- The Adventurous Chef: Alexis Soyer by Ann Arnold (Frances Foster, 2002) is a picture book biography of Alexis Soyer. I have to admit that I had not previously heard of Alexis Soyer, but I found this a wonderful introduction. The illustrations are detailed and colorful, and the text makes for very interesting reading. The book provides just the right amount of detail: you feel as if you learned a lot but it in no way overwhelms. However, though Soyer was a fascinating character, I don't know a kid who would actively seek this out. There is no other place for this but face-out in a display area if you have any hope of circulating it.
- I found a graphic novel, Lunch Lady and the Cyborg Substitute by Jarrett J. Krosoczka (Knopf, 7.09), at ALA Midwinter and immediately declared it the coolest thing ever. This might actually be one of those rare books that has boy and girl appeal...which certainly doesn't happen very often! This may not be strictly a "foodie book for kids" but I still have to give props to a lunch lady who exclaims "Cauliflower!". And, people, her lunch tray turns into a laptop and her fish sticks are actually numchunks in disguise. Dude! (Note: the 2nd book in the series, Lunch Lady and the League of Librarians , will be released in July as well)
- For the life of me, I can't remember how I tripped on this, but I recently heard about Cupcakes of Doom, a graphic novel by Ray Friesen. It's more about pirates than food, but how can I not smile when the characters are talking about the "Atlantean Cookbook Recipes for Deliciousness and Destruction." Lord knows that I've created both in my kitchen.
- Lastly, check out the trailer for Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs . The best part? The pancake falling on the school..."NO SCHOOL!"
Anyway, there are quite a few children's and YA authors that have the Shakespeare Effect on me: Nancy Farmer, Jerry Pinkney, Neil Gaiman, Giselle Potter. I just don't connect with their work for whatever reason. And here is another: Patricia Polacco. Her artwork and writing style just never swallowed me whole and left me a changed person. Which is basically what I look for in any book: has this book added something to my life?
Today, though, I am changed. After a pestering email to my connection at Penguin, I received an F&G of Patricia Polacco's In Our Mothers' House (April 2009). And it's just lovely. The story is about a family: two moms, three children, 2 cats, and 2 dogs. There is also a large extended family and a prevalent sense of community. The flap copy makes a big deal over one person in one family not accepting Marmee and Meema as a couple (the woman melodramatically "snarled" at them, "I don't appreciate what you two are!" in the middle of a block party) and I have to say I think this does the book a disservice.
After reading the book, it's not about those who aren't accepting or appreciative of this family - in fact, that aspect of the story feels so tacked on and out-of-place; it would have been better without it. Not to mention that it's not terribly realistic that this woman is living in Berkeley and being all intolerant...it's Berkeley.
That's pretty much my only complaint. Where this story stands out is in its descriptions of family and friends and the home. I love this scene:
At our table we didn't only eat, though. Marmee and Meema made sure of that. Everyone talked about everything. Politics, sports, music, and art. Their voices got louder and louder. Opera was always playing in the background. Then they'd burst into laughter that shook the table. Nonno would pound his fist and laugh the loudest. What I loved most about our family was that we could all speak our hearts. We never measured words.And the whole story is this rich and gorgeous, with tales of treehouses, block parties, trick-or-treating, mother-daughter teas (my favorite scene - the art is fantastic). It is told from the perspective of the eldest daughter, and she is looking back on her childhood. There is definitely an adult-looking-back feeling in the narration, but I don't think it detracts here. Seeing all the kids grown-up in their wedding photos and seeing an older Marmee and Meema playing with a grandchild is poignant.
What I didn't expect was that this is a foodie book! Their Italian grandfather - Nonno - comes over and makes gnocchi. Apologies for the long excerpt, but you really need to read this from start to finish:
Incredible, no? And it's illustrated beautifully with the whole family in a line, assembly style, laughing and hugging and making the gnocchi. And that's not the only food description - there's more!
We'd all help him unload the perfect Roma tomatoes, the oxtails, the pork shanks and the beef brisket. We peeled onions, shaved and diced carrots and chopped fresh herbs from the garden.
After the sauce had been cooking for most of the day, all of us stood at the kitchen island. Nonno made a well in the middle of a hill of flour and broke several eggs into it. Then he riced very hot boiled potatoes right into the flour well. He'd shake his hands from the heat of it as he kneaded the volcano of flour, eggs and potatoes into a dough.
Then Marmee and Meema rolled the dough into long tubes. Millie and Will got to cut it into small pillows. Then I ran each pillow over the back of a floured fork. Nonno dropped the gnocchi into boiling water.
When they floated to the top, they were done. Sauce and potato dumplings were dished up, salads were made and baguettes of French bread from the bakery were carried to the table, where we were all so ready to eat.
