Yet ANOTHER reason I wish I worked for Google!

Guess who is the guest chef today. Just. Guess.

















Mario friggin Batali. How many ways can you say "not fair"? Ce n'est pas juste!

Eat, drink, and wish again that you worked for Google.

'Tis the season of Union Square!

This is the first chance I've had to blog about this but last weekend was just awash in loveliness. It was the first sunny weekend NYC had seen in ages: 70s and sunny with hardly a cloud in the sky. We got going early - out of the house by 9 - and ate bagels on the subway to Union Square. And you can see the gorgeousness with which we were greeted. Radishes! Rhubarb! Herbs!Walnut cranberry bread! And what about those peppers, you say? Well, Adam took that photo alone...I have no idea where the kiddo and I were. We get home and I'm looking through the photos and I see the pepper one. I say, "There were peppers?!" Adam grins, "Yeah, cool picture, huh?" I say, "And you didn't buy any??????" At that moment, Adam realizes his grave mistake. Alas! The peppers that could not be Mine. But that is the joy of spring and summer - so many more opportunities to come!

And to finish this post, I'm going to break my own unwritten rule: don't post pictures of you and/or your family. Mostly because I'd like to keep my blog somewhat professional. However, Adam snapped this picky while I was showing Isabell how to smell herbs: rub the leaves gently between your fingers to get the oils going and smell your fingertips. He captured a young foodie in the making!

Oh, and one more food-related tidbit: for the next three Saturdays I'm taking Cooking 101 at the Institute of Culinary Education! More cooking classes! Huzzah!!!!

Eat, drink, and bask in the sun.

Best New York City Books

The New York Times’ City Room published an article today about the best NYC children’s books, quoting NYPL’s Margaret Tice and children’s literature historian, Leonard Marcus, among others. They list some great books in the article, but the comments are the most interesting part – I found myself repeatedly saying, “Yeah! Oh yeah! That one!” And because this is New York, there are a lot of people complaining about the Manhattan-centricness of the list. Yeah, I totally rolled my eyes because, as a newcomer to the city, I want everyone to just get over it. Anyway, here are a few of the books mentioned in the article and in the comments:

- Tar Beach by Faith Ringgold
- Harriet the Spy by Louise Fitzhugh
- Knuffle Bunny Too by Mo Willems
- New York’s Bravest by Mary Pope Osborne
- The Tale of Pale Male by Jeannette Winter
- The Man Who Walked Between the Towers by Mordecai Gerstein
- Harbor by Donald Crews
- In the Night Kitchen by Maurice Sendak
- How Pizza Came to Queens by Dayal Kaur Khalsa (my sources show that, sadly, this is now out of print)
- From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler by E.L. Konigsburg
- The Pushcart War by Jean Merrill
- Wow! City! by Robert Neubecker
- Harlem by Walter Dean Myers
- I Stink! by Kate McMullan
- Abuela by Arthur Dorros
- You Can’t Take a Balloon into the Metropolitan Museum by Jacqueline Preiss Weitzman
- Uptown by Bryan Collier

…And so much more! People really go nuts naming books in the comments.

I do want to mention that Olivia has come up a couple times in discussions about New York books, and I am compelled to say that I really disagree with this being considered a NYC book. I mean, really? You cannot say that, just because Olivia is sassy and into fashion, she must be a New Yorker! What, other kids in the country aren’t savvy, spunky, and precocious?! In my opinion, a NYC book must be evocative of the city, capture its vibe: the city must be its own character. And Olivia most definitely fails on this count. It in no way captures the vibrancy and energy of New York…and I just don’t buy that those aspects are embodied in Olivia’s character. Not to mention that, except for Olivia’s sandcastle rendition of the Empire State Building and her access to theaters and museums, there are no NYC landmarks in the book. With the enormous wealth of NYC books out there, Olivia seems like quite a stretch.


Brinner: Ina Garten's Banana Sour Cream Pancakes

Anyone else out there feel that Scrubs is the most underrated show out there? Anyone? It was around way before Grey’s Anatomy, has all the angst of Grey’s but with so much humor that you forget you’re partaking in melodrama.

Unfortunately, for all of you (not for me - I still have it Tivo'd), I can’t show you a clip of the recent episode, “My Bad Too.” Long synopsis short, Turk makes a big deal out of his wife, Carla, making him “brinner.” I’m sure you can figure it out: “brinner” is a typical breakfast meal…but eaten at dinner. Hence, “brinner”.

In honor of Scrubs, I made brinner last week: Ina Garten’s Banana Sour Cream Pancakes from Barefoot Contessa Family Style. They’re so easy to make, yet they don’t skimp in the decadence department. In this case, I served it with bison bacon I bought at the Union Square Greenmarket.


