DEEP RUN ROOTS by Vivian Howard

September 16, 2018

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Stories and Recipes from My Corner of the South

WINNER OF AN ASTONISHING FOUR IACP AWARDS, INCLUDING COOKBOOK OF THE YEAR AND THE JULIA CHILD FIRST BOOK AWARD

Vivian Howard, star of PBS’s A CHEF’S LIFE, celebrates the flavors of North Carolina’s coastal plain in more than 200 recipes and stories.

This was a serendipitous find of a cookbook. First, it showed up on several lists of cookbooks to look for. Then it won the IACP Cookbook of the Year award. Then I was looking around PBS and stumbled on this show called “A Chef’s Life” and it took a few episodes before I realized that this show starred the author of this cookbook I kept hearing about. Kismet!

I selected it for my cookbook discussion group (there is such a thing and I’ve been facilitating this group for several years at my library,) ordered 15 copies and waited. We met yesterday to discuss and watch the “Broccoli” episode where Vivian begins her book/food truck tour. Yes, this chef went on tour with a food truck. How brilliant was that? Made me wonder why all chefs weren’t doing that.

The consensus of the group was that we loved reading the book – her stories are just wonderful. However, cooking from the book was an entirely different thing. A few people felt intimidated by it, and remember, this is a group of people who cook regularly from cookbooks, most for many years so that really surprised me. Most people felt the recipes were overly long and complicated and a few others didn’t care for the style of the food but loved reading the book. Southern cuisine is not for everyone, and this is a very specific, eastern Carolina style of food. One of the group is actually from eastern Carolina and has relatives still living in the area and she probably enjoyed this book the most. Vivian Howard is a hero there.

So about the book – the positives. There are stories, lots of stories, and they are wonderful. The book itself is beautiful, sturdy, heavy paper sewn into the binding so it lies flat pretty much at every page. Towards the end of the book (it is a big cookbook, over 500 pages) the sheer weight of the book tends to snap it closed. There are also instructions on how to can fruits and vegetables, which seems important to a cookbook like this.

There is a table of contents (which is odd, by any standards) and then a very detailed Recipe Guide which is in a completely different order and sectioned differently from the table of contents. At the end of the book is an index, which is a sorry thing that often refers back to the page of the Recipe Guide to find the actual page number of the recipe. Confusing? Yep. So for clarity’s sake, on the left side of this picture is the actual Table of Contents, with the chapters:

Looking at just the table of contents, one would think there were no chicken, beef or fish recipes, for instance, but there are. There is an explanation given as to the way the book is organized. Vivian says,

…the way I ordered the chapters and recipes is personal, driven more by story than anything else. But it’s a cookbook, after all, and I want you to cook from it, and that’s why I’ve included this more practical guide (that would be the Recipe Guide.)

On the right side of the picture is the beginning of the Recipe Guide. It is divided into sections that make a bit more sense, more like a traditional cookbook, with sections called Breakfast and Brunch; Sandwiches; Pickles, Preserves, and Relishes; Sweets etc. I do like that she included a box at the end of this guide with “Eastern North Carolina Traditions”, a list of recipes that are truly native to that area like Collard Kraut, Fresh Corn Roasted in Chicken Drippings, Squash and Onions, and so forth.

One of my members made the Squash and Onions and said she made the rookie mistake of not reading the recipe all the way through before beginning. By the time she realized that these vegetables would be cooking for hours, she was already into it. She said that to her, a Yankee born and bred, this dish epitomized everything that is wrong with Southern food, taking beautiful, fresh ingredients, like summer squash straight from the farm, and cooking it until it is an unrecognizable mush. She ended up taking the mush, adding in quinoa and finely chopped mushrooms and turned it into a most delicious veggie burger. The mushy squash acted as the glue in holding it all together.

Another member of the group, the one from eastern North Carolina, made the Stewed Collard Greens with Ham Hock. She said this recipe is very similar to the way she grew up making this dish and it was delicious.

We all noticed that citrus plays an important role in many recipes, and we all liked that. I loved the Citrus Sweet Potato Butter although I did leave out the sugar, and found it more than sweet enough. I will be making that again. When I have some time off from work, I am going to attempt the Sweet Potato Onion Bread, which is a four page long recipe that requires a lot of attention, this is no mix it, knead it and wait recipe. I also am planning on making the Stuffed Butternut Bottoms, where butternut squash “bowls” are roasted then stuffed with a mixture of sausage, leek, turnip greens (or kale) and cheese, then topped with bread crumbs and baked again. She doesn’t specify the type of sausage so I’m thinking maybe a spicy chicken sausage would be good here. It sounds really good and winter squash season is almost upon us.

