DINNER by Melissa Clark

April 21, 2017

Click to purchase

Changing the Game

Eric Wolfinger, Photographer

As promised (in my review of Sheet Pan) here is a review of Melissa Clark’s latest. No thanks to Clarkson Potter, who failed me on this one, but thanks to my library, who did not. Got it!

FYI, if you are not familiar, Melissa Clark is a food columnist (“A Good Appetite”) for the New York Times. She contributes lots of recipes, too, many of which I’ve made. (See her recipes here.) She is a working mom and apparently understands that not all of us want to come home from work and spend hours in the kitchen to get dinner on the table. Nor do we want take out every night. So here she offers us a terrific compromise – easy dinners, often in one pan. I like it!

This is a big, heavy book with over 200 recipes but it is also a beautiful book with lovely photos. The heft is from high quality paper, and when you are cooking out of a cookbook in the kitchen, shit sometimes goes flying and lands on said book. It’s always nice to know that if that happens, the book will still be usable, albeit a little less pretty.  (No worries, library lovers – I don’t drag library books into the kitchen, I know how messy I am.) The chapters:

Introduction & Ingredients to Keep on Hand
Chicken
Meat: Pork, Beef, Veal, Lamb, Duck & Turkey
The Grind
Fish & Seafood
Eggs
Pasta & Noodles
Tofu (& a Touch of Seitan)
Beans, Legumes & Vegetable Dinners
Rice, Farro, Quinoa & Other Grains
Pizzas & Pies
Soups
Salads That Mean It
Dips, Spreads & Go-Withs

I don’t know about you but the first thing I noticed after perusing the table of contents was that there was no desserts chapter. Which is fine. I never make dessert on a weeknight. Fresh fruit is always available and sugar-free Fudgsicles is as fancy as it gets at my house.

The ubiquitous pantry list is available in “Ingredients to Keep on Hand” and it is a practical list. Included are the usual suspects, olive oil, garlic, various vinegars, mustard, and so forth, plus a bunch of things I rarely have like Sichuan peppercorns, pomegranate molasses, preserved  lemons and Indian pickles. On the other hand I was delighted to see za’atar included. Za’Atar is a Middle Eastern spice blend. This was a recent acquisition for me that I got for a Passover recipe and I was wondering where else I would use it. The only recipe I could find in the index was for Za’Atar Chicken with Lemon Yogurt, so guess I’ll be making that soon. And she also tells you how to make it yourself if you don’t want to buy it. Also I’m wondering why she considers it a pantry staple if it’s only used in one recipe out of 200. Or maybe it’s just a crappy index?

So to chicken. There is a two page spread on how to roast a chicken and it’s got some great advice, like choosing a good bird, preferably organic and air chilled, whatever that is. She also explains how to spatchcock or splay a bird. These instructions are followed by several roast chicken recipes. One of the nice things about roasting a whole chicken is that it’s usually quick prep and then just hanging out waiting for dinner. Plus the delicious smell fills the kitchen and gets everyone hungry. Except my husband, who hates chicken. There are lots of other chicken recipes besides the whole roast chicken, so no worries if you have boneless breasts you’re wanting to cook up or some thighs. Melissa’s got you covered.

There are a variety of meat recipes, some of which give you the option of selecting the cut you want, like Peachy Pork or Veal, you decide. The Grind refers to ground meat, like Chorizo Pork Burgers, Kibbe-Style Lamb Meatballs with Herbed Yogurt and Thai Lettuce Wraps. There are some interesting fish recipes, like Vietnamese Caramel Salmon (sweet and spicy, always a fave,) a really good recipe for Fish Tacos with Red Cabbage, Jalapeno, and Lime Slaw, and a Shrimp Banh Mi that you make in your food processor, which works for me.

Eggs gets its own chapter including the basics of frying, boiling, scrambling, poaching, etc. including how to poach an egg in the microwave. If you haven’t turned your family on to “breakfast for dinner” you should. Super easy and my family loves it. Try Spanish Tortilla with Serrano Ham (or sub whatever ham you like.) I love that while the instructions call for two pans, she explains how one pan will work just fine. The Asparagus Frittata with Ricotta and Chives is delicious, just add some good bread and maybe a salad and dinner is done. I’m dying to try the Herbed Parmesan Dutch Baby, after Passover ends I guess – how can I resist, “a giant gougère-style cheese puff meets Yorkshire pudding, with a crisp outer crust and a soft, cheesy, custardy interior.” I can’t.