1 ½ c all-purpose flour
3 tbsp sugar
2 tsp baking powder
1 ½ tsp kosher salt
½ c sour cream (I’ve used crème fraîche in a pinch)
¾ c plus 1 tbsp milk (I used goat’s milk from Coach Farm)
2 extra-large eggs
1 tsp pure vanilla extract
1 tsp grated lemon zest
Unsalted butter
2 ripe bananas, diced, plus extra for serving
Pure maple syrup

Ina calls for sifting together flour, sugar, baking powder, and salt. Frankly, I don’t have time – I just dump it all in the bowl. Whisk together the sour cream, milk, eggs, vanilla, and lemon zest. Add the wet ingredients to the dry ones, mixing only until combined. (She’s serious, people – don’t overmix this!)

Melt 1 tbsp of butter in a large skillet over med-low heat until it bubbles (these are Ina’s directions, but I use a countertop electric griddle, which works fabulously. It’s up to you and what you have in your kitchen. Don’t panic, everyone can do pancakes!). Ladle pancake batter into pan. Distribute a rounded tbsp of bananas on each pancake (I scatter them around). Cook for 2-3 minutes, until bubbles appear on top & the underside is nicely browned. Flip the pancakes and then cook for another minute or so, until browned. Here, Ina calls for wiping out your pan, adding more butter, and continuing to cook pancakes 1-2 at a time. If you use a griddle, stovetop or electric, there really isn’t much of a need for this because you can finish it in one go. Serve with sliced bananas, butter (of course!), and maple syrup. Ina also says that you can keep the pancakes warm in a 200-degree oven for 15-20 minutes. Again, this is the beauty of the griddle – no need to keep pancakes warm while you cook them 1 at a time.

In conclusion, let me add that 1) this is the coolest way to get your kiddo to eat fruit for dinner, and 2) I had my friend Anali very much in mind when I made these – she has a total pancake thing and would love these. While I can’t remember exactly what I drank, I had a glass of wine with this meal – truly, pick any meal and there’s a bottle out there, somewhere, that will go with it.

Eat, drink, watch Scrubs and eat brinner.


REVIEW (sort of): The Battle for Wine and Love by Alice Feiring

Anyone else out there read a foodie book that changed your entire perspective? What book changed your life? I don’t use this phrase lightly. There are only two books that have held this distinction for me: French Women Don’t Get Fat by Mireille Guiliano and The Omnivore’s Dilemma by Michael Pollan.

Perhaps choosing Guiliano’s book seems a bit trite, but don’t knock it until you’ve read it. Additionally, I understand this book isn’t for everyone. For me, though, it was a revelation. My passion for food, my openness to all its joys, started with this book three years ago.

The Omnivore’s Dilemma took what I learned in French Women to the next level. What both authors advocate is a consciousness regarding what goes into your body. What are you eating? Where is it from? Think before you put it in your mouth! Do you really want to eat that? Really? Or are you on automatic pilot? Do you even care? Whereas French Women tapped into my passions, Omnivore’s Dilemma connected to that part of me that is a lifelong learner and seeker.

Why do I bring these books up? Because I may have just discovered a third book. I use the word “may” because my future is yet untold, and it remains to be seen how much impact Alice Feiring’s The Battle for Wine and Love or How I Saved the World from Parkerization will ultimately have in my life. Having finished the book, I feel a beginning. I will – and have already started – drinking wine with a newfound consciousness, thanks to Alice. And anytime there is a gained consciousness, Life Changes are certain to follow.

Truly, if you love wine, this is a Must Read. That said, Alice’s voice and opinion aren’t for everyone. If you’ve read her blog, then you’re already familiar with her tendency to ruffle feathers, particularly among California wine growers and their corporate sponsors. Anytime there are corporate feathers ruffled*, you really have to pay attention. Clearly, Alice has touched upon something important and I’m paying attention.

In a nutshell, for us non-wine writer and non-wine critic types, Alice makes a pitch for natural wines. No, not necessarily organic because, as we all know, “organic” has been adopted by corporate America and the definition and philosophy behind it has been somewhat, if not entirely, bastardized. That bottle of Yellowtail corked in your fridge…that Mirrasou Pinot Noir I drink at TGI Friday’s to get me through the horrific experience of being there…the Hogue Fumé Blanc that I thought I liked…

Forget about ‘em. Unless you like science experiments. Alice exposes (okay, she exposed it for me, anyway) just how fake all those “flavors” are. Wood chips thrown into stainless steel barrels, vines grown in laboratories, vines “bred” and “selected” for certain flavors, additives galore to try to get good ratings from critcs…yep, your wine has most likely been subjected to all these procedures and more. Read the book – Alice will tell you about it. Maybe you won’t be shocked by this, but I was. I have actually walked into wine stores and said to the salesperson: “I like tobacco, chocolate, vanilla, oaky flavors…What have you got?” Silly me, I actually thought these were all natural. You know, like, part of the soil and shit. Nope. Chances are exceedingly high that I’m drinking a fake wine.