I did not care for the Watermelon Tea – basically a mixture of tea and pureed, strained watermelon that I thought would be akin to a sweet tea without adding actual sugar, but I found it an odd combination of flavors. Another member of the group made the Peaches and Cream Cake, another four page recipe (including pictures) and loved it but said it really was overly complicated. I also made “Viv’s Addiction,” a spiced pecan that was delicious. The nuts are folded into a stiffly beaten egg white with lots of spice then baked. I love these things, but this was the most complicated spiced nut recipe I’ve ever made. Breaking apart what is essentially a sweet & spicy praline required a bit of attention but I think the end result was worth it.

I mostly enjoyed reading this cookbook more than cooking from it, if that makes sense. But if you are looking for unusual recipes, and you like Southern food, and you enjoy the challenge of long, complicated recipes, you may love this cookbook.

9/18 Stacy Alesi, AKA the BookBitch™

DEEP RUN ROOTS by Vivian Howard. Little, Brown and Company; y First edition edition (October 4, 2016). ISBN 978-0316381109. 576p.

 

 

 


THE DONALD J. TRUMP PRESIDENTIAL TWITTER LIBRARY

August 20, 2018

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Presented by The Daily Show with Trevor Noah; Forward by Jon Meacham

From the publisher:

As seen on The Daily Show, an illustrated portrait of the Donald J. Trump Twitter account, with analysis and “scholarly” commentary from the writers of The Daily Show and an introduction by Trevor Noah

In June 2017, just steps from Trump Tower in midtown Manhattan, The Daily Show with Trevor Noah opened The Donald J. Trump Presidential Twitter Library, a 4,000-square-foot museum space that gave the 45th president and his amazing Twitter legacy the respect they deserve. In the single weekend it was open to the public, the Library pop-up drew 7,500 visitors and had to turn away countless others.

But the Presidential Twitter Library experience should not be limited to the elite coastal few. Not fair! All citizens, even the Mexican ones, should have the chance to see Donald Trump’s tweets in their rightful context—organized and commented on in the fearless, hilarious, insightful voice of The Daily Show.

This one-of-a-kind exhibition catalog presents the Library’s complete contents, including:

• The Masterpieces: In-depth critical appreciations of history’s most important Trump tweets, from “Very Stable Genius” to “Covfefe” to “Trump Tower Taco Bowl/I Love Hispanics!”
• The Greatest Battles: @realDonaldTrump’s brutal Twitter campaigns against fellow Republicans, Diet Coke, women generally, and Kristen Stewart specifically
• Sad! A Retrospective: a compendium of the many people, events, and twists of fate that apparently made Donald Trump feel this human emotion
• Trumpstradamus: DJT’s amazing 140-character predictions—none of which came true!
• The Hall of Nicknames: the greatest of Trump’s monikers, from “Lyin’ Ted” to “Low I.Q. Crazy Mika,” accompanied by original caricature artwork
• Trump vs. Trump: You’re going to want to sit for this one. Donald Trump has sometimes been known to contradict himself.
• Always the Best: the greatest boasts of the greatest boaster of all time, ever!

Comprising hundreds of Trump tweets, and featuring a foreword by Pulitzer Prize-winning historian Jon Meacham, and even a place for readers to add their own future Trump tweet highlights—because he is making new Twitter history literally every day—The Donald J. Trump Presidential Twitter Library is a unique portrait of an artist whose masterworks will be studied by historians, grammarians, and mental health professionals for years to come.


Regular readers of this blog (and my Twitter feed) know which way my political leanings go. The only way I am surviving this presidency is by reading romance (I need the happy endings,) listening to podcasts (bless you, Crooked Media) and laughing (it beats crying.) Books like this help.

Noah introduces the book thusly:

When Donald J. Trump launched his campaign for president in 2015, I laughed at the idea. If there’s one thing I knew about Americans, it’s that they wanted their presidents to be dignified, intelligent, and black. Trump had none of these qualities. Even worse, Trump had tweets!

That made me sad, but it also made me laugh. So if you don’t find it funny, then this book probably isn’t for you.

Meacham takes his forward seriously, compares Trump to previous presidents like FDR and Woodrow Wilson, and simply nails it: “As president, he has raised narcissism to Homeric heights – a difficult thing to do when one recalls that politicians, as a species, consider public notice to be slightly more essential than oxygen.”

