Numchunks disguised as fish sticks!

A few more "foodie books for kids" have come on my radar lately:

  • 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!"


REVIEW: In Our Mothers' House by Patricia Polacco

Some of you have heard my Shakespeare spiel before: I recognize his talent. I bow to his genius. But he does nothing for me. I feel little while reading his work. There's some soulful part of me that Shakespeare just doesn't connect to (or the other way around - it's not that he's not connecting to me...for whatever reason, I'm not connecting with him).

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:

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.

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!

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.

"Magical coffee spigots"

Benjamin Obler's Top 10 Fictional Coffee Scenes.

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.


Let's hit the links!

And in a complete departure, I'll link to something children's literature-related. Collecting Children's Books discusses a science book from the 1940s, and I think you'll want to take a look at the illustrator. Reading this post was an exceptional way to start my morning.


Random House Summer 2009 preview

I'm not that great at keeping in touch with people. Believe me, lots of people will attest to that - some of them are probably readers of this blog (MC - my mom-in-law - once told me that she read my blog and MySpace because that was the only way she heard about what was happening in our lives).

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!

Knopf and Crown were up next, and I'm super-excited about A Small Surprise by Louise Yates (5.09) - a darling picture book about a bunny that wants to join the circus. I also loved The Sleepy Little Alphabet by Judy Sierra, illustrated by Melissa Sweet (6.09). It is a true concept book with a "chicka chicka boom boom" type refrain that makes it storytime ready. Another foodie-books-for-kids title came up: Monsters Don't Eat Broccoli by Barbara Jean Hicks (8.09). How can you go wrong with the refrain "Fo fi fum fee! Monsters don't eat broccoli!"? Storytime gold, people! And I'll pick up Poisons of Caux: The Hollow Bettle by Susannah Applebaum (8.09) based on the cover alone. Lastly, I can't even express to you how awesome Jarrett J. Krosoczka's new graphic novel series Lunch Lady is - I saw it for the first time at ALA Midwinter and thought it was absolutely hilarious. It's one of those rare books that actually has girl and boy appeal...it'll be a "circbuster." The first two books in the series - Lunch Lady & the Cyborg Substitute and Lunch Lady & the League of Librarians - will both pub on 7.28.09.

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.

Wendy Lamb Books talked up The Outlandish Adventures of Liberty Aimes by Kelly Easton (6.09), which featured some of the cleverest, funniest spot art I've seen in awhile. In particular, the "world's oldest liontamer". Trust me when I tell you that you haven't really, truly laughed until you have seen this piece of art. The artist is Greg Swearingen, and you might recognize his work from the Gilda Joyce covers.

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.


Pumpkintini at last!

More than a year ago, I blogged about the pumpkintini: a drink that I had been wanting to make for ages but had remained elusive to me.  This was because I couldn't find Sortilège, a maple liqueur that is incredibly difficult to find in stores.  The unpleasantly wry salesman at a Manhattan wine store retorted when I asked him if they had it in stock, "No, but if you go to France, be sure to pick some up for me!"  Yeah, thanks for the help, schmuck.

Well, I finally found some.  Thus, the pumpkintini could be mine.  Here is the photo:

And all I can tell you was that it was disgusting.  Ultimately, I figured out that it was because I used 100% pumpkin versus the "pumpkin pie filling" that the recipe calls for.

So I went on a search for pumkin pie filling...and couldn't find it anywhere.  So I took the remaining pureed pumpkin and added brown sugar, cinnamon, cloves, "pumpkin pie spice", and allspice until it tasted similar to pumpkin pie filling.  I didn't measure - I just kept adding and tasting, adding and tasting.

And here is the second attempt:

Again, I did not in any way like it or enjoy it.  It was definitely improved - it tasted a lot less like a raw earthy alcoholic plant and more on the dessert end of things.  But it still had a planty dullness to it...with the unpleasantness of an alcohol kick at the end.