Now, as I wrote in an email to Ms. Feiring, I do still like all those flavors I listed above. But at what cost? Do I want that at the cost of authenticity? Giving up what is real? Is 15% alcohol content really what I’m after? The answer, for me, is a resounding no. As Alice points out, some of the natural wines can taste…um…a little “funky”…but I’ll take that. I’d rather tasty the funky earth over some fabricated approximation of the real thing.

I know, I’m on a tirade, right? Does anything I’ve just blogged seem remotely interesting to you? Then pick up the damn book and read it. I have a wine source where I can get a couple of the wines that Alice mentions in the book – I’ll try to remember to post my impressions of the natural wines**. Either way, though, I do sense a personal revolution in the way I taste, enjoy, and shop for wine, just as Michael Pollan and Mireille Guiliano did that for me in their books.

Eat, drink, and taste the earth

* Wanna get a feeling of the backlash? Here's Alice's Op-Ed article in the L.A. Times. Here is one of many responses to her article. In the response, Matthew DeBord decries natural wines stating that, among other things, that natural wines have "weird herby flavors." I ask you, fellow foodies, when did the flavor of herbs become "weird"? I think, perhaps, Mr. DeBord has forgotten that wines come from grapes...grown in the earth...kind of like herbs... Thank goodness Ms. Feiring reminded me of this!

**FYI - the wines being sent to me are all in the $40 and under range. Granted, one of the wines Alice mentioned in her book was going to cost me a cool $150...I bypassed that one for now. On the other hand, perhaps if I paid $150 for the wine I drink with my dinner I would drink it with a greater consciousness and respect. Regardless, $150 is ridiculously steep for me right now.


Friday is my favorite day of the week!

Happy Friday, everyone! Truly, I am in the best spirits. The skies have finally cleared over NYC and we’ve been promised a stellar weekend, weather-wise.

In the spirit of Friday-before-a-holiday, today has just been full of delight (children’s books-related). First, I received my copy of Rapunzel’s Revenge (no, Liz, you’re the sweet one!) and I huddled down in my cubicle and read the first half already. It’s phenomenal so far – Nathan Hale’s artwork, in particular, is stunning. I’ll email you soon, Miss Erin, and we’ll chat.

This actually happened last week, but I’m only now getting around to blogging about it. Remember I blogged ages ago (okay, fine, it was just February...but doesn't that already seem like ages ago?) here and here about the book Graceling by Kristin Cashore? To refresh your memories, it’s an upcoming YA fantasy novel with adult crossover possibilities, pubbing in October. I really enjoyed it – the characters were richly drawn and the concept of the book was well-executed. However, when I got the ARC in January, it didn’t have a cover yet: it was just a white book with black writing. Well, the cover has come out and here it is:

It’s really gorgeous. The sword is silver foil with a reflection of Katsa, and the author’s name and the book’s title are in embossed gold foil. There also was thought put into the design of the back cover – it has a horizontal picture of the sword with the reflection of Katsa’s different-colored eyes in it. Can anyone else say Ka-Ching! Harcourt is promoting this big-time, as they should with a 75,000 first printing for a debut author. Luckily, the cover is fantastic and will definitely draw in readers. Thanks to Ellen Greene, one of my favorite publishing folks, for the advanced copy!

Food-wise, well, I don’t feel like making dinner so we’re going out tonight. Interestingly, we’re going to check out Uno Chicago Grill down the street from our apartment. We’ve stayed away because it’s, you know, a chain (in mind I just kept seeing images of Pizza Hut and Little Caesar's). However, this article in the Boston Globe turned me around: Uno’s was named Health Magazine’s healthiest chain restaurant in America. Who knew?! They even serve antibiotic-free chicken and whole grain pastas. I haven’t tried Uno’s since I read this article, but we decided tonight would be a good night. Uno’s is one of the few places in our neighborhood with outdoor seating and it’s definitely a good night to enjoy the nice weather.

Eat, drink, and have a lovely weekend, everyone!


It will be mine. Oh, yes, it will be mine.

Yes! I just got word from Bloomsbury's raddest editor, Liz Schonhorst (hi, Liz!), that my copy of Rapunzel's Revenge is on its way!

Now I can finally stop turning shades of green over Miss Erin's well-deserved good fortune!