The illustrations are terrific, the graphs and charts intriguing and it all made me feel a little less lost in America. The old saying “misery loves company” is a proven theorem here. Thanks to Trevor Noah and the team at the Daily Show.

8/18 Stacy Alesi, AKA the BookBitch™

THE DONALD J. TRUMP PRESIDENTIAL TWITTER LIBRARY by The Daily Show With Trevor Noah. Spiegel & Grau (July 31, 2018). ISBN 978-1984801883. 144p.

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32 YOLKS by Eric Ripert

July 29, 2018

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From My Mother’s Table to Working the Line

From the publisher:

NEW YORK TIMES BESTSELLER • Hailed by Anthony Bourdain as “heartbreaking, horrifying, poignant, and inspiring,” 32 Yolks is the brave and affecting coming-of-age story about the making of a French chef, from the culinary icon behind the renowned New York City restaurant Le Bernardin.

NAMED ONE OF THE BEST BOOKS OF THE YEAR BY NPR

In an industry where celebrity chefs are known as much for their salty talk and quick tempers as their food, Eric Ripert stands out. The winner of four James Beard Awards, co-owner and chef of a world-renowned restaurant, and recipient of countless Michelin stars, Ripert embodies elegance and culinary perfection. But before the accolades, before he even knew how to make a proper hollandaise sauce, Eric Ripert was a lonely young boy in the south of France whose life was falling apart.

Ripert’s parents divorced when he was six, separating him from the father he idolized and replacing him with a cold, bullying stepfather who insisted that Ripert be sent away to boarding school. A few years later, Ripert’s father died on a hiking trip. Through these tough times, the one thing that gave Ripert comfort was food. Told that boys had no place in the kitchen, Ripert would instead watch from the doorway as his mother rolled couscous by hand or his grandmother pressed out the buttery dough for the treat he loved above all others, tarte aux pommes. When an eccentric local chef took him under his wing, an eleven-year-old Ripert realized that food was more than just an escape: It was his calling. That passion would carry him through the drudgery of culinary school and into the high-pressure world of Paris’s most elite restaurants, where Ripert discovered that learning to cook was the easy part—surviving the line was the battle.

Taking us from Eric Ripert’s childhood in the south of France and the mountains of Andorra into the demanding kitchens of such legendary Parisian chefs as Joël Robuchon and Dominique Bouchet, until, at the age of twenty-four, Ripert made his way to the United States, 32 Yolks is the tender and richly told story of how one of our greatest living chefs found himself—and his home—in the kitchen.


This was not what I was expecting at all. I have read several memoirs by chefs, and I expect the hardship of the kitchen. But I did not expect the hardship of a childhood, and Ripert’s was not especially pleasant. His mother was a very successful shopkeeper, so they had money, but for everyone who thinks that money is the answer to all problems, I suggest you read this book to find out why that is rarely the case.

The high pressure of the kitchen and how Ripert worked through it was inspiring to read. He holds the unique distinction of taking over a 3 Michelin star & NY Times 4 star restaurant, and holding on to those stars for over thirty years, a remarkable feat not repeated anywhere in the world. Unfortunately, the book ends just as he arrives in America which leads me to hope there will be a sequel.

Co-written with Veronica Chambers, who also worked with Marcus Samuelsson on Yes, Chef, his memoir, she does an excellent job. For foodies who want more than what’s on TV.

7/18 Stacy Alesi, AKA the BookBitch™

32 YOLKS by Eric Ripert. Random House Trade Paperbacks; Reprint edition (March 21, 2017). ISBN 978-0812983067. 256p.

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FROM THE CORNER OF THE OVAL by Beck Dory-Stein

July 20, 2018

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A Memoir

This memoir is getting lots of buzz and I can see why. It is compulsively readable, despite the fact that the author is a bit of an idiot. Or maybe that’s why.

Dorey-Stein was one of the White House stenographers under President Obama. I didn’t know there was such a position, and neither did she until she answered a Craigslist ad and eventually was told what the position actually was. My mom was a stenographer in the 1950’s, which meant she worked for a man (it was always a man) and took dictation using Gregg shorthand, writing squiggly lines on steno pads. Then she would type up whatever it was, usually letters I think. Steno pads still live (check out Office Depot if you’re not sure what they are) but apparently their use has changed. The White House stenographers do not take shorthand. They record every utterance the President makes then type it up for wherever it will go, usually the archives and the press. It is an extremely interesting and sensitive job. It makes the Putin-Trump summit all the more remarkable in that the private meeting was not recorded, an extraordinary breach of protocol and history.