So that is the end of the pumpkintini adventure.  And I'm glad I can say I tried.  I've heard that Sortilège is fantastic on vanilla ice cream so that may be my next experiment, as it's difficult to go wrong with vanilla ice cream and any fill-in-the-blank liqueur.

Eat, drink, and beware of cocktails with crushed graham crackers on the rim!  

A rose by any other name...

As the readers of this blog know, I refer to my 7-year-old daughter as Kiddo.  I was explaining to Kiddo that I was going to the memorial service for Kate and Kathy, and here is how the conversation went:

Me: My friend Kathy used to always call you Kiddo because she read my blog and knew that was your nickname.  When I would see her at library stuff she would say, "And how is Kiddo?"  She loved that name.

Kiddo: Really?  I don't like the name Kiddo.

Me: You don't?

Kiddo: No.  But I like when you call me Bug.  Can you call me Bug on your blog?

Me: Sure.

Which is from the nickname "Bugaboo", which we've called her since birth.  It has been shortened to Bug somewhere along the way.

So Kiddo will now be referred to Bug on this blog.



New blog and new recipe

Thanks to Susan at Chicken Spaghetti, I was directed to a new blog on the block: Cook the Wolf.  I was immediately smitten, of course, by the MFK Fisher reference.  Anyone who reads MFK Fisher just...gets it, you know?

And Emily got off to an eloquent start, discussing hunger (of course!), and sharing her recipe for Caramelized Onion and Walnut Sauce for pasta.  It sounded like the type of recipe I'm always looking for on weeknights: simple to make, affordable, and flavorful (you could even leave out the walnuts if you're really cutting costs - nuts are spendy!).  Here's out it turned out:

Emily wasn't kidding when she said it doesn't turn out attractive, though my version might have turned out prettier if I had used white wine instead of red wine.  Luckily, the parsley, cheese, and walnuts add some visual interest.

I have to admit, I wasn't crazy about this recipe, which wasn't necessarily the recipe's fault...for starters, I severely underseasoned it - make sure you really salt and pepper this one up.  And I don't know what happened with my onions - I just couldn't get them to produce a nice golden color before adding the wine and such.

I also thought gorgonzola might help punch it up so I added some halfway through our meal, but it really didn't work...which was so strange since walnuts-gorzonzola-caramelized onions are such a classic pairing.  

I'm going to keep messing around with this one because I think it has a lot of possibilities.  Next time I am certainly going to try the addition of acid - some balsamic perhaps.  Maybe even some lemon zest?  Emily also has a post about The Flavor Bible, and luckily I own a copy - that might also help give me some ideas about ways to get creative with this dish.

Eat, drink, and welcome to Cook the Wolf!

We have a winner!

Someone finally decided to shut me up - I had become such a whiner - and make me the salted chocolate cranberry cookies I was begging for!  

I met my friend Ellen (of Avec Sucre) this past Thursday night, and she presented me with a bag.  Naturally, given that Ellen is in publishing, I suspected that the bag was filled with books.  You publishing or library folk will understand: it's a matter of routine to exchange books when you get together with other people in the industry.

So imagine my delight and surprise when I found these in the bag:

As an added bonus, Ellen also included a huge slice of her homemade Irish soda bread.  Unfortunately, I didn't get a picture of it before it was gone - it was sweetened with honey and made savory with rye...an absolute luxury slathered with butter for breakfast.

The cookies are out-of-this-world: ultra-moist, ultra-rich, ultra-decadent.  Adam said, "I don't normally like fruit in my desserts...or chocolate...but these are incredible."  And he ate a second one.  Today he ate two more.  If you like your salty and sweet in a single serving, then this is the dessert for you.

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.

Eat, drink, and cheers to Ellen!


Chocolate Guinness Cake

Well, I may not bake but no one can say I don't still hook you guys up with the Good Stuff.

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.


Going to Denver anytime soon?

I've been meaning to do this since ALA Midwinter Conference but I just kept putting it off...