Annual Literature Meeting: just another day at Queens Library

So I’ve been doing all kinds of wonderful, fun things lately. My last post is evidence of that. And there has been lots more fun since then and I’ve been so excited to tell you all about it. However, because I’ve been having so much fun, I have become run down and exhausted. Which naturally left me no energy to blog. Indeed, I left work early yesterday and today, sick. So my conundrum is this: do I stop doing so much so that I have more time to blog? Or do I keep doing so much, thus leaving me no time (or inclination) to blog?

The most exciting event for me recently is this: Queens Library’s Literature Meeting*. We held it yesterday at our Flushing branch. We do this event every year and, in the past, we’ve had such luminaries as Paula Danziger and Walter Dean Myers. This year, we decided the time was ripe for a panel on graphic novels. To get to the point, we invited Françoise Mouly (editorial director of TOON Books, art director of The New Yorker, and Art Spiegelman’s wife), Mark Siegel (well-known illustrator and editorial director of First Second), and Elicia Castaldi (illustrator of Middle School is Worse than Meatloaf).

As you can imagine, with a new format, there were lots of difficulties. Hell, with three different MAC laptops in play, there’s bound to be issues!!! Add to that the surprise appearance of Diamond Comics Distributors, who planned a 10-minute presentation that we were not made aware of…oh, and poor Françoise Mouly went to our Central branch instead of Flushing and was very late. Add to that a colleague that repeatedly kept saying to me, “See?! I told you there would be technical glitches! I told you we should have made David [Queens’ techie] come!” Last but not least, the large Chinese population in Flushing decided this would be a swell day to protest the Bush administration outside of the library...a couple hundred of them! If there was ever a need for wine, it was yesterday morning!!!!

You know what, though, it’s funny how things turn out. Elicia Castaldi brought her boyfriend, David, who somehow got every one of the presentations up and running. And it was a good thing that we made room for John, the Diamond Comics guy, because his presentation was really fantastic. And even though Françoise was late and flustered, she pulled herself together and gave a fascinating talk that people stayed for, even though we went over time. And the protest was just another reminder that living in NYC is always an adventure. As for the colleague who wouldn’t leave me alone…well, I still don’t know how I can deal with him in a grown-up manner. Best to keep my mouth shut.

John, the Diamond Comics guy, talked about the history of comics and graphic novels, calling it “the new rock n’ roll.” He was approachable, funny, and interesting. Mark Siegel…well, it’s Mark Siegel. He talked about First Second’s vision and told good stories. Most of the people in the room hadn’t heard him speak before and, well, let’s just say that I had a co-worker that declared she was leaving Queens Library to go work for Mark. I think the whole room was swooning. Elicia was a great complement to the guys – she was sweet and modest, and I enjoyed the images of her artwork appearing in flashes behind her on the screen. And lest I forget to mention, she and her boyfriend are probably two of the most beautiful people you’ll ever meet: someone (I won’t reveal who said it) said, “They look like they came straight off a movie screen!” Also, brave soul that she is, this was Elicia’s first library visit! And with all our crazy technical glitches! Françoise was the consummate pro: gracious and beautiful under pressure. Unfortunately, her talk did have to be abbreviated, but what she did show us was completely fascinating. I’m longing to hear the rest of her talk. Later, on the subway ride home, Mark and Françoise spoke French (I understood every 3rd word) and talked about visual literacy – needless to say, I was in heaven. I’m such a geek when it comes to these things…not to mention that I have an overdeveloped sense of hero worship when it comes to these powerhouse industry types (authors, illustrators, and Arthur A. Levine fit into this category).

I got warm, positive feedback from the librarians who attended; not to mention that some admitted to not having read a single graphic novel before the event…and were happy that now they have. Glitches aside, I will call the event a success. It seemed to reflect my own personality: flying-by-the-seat-of-its-pants, spontaneous, lack of attention to detail…yet also managed to avoid disaster and it was filled with laughter and fun.

Thank heavens it only happens once a year!

* Elicia emailed me today post-meeting, asking me for the fancy name for our meeting so her rep can include it in Elicia's info. Unfortunately, there is no fancy name. This is only the second one of these I've participated in, and we've always called it "the lit meeting." But I'm sure there's some fancy name we can give it before I email Elicia back tomorrow!


Laura: A Week in the Life

So here has been my week:

Monday: Children’s Book Week kick-off breakfast, hosted by the Children’s Book Council. It was held in a bank. Really. Then I ran around NYU, trying to get registered for a Food Studies class in the fall as a non-matriculated student (I failed). In the afternoon, a preview at Little, Brown. That night, my last French class of the semester. Voila! Le fin!