One of the reasons Dorey-Stein got the job was because she was a substitute teacher at the Sidwell Friends School. If that name sounds familiar, it is probably because the school is famous as providing the education for many presidents’ children, including the Obamas. Since she already had security clearance to be around those kids, it made her entree into the White House that much easier.

While there, the 25-year-old Dorey-Stein often traveled with the President and was at many, many historic meetings, summits, appearances, etc.; rather Forrest Gump-like in fact. She often ran into the President in hotel gyms where he was always kind to her and often kidded her about her running. Dorey-Stein presents yet another glimpse of the man who exuded charm, intelligence and charisma and was the epitome of grace and civility. Yes, I miss him.

But Dorey-Stein writes about her personal life as well, and that is where the comparisons to “Sex and the City” come in. Not my comparison, but it keeps cropping up when I see anything about this book. Mostly because she has a boyfriend but is constantly falling into bed with a co-worker who is a womanizing pig. But charming. Dorey-Stein falls a little bit in love with him, which is well beyond my understanding but I haven’t been 25 in many years. And by that age, I was already married so what do I know.

While I may not approve of the cheating, and I may not understand why she did it with such an openly sleazy guy, I have to give Dorey-Stein props for the writing, it is amazing. She is truly talented. Here’s a short sample:

We’re always just a few ticks, clicks, updates and pings away from personal and collective disaster, but right now we’re not our titles but our own selves-people with backgrounds and futures and exes and half-dead pets and crazy parents and broken hearts and big dreams; people who are listening to the president as he tells a funny story from two countries back, twelve hours ago, depending on which time zone you’re counting in. We’re so different, but we’re swimming in this same punch-drunk delirium, and we have one major thing in common: We’ve found ourselves, shockingly, amazingly, how-the-fuck-did-this-happen crazily, flying halfway around the world on Air Force One. We are lucky.

It was also a very nostalgic read and I was reminded time and again of how Obama handled all the nightmares during his presidency; crying while talking about Sandy Hook, singing “Amazing Grace” at the black church where people were shot and killed for no reason, all the mass shootings in fact. I’m assuming that some of the names have been changed in this book but I did enjoy the touches of reality, the David Plouffe stories, Jon “Fav’s Abs” Favreau’s brief mention, and more.

Dorey-Stein did work briefly for Trump as the stenographer is not an appointed position. In fact, the woman in charge of the department had served under many presidents. But the chaos that ensued with the new staff was enough of an impetus for her to leave.

If you have any interest in what it is like to work for the President of the United States, and travel on Air Force One, this is your book. It was a fast read and I couldn’t put it down, I finished it in one night (your speed may vary) and it was mostly enjoyable.

Bonus: On July 17, 2018, Dory-Stein wrote an op-ed in the NY Times, “I Was a White House Stenographer. Trump Wasn’t a Fan.”

7/18 Stacy Alesi, AKA the BookBitch™

FROM THE CORNER OF THE OVAL by Beck Dory-Stein. Spiegel & Grau (July 10, 2018). ISBN 978-0525509127 . 330p.

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CALYPSO by David Sedaris

July 14, 2018

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So I broke a crown, a molar, next to another crown and they both have to be replaced. In the dentist’s waiting room, I was reading this book and laughing out loud like an idiot despite the pain in my mouth. I was reading on my phone so I don’t know what the other people in that office were thinking and I really didn’t care. There’s nothing like getting bad news and knowing at least you have a funny book to get back to. Feel free to send donations. Did I mention I need TWO crowns?!

I am a long time David Sedaris fanatic. When I worked at Borders, I stumbled across Holidays on Ice, with the original cover showing Santa standing at an urinal. I’m not sure why that cover was changed. That book has the story about when David was a Christmas Elf in a department store and NPR airs that story every year at Christmas. It still cracks me up no matter how many times I’ve heard it. I got to see him in person a few books ago at the American Library Association conference and I laughed until I cried. I probably mention all of this in every review I do of his books because, why not.

So Calypso. A friend/co-worker told me she didn’t especially like it, she thought it was very melancholy. I was shocked. Then she said maybe I’m losing my sense of humor and I assured her that she was. Yes, there are some parts of the book – dealing with his aging father, his sister’s suicide, that are sad. But even in those stories there is humor.