The pasta chapter has some good recipes like Cacio e Pepe with Asparagus and Peas, Fettucine with Spicy Anchovy Bread Crumbs and Orecchiette with Broccoli Rabe and Almonds, although I subbed some purple broccoli I had gotten from my CSA. I’ve never cooked with tofu (yes, I admit it) but I am determined to learn. My son’s girlfriend is mostly vegetarian and I’d like to make something besides pasta and veggies when they visit. Sweet and Sour Tofu with Corn (and cherry tomatoes, it is beautiful) may be my first attempt. Or Crispy Tofu with Ginger and Spicy Greens – crispy means deep fried and deep fried generally means delicious. There are some interesting legume and veggie recipes as well, like Smashed White Bean Toasts with Roasted Asparagus and Sumac, Asparagus Carbonara and more delicious fried goodies like Fried Halloumi with Spicy Brussels Sprouts.

There are lots more recipes, I haven’t even touched on soups, pizza, salads, etc. (although I can tell you Rustic Shrimp Bisque is going to make an appearance the next cool day we have.) I like this cookbook a lot. I have made many of Melissa’s recipes over the years and she has become a go to for me. Highly recommended.

4/17 Stacy Alesi, AKA the BookBitch™

DINNER by Melissa Clark. Clarkson Potter (March 7, 2017). ISBN 978-0553448238. 400p.


TOGETHER IS BETTER by Simon Sinek

April 15, 2017

Click to purchase

A Little Book of Inspiration

I don’t generally read inspirational books, and I rarely read business books but I make an exception for Simon Sinek.

Sinek was the closing speaker at a conference I attended a few years ago and he just blew me away. Since then, I’ve watched his TED talks and occasionally check in at his YouTube page. Whatever he has to say, I’m willing to listen. He has several books as well, and this is his latest.

It’s a tiny little book, cleverly illustrated in the style of classic children’s literature that was reminiscent of Mike Mulligan and His Steam Shovel or Caps for Sale. The theme of togetherness is one that is predominant in business today, and the idea that teamwork is best that has been scientifically proven (check out Margaret Hefferman’s TED talk, Forget the Pecking Order at Work – fascinating stuff.)

Sinek offers lots of pithy thoughts, some with further explanations at the back of the book. My favorites:

Bad teams work in the same place. Good teams work together.

Leaders give us the chance to try and fail, then give us another chance to try and succeed.

Always plan for the fact that no plan ever goes according to plan (a variation of the oldie but goodie, “man plans and God laughs.”)

Working hard for something we don’t care about is called stress. Working hard for something we love is called passion.

This is probably not going to change your life but it may give you fresh perspective on a day you really need it. Enjoy!

Bonus: Simon Sinek (public speaker and author of START WITH WHY: How Great Leaders Inspire Everyone to Take Action) dissects the United Airlines controversy.

4/17 Stacy Alesi, AKA the BookBitch™

TOGETHER IS BETTER by Simon Sinek. Portfolio (September 13, 2016). ISBN 978-1591847854. 160p.


REVOLUTION FOR DUMMIES by Bassem Youssef

April 10, 2017

Laughing through the Arab Spring

If a book has a blurb from Jon Stewart , and the author is known as the “The Jon Stewart of the Arabic World” I have no choice but to read the book. So I did.

I first learned about Bassem Youssef while watching Full Frontal with Samantha Bee. And I was intrigued. A few weeks later, I stumbled across the book at my library and grabbed it.

I like learning about different cultures, and I don’t know a whole lot about Egypt. I did have a co-worker from Egypt (who has since been promoted and moved to another branch of the library) and we talked on occasion about her family and her life in Egypt and here, so I have some understanding, at least of how her family lives. But she is no revolutionary, and Youssef is. So I was happy to read a very interesting point of view from a very funny Egyptian voice.