Tuesday: Work. Homework. Dinner. Watch “Dancing with the Stars.”

Wednesday: Work. Homework. Dinner. Bath. Call Mom.

Thursday: Preview at Random House in morning. Back to work by 1:00 for meeting. Leave work at 3:00 to go to Kew Gardens Hills to see program with Kirsten Miller (she’s awesome). Come home. Make dinner. Homework.

Friday: Career Day at the kiddo’s school where I try to make Queens Library sound cooler than Google (Adam is representin’, too – I’m gonna smoke him!). Work. Dinner. Week over.

It’s been one of those weeks. And here was my dinner menu this week:

Monday: Adam flew by the seat of his pants while I was at French class.

Tuesday: Orecchiette with Sausage and Broccoli Rabe (thanks, Giada)

Wednesday: Grilled Shrimp and Spinach Salad with Honey Vinaigrette (courtesy of Cooking Light - some of the best-flavored shrimp I've had to date)

Thursday: Penne with Vodka Sauce (thanks again, Giada…I hadn’t cooked Giada in ages so I thought I’d revisit some of my old faves from when I was just starting to cook)

Friday: Friday is the one night a week we eat in front of the TV, and we uncreatively call it “TV Dinner Night” and it’s sort of become a family ritual. Not to mention that it’s become a fun challenge to design a dinner that can be eaten picnic-style in front of the TV. So this Friday, it’s nachos.

Stick a fork in me. I’m so done with this week.

Eat, drink, and rejoice in Friday


Extra! Extra! Children's Librarian Leads Discussion on Adult Books!

Once again, my job and food somehow end up intersecting. Every week, my division (Collection Development) has a meeting to try to keep our act together (or get our act together, depending on who you ask). I’m the only “kiddie lit” person there; otherwise, it’s the coordinator, the manager, and the two adult selectors. Our YA selector, just to keep things interesting, is in an entirely differently department. The result of all this is that I sit through a 2-hour meeting every week that has very little to do with children’s literature.

But – hark! – last week the “adult people” started planning their next genre workshop. They pick a topic (past topics have been graphic novels, literary fiction, and narrative nonfiction), limit the attendance to 15 people, and have a discussion about the characteristics of that genre. They ask everyone who attends to read at least one book from the genre beforehand. Some people participate because they either 1) know nothing about the genre and want to learn more, or 2) are passionate about the genre and want to meet others who feel the same. So the adult people were planning the next workshop and looking for topics. I couldn’t resist: I piped up, “What about foodie books?” I fully expected derisive eye-rolling because 1) I’m a “kiddie lit” person, 2) I’ve never even been to one of their genre workshops, and 3) everyone is so sick of me talking about food all the time. But no! I got nods and smiles and warm rays of light coming from the adult people. So I continued: “Not just cookbooks, because that’s a genre in and of itself. But I’m talking about books like Omnivore’s Dilemma, Alice Waters and Chez Panisse…books like that. Biographies, travelogues that center around food, tell-alls from the restaurant world.” So H. says, “That’s a great idea. Who wants to lead it?” Before I could clamp my big ol’ mouth shut, I squeak excitedly, “Me!”

So here I am. As if I didn’t have enough to do. But the truth is, I’m completely excited. I have a brief opportunity to expand my daily job to include children’s books and foodie books. It’s a rare opportunity so I fully intend on having fun and running with it. Naturally, I already have titles spinning around in my head:

Books I’ve Read

- The Amateur Gourmet: How to Shop, Chop, and Table Hop Like a Pro by Adam Roberts
- Animal, Vegetable, Miracle by Barbara Kingsolver
- Don't Try This at Home: Culinary Catastrophes from the World's Greatest Chefs by Kimberly Witherspoon
- French Women Don’t Get Fat by Mireille Guiliano (the book responsible for this journey I'm on)
- From Here You Can’t See Paris: Seasons of a French Village and its Restaurant by Michael S. Sanders (my review)
- Garlic and Sapphires by Ruth Reichl
- Heirloom: Notes of an American Tomato Farmer by Tim Stark
- Julie and Julia by Julie Powell
- Kitchen Confidential by Anthony Bourdain
- Omnivore’s Dilemma by Michael Pollan
- The Perfect Egg and Other Secrets by Aldo Buzzi

Books On My To-Read List:

- Eating My Words: An Appetite for Life by Mimi Sheraton
- Home Cooking: A Writer in the Kitchen by Laurie Colwin
- In Defense of Food: An Eater’s Manifesto by Michael Pollan
- Kitchen Mysteries: Revealing the Science of Food by Herve This
- Lunch Lessons: Changing the Way We Feed Our Children by Ann Cooper
- Molecular Gastronomy: Exploring the Science of Flavor by Herve This
- My Life in France by Julia Child
- An Omelette and a Glass of Wine by Elizabeth David
- Service Included: Four-Star Secrets of an Eavesdropping Waiter by Phoebe Damrosch
- We’ve Always Had Paris…and Provence by Patricia Wells

And that’s just the tip of the iceberg – there are about 10 books more on my to-read list that I didn’t even note here. Anyone have anything else for me to add to my booklist? Remember, it’s for posterity. I plan on bringing a big list to the workshop.

