NOTHING FANCY by Alison Roman

December 17, 2019

Unfussy Food for Having People Over

From the publisher:

NEW YORK TIMES BESTSELLER • It’s not entertaining. It’s having people over. The social media star, New York Times columnist, and author of Dining In helps you nail dinner with unfussy food, unstuffy vibes, and the permission to be imperfect.

NAMED ONE OF THE BEST COOKBOOKS OF THE YEAR BY THE NEW YORK TIMES BOOK REVIEW AND NPR • A PEOPLE 2019 FOOD FAVORITE

Nothing Fancy delivers what those of hoping to up our dinner party game are looking for: It’s utterly current and distinctly doable.”—Eater

An unexpected weeknight meal with a neighbor or a weekend dinner party with fifteen of your closest friends—either way and everywhere in between, having people over is supposed to be fun, not stressful. This abundant collection of all-new recipes—heavy on the easy-to-execute vegetables and versatile grains, paying lots of close attention to crunchy, salty snacks, and with love for all the meats—is for gatherings big and small, any day of the week.

Alison Roman will give you the food your people want (think DIY martini bar, platters of tomatoes, pots of coconut-braised chicken and chickpeas, pans of lemony turmeric tea cake) plus the tips, sass, and confidence to pull it all off. With Nothing Fancy, any night of the week is worth celebrating.


I loved Alison Roman’s last cookbook, Dining In, so much that it was my choice for best cookbook of 2018. So I was really looking forward to this new one, and it does not disappoint. It has a definite audience this time out as it is a book all about entertaining. Now if you are thinking, I’d rather go out for dinner with friends than cook for them, this cookbook may change your mind!

She starts off with Snack Time, and there are lots of recipes divided by type: Dips, Spreads, and Stuff on Crackers; Fruits & Vegetables; Crunchy Things, Salty Things. That is followed by Salads, which are subdivided into Leafy Salads, Crunchy Salads, and the intriguing Kind-of Salads. Then come the sides, Vegetables and Grains, etc. Mains are next and include Meat, Fish, Pasta, etc. and the final chapter, appropriately titled, After Dinner.

Roman starts off the book with a page headed with “This is not a book about entertaining.” An interesting way to start! It is your introduction and Roman explains the how and why of her writing this particular book. She wants the takeaway to be: “Using your time and resources to feed people you care about is the ultimate expression of love…You got this.” Works for me. She then offers “three helpful things…ask for help; pick your battles; never apologize.” All excellent suggestions.

The ubiquitous grocery list comes next, what you should have on hand, but with an Alison Roman spin. Olive oil, sure, but her take on it? “not the fanciest or the cheapest; make sure it’s something you wouldn’t mind licking from a spoon.” She recommends kitchen equipment and pantry essentials as well.

Remember that first chapter, “snacks?” Roman warns not to confuse those with hors d’oeuvres or canapes. She says “snacks are breezy, snacks are fun.” Who doesn’t want breezy when you’ve invited people over? A most unusual snack that was tailor-made for my husband is Spicy Marinated Anchovies with Potato Chips. If you don’t love anchovies, and I don’t, then probably not for you. But definitely interesting! I like an anchovy in my Caesar dressing, and always use a couple in my Puttanesca sauce. Other snacks that I find intriguing are the Spicy Tomato-Marinated Feta, and the Crispy Haloumi with Honey and Pistachio. And even though I don’t love anchovies, “A Better Garlic Bread/Caramelized Garlic on Toast with Anchovies” is delicious.

I love recipes that can be made in advance, or better yet, ones that you forgot to make in advance, well, let’s make it now! Like “Overnight Focaccia, Tonight!” The salads are all super easy and very different, like “Lemony Watercress with Raw and Toasted Fennel,” “Iceberg with Pecorino, Crushed Olives, and Pickled Chile,” and “Celery and Fennel with Walnuts and Blue Cheese;” I’ll take all three, please! Not to mention the “Little Gems with Garlicky Lemon and Pistachio,” I am all over that. Those Little Gems are just adorable, and this makes a beautiful salad.

Sides are a wonderful assortment from “Mustardy Green Beans with Anchovyed Walnuts,” (there are those anchovies again); “Smashed Sweet Potatoes with Maple and Sour Cream,” which is as delicious as it is beautiful; and the irresistible “Baked Potato Bar.” You can use some of the “acceptable toppings include but are not limited to” sour cream and chives, but also Trout or Salmon roe, and finely chopped fresh dill. The “Frizzled Chickpeas and Onions with Feta and Oregano” will leave your guests talking for sure. Who knew the humble chickpea could be such a star!

The mains are well represented as well, and most have a do-ahead component. “One-Pot Chicken with Dates and Caramelized Lemon” includes a note that you can make this a few hours ahead, and keep in in a Dutch oven at room temperature. It can be reheated for 10-15 minutes if you want. Even better, the “Coconut-Braised Chicken with Chickpeas ad Lime” can be made up to 2 days ahead, and the “Harissa-Rubbed Pork Shoulder with White Beans and Chard” can be made 3 days ahead, and “Soy-Braised Brisket with Carmelized Honey and Garlic” can be made up to 5 days ahead. I can just feel her knocking down any argument about entertaining when you have days to prepare. Stress just flies out the window!

Desserts for Ms. Roman are optional, but she includes some interesting and beautiful ones to pick from. The cakes can mostly be baked a day or two ahead. “Crushed Blackberry and Cornmeal Cake” is not over the top sweet, if that is your preference, while the “Crispy Chocolate Cake with Hazelnut and Sour Cream” is made with Nutella – need I say more? The “Coconut Banana Cream Pudding” is sure to be a crowd-pleaser, with the pudding being made a day or two ahead and the whole thing assembled well before your guests arrive. Finally, the publisher has provided a couple of recipes if you’d like to try on the Amazon page, or if you have a subscription to the New York Times Cooking (worth it!) some of the recipes are there. Enjoy!