I loved “Your English is So Good,” in which David dreams up the idea to teach foreign business traveler’s visiting America English. He goes off on upselling, buying a magazine at the airport and being asked if he wants a bottle of water then demanding coffee, ONLY coffee, at the Dunkin’ Donuts and the cashier asks if he wants a cup. This is funny stuff! I also liked his collecting words that should be outlawed, like “awesome!”

Another fun essay is called “Little Guy” in which he laments his lack of height and wonders how tall Rock Hudson was. That leads to how his computer is always so wholesome and his sister Amy’s computer is always spewing porn no matter what question Google is asked. The essay that titled the book, “Calypso,” explains how a friend of David’s is an artist but her latest project is just finding pieces of plywood that she sees things in. Like the face on the cover of this book. Which led to a whole diatribe on his seeing various doctors while on book tour across America. The tumor stuff was unbelievable and I will leave it at that.

I loved this book and there are some Trump references in it that also made me laugh.

Thank you, Mr. Sedaris, I sure needed that.

7/18 Stacy Alesi, AKA the BookBitch™

CALYPSO by David Sedaris. Little, Brown and Company; 1st Edition edition (May 29, 2018). ISBN 978-0316392389. 272p.


THE WIDOWER’S NOTEBOOK by Jonathan Santlofer

July 10, 2018

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A Memoir

Jonathan Santlofer is an artist and a writer and someone I consider a friend. In 2013, he lost his wife, Joy, quite suddenly, and his way of coping was to draw and write. This book is the culmination of that endeavor.

There are many books written about grief and many about losing a spouse, but most are written by women about losing their husbands. I hate to generalize but I’m going to. Men tend to be more stoic about loss, less likely to talk about it, much less write about it. But Jonathan is not your average man.

I’ve known Jonathan a long time but didn’t hear about Joy’s passing until a year or so after the fact. At the time, he couldn’t really talk about it and I understood that. When he told me about this book many months ago, I got a digital galley and put it aside. Even though he told me about it and I knew he wanted me to read it, I had to come to grips with reading about his pain. It’s a difficult thing to do when you know and care about the person who is in pain. But with publication looming, I put aside my usual escapist fare and sat down to read it.

Jonathan’s voice was immediately recognizable. This isn’t some new-agey, self-help guide but rather a journey through loss and devastation, grief and pain, and ultimately hope and love. There are many drawings as well, drawing was one of his coping mechanisms and he explains how it helped him. The drawings are simple and beautiful and so expressive of a life well lived.

Joy had been working on her own book called Food City when she passed. A food historian who taught at NYU, she had worked for six years on this book about the food history of New York City and it was truly a labor of love. When she died, she left a manuscript that was twice as long as was contracted for and in need of serious editing. Jonathan and their daughter raised money to pay for an independent editor and along with her publisher, and both of them, they were able to get the book completed. (See my review here.) It was the culmination of an exhaustive project, yet bittersweet that Joy never got to see her finished book. But what a way to honor her.

Lest you think this book is a maudlin meandering of thought, it most certainly is not. Jonathan has a terrific sense of humor and understands the absurdity of life and loss.. He is self deprecating and self aware, and even through some of the most difficult parts of the book, his humor shines through. Don’t get me wrong, I cried through much of this but I also laughed.

Stories about how friends tried to help, or didn’t, were mostly encouraging, occasionally discouraging, and often funny. The set ups, (single men are always a target) not to mention a friend who tried to get him to hire hookers from a website, and poignantly, the realization that widowers are treated differently (better) than widows. I especially loved the chapter, “Stupid Things Said by Smart People,” which was so honest and pointed to something many people struggle with.

A couple of quotes that I thought were simple, eloquent and elucidating:

The fact is, losing one’s partner is an unsolicited litmus test. Some friends pass the test beautifully and others fail.

And this:

Grief is two-pronged: to get past it is to move on, a good thing; to get over it, to forget your grief and your former life and all that is attached to it, impossibly sad.

Comparisons to Joan Didion’s The Year of Magical Thinking are inevitable, and Jonathan is the yin to her yang. This is a beautifully written, haunting and emotional memoir about loss, grief, love, and moving on. It is thought provoking, intelligent, important and ultimately inspirational. This is a book worth reading and sharing.

I’m very glad Jonathan decided to share his Widower’s Notebook.

7/18 Stacy Alesi, AKA the BookBitch™

THE WIDOWER’S NOTEBOOK by Jonathan Santlofer. Penguin Books (July 10, 2018). ISBN 978-0143132493. 272p.