Eat, drink, and read whenever you’re not cooking

What is it with Jacques Torres and Google?

Remember I told you all that Jacques Torres came to visit Google? Well, this box of Jacques Torres chocolates you see is the thank you that Adam's co-workers gave him for being so funny and sarcastic and awesome.* There really is no justice. I'm shaping our nation's children and I get $2 tickets to the Mets and the chance to mooch off publishers at ALA conferences.**

I really need to think about a change in profession.

Eat, drink, and picket the union for better swag

* It should be noted that I took a bite out of every one of these chocolates. Yeah, I'm one of those people. Adam scolded me until I pointed out that he certainly wasn't going to eat these (he's a cheesecake/tiramisu kind of guy). He admitted I was right and let me keep nibbling. Anyone else a chocolate nibbler?

** I speak in jest, dear publishers who read this. I assure you that I'm sometimes embarrassed by the scavenger-esque behavior of my fellow librarians at the conferences. That said, I do enormously appreciate the wine, without which socializing at those things would be so thoroughly unpleasant.


Gwyneth Paltrow and Mario Batali: an unlikely pair

Thanks to Food Maven, I found out about this upcoming PBS documentary series: "Spain...On the Road Again". Gwyneth Paltrow*, Mario Batali, Mark Bittman, and "Spanish star" Claudia Bassols road-trip around Spain, eating and day-spaing their way around the country. I'm already in love with this series and it doesn't even start until this fall (it vaguely reminds me of my beloved "Long Way Round"**). Damn. Oh, how I love to live vicariously through others' adventures abroad. In the meantime, for your viewing pleasure:

* I can't explain it, but I completely love Gwyneth.

** I love Gwyneth, but I love Ewan more.


Another kitchen failure

Can you guess what this is? It's not a rhetorical question: I really want you to guess. I found out that, if you roast something at 425 degrees, you cannot just turn the oven off, keep the food in there to "stay warm", and expect that it will look the same 15 minutes later. Needless to say, this had a hot date with our garbage can:

Eat, drink, and mourn the loss of some beautiful Union Square produce.

REVIEW: Ten Cents a Dance by Christine Fletcher

Ruby Jacinski is in a fix: forced to work in the packinghouse to support her ill mother and younger sister, she can’t see an end in sight. She owes back rent to the landlord, and her mother can’t keep food on the table. Pre-World War II Chicago ain’t an easy place to live. Then Paulie Suelze, the local bad boy, tells Ruby how she can double her weekly salary: taxi-dancing. Ruby, who wants to get out of the slums and likes a little danger, dons sequins, satin, and heels and starts working at the local dance hall. Most of the men are harmless, giving her a 10-cent ticket to dance with her, and then going on their way. Other men, though, have more sinister intentions. Ruby is soon in it deeper than she ever thought and has to rely on her scrappy and tough attitude to get herself and her family out the hole that she dug.

Page-turner: that’s the best way to describe this book. Was it flawed? Of course. Ruby gets into one scrape after another, and one contrivance after another gets her out. I was able to easily overlook this (I don’t claim that everyone will), mostly because I find Christine Fletcher to be a really wonderful writer (Tallulah Falls, her debut novel, is some of the better writing I’ve encountered in YA lit). She captures the time period – the jazz references are great – and, as a reader, you truly feel transported to the 1940’s. The characters aren’t one-dimensional; they’re complex and rich. Ruby’s choices are believable when you think about her age and her circumstances – your heart hurts every time she makes a decision that will land her in more trouble. Her mother is also an intriguing character: she turns a blind eye every time she’s faced with evidence that Ruby isn’t all she says she is. Out of love and necessity, Ruby’s mother wants to keep believing that Ruby is working the night shift as a phone operator. Ultimately, I loved the theme that, as you get older, you gather enough experiences – good and bad – that you are forever changed and you can’t go back to “before.” This is, in every way, a coming-of-age story, as you watch Ruby grow from scrappy kid to a mature woman.

Christine Fletcher is quickly becoming one of my favorite authors. I recommend Ten Cents a Dance with enthusiasm to teen girls 14 and up.