While I was in Denver in January for the conference, I found myself with some unexpected free time on Tuesday.  Most of my colleagues had started home by that point and all my meetings were finished.  So all you book people will know where I headed: Tattered Cover book store , of course!  It was every bit as lovely as I had expected - dark wood, lots of hushed intellectual conversation, nice people, plush seating.  After a couple of hours of perusal, I purchased a few books: Real Food Fast by Nigel Slater, Cooking from the Heart of Spain: Food of La Mancha by Janet Mendel, Gallop! by Rufus Butler Seder, and Judy Moody Gets Famous by Megan McDonald.  I'm guessing you can tell which were for me and which were presents for Kiddo.

As I left the store and walked down Wynkoop Street, I saw this symbol on a sign with an arrow pointing down the alleyway: 

I thought to myself, "Why not?"  So I diverted myself down the alley and entered the wine store.  It had a similar feel to Tattered Cover: dark wood, cozy, bright.  I asked the friendly guy behind the counter about their local wine section: "What would you recommend in a red and a white?"  He recommended the Trail Ridge 2006 Gewurztraminer, explaining that he personally didn't go for Gewurztraminer, typically, but the Trail Ridge was milder and more food-friendly than other versions.  

Upon drinking it when I got home, I found his assessment to be spot-on.  It still had that typical crisp sweetness, but it wasn't cloying or over-the-top.  The Colorado version wasn't nearly as showy, which is a compliment.

The red he recommended was the Verso 2003 Cabernet Sauvignon.  Again, like the Gewurztraminer, I felt like this was the wallflower version of a true Cabernet: it was jammy and dark, but not as much as you would expect from a typical Cab.  And this is again a compliment: in an age of so much in-your-faceness, I found this Cabernet's shyness refreshing.

And as if I wasn't already having a fantastic day, I finished that night eating dinner alone at Osteria Marco.  If you find yourself in downtown Denver this is the place to go.  I loved the way that you enter through a modern lobby but, once you take the stairs down, you enter this dark-wooded, cozy atmosphere.  The service was attentive without being hovering, and the food was outstanding.  I finally (!) was able to try burrata (which I had heard so much about from Art & Aioli): Osteria Marco makes their own in-house version, along with all their charcuterie, and it was delectable.  

Here is one thing that happens when you eat alone: you end up sitting in weird nooks and crannies of restaurants.  I should know: I love eating at a restaurant alone so this happens to me quite a bit.  In this case, I ended up sitting near the guy who makes the paninis so I was able to watch him man the presses.  And I learned a ton.  For one thing, he had the heat much lower than I have mine at home because those sandwiches were there for a long time.  He also pressed them down...and down some more...to make them super-thin.  I don't worry that much about mine - I usually throw some weight on top of them and then walk away.  I know now that I shouldn't be so flip about them in the future.  Well, the guy noticed I was watching him intently and I think he told the manager because he eventually came over and chatted it up with me.  I learned about the restaurant and that the manager was planning on opening his own restaurant someday.  And I also got a good laugh when I told the manager I was in Denver for the ALA conference and, showing no restraint, he exclaimed, "But you're under 40!  And thin!"  To be fair, he was apologetic for his outburst - I didn't take it personally - you have to be able to laugh at your profession, right?

Overall, it was such a beautiful, phenomenal day in Denver.  It's been difficult to look back at that time with fond memories, as it makes me miss Kate and Kathy so tremendously, but Denver really was one of my favorite conference experiences to date.  With a special thanks to Kate and Kathy (of course), Patricia, Brenda Bowen , Jenny, my friends at Random House, and Kathy Nuzum.  

Eat, drink, and look forward to the opportunity to visit Denver again.


This ain't no JiffyPop

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*.  

To make my variation, use Ruhlman's basic recipe.  Only brown the butter until it smells all nutty and earthy.  Drizzle it over the popcorn.  Add salt, ground sage, and grated Parmesan to taste.  Eat.

Eat, drink, and put on a good movie!

* For the record, I don't own a microwave.  I got rid of two years ago.  And I swear to you that I haven't missed it a single moment.

Chorizo is my new boyfriend.