You library folk will probably have read the negative review of this book in Kirkus and, quite frankly, I disagree with it. Which isn't the first time I've done so...and certainly won't be the last. Fascinatingly, Kirkus points out that each of the three children marries into a heterosexual, monoracial relationship...but when I first read the book, I thought the eldest (who is black) married a Caucasian man. He looked white to me, I guess. But now that I look again, I suppose one could argue that he is black as well. But I'm annoyed I'm even having this discussion - who cares?! So what?! The point I believe is being made by Polacco (and which I feel the reviewer missed) is that children of same-sex couples go on to lead beautiful, productive, happy lives...whether it be with someone of their own race, own sex, or something completely different. The point is that it doesn't matter - whatever makes them happy and fulfilled. I didn't feel that Polacco "undermined" her "obvious good intentions." But that's me. Anyone else care to chime in?
Ultimately, I don't know if this means I'll forever be a fan of Patricia Polacco but, for now, she has touched that soulful part of me.
Eat, drink, and celebrate families and the home.
Makes me want to abandon work immediately and run - run like the wind! - to Ninth Street Espresso so I can have some sort of significant moment with an Americano. Because Obler has made me believe that every minute with a cup of coffee is full of portent.
- Georgeanne Brennan, who I fell in love with after reading Pig in Provence , has some great suggestions for using leftover bread. I've already used a couple of her ideas to great success. I love that she mentions breadcrumbs tossed with pasta: carbs on carbs is one of life's great but simple pleasures. Don't think about it - just do it.
- The Washington Post had an article about the growing number of recreational cooking schools. I also recently read about one in NYC. This is actually something I was thinking I'd like to do post-culinary school. But not if everyone else is doing it...
- Mark Bittman writes about having dinner with Patricia Wells. Which is only a dream of mine. One day - mark my words - I'm going to attend one of her cooking classes in Provence.
- I've mentioned my local cheese shop, Cheese of the World, before: Zagat said it was the best place for cheese in Queens. Well, apparently their supplier didn't let them in on the 300% tariff on Roquefort news. My husband mentioned the tariff and our favorite guy (nicknamed by us "Handsome Guy") had no idea what we were talking about. Handsome Guy gave Adam a bar of chocolate (Cafe-Tasse!) as a thank you and was calling his supplier as Adam walked out the door. Read this at Murray's Cheese too. Now there's word that the tariff has been delayed a month while the U.S. and France negotiate.
- I'm currently reading The Foie Gras Wars: How a 5,000 Year Old Delicacy Inspired the World's Fiercest Food Fight by Mark Caro. Thus far, it's a fascinating read. Caro takes a journalistic approach, much like Michael Pollan and Jennifer 8. Lee. For an interesting argument, read this review.
- Want to take better food photos? For the Love of Food has some terrific suggestions and hints, and not all of them require expensive equipment.
- I was rather surprised to see Alice Waters smiling at me from my NY Times Sunday Business section this past weekend. Civil Eats posted an interesting personal reflection, inspired by the article (note: it's decidedly pro-Alice...and it's a shame that I feel I need to state that as a disclaimer. Sigh).
- Lest we get too precious and foodie-like, I'll post this link. Thanks to Adam for sending this to me - he inspired my stomach bile to rise while sitting at my work computer this morning.
I make no excuses....however, I want to point out that I'm not avoiding anyone when I don't write back and it certainly isn't an over-inflated sense of self-importance. My problem lies with my warped perception of Time's passage. I'll read an email from a friend...I'll pledge to respond later...then 3 weeks have passed! It floors me and shocks me every time. Do I write back then? No. Because then I feel bad that I didn't respond sooner. Then I feel bad because I'm still not responding...instead, I'm avoiding. Thus the cycle perpetuates itself.
Which is where I'm at with the Random House Summer 2009 preview. It was 5 weeks ago! Wha...?! Time is sooooo not my friend. But this time I will not avoid - I will respond - I will be brave! Without further ado, here is my report:
The morning started with Random House's tribute to Kate and Kathy. It was simple and lovely. I thought I had control of my tears until it was announced that RH would start a scholarship fund under Kate and Kathy's name; the fund will be used to send a librarian to an ALA conference for the first time. It's a wonderful way to memorialize two extraordinary women.
Schwartz & Wade Books was up first with Being a Pig is Nice: a Child's-Eye View of Manners by Sally Lloyd-Jones, illustrated by Dan Krall (5.09). The art is vivid and fun, and the book appears to be very kid-friendly. Not to mention it's obvious appeal for parents. Sugar Would Not Eat It by Emily Jenkins, illustrated by Giselle Potter (5.09) stood out to me because it seemed to have "foodie-books-for-kids" appeal...but I've never been a fan of Potter's artwork. I try to like it...but to no avail. So I'm bummed, particularly since I enjoy Jenkins' books so much. I was thrilled to see Alvin Ho: Allergic to Camping, Hiking, and Other Natural Disasters by Lenore Look (6.09). My friend and QL colleague Lori came to the preview with me and we did a high-five when Alvin was described as having "a phobia of camping" - so do we, Alvin. So do we!