While I appreciate his humor, the Egyptian government did not. He was threatened and arrested but eventually fled Egypt and landed in California. Youssef is not just a comedian; his first career was as a heart surgeon. Besides not knowing much about life in Egypt, I know even less about their politics. Comedy is not especially welcome by an oppressive regime, and that was not a surprise. But Youssef’s life has been extraordinary so far, brutal at times, sad for sure, but his writing style, his satire, is laugh out loud funny.

 

From the publisher:

“Hilarious and Heartbreaking. Comedy shouldn’t take courage, but it made an exception for Bassem.” –Jon Stewart

“The Jon Stewart of the Arabic World”—the creator of The Program, the most popular television show in Egypt’s history—chronicles his transformation from heart surgeon to political satirist, and offers crucial insight into the Arab Spring, the Egyptian Revolution, and the turmoil roiling the modern Middle East, all of which inspired the documentary about his life, Tickling Giants.

Bassem Youssef’s incendiary satirical news program, Al-Bernameg (The Program), chronicled the events of the 2011 Egyptian Revolution, the fall of President Hosni Mubarak, and the rise of Mubarak’s successor, Mohamed Morsi. Youssef not only captured his nation’s dissent but stamped it with his own brand of humorous political criticism, in which the Egyptian government became the prime laughing stock.

So potent were Youssef’s skits, jokes, and commentary, the authoritarian government accused him of insulting the Egyptian presidency and Islam. After a six-hour long police interrogation, Youssef was released. While his case was eventually dismissed, his television show was terminated, and Youssef, fearful for his safety, fled his homeland.

In Revolution for Dummies, Youssef recounts his life and offers hysterical riffs on the hypocrisy, instability, and corruption that has long animated Egyptian politics. From the attempted cover-up of the violent clashes in Tahrir Square to the government’s announcement that it had created the world’s first “AIDS cure” machine, to the conviction of officials that Youssef was a CIA operative—recruited by Jon Stewart—to bring down the country through sarcasm. There’s much more—and it’s all insanely true.

Interweaving the dramatic and inspiring stories of the development of his popular television show and his rise as the most contentious funny-man in Egypt, Youssef’s humorous, fast-paced takes on dictatorship, revolution, and the unforeseeable destiny of democracy in the Modern Middle East offers much needed hope and more than a few healing laughs. A documentary about his life, Tickling Giants, debuted at the Tribeca Film Festival in 2016, and is now scheduled for major release.

Something to look forward to.

4/17 Stacy Alesi, AKA the BookBitch™

REVOLUTION FOR DUMMIES by Bassem Youssef. Dey Street Books (March 21, 2017). ISBN 978-0062446893. 304p.


A COLONY IN A NATION by Chris Hayes

April 6, 2017

Click to purchase

I don’t read a lot of political books. I do watch a lot (too much) TV news, and I read a lot of newspapers; usually the “fake” kind like MSNBC, CNN, The New York Times, The Los Angeles Times, The Washington Post, and other Pulitzer Prize winners. And I listen to podcasts like Pod Save America from the hilariously named “Crooked Media,” and I watch the late night shows that help me laugh about what’s going on in this country and keep me from leaping off the ledge. (Feel free to comment as you like, the comments have to be approved. By me.)

So, Chris Hayes. I love him on MSNBC, he’s smart and quick and rarely loses his cool, something I truly admire (and wish I was better at.) So when I heard he wrote a book, I was “all in.”

This is a book about racism in America and yes, a white guy can write about it. And he does a really good job. The title refers to what Hayes considers the racial divide in this country, specifically in our criminal justice system. He believes that white Americans are treated as citizens, with civil rights and respect, while minorities are treated as colonists, where their civil rights are nonexistent and they basically live in a police state. He makes his point by tracing American history from the 1960’s civil rights era through today, and while it is disturbing, Hayes writes well, making his point clearly and succinctly. I found this book very upsetting, but I knew that going in.

From the publisher:

New York Times best-selling author and Emmy Award–winning news anchor Chris Hayes argues that there are really two Americas: a Colony and a Nation.

America likes to tell itself that it inhabits a postracial world, yet nearly every empirical measure—wealth, unemployment, incarceration, school segregation—reveals that racial inequality has barely improved since 1968, when Richard Nixon became our first “law and order” president. With the clarity and originality that distinguished his prescient bestseller, Twilight of the Elites, Chris Hayes upends our national conversation on policing and democracy in a book of wide-ranging historical, social, and political analysis.