So I'm going through a stage where I crave chorizo kinda like I craved mozzarella sticks back when I was pregnant.  I think it's all the Spain...On the Road Again that I'm watching.  

I made the menu up for last week and put Patricia Wells' Pork Sausage with Potatoes and Red Wine Vinaigrette on the list.  Which calls for "plump, coarse-textured smoked pork sausage, such as kielbasa".  Two pounds of it.  I don't know what happened, though, because I went to Whole Foods and stood at the meat counter, staring at the soft chorizo.  The man asked what I wanted and out of my mouth flew: "Two pounds of chorizo, please!"

And it turned out just fantastic:

Patricia Wells recommends a Beaujolais with her Frenchy version of this dish, but I went with a Sangiovese and Adam drank it with...some beer...probably a Dogfish Head.

Adapted from Vegetable Harvest by Patricia Wells

2 lbs. soft pork chorizo
8 small-medium Yukon Gold potatoes, scrubbed
Several fresh or dried bay leaves

Red Wine Vinaigrette
1 cup red wine
1/3 c. extra-virgin olive oil
1/4 c. red-wine vinegar
Sea salt
Freshly ground black pepper

Fresh flat-leaf parsley leaves for garnish

1. In a large saucepan, combine potatoes and bay leaves.  Cover with cold water.  Bring to a gentle simmer and simmer, covered, until the potatoes are cooked through, about 20 minutes.

2. Heat a skillet on med-high heat (I used stainless - nonstick doesn't give it the same crust...and you really shouldn't cook meat in your nonstick anyway).  Cook the chorizo until browned on all sides, about 4 minutes on each side.  Set on cutting board to rest.

3. In the same pan that you cooked the sausage in, pour the red wine and reduce to 1/4 c. over high heat.  Add the oil and vinegar and whisk to blend.  Taste for seasoning.

4. Drain and cut the potatoes and the sausage into 1-inch chunks.  Put on platter and drizzle with the warm vinaigrette.  Garnish with parsley leaves and serve hot.

I also cut some thick slices of crusty baguette, brushed each slice with olive oil, and grilled it.  It was excellent for sopping up the vinaigrette.

Eat, drink, and always have bread available to soak up meat juices!


Tomorrow Night's Menu

Okay, it's four hours until RSVP time.  So far we have one confirmed guest and one maybe (+ 1 for their significant other).  With that in mind, here is my tentative menu:


Croustillants (Cheese Crackers)
Sparkling wine


Roasted Pears with Blue Cheese


Boeuf au Poivre
Caramelized Shallots


Affogato (I know, not French like the rest of the meal.  But it's my kind of dessert.)

Eat, drink, and celebrate spontaneity!

NOTE: Speaking of spontaneity...while I was writing this, I got another confirmed guest.  So that's two confirmed and two maybe.  You have 3 1/2 more hours, people!


Guess who's coming to dinner...

Okay, so I'm trying something new...

...As you'll remember, one of the things on 2009's To-Do list was to host more dinner parties.  Unfortunately, our usual dinner party guests are not available this weekend (Gimpel & her crew...or the Prince-Ess family).  But I want to do a dinner party on Saturday night (Mar. 7th).

So here's the deal: there are 4 empty seats at my table for Saturday night.  First come, first served.  You're invited.  Provided you live in NYC, of course, or are willing to come here.  And you have to make the trek out to Queens, you Manhattan/Brooklyn folks.

I don't have a menu yet, which is probably a good thing because I can tailor it to whoever, if anyone, comes.  I can do vegetarian, but nothing vegan/wheat-free at this point in time.

Please RSVP by Friday night, March 6th, midnight.  And in case you're not so sure, here is a glimpse of dinner at the Lutz household:

NOTE: Usually we start around 7:00 p.m.  This includes appetizers and drinks while Kiddo gets ready for bed.  Dinner generally starts at 8:30 p.m. after Kiddo goes to sleep.  Expect to be finished with dinner and dessert around 10:30 p.m.  Conversation often goes until midnight.  But what I'm really getting at is that you have to be cool with a 7-year-old for the first hour.