12/19 Stacy Alesi, AKA the BookBitch™

NOTHING FANCY by Alison Roman. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt (September 25, 2018). ISBN  978-0544816220. 400p.

Kindle


ROSE’S BAKING BASICS by Rose Levy Beranbaum

December 14, 2019

CLICK TO PURCHASE

100 Essential Recipes, with More Than 600 Step-by-Step Photos

From the publisher:

The ultimate baking book for everyone from best-selling author and “diva of desserts” Rose Levy Beranbaum

In this book of no-fuss recipes everyone should know, trusted baking expert Rose Levy Beranbaum guides you through every recipe for can’t-fail results—with a streamlined, simplified approach and more than 600 mouthwatering and instructive photos. Whether you’re a baking enthusiast or just want to whip up the occasional treat, you will be able to easily make perfect brownies, banana bread, holiday pies, birthday cakes, homemade bread, and more, with recipes including: Chocolate Sheet Cake with Ganache Frosting, Peanut Butter and Jelly Thumbprints, Beer Bread, Apple Walnut Muffins, Peach Cobbler, Milk Chocolate Caramel Tart, and more. Throughout, Rose shares her unique tips and methods for unlocking the secrets to the best flavors and foolproof results, for a treasury of essential recipes you’ll use forever.


I love Beranbaum’s cookbooks. I already owned The Cake Bible, The Pie & Pastry Bible, and The Bread Bible, and I treasure them. So why would I need this new cookbook? I’ll tell you – read on.

A while back, I started weeding my books. Weeding, for the non-librarians reading this, is library lingo for going through and discarding books that are too old, damaged, have out of date information, etc. In my case, I had to add other limitations, like cookbooks that didn’t have more than a couple of recipes that I use. I owned hundreds of cookbooks, including a collection of self-published cookbooks by various charitable organizations like the Junior League, churches, B’Nai Brith, and so on. I was running out of room, or rather I was definitely out of room, so I dedicated one bookcase just for cookbooks and whatever didn’t fit, had to go. That was about half of my cookbooks, so I had to be brutal. Why am I telling you all this? Because those Beranbaum cookbooks I already own are big and take up a lot of room on my cookbook bookshelves but I would not get rid of them. I ended up with a little over 200 cookbooks (please don’t judge!) and I can’t really add anything new unless something old goes. Discipline is required!

This new cookbook is only 400 pages, and yes, I said only. The Cake Bible, for example, clocks in at just under 600 pages and it only includes cake recipes and their acoutrements, like frosting. Also, this new book is on my Kindle. If you have never cooked from a digital cookbook, let me tell you that once you do, it is hard to go back to paper. For example, looking at the table of contents, everything is a link. You want cookies? Click on it. And the first thing I noticed about this TOC is that first thing on the page just says “recipe list” – yep, click on that and it takes you to a simple list of recipes divided by type: Cookies, Cakes, Pies and Tarts, Bread, and finally Toppings and Fillings. Then you just click away!

I don’t really know what Beranbaum’s background is, but I suspect she is something of a chemist. The biggest difference between cooking and baking is science. Everything that happens in baking is based on chemical reactions, and that’s why there is not a lot of room for experimentation. You can’t just swap out baking powder for yeast, the recipe won’t work. You can change up the flavor profile on most baked goods, but that’s about it. That’s why the kitchen world is divided into baking and cooking. People who like to freestyle it generally prefer cooking, where substituting ingredients may change the flavor but it won’t usually destroy a recipe.

I was curious about this new cookbook – would Beranbaum update her recipes? Yes indeedy! I’ve been making her apple pie with the cream cheese crust for just over 20 years. This newer version keeps the original recipe intact, but reorganizes the recipe.  One of my complaints about the Pie & Pastry Bible is the recipe for the apple pie, for example, is one of those recipes with recipes within it. So go to one place for the crust, another for the filling, and so on. I have it post-it notes stuck all over the place in that book. This new books has the entire recipe all together.

I also like the addition of “mise en place” to the recipes. This comes between the ingredients and the directions, and is very helpful in organizing the recipe. A lot of her recipes are complicated, but still very doable. Trust me, when I first started baking this pie I didn’t really have a clue what I was doing. But there were enough instructions to give me the confidence to tackle it anyway. This newer version has simplified the process even further.

The publisher offered up the Bundt cake recipe so you can see what I’m talking about. Coming before the ingredients is the baking equipment you need. I love that it’s right up front, so I can dig that out before I go any further. In my teeny, tiny 9’x9′ kitchen with the horrible builder’s special cabinets (from 30 years ago!) that is no joke. It often takes crawling around with a flashlight to find the pans I don’t use that often.

Ingredients are offered by volume and weight, you get to decide. Then the mise en place, which I find incredibly helpful. Then directions are last, and explicit. There are also a ton of pictures. which I also find helpful.  You can see the finished Bundt cake, the slices taken from it, and there’s even a picture of the batter in the pan. You can see that this cake is loaded with apples!

There are not a ton of recipes here, but the ones included are all terrific and things you might actually want to make. Cookies include chocolate chip (of course!), brownies, thumbprint, shortbread, biscotti, and more. Your basic yellow, white, and chocolate cakes are here, both in sheet form and layers, chiffon and sponge cake, flourless cake, cheesecake, Whoopie pies, zucchini bread, and several different muffins. Pies include a variety of fruit pies, lemon meringue and it’s south Florida cousin, Key Lime, cream pies, cobblers, crisps, and more.

The bread chapter is a bit light, but includes biscuits, beer bread, no-knead bread, multigrain, pizza dough, a babka, and biga. Some people think biga is similar to sourdough starter, but Beranbaum calls it a dough enhancer rather than a starter, and several of her recipes benefit from it. The Toppings and Fillings chapter include buttercream, several kinds of ganache, glazes, whipped cream, cream cheese frosting, and meringue topping.