Hayes contends our country has fractured in two: the Colony and the Nation. In the Nation, we venerate the law. In the Colony, we obsess over order, fear trumps civil rights, and aggressive policing resembles occupation. A Colony in a Nation explains how a country founded on justice now looks like something uncomfortably close to a police state. How and why did Americans build a system where conditions in Ferguson and West Baltimore mirror those that sparked the American Revolution?

A Colony in a Nation examines the surge in crime that began in the 1960s and peaked in the 1990s, and the unprecedented decline that followed. Drawing on close-hand reporting at flashpoints of racial conflict, as well as deeply personal experiences with policing, Hayes explores cultural touchstones, from the influential “broken windows” theory to the “squeegee men” of late-1980s Manhattan, to show how fear causes us to make dangerous and unfortunate choices, both in our society and at the personal level. With great empathy, he seeks to understand the challenges of policing communities haunted by the omnipresent threat of guns. Most important, he shows that a more democratic and sympathetic justice system already exists—in a place we least suspect.

A Colony in a Nation is an essential book—searing and insightful—that will reframe our thinking about law and order in the years to come.

If you care about making America great “again,” or just care about how American citizens are treated in our criminal justice system, pick up this book. It is a most worthwhile read.

4/17 Stacy Alesi, AKA the BookBitch™

A COLONY IN A NATION by Chris Hayes. W. W. Norton & Company; 1 edition (March 21, 2017). ISBN 978-0393254228. 256p.


CANNIBAL by Safiya Sinclair

March 31, 2017

Click to purchase

The Notable Books Council, first established in 1944 by the American Library Association, announced the 2017 selections of the Notable Books List, an annual best-of list comprised of twenty-six titles written for adult readers and published in the U.S. including literary fiction, nonfiction and poetry. The list was announced in January and I was delighted to see one of the two poetry winners was my favorite poet, Billy Collins. The other was a poet that I was not familiar with, Safiya Sinclair. Seemed like a good time to check out her debut book of poetry, and I’m very glad I did.

The Notable Books Committee described it as, “sharp observations on our off-kilter world will spark your emotions while engaging your mind.” Publishers Weekly gave it a starred review, calling it “stunning debut collection.” And Booklist, in another starred review, said “reading (and rereading) Sinclair is an urgently necessary, absolutely unparalleled experience.”

A few other people liked it, too.

From the publisher:

Winner of the 2016 Whiting Award 
Winner of the OCM Bocas Prize for Caribbean Literature (Poetry)
An American Library Association “Notable Book of the Year” 
Longlisted for the 2017 Dylan Thomas Prize 
Longlisted for the 2017 PEN Open Book Award
One of BuzzFeed’s Best Poetry Books of 2016
One of The New Yorker‘s “Books We Loved in 2016”Poets & Writers Top Ten Poetry Debut of 2016
Publishers Weekly “Most Anticipated Book of Fall 2016”

Colliding with and confronting The Tempest and postcolonial identity, the poems in Safiya Sinclair’s Cannibal explore Jamaican childhood and history, race relations in America, womanhood, otherness, and exile. She evokes a home no longer accessible and a body at times uninhabitable, often mirrored by a hybrid Eve/Caliban figure. Blooming with intense lyricism and fertile imagery, these full-blooded poems are elegant, mythic, and intricately woven. Here the female body is a dark landscape; the female body is cannibal. Sinclair shocks and delights her readers with her willingness to disorient and provoke, creating a multitextured collage of beautiful and explosive poems.

Lets start at the beginning, where Sinclair explains the title:

The word “cannibal,” the English variant of the Spanish word canibal, comes from the word caribal, a reference to the native Carib people in the West Indies, who Columbus thought ate human flesh and from whom the word “Caribbean” originated. By virtue of being Caribbean, all “West Indian” people are already, in a purely linguistic sense, born savage.”

Talk about being hooked from the beginning of a book! The poetry is exquisite; the language is so vivid and emotional and at times, shocking. I couldn’t read it in one gulp, I took my time and savored every page. I came away feeling like I learned something, which I can’t always say about poetry. The best way to see if you may like a poet is to try reading some – or listening to the poet read her own. Enjoy.

