less environmental impact! Yay, less high fructose corn syrup! Because that’s the kind of gal I am: I react first, think later. Which gets me in trouble sometimes. It was later that I realized this wasn’t going to magically cause meat producers to allow the cows to roam free and eat the grass they’re designed to eat. Nope, ain’t happening. And then two-thirds of the way through the article, the bomb is dropped: soybean planting is up 18 percent. Which, again, if you’ve read Omnivore’s Dilemma, you know this is still perpetuating the unhealthy, environmentally unsound monoculture issue. Where in the world are we heading?

Okay, this is getting depressing. Less doom and gloom, I think:

Since we’re sort of on the topic of healthy, seasonal food, let me take this moment to share with you an article from the San Francisco Chronicle, “Asparagus Fans Support the Delta’s Stalk Market” by Melissa Swanson. As a California native who grew up in the Sacramento valley, I got all warm and fuzzy reading this. Not to mention that I also felt bitter living in NYC where root vegetables are still the stars on parade at Union Square.

Lastly, given the name of my blog, it’s appropriate that I link to the NYT Dining section’s article on California Pinot Noir. I applauded the article because he’s right: California Pinots are so hit-or-miss and tend to be too big and fruit-forward for my tastes. I much prefer the Oregon Pinot Noirs, particularly King Estate. Nevertheless, Asimov includes a list of wines so feel free to have your own taste test on a beautiful spring afternoon!


REVIEW: My Friend, the Starfinder

My Friend, the Starfinder
by George Ella Lyon
Illustrated by Stephen Gammell
Atheneum, 2008

Have you ever encountered one of those books that just transports you the moment you see the endpapers? Then as you turn each subsequent page, it just soars? Then you read a second and third time and you notice all kinds of things you didn’t see in previous readings? Well, that’s the sort of book My Friend, the Starfinder is.

Written by George Ella Lyon and illustrated by Stephen Gammell, this book is very special. You’ll remember Gammell’s work, of course, from his Caldecott Medal-winning book Song and Dance Man. I loved Song and Dance Man – still do, in fact – but I can’t help but feel that My Friend, the Starfinder just leaves it behind (I realize some may feel like I’m blaspheming here). The endpapers resemble those Hubble telescope pictures you see of the galaxy. The first title page reminds me of those great swirly, colorful cloud scenes from the beginning of the movie The Neverending Story. Then the next title page appears to be another starscape…until you notice in the corner there’s a cabin and trees. And – look! – there are hidden star shapes in the sky! There’s no end to the little treasures in the artwork.

Oh, yes! The story! It’s told from the perspective of a young girl, looking back on her childhood, and she tells the story of an old man she befriended (or perhaps he befriended her) who told fantastical stories about catching falling stars and following a rainbow to its end. Naturally, the girl herself becomes a storyteller, thus keeping the Starfinder’s memory alive. The text is gorgeously written. My favorite part: “He wore old soft clothes and sat in an old chair on an old green porch and told stories. The stranger they were the truer he looked and I believed every one.” Beautiful.

However, it’s the artwork that really elevates this book. It’s at once impressionistic and detailed, grounded yet ethereal. The interaction of the colors is sometimes playful, sometimes poignant. The illustrations seem to indicate that the old man is very poor, with torn clothes and patched-up pants, causing the story to be that much more affecting. But as a reader, you feel elevated into the sky while reading this, leaving those earthly worries behind.

One quibble I do have is that there are two scenes where we see the old man as a young boy, and the reader has a very clear, detailed view of his face as a boy. I find this odd since we never see his face as an old man, and there are other scenes of him as a boy where it seems his face is deliberately obscured. So I find that choice by Gammell confusing. I felt pulled out of the mystery and slightly more earthbound. I assure, however, that this is a minor quibble and probably a weird quirky issue of my own, anyway.

To finish the book, Lyon shares an author’s note about Glen Dean, the real-life “starfinder” that she knew as a little girl. Then there are those starry endpapers.

Overall, this is imaginative with multiple layers of emotion and a dash of magic and mystery. I highly recommend it.