David Fickling Books, among other things, talked about Pip: The Story of Olive by Kim Kane (6.09). I'm not so sure about the cover we were shown, but it had one of my favorite quotes that morning: "Sometimes the best comeback is just a wink and a laugh." I'm pocketing that one for the future.
Random House and Golden Books showed us a few books that got me excited: Sylvie by Jennifer Sattler (5.09) is bright and vivid...it has storytime potential. I also liked The Zoo I Drew by Todd H. Doodler (7.09). We always need more concept books and this looks like it'll fit the bill. I just have to remember to buy the library edition, as the regular hardcover has a textured, fluted cover that won't last a day in our stacks. At Midwinter, I picked up a galley of Castration Celebration by Jake Wizner (5.09) and I finished it a couple days ago. It's hillarrrrious! It's for 14-years-old and up (if not older)...it also has every taboo in existence...I'll just sum up by saying "sex, drugs, and rock n' roll". It's offensive, raunchy, and bawdy. Not for the faint-hearted grown-up. The teens will love it.
Bantam Delacorte Dell shared Oracles of Delphi Keep by Victoria Laurie (5.09) as a "junior Indiana Jones" adventure story. Sold. And we also have the best analogy of the day: Camille McPhee Fell under the Bus by Kristen Tracy (8.09) was described as "George Costanza if he was a 4th-grade hypoglycemic girl." Sold! I also got to hear about The Sweet Life of Stella Madison by Lara M. Zeises (7.09), which I shared here several weeks ago. I looooved this book, but I have to wait a couple more months before I review it here...which means that I'll have to read it all over again. Darn.
We finished the event with a visit by the delightful Phyllis Reynolds Naylor who shared stories and ate lunch with us. Lori read her new book Faith, Hope, and Ivy June (6.09) and said that it made her miss living in the South because it had such a sense of place. What a compliment!
Overall, another lovely day with the folks at Random House! Thanks to them for the preview!
Note: For everyone's information, I don't mention all the books when I do a preview recap. There are waaaay too many titles for me to do that. I just mentioned the ones that were of particular interest to me and/or books I thought all of you might want to know about.
So now I'm mulling over the feast I'm going to make for Ellen...I will no doubt include something with cilantro, as it's not every day that you find a kindred spirit in all things cilantro.
It's a little late for St. Patrick's Day (aka Amateur Drinking Day) but, nevertheless, I give you Chocolate Guinness Cake.
No one has actually baked anything for me since my last proposition (along with this subtle hint)and I'm starting to feel insecure: no one wants a bad-ass dinner made by yours truly? Need I remind you of Bacon Fest...again? Sheesh. If our financial system was still based on barter, all of you would be in deep trouble.
Eat, drink, and let them eat cake...with Guinness.
Awhile ago, Michael Ruhlman blogged about popcorn. I couldn't agree with him more: the stove-popped variety is worlds away and above that microwaved stuff*.
- Alice Waters' op-ed piece in the New York Times
- Better School Food website and blog (I recommend you check out the links page on the website...there's enough material to keep you reading for ages)
- National School Lunch Program (NSLP) website
- Man, I told you that the Pacific Northwest has it going on! This hand-molded cheese looks marvelous.
- In other cheese news, Utah's Beehive Cheese Co. has a coffee-rubbed cheddar that they've named Barely Buzzed. I want some NOW!
- The 3rd Annual Cask Beer Festival is coming up (March 20-22) here in NYC. Adam has gone with friends in the past while I've hung out at home with Kiddo...but I think we're splurging for a sitter this year and I'll sip my share of unique beers.
- We've gone after trans-fat...now the witch hunt starts after salt. The good news is that I've taken enough recreational classes at ICE and have seen enough Food Network shows to know that I will most certainly be using my fair share of salt in culinary school! I get that we need to reduce salt in crappy food - the salt masks so many bland flavors, so many crimes against food. But when it's used to enhance and bring out flavor? Nobody better come between me and my salt! (On another note, you can see ICE in the season premiere of "Celebrity Apprentice" where Andrew Dice Clay admits to Dennis Rodman that he hates making cupcakes. Me too, Dice. Me too.)
- An interesting article about how proportions have not only gotten bigger in restaurants but in cookbooks too.
- I rarely hesitate to admit when I've been a fool. So here it is: I had no idea this existed so close to my home. Hopefully I still have some credibility with you, dear readers.
Edna follows Daddy behind the plow, pressing her bare feet into the soft, just-turned earth. The plow tosses up roots from the nearby sassafras trees, each piece a prize in Edna's hands. Edna says, "I'll make hot tea from the roots and sweeten it with milk and molasses."
And why aren't there more goats in children's books? The Three Billy Goats Gruff, of course, but I'm blanking on others. Doesn't Heidi (of the book Heidi) drink fresh goat's milk? Help me out here, kidlit readers...