Sinclair reading “Hands”

 

Confessor

This is where you leave me.
Filling of old salt and ponderous,

what’s left of your voice in the air.
Blue honeycreeper thrashed out

to a ragged wind, whole months
spent crawling this white beach

raked like a thumb, shucking, swallowing
the sea’s benediction, pearled oxides.

Out here I am the body invented naked,
woman emerging from cold seas, herself

the raw eel-froth met beneath her tangles,
who must believe with all her puckering

holes. What wounds the Poinciana slits
forth, what must turn red eventually.

The talon-mouths undressing. The cling-cling
bird scratching its one message; the arm

you broke reset and broke again. Caribbean.
Sky a wound I am licking, until I am drawn new

as a lamb, helpless in the chicken wire of my sex.
I let every stranger in. Watch men change faces

with the run-down sun, count fires
in the loom-holes of their pickups, lines of rot,

studying their scarred window-plagues,
nightshade my own throat closed tight

against a hard hand. Then all comes mute
in my glittering eye. All is knocked back,

slick hem-suck of the dark surf, ceramic
tiles approaching, the blur of a beard.

The white tusk of his ocean goring me.
This world unforgiving in its boundaries.

The day’s owl and its omen
slipping a bright hook

into my cheek —

Source: Poetry (December 2015)

The Art of Unselfing

The mind’s black kettle hisses its wild
exigencies at every turn: The hour before the coffee
                               and the hour after.
Penscratch of the gone morning, woman
a pitched hysteria watching the mad-ant scramble,
                               her small wants devouring.
Her binge and skin-thrall.
Her old selves being shuffled off into labyrinths,
                               this birdless sky a longing.
Her moth-mouth rabble unfacing
touch-and-go months under winter, torn letters
                               under floorboards,
each fickle moon pecked through with doubt.
And one spoiled onion. Pale Cyclops
                               on her kitchen counter
now sprouting green missives,
some act of contrition; neighbor-god’s vacuum
                               a loud rule thrown down.
Her mother now on the line saying too much.
This island is not a martyr. You tinker too much
                               with each gaunt memory, your youth
and its unweeding. Not everything blooms here
a private history — consider this immutable. Consider
                               our galloping sun, its life.
Your starved homesickness. The paper wasp kingdom
you set fire to, watched for days until it burnt a city in you.
                               Until a family your hands could not save
became the hurricane. How love is still unrooting you.
And how to grow a new body — to let each word be the wild rain
                               swallowed pure like an antidote.
Her mother at the airport saying don’t come back.
Love your landlocked city. Money. Buy a coat.
                               And even exile can be glamorous.
Some nights she calls across the deaf ocean to no one
in particular. No answer. Her heart’s double-vault
                               a muted hydra.
This hour a purge
of its own unselfing.
                               She must make a home of it.

Source: Poetry (December 2015)

3/17 Stacy Alesi, AKA the BookBitch™

CANNIBAL by Safiya Sinclair. University of Nebraska Press; 1 edition (September 1, 2016). ISBN 978-0803290631. 126p.

Kindle


SHEET PAN by Kate McMillan

March 26, 2017

Click to purchase

Delicious Recipes for Hands-Off Meals

Sheet pan cooking is the latest trend I’ve noticed and there are several new cookbooks out or coming out. Recently released are 150 Recipes in a 13×9 Pan by Gooseberry Patch; One-Pan Wonders from Cook’s Country; One Pan & Done by  Molly Gilbert; and Dinner: Changing the Game by Melissa Clark (Clark is one of the food writers for the NY Times, and I’m hoping to get my hands on this one soon for review.)

Sheet Pan is a smaller, hard cover cookbook with nice, heavy paper and great photos that are perfect for inspiration. The chapters:

Easy & Delicious One-Pan Meals
Sheet-pan basics
Meat
Seafood
Vegetables

The first thing that caught my eye was “Garlicky Shrimp with Asparagus Fries and Meyer Lemon Aioli.” I didn’t have asparagus but zucchini, squash or mushrooms were suggested as substitutes. I had just gotten some zucchini in my CSA box so that was perfect.  I also had just picked up a bag of Meyer lemons at Trader Joes – when I see them, I buy them because they have a short growing season. I actually have a Meyer lemon tree in my yard but usually only get 2-3 fruit each year. It’s a baby tree, no taller than me yet so we are hopeful that as it grows it will fruit more. But I digress.