NOTE ON THE COVER: Curiously, on Good Reads, this is the book cover on display:

I am curious about the change because I like the one above better - it's bolder and simpler, not to mention that it really gives you some information about the book's storyline. That said, I really like the title in red on the actual cover, and I also appreciate that they show Ruby's face, rather than featuring another decapitated girl on the cover. So I suppose you could argue each cover has its strong points...

Shortbread and sun-dried tomato pesto

I chair a children’s book selection committee – I won’t go into too much depth about what we do (because this is a food-related post) but, ultimately, the committee helps me review un-reviewed books so that we can decide if we want them to be part of Queens Library’s collections. When I started my job 18 months ago, I decided to bring breakfast to the meetings, mostly as a bribe so that they’d be nice to the new gal. As you know, I don’t like to bake. So I’ve always bought bagels at my local kosher place, or croissants and muffins from the local bakery. Not this past week, though. I wanted to actually make something for the committee, but I didn’t want to do a cloying sweet treat. Nope, like any dictatorial leader, I decided I’d make something savory and make them eat it out of fear of insulting me or hurting my feelings.

I needed something easy to transport and something that could be served at room temperature. And I also thought that, given the few Jewish and vegetarian members of our committee, it was best to avoid any meat products (I found some deelish-sounding proscuitto recipes). Epicurious came through for me again and I discovered Parmesan, Rosemary, and Walnut Shortbread. Per the recipe, it was recommended to top it with Sun-Dried Tomato Pesto, which I also found a recipe for. I won’t put the whole recipes here because I don’t want this to the The Longest Post Ever – follow the links. Here’s how it all turned out:

The shortbread dough

Rolled in "logs"

In the oven (because I forgot to take one before I put them in there!)

The pesto

The finished product

It turned out delectable. The shortbread was buttery with a melt-in-your-mouth quality, and the pesto was the perfect foil, giving the shortbread zing and pizzazz. Not as many people ate them as normally wolf down the breakfast bakery goods I usually bring in, but I was very pleased with the praise from those who did give it a try. The pesto is super versatile: the recipe actually includes mixing it with linguine. It worked on the shortbread well, and it would also make a fab sandwich spread. The salty shortbread would be great with tomato soup (or any soup, I suppose).

I won’t do this every month when the committee meets, but I still had fun shaking it up a bit by combining my two favorite things: children’s books and food.

Eat, drink, and do something unexpected.


Grape, Ricotta, Rosemary Pizza recipe

As I mentioned earlier, I recently bought Jamie's Italy by Jamie Oliver. I already thought I was in love with Cook with Jamie but, alas, that affair wasn't meant to me. It's all about me, Jamie, and Italy.

So the cookbook has a whole section on pizzas, and I want to try every one of them; truly, that's how good they sound. So this is my first go. Jamie, naturally, has a recipe for homemade pizza crust. That's all well and good, but here are my problems with that: 1) I've had horrific luck in the past using fresh pizza dough, 2) I don't have time on the weeknights to make fresh pizza dough, and 3) I have yet to find time on a weekend to make fresh dough and freeze it. So we're left with naan, thanks to Nigella Lawson's recommendation. I know naan may be difficult for some to find - I think you can easily try pita bread and/or flatbread instead. Hell, Giada De Laurentiis made something similar to this on her show*, except that she pressed the grapes into foccacia bread, sprinkled rosemary and pine nuts on top, and omitted the ricotta. So feel free to experiment, people!

So I used naan. And Jamie asks for a handful of green and red grapes, but I could only find red and black. Halve them. Put them in a medium bowl with 1 tbsp. pine nuts, "small handful of fresh rosemary", and 1 tbsp. white wine. Allow it to sit for a few minutes. Now I went renegade here: Jamie also asks for 2 tbsp. of vanilla sugar and suggests this dish as a breakfast or dessert with vanilla ice cream. Give that a try, if you'd like. But I made this savory. I added salt and pepper to the bowl of marinating grapes.

I then scattered the mixture over two naan, including the sweet juices. I added fresh, crumbly ricotta on top. Put it on a pizza stone in a 400 degree oven for about 12 minutes. When it was done, I drizzled extra-virgin olive oil over the top, and served it with a salad on the side. We drank a Spanish Rueda with this, 2006 Las Brisas, which was the same wine I used for the marinade. The label describes the ripe flavors as "racy". Indeed!

Shazam! A weeknight dinner that took me just under a half-hour to make. Take that, Rachael Ray!

Eat, drink, and don't sweat it on the weekdays.

*I tried to look up Giada's recipe for all of you, but Food Network won't give it up.