This is an all-around terrific baking cookbook that I think would be especially beneficial to beginning bakers. And if you haven’t tried cooking from a digital cookbook, this could be a great one to try.

rose's baking basics

Apple Walnut Bundt Cake from Rose’s Baking Basics

Serves 12 to 14 │ Oven Temperature: 350°F/175°C │ Baking Time: 50 to 60 minutes

This is the perfect apple cake for the fall season, but it can be enjoyed any time of the year. It is great to have this Bundt cake in your repertoire as it is easy to make and stays moist and flavorful for 5 days at room temperature, up to 10 days refrigerated. Because it is made with oil, it can be enjoyed at room temperature or cold. The caramel glaze is an optional but fabulous accompaniment.

Baking Equipment

The pan must be a minimum 12 cup capacity, such as a Nordic Ware Anniversary Bundt Pan with 10-15 cup capacity, or a 12 cup Bundt pan, coated with baking spray with flour; or a 16 cup two-piece angel food pan, bottom lined with parchment, then coated with baking spray with flour

Ingredients

· 3 large eggs (½ cup plus 1 ¼ tablespoons, or 150 g)

· 1 cup (100 g) walnut halves

· 2 ½ cups (300 g) flour, lightly spooned into the cup and leveled off

· 1 teaspoon (5.5 g) baking soda

· 1 teaspoon (6 g) sea salt

· 2 teaspoons (4.4 g) ground cinnamon

· 4 large tart apples, diced (4 cups/525 g)

· 1 ¼ cups (269 g) canola or safflower oil

· 1 cup (200 g) granulated sugar

· ¾ cup (163 g) light brown sugar

· 2 teaspoons (10 ml) pure vanilla extract

Preheat the oven

• 20 minutes before toasting the walnuts, set an oven rack in the lower third of the oven. Set the oven at 350°F/175°C

Mise en place

• 30 minutes to 1 hour ahead, set the eggs on the counter at room temperature (65° to 75°F/19° to 24°C)

 Toast and chop the walnuts: Spread the walnuts evenly on a cookie sheet and bake for 5 minutes. Turn the walnuts onto a clean dish town and roll and rub them around to loosen the skins. Discard any loose skins and let the nuts cool completely. Chop medium coarse.

rose's baking basics

• In a medium bowl, whisk together the flour, baking soda, salt, and cinnamon.

• Peel, core, and cut the apples into ⅛ to ¼ inch dice.

Make the batter

1. Into the bowl of a stand mixer, weigh or measure the eggs. Add the oil, gran­ulated and brown sugars, and the vanilla. With the flat beater, beat on medium for 1 minute, until blended

2. Add the flour mixture and beat on low for 20 seconds, just until incor­porated. Scrape down the sides of the bowl

3. Detach the bowl from the stand and with a large spoon stir in the apples and walnuts. Spoon the batter into the prepared pan

Bake the cake

4. Bake for 50 to 60 minutes, or until a wire cake tester inserted near the center comes out clean and the cake springs back when pressed lightly in the center

Cool the cake.

5. Let the cake cool in the pan on a wire rack for 30 minutes. If using a straight-sided pan, run a metal spatula between the sides of the pan and the cake. Invert the cake onto a wire rack that has been lightly coated with nonstick cooking spray and cool completely for about 1½ hours

Store airtight. Room temperature, 5 days; refrigerated, 10 days; frozen, 2 months.

12/19 Stacy Alesi, AKA the BookBitch™

ROSE’S BAKING BASICS by Rose Levy Beranbaum. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt (September 25, 2018). ISBN  978-0544816220. 400p.

Kindle

udible


MY DRUNK KITCHEN HOLIDAYS! by Hannah Hart

October 20, 2019

Click to purchase

How to Savor and Celebrate the Year: A Cookbook

From the publisher:

New York Times bestselling author and Food Network star Hannah Hart is back with her biggest book ever: a humorous holiday cookbook celebrating year-round festivities with food, drink, and friends.

In a world where everyone is looking for some good news and something to celebrate, Hannah Hart is there with almost fifty ideas, arranged into twelve months of themes and recipes for how to celebrate with family and friends.

A collection of recipes, activities, and suggestions about hilarious and joyous ways to celebrate with family, friends, pets, and your entire community, My Drunk Kitchen Holidays! will commemorate holidays from Valentine’s Day to Graduation, Pride Month and International Left-Handers’ Day (really!). The book will culminate with the fall holidays that get much deserved attention: recipes for Halloween, Thanksgiving, and a celebration of Hanukkah/Kwanzaa/Christmas that is festive, inclusive, and incredibly hilarious.


As soon as I saw that Hart had a new book coming out, I requested it from the publisher. If you are not familiar, she has a cooking/comedy YouTube channel at MyHarto that my daughter had told me about several years ago. Sort of like Drunk History, but with cooking. She also has a Facebook page. Well, she’s all over social media. The woman is smart and funny and she knows how to cook. Forbes did a profile of her, How Do You Describe Hannah Hart’s Career? It’s Complicated and said this:

How do you sum up someone who’s a YouTuber, podcaster, author, television personality, LGBT rights advocate, “influencer,” the fiancé of one of 2019’s 30 Under 30, and all-around person-on-the-internet…Whatever Hannah Hart makes, regardless of what form it takes, is always kind, comedic, conscious and occasionally culinary. So keep watching, because perfection is pointless, and the best conversations happen in the kitchen – with or without alcohol.