I was a little nervous about overcooking the shrimp and/or undercooking the zucchini so I put the zucchini fries in the hot oven for five minutes or so before I added the shrimp. It was a quick dinner to put together, about 10 minutes prep time and 12 minutes cooking and it was really delicious, my family loved it. And by lining the pan with parchment paper, cleanup was a breeze.

Not all the recipes are that quick. “Pork Chops with Apricots, Red Cabbage & Blue Cheese” takes about 15 minutes prep and cooks for 40 minutes or so. “Stuffed Eggplant Three Ways” takes about 25 minutes or so in the oven, “Roasted Caesar Salad with Salmon” only 15 minutes and “Vegetable Pizza Tarts” made with frozen puff pastry takes about 20 minutes.

I don’t mind if all I have to do is wait, that still seems like an easy dinner to me. And again, clean up is only one pan – and that’s why people are loving these sheet pan cookbooks. I work full time and I love to cook, but cleaning up is not fun so I really appreciate how easy it is to only have to deal with one pan.

This is a great cookbook for anyone who likes to cook but maybe doesn’t have all that much time or energy, especially after working all day. I made this tart but subbed green onion for the leeks, used creminis, and almonds for the hazelnuts. It was really good and really easy. Try it yourself — 

Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.

MUSHROOM & GRUYÈRE TART WITH HAZELNUT HARICOTS VERTS

All-purpose flour, for dusting
1 sheet frozen puff pastry (half of a 17.3-oz/490-g package), thawed
5 ounces (155 g) Gruyère cheese, shredded
2 leeks, trimmed, halved lengthwise, white and pale parts thinly sliced
¼ lb (125 g) white mushrooms, brushed clean and thinly sliced
4½ tablespoons (70 ml) olive oil
Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper
1 large egg beaten with
1 tablespoon water
¾ lb (375 g) haricots verts, trimmed
¼ cup (11/4 oz/40 g)
hazelnuts, roughly chopped

SERVES 2–4

1 Preheat the oven to 400ºF (200ºC). Line a sheet pan with parchment paper.

2 On a lightly floured work surface, roll out the puff pastry into a 121/2-by-15-inch (32-by-38-cm)
rectangle. Fold into thirds, transfer to the prepared pan, and unfold, positioning the dough so there will be
room for the haricots verts on the pan. Fold over about 1 inch (2.5 cm) of each side of the dough to create a border.

3 Sprinkle the dough with the cheese, leaving the borders uncovered. In a bowl, toss together the leeks,
mushrooms, and 3 tablespoons of the oil, and season with salt and pepper. Spread the mixture over the cheese. Brush the borders with the egg mixture. Bake for 10 minutes.

4 In a bowl, toss together the haricots verts and the remaining 1½ tablespoons oil, and season with salt and pepper. Place in a single layer on the pan next to the tart. Continue baking until the tart is golden brown and the haricots verts are fork-tender, about 15 minutes longer. During the last 5 minutes of cooking, sprinkle the hazelnuts over the haricots verts.

5 Let the tart cool slightly, then cut into slices and serve the haricots verts on the side.

3/17 Stacy Alesi, AKA the BookBitch™

SHEET PAN by Kate McMillan. Weldon Owen (January 3, 2017). ISBN 978-1681881379. 112p.


FOR THIS WE LEFT EGYPT? by Dave Barry, Alan Zweibel & Adam Mansbach

March 23, 2017

Click to purchase

A Passover Haggadah for Jews and Those Who Love Them

My parents are gone, my children are adults and aren’t always home for the holiday, and we usually end up celebrating with friends. So I like to switch things up with new and different haggadahs, and there are many beyond the Maxwell House Coffee* Haggadah that I grew up on – and fell asleep during the long, long readings. (*free at many supermarkets for years.)

A few years ago I got the NEW AMERICAN HAGGADAH: A New Translation by Nathan Englander, edited by Jonathan Safran Foer. It is beautiful and different. There is a timeline created by Mia Sara Bruch and commentaries by Nathaniel Deutsch, Jeffrey Goldberg, Rebecca Newberger Goldstein and Lemony Snicket (really!) This is a beautiful book with gorgeous calligraphy and subtle contemporary artwork. This book is a thought provoking translation that, at least for my guests, inspired conversation and discussion of many things, from the actual Seder to contemporary politics.