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SIX SEASONS by Joshua McFadden

June 23, 2018

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A New Way with Vegetables
with Martha Holmberg

Let me start by saying that while this is a vegetable forward cookbook, it is not vegetarian, so if the thought of chicken or fish or pork touching your veggies makes you ill, this is not your cookbook. But if you enjoy occasional vegetarian dishes or just love veggies and are trying to find new ways to make them, then run out and buy this book immediately. It is terrific.

The book is divided into “six seasons” –  the usual four that we all know, except summer is divided in thirds; early, mid, and late. The book is laid out in seasonal order, too, so if it is fall and you look in that section for recipes, you should easily be able to find those ingredients at your market or farm stand because they are in season. Get it? All that said, I live in South Florida so I had to throw all of that out the window since our growing “seasons” (and I use the plural loosely) are pretty much summer all year long except in summer, when it is just hot as Hades and not much grows except the mosquitoes.

There is an interesting forward and a few terrific essays:

How Getting Dirty Helped Me Become a Cook
How This Book Can Help You Become a Better Cook
What I learned While Writing This Book with Joshua

Then there are a few chapters that are out of season, if you will:

My Larder
Go To Recipes
Pickles: Six Seasons in a Jar

The rest of the book is laid out seasonally, starting with Spring.

It is also a beautiful book, nice heavy pages are actually sewn into the binding. I mention this because not a lot of cookbooks are that way, and it is a definite plus, especially with a big book like this one. It just means that the book will like flat on the counter when you cook from it. Did I mention it has about 275 recipes and is almost 400 pages long? Another physical feature of the book that I liked was that the pages are tipped in color so you can easily see the seasons.

McFadden has an interesting way of creating salad dressing that I haven’t seen before. He recommends adding the vinegar and seasonings to the salad and to keep tasting until you like it, then add the oil at the end. You don’t end up with an emulsified dressing but rather a well seasoned salad and I liked it. Not all the time, but when I get beautiful veggies from the farm and want to make a platter or simple salad, it just seems to work really well this way.

Besides recipes, there are lots of tips on how to buy, clean, and store your veggies which is very useful. There is an entire page on broccoli, then several recipes like Rigatoni with Broccoli and Sausage, which is a personal favorite. What I like about this recipe is the addition of “Whipped Ricotta,” although I would have liked it better if I didn’t have to flip to another page for that recipe, as well as for the dried breadcrumbs – not out of a can but yet another recipe within the recipe. I do like how clear the directions are for preparing the broccoli for this dish:

1 pound broccoli, stems trimmed and peeled, stems sliced crosswise into 1/4-inch coins, and tops cut into florets

Just takes the guessing out of it, which works for me. By the way, broccoli is a ‘midsummer’ vegetable. Early summer vegetables includes fennel, beets and the usually overlooked celery (a side note: check out the hilarious celery episode of “Portlandia“) and then make one of 7 celery recipes like “Celery Salad with Dates, Almonds, and Parmigiano” or “Braised Celery and Radicchio Salad with Perfect Roast Chicken.”

Late summer includes corn, eggplant, sweet peppers, and chiles among others. Recipes like “Corn and Tomato Salad with Torn Croutons” and Red Pepper, Potato, and Prosciutto Frittata Topped with Ricotta” are just light and easy summer suppers or sides.

Fall veggies include carrots, Brussels sprouts, artichokes and kale. Winter has these plus cabbage, turnips, kohlrabi and potatoes, and of course, winter squash. Recipes include “Pumpkin Bolognese,” “Turnip, Leek, and Potato Soup,” and a really unusual and delicious “Battered and Fried Cabbage with Crispy Seeds and Lemon,” a kind of cabbage leaf tempura that is heavily spiced and makes a wonderful appetizer.

Circling back around to the beginning of the book is Spring veggies, starring asparagus, English peas, Fava beans and lettuces. There is an adulterated version of carbonara with the lovely addition of those English peas that works really beautifully, and if you haven’t tried raw asparagus, spring is the time to do it with “Raw Asparagus Salad with Breadcrumbs, Walnuts, and Mint.” Add fresh mint to anything and I’m on board.

The “go to” recipes includes vinaigrettes like “Caper-Raisin Vinaigreette,” Pancetta Vinaigrette” and a wonderful “Lemon Cream” dressing. Also there are, butters like “Brown Butter,” “Pistachio Butter” and “Alla Diavola Butter” – yum! You’ll also find the “Whipped Ricotta” and a “Tonnato” sauce, an Italian tuna sauce. There are also come breads, like “Slightly Tangy Flatbreads” and “Pecan Dough” and really useful instructions on how to cook farro, freekeh and couscous. Pickles include a “Basic Vegetable Pickle Brine,” “Cold Brine,” and a”Hot Brine.”