So this is her latest creation, a cookbook that covers holidays throughout the year, and the table of contents goes month by month. So January has New Year’s Day, Trivia Day (1/4,) Play God Day (1/9,) and Vision Board Day: Second Saturday of the Month. Some holidays you know, and many you may never have heard of. And some missing holidays as well – no Ides of March, and probably the biggest surprise, no Christmas. Although Cookie Day (12/4,) includes a recipe for Christmas cookies, so no worries. But December has Hanukkah (!), Winter Solstice (12/21,) and Champagne Day (12/31,) which I believe most of us call New Year’s Eve. There are holidays for everyone, like Walking Day (first Wednesday of April,) Be A  Millionaire Day (5/20,)  Lipstick Day (7/29,) and Cheese Pizza Day (9/5.)

November is taken up by Thanksgiving, which includes recipes for “Garlic-Ass Mashed Potatoes,” “A Great Gravy,” “Black Olive Stuffing,” and what I thought would be the ubiquitous “Green Bean Casserole,” but instead, was green bean casserole made from scratch. You know, fresh green beans, cremini mushrooms, heavy cream, etc. The thing is that the recipes are real, and the directions easy to follow and usually funny. For instance, in the green bean casserole, step 4:

Next sauté your cremini mushrooms in olive oil. If you’re feeling ambitious and want to play with texture, you can cook the mushrooms on one side and then the other. This is a marvelously ambitious task and no one will notice, but I noticed, and now I am praising your for it–WELL DONE!

There are also lots of stories scattered throughout the book that usually tie into the holidays, and are always fun reading. So this is not a cookbook for serious cooks, but if you know a serious cook who you think should lighten up a bit, then this is the book to buy for them. It is a conversation starter for sure, so a good, albeit not too big, coffee table book. Finally, this book is all about pride, from the rainbow sweater Hart wears on the cover to the rainbow border on the back cover to the stories inside. Great pictures, too, always a plus. Bottom line: this is a terrific gift book and a fun cookbook.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

 

10/19 Stacy Alesi, AKA the BookBitch™

MY DRUNK KITCHEN HOLIDAYS! by Hannah Hart. Plume (October 22, 2019). ISBN  978-0525541431. 224p.

Kindle

Audible


A HANDFUL OF STARS by Helene Saucedo

October 17, 2019

Click to purchase

A Palmistry Guidebook and Hand-Printing Kit

From the publisher:

“In Handful of Stars, the hand becomes an exquisite map . . . wise, trusted, and uniquely our own. Beautiful and mysterious.”—Kim Krans, artist and author of the New York Times bestseller The Wild Unknown TarotThe Wild Unknown Animal Spirit, and The Wild Unknown Journal

Packaged in a deluxe keepsake box, Handful of Stars by hand analyst Helene Saucedo is a beautifully illustrated, step-by-step guide to the ancient art of palmistry with a novel twist.

Preprinted perforated sheets designed by Saucedo especially for the book—along with a a nontoxic ink pad, ink roller, and gel pen—enable readers to create a palm print and record notations on a single sheet of paper.

Informative and entertaining, this unique volume appeals to novice hand analysts and makes a great gift for inquisitive minds of all ages.


This is a fun gift book, and the holidays will be here before you know it. Costco has out their Christmas trees, toys, and food gifts, etc. It’s happening, people!

So I’m not really a new-age kind of person, but I thought this book was interesting. Apparently, palmistry is more than just looking at your life-line or heart-line. You start with your hand analysis.

I learned that my hand flexibility relates to my level of adaptability and flexibility in my career and relationships. My hand showed that I am somewhat flexible, and I would say that’s probably right. Next up was thrumb size. I didn’t know that size matters <cough.> Using the scale presented in the book, I have a large thumb. It says that people with large thumbs are “determined go-getters who don’t take no for an answer. They’re ambitious and energetic with high standards.” I would say that is fairly accurate.

Next up was using the thumb to determine the balance of logic and willpower. My thumb has a larger top, which indicates logic. It says I’m “a planner, a person who makes choices based on calculated measures. This person may tend to overthink or overanalyze a situation.” So more logic (top half) than will (bottom half.) I am definitely a planner, but I’m not sure that I would say I overthink or overanalyze things.

Then it was time for “Thumb and Personality Type.” Based on the information provided, I am an extrovert, “a person who is excited to engage with others and is at ease in groups.” Nailed it.

There are lots more things to look at before you even get to the lines on your hands, and this book clearly explains what to look for and what it all means. If you’ve ever had an interest in palmistry, or are just curious, this is an excellent place to start. The book comes in a box with everything you need to figure all this out. The illustrations are clear and made this novice feel like a pro. I think teens and young adults would love this, and I had fun with it, too.

10/19 Stacy Alesi, AKA the BookBitch™

A HANDFUL OF STARS by Helene Saucedo. Harper Design (October 15, 2019). ISBN 978-0062899361. 80p.

 


THE AFRICAN AMERICAN STRUGGLE FOR LIBRARY EQUALITY by Aisha M. Johnson-Jones

October 3, 2019

Click to purchase

The Untold Story of the Julius Rosenwald Fund Library Program

From the publisher:

The African American Struggle for Library Equality: The Untold Story of the Julius Rosenwald Fund Library Program unveils the almost forgotten philanthropic efforts of Julius Rosenwald, former president of Sears, Roebuck, Co. and an elite business man. Rosenwald simply desired to improve, “the well-being of mankind” through access to education.

Many people are familiar with Mr. Rosenwald as the founder of the Julius Rosenwald Fund that established more than 5,300 rural schools in 15 Southern states during the period 1917-1938. However, there is another major piece of the puzzle, the Julius Rosenwald Fund Library Program. That program established more than 10,000 school, college, and public libraries, funded library science programs that trained African American librarians, and made evident the need for libraries to be supported by local governments.