ANOTHER NOTE: I obviously reserve the right to rescind this if, you know, I've never heard of you before.  But if you are a blogger I haven't met and you want to come, that's cool too - just let me know your blog, etc. etc.  Introduce yourself.  


Dazzling linkosity

For more on school lunches, check out these links:
In other food news:
  • 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.

FOODIE BOOK FOR KIDS: Bring Me Some Apples and I'll Make You a Pie

What is a "foodie book"?

For multiple reasons, I have lately needed to mull over what I consider a "foodie book". Not only for kids but adults too. So food is mentioned, does that make it a foodie book? How much food needs to be talked about before it crosses that line? Here are some ideas I came up with:

1. If it's a "body issue" book, it's not a foodie book. A colleague suggested Feed Me: Writers Dish about Food, Eating, Weight, and Body Image as a foodie book. Now, I haven't read the book (yet), but I'm incredibly skeptical. The reviews mention overeating, bulimia, not fitting into clothes, and the stringent size requirements for flight attendants...these don't suggest foodie book to me. I equate these sorts of subjects with self-help, psychology, cultural studies...

2. There should be satisfying food descriptions. I want to hear the fat sizzle, I want to hear the crackle of the baguette, and I expect to have my hunger awakened while reading. If you can't do that...well, then why are you writing about food?

3. A food writer needs to be well-read. You need to know your Ruth Reichl, your MFK Fisher, your Julia Child, your Michael Ruhlman. Children's literature enthusiasts say the same thing to aspiring children's authors: read, read, read. So authors for "foodie books for kids" need to be doubly well-studied. And I'm pretty stringent on this one because you can tell a children's author masquerading as a food writer from a mile away - they don't get the sensual nature of food and you can tell immediately. You can't just plug food into a plot and expect it to perform for you.

4. For foodie-books-for-kids, the writing really needs to be accessible and completely lacking in pretension. You don't want to scare kids (and/or parents) away with all kinds of fancy cooking terms and elaborate dishes. There should be a sense of fun, exploration, and discovery: a sense of wonder. It's essential to keep your audience in mind.

Bring Me Some Apples and I'll Make You a Pie: A Story About Edna Lewis by Robbin Gourley (Clarion, 2009)exemplifies these ideas. I don't know much about Edna Lewis, and I still feel like I want to do some further research after reading this book. Born in 1916, Edna Lewis grew up in Virginia and became a famous chef when she grew up, working in northern and southern cities. As you can imagine, it was uncommon for a woman to be a chef at that time, and even more strange for an African-American woman to rise to such a position. Lewis was advocating the farm-to-table philosophy way before it became the fashion, and she also wrote four cookbooks in her life, celebrating Southern regional cooking.

Using rich text and folk-style art, Gourley tells the brief story of Lewis' childhood in Virginia. The art has a wildness to it that captures the natural surroundings, and the celebration of the seasons in the story is glorious. It begins with Edna and her sister running out to the fields to pick the first wild strawberries of the season and Mama tells them they'll need to "outrun the rabbits to get all the berries." Isn't that wonderful imagery? I can't not quote from the text extensively because it's just so lovely:
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."
There is a revelry in the seasons and the fruit it gives: strawberries, salad greens, cherries, peaches, corn, beans, and more. While the family is harvesting the farm's fruit, they talk about the wonderful things they'll make with it and in such a way that will make readers long for sunny summer days on a farm. It avoids being preachy or pedantic and, instead, the reader feels like they're a guest at the party.

Robbin Gourley is a food writer and "a student of Southern cooking"; she has written and illustrated two cookbooks, Cakewalk (Doubleday, 1994) and Sugar Pie & Jelly Roll (Algonquin, 2000). This absolutely comes through in her writing - there is an appreciation and celebration of the farm, the food, and the seasons that I don't think a non-cook could capture.