Photographs abound and they are glorious. There is also an extensive index that is very useful as well. All in all, this is a beautiful cookbook that deserves a place on the bookshelf within easy reach.

6/18 Stacy Alesi, AKA the BookBitch™

SIX SEASONS by Joshua McFadden. Artisan; 1st Edition edition (May 2, 2017). ISBN 978-1579656317. 384p.


YES WE (STILL) CAN by Dan Pfeiffer

June 19, 2018

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Politics in the Age of Obama, Twitter, and Trump

From the publisher:

From Obama’s former communications director and current co-host of Pod Save America comes a colorful account of how politics, the media, and the Internet changed during the Obama presidency and how Democrats can fight back in the Trump era.

On November 9th, 2016, Dan Pfeiffer woke up like most of the world wondering WTF just happened. How had Donald Trump won the White House? How was it that a decent and thoughtful president had been succeeded by a buffoonish reality star, and what do we do now?

Instead of throwing away his phone and moving to another country (which were his first and second thoughts), Pfeiffer decided to tell this surreal story, recounting how Barack Obama navigated the insane political forces that created Trump, explaining why everyone got 2016 wrong, and offering a path for where Democrats go from here.

Pfeiffer was one of Obama’s first hires when he decided to run for president, and was at his side through two presidential campaigns and six years in the White House. Using never-before-heard stories and behind-the-scenes anecdotes, YES WE (STILL) CAN examines how Obama succeeded despite Twitter trolls, Fox News (and their fake news), and a Republican Party that lost its collective mind.

An irreverent, no-BS take on the crazy politics of our time, YES WE (STILL) CAN is a must-read for everyone who is disturbed by Trump, misses Obama, and is marching, calling, and hoping for a better future for the country.


Regular readers of this blog (and my twitter feed) know which way my political leanings go. I am a huge fan of Crooked Media and their podcasts, especially Pod Save America and Lovett or Leave It, and when I have time Pod Save the World, Pod Save the People, an occasional Crooked Conversation and more. I swear they have saved my sanity over the past year. So when I heard Dan (I hope it’s okay to use his first name, I feel like I know him!) had written a book, I immediately grabbed a review galley and I was off to the races.

I wasn’t sure what to expect but I didn’t expect it to be such an easy read, and a fast read. It feels like a friend telling you stories over a couple of beers, and these stories are good. Fifty pages in, I had already laughed out loud and cried, and I just kept going until I (digitally) turned the last page.

It starts off with a bit of Dan’s background, how he got into politics and some of the campaigns he worked on prior to Obama. I knew he was a really smart guy and he illustrates how hard work can make all the difference. I didn’t know a whole lot about how campaigns work so I found that very interesting.  Then it’s on to the White House years, with a president who is intelligent, disciplined, thoughtful and yes, competitive. To his credit, Dan doesn’t really rip into Trump for a few chapters and I admired his discipline.

If you’re a Trump fan, this is probably not your book unless you want your world blown apart. If you miss Obama, you will definitely enjoy this read. It’s a warm look back, as well as a look forward – hoping Millennials, especially, can get us out of this Trumpian nightmare by going to the polls. Feel free to comment, but maybe read the book first?

6/18 Stacy Alesi, AKA the BookBitch™

YES WE (STILL) CAN by Dan Pfeiffer. Twelve (June 19, 2018). ISBN 978-1538711712. 304p.

Kindle


DINING IN by Alison Roman

April 13, 2018

Click to purchase

Highly Cookable Recipes

This book was quite a surprise. I wasn’t really familiar with Alison Roman but last fall I kept seeing this recipe for “Salted Chocolate Chunk Shortbread Cookies” all over social media. So I made them and they just blew me away. It probably helped that shortbread is my favorite cookie but everyone (at least online!) loved them. Then Bon Appetit published an article about it, “EVERYONE Is Making These Chocolate Chunk Shortbread Cookies…So you probably should, too.” And then the cookbook came out.

I wasn’t able to get my hands on a review copy (Clarkson Potter is making it up to me) but when it showed up at my library, I took it home and started playing. Then I ordered a bunch more copies for my cookbook discussion group and shocker of all time, not ONE complaint. Everyone loved it. I’ve been doing this cookbook discussion group since 2012 and I can’t remember another book that was unanimously loved. My library is in Boca Raton, Florida, and trust me when I say people who live in Boca are not known for being indiscriminately nice!