The African American Struggle for Library Equality is the first comprehensive history of the Julius Rosenwald Fund Library Program to be published. The book reveals a new understanding of library practices of the early 20th century. Through original research and use of existing literature, Aisha Johnson Jones exposes historic library practices that discriminated against blacks, and the necessary remedies the Julius Rosenwald Fund Library Program implemented to cure this injustice, which ultimately influenced other philanthropists like Andrew Carnegie and Bill Gates (the Gates Foundation has a library program) as well as organizations like the American Library Association.


I am stepping out of my usual review mode here. This book is obviously not a romance, nor women’s fiction, nor a thriller, nor cookbook. I probably should read more library texts, it is my profession after all, but I rarely do since I graduated with my masters in library and information science. That said, I am very glad I read this book, and think anyone who cares about libraries should read it as well.

When I went to library school, one of the required courses was on the history of libraries. At the time, I thought it was a silly class that should have been reduced to a single lecture, instead of an entire semester long course. In fact, much of the curriculum was based in ideology rather than practical matters. I had worked in libraries for about a dozen years by the time I went to library school, so I definitely had some inside knowledge, at least of how public libraries worked and the work that librarians did. I did learn some important skills to be sure, but I thought then, and I don’t know how much it has changed since, that there were big gaps in what they taught and what we actually needed to know. The merest hint of budgeting was mentioned, and literally nothing about designing libraries or equipping one, skills that I saw librarians struggle with regularly. I graduated in 2011, and did not take one class on web design or coding or anything remotely techie, and trust me, technology is an unavoidable and important part of the daily work-life of librarians.

But through all the classes I took, required and elective, I never heard of Julius Rosenwald or his program, and that is a disgrace. Carnegie is seen as the patron saint of libraries, and apparently we (the library community) have been shamefully remiss in not anointing Rosenwald as well. The fund financed all sorts of libraries, and even health care, for African American communities. It also funded fellowships and scholarships for African Americans. The fact that this wealthy white man took umbrage with how African Americans were educated and treated, is inspiring. Rosenwald’s influence should not, and cannot, be left unrecognized any longer.

This is an exhaustively researched story that should be included in the curriculum for “History of Libraries” at library schools everywhere.  It is a compelling story, and the pictures are enlightening. It is a short book, and one well worth reading, especially for librarians.  Julius Rosenwald deserves to be celebrated, and I am very glad Ms. Johnson-Jones has given his story to us.

10/19 Stacy Alesi, AKA the BookBitch™

THE AFRICAN AMERICAN STRUGGLE FOR LIBRARY EQUALITY by Aisha M. Johnson-Jones. Rowman & Littlefield Publishers (September 17, 2019). ISBN 978-1538103081. 120p.

Kindle


VEGETABLES UNLEASHED by José Andrés & Matt Goulding

September 30, 2019

Click to purchase

I have to be honest here. There is no way I could not love anything with José Andrés’ name on it. Or anything from the Anthony Bourdain imprint. So it is with extreme prejudice that I come to this review. If you are not familiar with Andrés, and the amazing work that he does, please visit his website: José Andrés

Andrés has a unique vision of food’s place in the world, as well as a very unique voice, which is on display here. I realized that before I even got to the first recipe. There is a page called “Translating the Language of José,” which has nothing to do with his English, but everything to do with his sense of humor and wonder. Like this:

         LET’S GO! YOUR FAST IS MY SLOW: A rallying cry for all of those around José whose fasts are his slow.
Example: Just 108 more recipes to develop. Let’s go!

 

There are incredible (and unusual) photos throughout the book. Like this one with the table of contents:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Not only are there gorgeous pictures, there is a ton of information on all manner of vegetables, how we eat them, and why we don’t eat enough. There are astounding statistics:

Did you know that 87 percent of American adults don’t meet their daily fruit requriement? Or that 40 percent of kids’ vegetable intake comes from French fries? FORTY PERCENT!

Well, I was shocked. He even admits his own daughters prefer burgers to broccoli, which shouldn’t shock anyone. And this:

5.2 million annual deaths worldwide attributed to a lack of fresh fruit and vegetables.

Which makes this even sadder:

338 million pounds of produce Americans throw away every day

He gives advice on everything from gardening and composting, to kitchen tools and spices. And recipes. Lots of recipes.

Andrés introduces the idea of boiling your vegetables. You know, like your grandma used to. He claims it gives you the best method for maintaining texture and seasoning. He also admits that you will never see an Instagram photo of boiled cabbage. I’m not completely sold myself, I love roasted vegetables and do not want to move back to boiling. That said, I made his vegetable stock and it was wonderful. I made it in the Instant Pot and made enough to freeze for when I need some again. It was flavorful, not always easy to achieve with vegetable stock.

I like that at the end of the recipe, for instance Miso-Roasted Asparagus (yum!), he also suggests other vegetables that this would work with, along with other tips like if you want a sweeter finish, add a spoonful of honey or maple syrup. I like recipes with wiggle room. There are also some “chef-y” recipes like Carrot “Pasta,” which he indicates is not something “you’re going to serve on a Tuesday night to your hungry family of five.” True that. It is one of those recipes that consists of multiple recipes, the carrot sauce, carrot oil, and finally the carrot pasta. I have not attempted this.

I love the salad recipes, especially the ones where he explains the proper way to clean the lettuce. I know I’m weird but I avoid those bagged salads like the plague, or the ebola, or whatever horrible diseases they are contaminated with that scare me to death. I buy heads of lettuce. Different kinds, too. I love arugula, but my husband hates it. More salad for me that night. We all love romaine and butter lettuce and leaf lettuce and have you tried Little Gem? There is a recipe here for Little Gems with Warm Garlic Dressing that I have added to my list to try. It’s a very simple recipe with those flavor bombs, thinly sliced garlic and anchovies.