And lest this all become too serious, the story is a child's dream: climbing ladders to get into trees, racing rabbits, blackberries staining lips and teeth blue, licking honey right off the comb...I don't know about you but I would have gone nuts for this as a kid!

The almost-ending is perfect: as snow begins to fall outside, Edna considers the cellar full of canned corn, jarred tomatoes, and pickles. She declares that "you can never have too much summer." Indeed.


I love visiting Lucy!

I read this and it made me feel as if I haven't lived yet! Oh, to make my own bagels and have such fresh cheese and milk!

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...


If not for the seasonal dysfunction disorder issue...

So I got my B.A. in English from Willamette University , a small liberal arts school in Salem, Oregon (that's OR-gun for all you East Coasters...for god's sake, PLEASE stop pronouncing it Or-e-GONE!).  I liked the school but I never really got involved in anything while I was there, which stemmed from the fact that I was too busy playing Aerobie in the quad and I realized I didn't want to be an English major anymore and didn't know what to do about it.  Anyway, I definitely wouldn't call it the best four years of my life.  And Salem was so uncool, doomed to forever be in the shadow of the much hipper Portland.

That's changing, though, and I have to admit I'm missing Oregon big time lately.  I received my Winter 2008 issue of The Scene, which is Willamette's magazine.  And it was all dedicated to food.  Wow.  Where was this coolness when I was at WU?  The dining commons work with 12-15 area farmers that provide local, sustainably grown produce to the students.  Students have planted a garden, and they've worked with Happy Harvest Farm , which delivers locally grown produce to local public schools.  A student, Justin Rothboeck, attempted to go local-only for a year, though I just read that he has reconsidered the project after eating local for 8 months.  I'm really impressed with Bon Appėtit as well, which is a national company that has found ways to introduce local sustainable food on the corporate level.  Willamette even had a "Geography of Food" class!

The Scene also had an interesting article, "Soul Food" by Sarah Evans, where they interviewed four members of the Willamette community - a Methodist minister, a Jewish student, a Medieval history professor, and a Paiute tribal elder - about ways in which food is connected to spiritual and cultural traditions.  There is also a rather frightening and sober article, "Running Dry: How Water is Reshaping, Politics, Profits and People in the 21st Century " by Nadene Steinhoff - it'll make you think about how long that shower you took this morning lasted. 

And I have to own up to some sadness about all this because I wish all of this had been available when I was at Willamette.  Then I realized that it could have been...but I wasn't the same person then and most likely would not have taken advantage of such wonderful opportunities and resources.  That said, I'm thrilled that this is happening now.  It's the right time for it, and it gives me hope to see university campuses getting the next generation involved.  I feel proud of my alma mater, and I feel such a strong connection to its values in ways that I never felt when I was actually attending the school.

What has prompted all this introspection?  All the missing of Oregon?  Well, that would be my amazing mother-in-law, of course.  She sent me a wonderful email today (she sends me lots, actually) about a local Salem business, Organic Fresh Fingers.  They are working with local daycares, preschools, and elementary schools to provide organic meals to the children; they make the list of ingredients available on their website and I was thrilled to see that I recognized everything!  Which should happen much more often than it does in our modern food system!  MC (my MIL) works in career services at WU and met the CEO/owner of Organic Fresh Fingers while they were hiring interns on the WU campus.  What a great experience for an undergrad!

MC also makes me salivate with her tales of all the wonderful things she finds at EZ Orchards , the local farm produce stand in Keizer, Oregon (which is right next to Salem).  We love stopping there when we're visiting Oregon, and I'm fairly certain MC is personally keeping them in business during the recession!  On EZ Orchards' website, it says they'll have lavender plants available starting this month...LAVENDER!  Swoooon!  Especially as NYC got hit with a minor blizzard today...  All of a sudden, Oregon's mild drizzle, stellar wines, unique microbreweries, farm produce, and green hills are looking really nice!  And this discussion has been limited to Salem's loveliness...we haven't even discussed Portland!  And don't even get me started on McMenamins

Eat, drink, and be thankful MC gives me a thousand reasons to go back home.