My Favorite Food Places in NYC

Nicole at Art and Aioli is coming to NYC and asked me for restaurant/foodie recommendations. Rather than respond directly, I thought it would be fun to turn it into a post: My Favorite Food Places in the City. Keep in mind, however, that I don’t go out to restaurants a lot – I only go out about twice a month (babysitters are expensive here!). Nevertheless, here are my favorite food places:

Upper West and East:

Eli’s Manhattan * 1411 Third Ave. Between 80th & 81st (gourmet grocery haven - spendy but you'll be on too much of a natural high to care)

Café des Artistes 1 W. 67th (Great place for Sunday brunch, pre-theater)

Popover Café 551 Amsterdam Ave. Corner of 86th (Close to the Museum of Natural History. See my review here)

Between 59th & 23rd:

Campbell Apartment In Grand Central Terminal (drinks only, no jeans or sneaks, very "old New York". I've only been on Saturday nights - the jazz band is old school...in a good way)

Rare 303 Lexington at 36th (expensive, high-quality burgers and some of my favorite fries in the city. You can even top your burger with truffles!)

Gaby 45 W 44th Street, in the Sofitel hotel (pricey, perhaps overly so, but one of the most memorable meals of my life here. Quiet, soothing atmosphere.)

Ginger Man 11 E. 36th St. between 5th and Madison (avoid this place at night unless you reserved the private room or you don't mind crowds - on the other hand, sitting on the couch, drinking a beer at 2pm on a Saturday is sublime. Try the pretzel with the spicy honey mustard sauce. Here's my review.)

Shake Shack Madison Square Park (you'll wonder if the line is worth it for burgers and shakes. Yes, it is.)

23rd to 4th:

Chelsea Market 75 Ninth Ave. between 15th & 16th (Food shopping, restaurants, desserts, coffee, bread...this place has it all. Check the list of events - watching people tango right there in the market is truly a NYC experience)

Billy’s Bakery 184 Ninth Ave. (Take my word for it - skip the hype and tourists at Magnolia and come here instead for the best cupcakes in NYC)

Union Square Greenmarket (go before 10 a.m. on Saturday to see the chefs and locals, and to actually talk to the purveyors; avoid it after noon, unless you don't mind insane crowds)

Fig and Olive 420 W. 13th between Ninth Ave. & Washington St. (there are other locations, but I've only been to this one in the Meatpacking District - check out my post about it here)

Below 4th:

Home 20 Cornelia St. (one of my favorite places - cozy, casual, great food - but I haven't been there since the owners have changed. The patio is the best place for a warm summer evening!)

A Salt and Battery 112 Greenwich Ave. between 12th & 13th (it's been awhile but I have nothing but fond memories. They recently went local/sustainable, and the shop feels like a little piece of London here in NYC.

Gray’s Papaya Various locations (some people may disagree with me, but I say skip Papaya Dog and Chelsea Papaya. Stick with Gray's. For better or for worse, a NYC institution)

Oliviers & Co. 249 Bleecker St. (so, okay, I know it's a chain, but I fell in love with this store instantly when I entered. The staff is unpretentious and friendly, and you get to sample oils and vinegars before buying. Don't want to haul those bottles around? They'll ship for you. There's also a location in Grand Central Terminal)

Eat, drink, and visit NYC

* Note: Yeah, that's right - I left off Zabar's. I've only been there once, very briefly, and I haven't been motivated to return. I found the space claustrophic in a way I've never experienced and, because of all the people and lack of space, everyone seemed to be ruder than usual. Not a good experience for me. Let me know if you've had a better one. Eli's was infinitely more enjoyable.

Another Edition of Foodie Books for Kids

Like I mentioned in my previous post, I’ve created a big ol’ long list of delicious books for kids. The young are incredibly impressionable – now is the time to indoctrinate them*!

-- Bear Wants More by Karma Wilson, illustrated by Jane Chapman (McElderry, 2003)
-- Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs by Judi Barrett, illustrated by Ron Barrett (Atheneum, 1978)
-- Cooking Rocks!: Rachael Ray’s 30-Minute Meals for Kids (Lake Isle, 2004) - say what you want about her, but this is one of the only kids’ cookbooks I’ve discovered that was actually written with kids in mind
-- Dish series by Diane Muldrow and Barbara Pollak (Grosset & Dunlap)
-- Fast Food! Gulp! Gulp! by Bernard Waber (Walter Lorraine, 2001)
-- I Will Never Not Ever Eat a Tomato by Lauren Child (Candlewick, 2000)
-- Maple Syrup Season by Ann Purmell, illustrated by Jill Weber (Holiday House, 2008) - yes, there’s a season for it!

Stay tuned - I still have more on my list!

Eat, drink, and help your kids do so healthfully.

*I do say this with tongue-in-cheek. I always encourage individualism and free-thinking in children.