But this year I am really mixing things up with this new Haggadah written by one of the funniest gentiles on the planet (Barry) and two of his Jewish and funny friends. It is laugh out loud funny and I love the illustrations, too, looking very much like 1960’s children’s book illustrations.

If you’re ready for a change and want to laugh instead of sleep through your seder, order as many copies as you need today from Amazon and you’ll have them in plenty of time for Passover. The first night is Monday, April 10th.

From the publisher:

The book you hold before you is no ordinary Haggadah. If you’ve ever suffered through a Seder, you’re well aware of the fact that the entire evening can last as long as the exodus from Egypt itself. There are countless stories, dozens of blessings, and far too many handwashings while the meal turns cold. Now prepare to be entertained by another version of the book that’s responsible for this interminable tradition.

With this hilarious parody Haggadah from the comedic minds of Dave Barry, Alan Zweibel, and Adam Mansbach, good Jews everywhere will no longer have to sit (and sleep) through a lengthy and boring Seder. In For This We Left Egypt?, the authors will be take you through every step of the Seder, from getting rid of all the chametz in your home by setting it on fire with a kosher blowtorch to a retelling of the Passover story starring Pharaoh Schmuck and a burning bush that sounds kind of like Morgan Freeman, set against the backdrop of the Promised Land―which turned out not to be a land of milk and honey but rather one of rocks and venomous scorpions the size of Yorkshire terriers. You then eat a celebratory brisket and wrap up the whole evening by taking at least forty-five minutes to say good-bye to everyone.

So gather all the Jews in your life (even the few who don’t appear to be long-suffering) and settle in for a fun way to pass the time while waiting for Elijah to show up.

I can’t wait.

3/17 Stacy Alesi, AKA the BookBitch™

FOR THIS WE LEFT EGYPT? by Dave Barry, Alan Zweibel & Adam Mansbach. Flatiron Books (March 7, 2017). ISBN 978-1250110213. 144p.


THE LITTLE BOOK OF HYGGE by Meik Wiking

March 16, 2017

Click to purchase

Danish Secrets to Happy Living

I’m not much for self help type books. But all the other books that I’ve read from Danish authors have been thrillers – Sara Blædel, Jussi Adler-Olsen, Peter Hoeg – so when the publisher sent it to me, I thought it only fair to look at another aspect of life in the happiest country on Earth (according to National Geographic).

This is a short, happy read indeed. It’s also unabashedly full of pride in all things Danish, from the weather (really) to the furniture and accessories. It’s the “untranslatable quality of places, people and togetherness prized by Danes above almost all else.” (The Guardian).

It’s being comfy at home. Candles are a must. So are soft woolen socks (not so much here in South Florida). Furniture you can lounge on with your feet up. A gratitude journal works well here. Oh, and cake is a good thing. All stuff I can get live with – and maybe you can, too.

If the past couple of years have been all about purging your stuff (thanks to The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up: The Japanese Art of Decluttering and Organizing by Marie Kondo), then 2017 is all about living cozy and being happy. Much more my speed.

From the publisher:

Embrace Hygge (pronounced hoo-ga) and become happier with this definitive guide to the Danish philosophy of comfort, togetherness, and well-being.

Why are Danes the happiest people in the world? The answer, says Meik Wiking, CEO of the Happiness Research Institute in Copenhagen, is Hygge. Loosely translated, Hygge—pronounced Hoo-ga—is a sense of comfort, togetherness, and well-being. “Hygge is about an atmosphere and an experience,” Wiking explains. “It is about being with the people we love. A feeling of home. A feeling that we are safe.”

Hygge is the sensation you get when you’re cuddled up on a sofa, in cozy socks under a soft throw, during a storm. It’s that feeling when you’re sharing comfort food and easy conversation with loved ones at a candlelit table. It is the warmth of morning light shining just right on a crisp blue-sky day.