My daughter tried the Microwave Cacio e Pepe and it is now a favorite. Very simple recipe for one, made in the microwave. Now she has a new reason to use that oft-ignored appliance. I tried the Empanadillas de Espinacas (Spinach Empanadas) and they were really delicious, sort of a Greek spanikopita-like filling with spinach, scallions, feta and dill. I skipped the wonton wrappers and used the empanada wrappers I had in my freezer. I also tried the Vegetable Fried Rice, which was very good although my daughter said she would have liked it better with less “stuff” mixed in and more rice, which would have defeated my purpose in making it. That Beefsteak Sandwich was as good as it looks (see picture below) and super easy and quick, perfect for a no cooking night without ordering takeout.

All in all, I think this is a good cookbook and one I will be referring to often. As my vegetables start aging out of the fridge, I now have a good resource to help me avoid pitching them. Instead, I can turn them into something delicious.

More photos:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

9/19 Stacy Alesi, AKA the BookBitch™

VEGETABLES UNLEASHED by José Andres & Matt Goulding. Anthony Bourdain/Ecco (May 21, 2019). ISBN 978-0062668387. 368p.

Kindle


LADIES WHO PUNCH by Ramin Setoodeh

May 14, 2019

Click to purchase

The Explosive Inside Story of “The View”

From the publisher:

Like Fire & Fury, the gossipy real-life soap opera behind a serious show.

When Barbara Walters launched The View, network executives told her that hosting it would tarnish her reputation. Instead, within ten years, she’d revolutionized morning TV and made household names of her co-hosts: Joy Behar, Star Jones, Meredith Vieira and Elisabeth Hasselbeck. But the daily chatfest didn’t just comment on the news. It became the news. And the headlines barely scratched the surface.

Based on unprecedented access, including stunning interviews with nearly every host, award-winning journalist Ramin Setoodeh takes you backstage where the stars really spoke their minds. Here’s the full story of how Star, then Rosie, then Whoopi tried to take over the show, while Barbara struggled to maintain control of it all, a modern-day Lear with her media-savvy daughters. You’ll read about how so many co-hosts had a tough time fitting in, suffered humiliations at the table, then pushed themselves away, feeling betrayed―one nearly quitting during a commercial. Meanwhile, the director was being driven insane, especially by Rosie.

Setoodeh uncovers the truth about Star’s weight loss and wedding madness. Rosie’s feud with Trump. Whoopi’s toxic relationship with Rosie. Barbara’s difficulty stepping away. Plus, all the unseen hugs, snubs, tears―and one dead rodent.

Ladies Who Punch shows why The View can be mimicked and mocked, but it can never be matched.


By the time I heard about this book, it was too late to get a digital galley, always my preference. I love reading on my Kindle or iPad, especially at night, because I don’t have to wear my reading glasses. By the end of the day I’m tired and I find glasses annoying at best. Anyway, I requested a review copy from the publisher and they were kind enough to send me a finished copy (hardcover) and much to my surprise, the book on CD.

I don’t listen to very many audio books because I find my mind wanders, but nonfiction I can do. I also used to have a ridiculously short (8 minute) commute to work. My new job is a 20 minutes commute which works much better for book length material. But then I was stumped by this 20th century technology. Did I have anywhere to even play a CD? I am all in on digital technology and love Audible and my library’s digital audio books. Much to my surprise, my car (2 years old) had a CD player in it. Who knew! So I decided to listen.

I was also trepidatious about the reader – the author reads the book and that is often a recipe for disaster. The best readers are professional, often actors, often famous actors, and know how to read to keep the listener’s attention. Most authors know how to read. Period. But Setoodeh did a really good job. He sounded just dishy enough to give the book the flavor he intended and I was pleasantly surprised. My only complaint was that disc 6 (out of 8) was defective, I had to wait to get the printed book back from my mother-in-law (who loved it, by the way) to read the bit I was missing. But all in all it was a very positive listening experience.

I am a long time fan of The View; I’ve watched it, off and on, for most of the 20+ years it’s been on. I was usually working when it aired, so I recorded it for many years, especially the Rosie-then-Whoopi-then-Rosie&Whoopi years. I’m not sure when I stopped but it’s been at least a few years I would say, so now I just catch it when I’m home, or occasionally when the ladies make the news and I can find clips on YouTube. So I definitely had opinions on the show and its hosts and was looking forward to reading all the dirt. Why not, life is short – you may as well have fun now and again!

The biggest takeaway for me was twofold; Barbara is an excellent liar and no one, not one single host, ever left on their own accord. They were all fired and Barbara, despite her protestations to the contrary, had a hand in most, if not all of them. Even Barbara’s retirement seemed somewhat sketchy to me. My take: it seemed like she was goaded into doing things that made her lose control of the show. Then she was coerced into retiring, which turned into a year long retirement extravaganza during which she reconsidered and did not want to retire. But retire she did. There were definite intimations of her frailty, both physical (her “shuffling”) and mental (memory loss.) I can’t feel too sorry for her though, her career was longer than almost anyone else in television except for maybe Tom Brokaw (and that’s just a guess.)

All that said, Barbara is given full credit, and rightly so, for creating a new daytime television dynamic, changing the landscape of daytime talk shows forever. The most obvious clone is “The Talk” but it seems to me all the daytime political shows, even the cable network shows like “Morning Joe” and Trump’s fave, “Fox and Friends”, all seem to have been gleaned from “The View.”

If you are/were a fan of “The View” you won’t want to miss this book. If you like celebrity gossip, the same. I enjoyed it.

5/19 Stacy Alesi, AKA the BookBitch™

LADIES WHO PUNCH by Ramin Setoodeh.  Thomas Dunne Books; First Edition edition (April 2, 2019). ISBN 978-1250112095. 336p.

Kindle

Audible

Audio CD


THE 100 MOST JEWISH FOODS, edited by Alana Newhouse

April 19, 2019

Click to purchase

A Highly Debatable List 

From the publisher:

With contributions from Ruth Reichl, Éric Ripert, Joan Nathan, Michael Solomonov, Dan Barber, Yotam Ottolenghi, Tom Colicchio, Maira Kalman, Melissa Clark, and many more!

Tablet’s list of the 100 most Jewish foods is not about the most popular Jewish foods, or the tastiest, or even the most enduring. It’s a list of the most significant foods culturally and historically to the Jewish people, explored deeply with essays, recipes, stories, and context. Some of the dishes are no longer cooked at home, and some are not even dishes in the traditional sense (store-bought cereal and Stella D’oro cookies, for example). The entire list is up for debate, which is what makes this book so much fun. Many of the foods are delicious (such as babka and shakshuka). Others make us wonder how they’ve survived as long as they have (such as unhatched chicken eggs and jellied calves’ feet). As expected, many Jewish (and now universal) favorites like matzo balls, pickles, cheesecake, blintzes, and chopped liver make the list. The recipes are global and represent all contingencies of the Jewish experience. Contributors include Ruth Reichl, Éric Ripert, Joan Nathan, Michael Solomonov, Dan Barber, Gail Simmons, Yotam Ottolenghi, Tom Colicchio, Amanda Hesser and Merrill Stubbs, Maira Kalman, Action Bronson, Daphne Merkin, Shalom Auslander, Dr. Ruth Westheimer, and Phil Rosenthal, among many others. Presented in a gifty package, The 100 Most Jewish Foods is the perfect book to dip into, quote from, cook from, and launch a spirited debate.


Since tonight is the first night of Passover, this seemed like a good opportunity to talk about this book. And it is a book that is begging to be discussed. Maybe not with your book group, unless it is a predominantly Jewish book group, because really, no one else is going to care. But if you belong to a synagogue, sisterhood, Hadassah, or JCC type book group, bring it on!

Alana Newhouse is the editor-in-chief of Tablet magazine. They had posted just the list of foods online and the response was quick and passionate. Thus this book was born. Just FYI, I did not get the “gifty package” of this book; the publisher sent me the advanced reader copy which is a paperback and missing things like page numbers. But all the important stuff is there, certainly more than enough upon which to base this review.

Each food is discussed by a different author and while not all are Jewish, I would say most are. I didn’t know who most of these authors were, but there is a lovely “About the Contributors” section in the back of the book. Sprinkled in among the Jewish names I didn’t know are celebrity/TV chefs like Marcus Samuelsson, Eric Ripert, and Dan Barber; famous Jewish foodies and cookbook authors like Ruth Reichl, Joan Nathan, and Gail Simmons, and Jewish notables like the always-in-my-heart-West-Wing (but many, many other productions,) actor Joshua Malina, fashion designer Zac Posen, and the creator of “Everybody Loves Raymond” and star of Netflix’s “Somebody Feed Phil,” Phil Rosenthal. It is a fairly homogeneous group, and that is to be expected.

Each food is discussed and there are several recipes as well. Some are definitely controversial – let’s start with the obvious, bacon, but also Chinese food, and sushi. All right, it is “Kosher Sushi” so I’ll give it a pass.

I learned stuff, too, which is always a plus. Stella D’oro Swiss Fudge Cookies make an appearance in a piece written by Ian Frazier (who I know from his writing at The New Yorker). Silly me, I always assumed that Stella D’oro cookies were Italian, and the company was founded by the Zambetti family. But it was based in the Bronx in the 1930’s, in a very Jewish (80% he claims) neighborhood and they made cookies that did not contain dairy, thus rendering them pareve, and kosher. When the family sold the business to Kraft, they decided leaving out dairy was too expensive so they put it back in, lost the “pareve” label and sales plummeted. They went back to the original recipe, sold the company, strikes happened, they moved from the Bronx to Ashland, Ohio, and are still there. I loved the last line of this essay: “That the Swiss Fudge Cookie has its own story of suffering, exile, and survival makes it even more Jewish, I believe.” I believe, too.

All the usual suspects are here: lox, babka, chopped liver, schmaltz (and gribenes!), matzo, gefilte fish, challah, Hebrew National hot dogs, etc. And by usual, I mean Ashkenazic Jewish foods, the foods of my childhood, my life. But the Sephardim are also represented by pomegranate, Yemenite bread and soup, carciofi alla Giudia and more.

There is a lot of knowledge here but also a lot of laughs. This was also a nostalgic read, in a way, since a lot of these foods have disappeared from my life. I haven’t had kreplach since my grandmother died when I was a child. But I’ll be having matzo, chicken soup with matzo balls, charoset, chopped liver, macaroons, sponge cake and more tonight.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

For all my Jewish readers, I wish you a joyous Passover!

4/19 Stacy Alesi AKA the BookBitch™

THE 100 MOST JEWISH FOODS by Alana Newhouse. Artisan (March 19, 2019). ISBN: 978-1579659066. 256p.

Kindle


SAVE ME THE PLUMS by Ruth Reichl

April 13, 2019

Click to purchase

My Gourmet Memoir

Ruth Reichl has led a very food-centric life and has written extensively about it. In a bit of exciting news,

“Former Gourmet editor and New York Times critic Ruth Reichl says that a memoir about her early days as a food writer [Comfort Me With Apples] is going to be the subject of a new eight-part series on Netflix.”

This book is about how Ruth came to be editor-in-chief of Gourmet magazine, the changes she made, and how it all went away. In case you weren’t sure if she was traumatized by the magazine’s closing, Ruth has written a novel about it, Delicious! and a cookbook, My Kitchen Year: 136 Recipes That Saved My Life (and I loved both those books.) Now she has finally written the memoir that she seems to have been avoiding, and it, too, is terrific.

As a long time fan of Gourmet magazine, I was sad when it shut down. But it wasn’t my life, as it was Ruth’s, so the feelings cannot even be compared. She starts at the beginning, from her first meetings with the publisher and owner, while she was still the New York Times restaurant critic. (I loved her book about that experience, Garlic & Sapphires.) She met with friends to discuss the possible job change, and when she finally got the job offer, the money was six times what she was making at the Times, and impossible to resist. Off she went and her life changed dramatically.