The Little Book of Hygge introduces you to this cornerstone of Danish life, and offers advice and ideas on incorporating it into your own life, such as:

  • Get comfy. Take a break.
  • Be here now. Turn off the phones.
  • Turn down the lights. Bring out the candles.
  • Build relationships. Spend time with your tribe.
  • Give yourself a break from the demands of healthy living. Cake is most definitely Hygge.
  • Live life today, like there is no coffee tomorrow.

From picking the right lighting to organizing a Hygge get-together to dressing hygge, Wiking shows you how to experience more joy and contentment the Danish way.

3/17 Stacy Alesi, AKA the BookBitch™

THE LITTLE BOOK OF HYGGE by Meik Wiking. William Morrow (January 17, 2017). ISBN 978-0062658807. 240p.


WHY WE MARCH

March 7, 2017
Click to purchase

Click to purchase

Signs of Protest and Hope–Voices from the Women’s March

There will be no denying the size and scope of the January 21, 2017 Women’s March – not with this historical record.

This is the second book to come out recording this event. See WHY I MARCH for another look.

From the publisher:

Celebrate the Women’s March with this inspiring collection of 500 images of the most powerful, uplifting, clever, and creative protest signs carried by marchers across the United States and around the world. Organized thematically, the photographs in Why We March–featuring messages about reproductive rights and immigration, cabinet picks and police violence, climate change and feminism–together paint a striking portrait of the hope, defiance, anger, and passion that sent more than 5 million people into the streets to protest.

“Women’s Rights = Human Rights.” “Love Trumps Hate.” “Nasty Women Unite.” “Build Bridges, Not Walls.” These messages are a rallying cry for this burgeoning movement, and this collection will serve as both a valuable encapsulation of this unprecedented moment in political history and a powerful reminder of why we march.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

All royalties from the sale of this book will be donated to Planned Parenthood.

3/17 Stacy Alesi, AKA the BookBitch™

WHY WE MARCH by Artisan. Artisan (March 7, 2017). ISBN 978-1579658281. 264p.

 


RADIANT CHILD by Javaka Steptoe

March 2, 2017
Click to purchase

Click to purchase

The Story of Young Artist Jean-Michel Basquiat

Winner of the 2017 Randolph Caldecott Medal
Winner of the 2017 Coretta Scott King Illustrator Award

As my regular readers know, I don’t review many children’s books but I can’t resist reading the Caldecott winner each year. They are always excellent children’s books and this year was no exception.

The Caldecott Medal was named in honor of nineteenth-century English illustrator Randolph Caldecott. It is awarded annually by the Association for Library Service to Children, a division of the American Library Association, to the artist of the most distinguished American picture book for children.

From the publisher:

Somewhere in Brooklyn, a little boy dreams of being a famous artist, not knowing that one day he would make himself a king.

Jean-Michael Basquiat and his unique, collage-style paintings rocketed to fame in the 1980s as a cultural phenomenon unlike anything the art world had ever seen. But before that, he was a little boy who saw art everywhere: in poetry books and museums, in games and in the words that we speak, and in the pulsing energy of New York City. Now, award-winning illustrator Javaka Steptoe’s vivid text and bold artwork echoing Basquiat’s own introduce young readers to the powerful message that art doesn’t always have to be neat or clean–and definitely not inside the lines–to be beautiful.

I love Basquiat so this book was a natural for me. I didn’t know about how difficult his life was as a child, only that he died young of a drug overdose. Learning about his early influences and his compulsion to create his art was really interesting. I was reminded of Chaim Potok’s My Name is Asher Lev, about a Hasidic boy with a passion for art that is forbidden by his family and his culture. Nevertheless, as a young child he wakes up to find drawings on the wall next to his bed. Basquait also drew during the night.

My only criticism of the book is the child Basquait is inspired by Picasso’s “Guernica” when his mother takes him to see it. That famous, disturbing piece is reproduced on an angle in the book, but is not labeled in any way, so unless the reader is familiar with it, there is no way to tell what it is.

But that is minor criticism indeed. This is a gorgeous book and a fantastic introduction to art for the elementary age child.  “In his house you can tell a serious ARTIST dwells.” You certainly can.

3/17 Stacy Alesi, AKA the BookBitch™

RADIANT CHILD by Javaka Steptoe. Little, Brown Books for Young Readers; First Edition edition (October 25, 2016). ISBN 978-0316213882. 40p.