This book contains a few recipes, including one for a Jeweled Chocolate Cake, which sounded great. I was curious about the possibility of turning that cake into cupcakes. I held this review for a few days and tweeted at her, but sadly, I was ignored. I will figure it out myself – necessity is the mother of invention. And I have the Google-verse at my fingertips.

If you’ve read Reichl’s other memoirs, you will undoubtedly enjoy this one. If you haven’t, it’s as good a place as any to start. For foodie fans everywhere.

4/19 Stacy Alesi, AKA the BookBitch™

SAVE ME THE PLUMS by Ruth Reichl. Random House (April 2, 2019).  ISBN 978-1400069996. 288p.

Kindle

Audible


THE LIBRARY BOOK by Susan Orlean

April 5, 2019

Click to purchase

From the publisher:

A REESE WITHERSPOON x HELLO SUNSHINE BOOK CLUB PICK

WASHINGTON POST TOP 10 BOOK OF THE YEAR A NEW YORK TIMES BESTSELLER and NEW YORK TIMES NOTABLE BOOK OF 2018

“A constant pleasure to read…Everybody who loves books should check out The Library Book.” —The Washington Post

“CAPTIVATING…DELIGHTFUL.” —Christian Science Monitor * “EXQUISITELY WRITTEN, CONSISTENTLY ENTERTAINING.” —The New York Times * “MESMERIZING…RIVETING.” —Booklist (starred review)

A dazzling love letter to a beloved institution—and an investigation into one of its greatest mysteries—from the bestselling author hailed as a “national treasure” by The Washington Post.

On the morning of April 29, 1986, a fire alarm sounded in the Los Angeles Public Library. As the moments passed, the patrons and staff who had been cleared out of the building realized this was not the usual fire alarm. As one fireman recounted, “Once that first stack got going, it was ‘Goodbye, Charlie.’” The fire was disastrous: it reached 2000 degrees and burned for more than seven hours. By the time it was extinguished, it had consumed four hundred thousand books and damaged seven hundred thousand more. Investigators descended on the scene, but more than thirty years later, the mystery remains: Did someone purposefully set fire to the library—and if so, who?

Weaving her lifelong love of books and reading into an investigation of the fire, award-winning New Yorker reporter and New York Times bestselling author Susan Orlean delivers a mesmerizing and uniquely compelling book that manages to tell the broader story of libraries and librarians in a way that has never been done before.

In The Library Book, Orlean chronicles the LAPL fire and its aftermath to showcase the larger, crucial role that libraries play in our lives; delves into the evolution of libraries across the country and around the world, from their humble beginnings as a metropolitan charitable initiative to their current status as a cornerstone of national identity; brings each department of the library to vivid life through on-the-ground reporting; studies arson and attempts to burn a copy of a book herself; reflects on her own experiences in libraries; and reexamines the case of Harry Peak, the blond-haired actor long suspected of setting fire to the LAPL more than thirty years ago.

Along the way, Orlean introduces us to an unforgettable cast of characters from libraries past and present—from Mary Foy, who in 1880 at eighteen years old was named the head of the Los Angeles Public Library at a time when men still dominated the role, to Dr. C.J.K. Jones, a pastor, citrus farmer, and polymath known as “The Human Encyclopedia” who roamed the library dispensing information; from Charles Lummis, a wildly eccentric journalist and adventurer who was determined to make the L.A. library one of the best in the world, to the current staff, who do heroic work every day to ensure that their institution remains a vital part of the city it serves.

Brimming with her signature wit, insight, compassion, and talent for deep research, The Library Book is Susan Orlean’s thrilling journey through the stacks that reveals how these beloved institutions provide much more than just books—and why they remain an essential part of the heart, mind, and soul of our country. It is also a master journalist’s reminder that, perhaps especially in the digital era, they are more necessary than ever.


This is a book beloved by librarians, to no one’s great surprise. On the other hand, I didn’t love it. Yes, it is an interesting story but I was not a fan of the writing. The book jumps all over the place, not moving back in forth in time but back, forth, sideways, back, forward, back, sideways, etc. It was dizzying at time. Why am I reading about this library director, I read about her several chapters ago. Now here is more info on another library director. I found it hard to get into this book and if my book group hadn’t picked it, forcing me to finish it, it would have been in my did-not-finish-and-certainly-not-reviewed pile. Yet here I am.

I started this book a few months before it came out. I put it down and picked it up several times, usually after reading a good review somewhere. But honestly, I don’t think a book written about librarians and libraries is ever going to get a bad review, at least not from the librarians who review for the journals like Booklist, Library Journal, Kirkus and Publisher’s Weekly. On the other hand, I don’t have any restrictions.

It wasn’t a horrible book; the story was interesting, at least from what I could piece together. I read it over many months so I admit to forgetting some stuff as I went along. But I didn’t care enough to go back and reread any of it. I love libraries and usually like reading about them. I missed the story about this fire to begin with, as did most people as it happened the same day as Chernobyl, which pretty much guaranteed it would be a non-story. What Orlean does is take the story of the fire and interweave it with the history of the library, going back a few hundred years. But it was just too jumpy for me, I would have preferred a chronological telling leading up to the fire and beyond. I didn’t get that. For what it’s worth, I didn’t care for Orlean’s bestselling The Orchid Thief, either, and never finished reading it. And that book was also beloved and was even made into a very strange movie called Adaptation.

4/19 Stacy Alesi, AKA the BookBitch™

THE LIBRARY BOOK by Susan Orlean. Simon & Schuster; First Edition edition (October 16, 2018). ISBN 978-1476740188. 336p.

Kindle

Audible