It is a really great cookbook, mostly because the recipes are truly accessible. Nothing takes days to make, a rare esoteric ingredient pops up (my group had a whole discussion on nigella seeds) but for the most part these recipes are easy to source, easy to make and easy to enjoy.

The chapters:

Vegetables
Knife-and-Fork Salads
Fruit Salads
Savory Breakfasts
Grains and Things
Fish
Meat
Sweets

It is also a beautiful book, nice heavy pages are actually sewn into the binding. I can’t remember the last time I saw that, most books today are glued together. The sewing makes the pages lie flat, always helpful with a cookbook. It starts out with the ubiquitous “pantry,” a list of items to have on hand which I generally find helpful. And there are recipes for some of the pantry items, like preserved lemons which I’m very excited about; I have a Meyer lemon tree and it is loaded with baby lemons at the moment.

If you’re a fan of Trader Joe’s “Everything But the Bagel Seasoning” which I believe is a seasonal item, no worries, there is a recipe in this book for a similar product. Some of the basics are really terrific, like the Lemony Tahini Salad Dressing. Easy to make and what I really love is that unlike most salad dressing recipes, this recipe makes enough dressing for a salad, not enough that I have to worry about what to do with the rest.

The stories sprinkled throughout are wonderful and Alison is just adorable. How can you not fall in love with a woman who writes, “When I was about seven or eight, I had a thing for supermarket shoplifting.”

So on to the vegetables – “Roasted Broccolini and Lemon with Crispy Parmesan” is a staple at my house. I’ve made something similar for years, but just squeezed some lemon at the end. This recipe includes thinly sliced lemon that is roasted along with the veg.  When a cookbook author has a favorite recipe, I try and make it and in this case it’s “Butter-Tossed Radished with Fresh Za’atar”.  This is a quick (about 5 minutes prep, 5 min cooking, tossing and serving) and is a really beautiful, unusual use of the lowly radish. I also really enjoyed the “Vinegar-Roasted Beets with Spring Onions and Yogurt” as I had all the ingredients already and had been putting off dealing with the always messy beets. This is a play on the oh-so-popular beet salad with goat cheese, subbing in the yogurt instead and I liked it. A friend made the “Baked Summer Squash with Cream and Parmesan Bread Crumbs” and said her son, who refuses to eat anything green, even liked it.

We are a pasta family (I know, I know, dreaded carbs!) but still, I am in love with Roasted Tomato and Anchovy Bucatini. Bucatini, if you are not familiar, is like fat spaghetti with a small hole running down the center and is usually available in Italian markets although I have seen it at my Publix lately. This sauce is made by taking fresh tomatoes, dousing them in tons of olive oil, shoving a bunch of garlic in there (no need to peel!) and slow roasting in the oven for hours. It is one of the more time consuming recipes, but the time is mostly hands off, it does its thing in the oven. The actual prep time is minimal. Best of all, you can do this with your glorious summer tomatoes and freeze them for deliciousness all year round.

Whole-Wheat Pasta With Brown-Buttered Mushrooms, Buckwheat, and Egg Yolk is unusual and delicious. I don’t do egg yolks, but my family loves them and this is super easy. I love buckwheat and it’s one of those things I usually have in my pantry, I make something with it once and then eventually I toss it. I am happy for another recipe that uses it, and there are a couple more in this cookbook; “Decidedly Not-Sweet Granola” (yes!) and “Savory Barley Porridge with Parmesan and Soy,” which I haven’t tried. Yet.

Another internet famous recipe worth mentioning is “Crispy Smashed Potatoes with Fried Onions and Parsley.” Tiny potatoes are steamed, cooled, then smashed flat with a pot or the palm of your hand, then fried – preferably in chicken fat (kill me now) until crisp. They are set aside for a few moments while raw onion goes into the pan until it softens and browns a bit and then it is all put together and nirvana is reached.

There are some really good protein recipes, like “Soy-Brined Halibut with Mustard Greens, Sesame, and Lime” – I subbed cod and arugula and it worked beautifully; “Swordfish-Like Steak with Crispy Capers” is just yummy, and anytime there is a sheet pan recipe I’m in – “Paprika-Rubbed Sheet-Pan Chicken with Lemon” is a keeper.

I know this is a long review, but bear with me a bit longer and let’s talk desserts! The shortbread cookie is the only cookie recipe in the book, but there are other desserts. Plus Roman started out as a pastry chef and her Milk Bar roots show as in “Choclate-Tahini Tart with Crunch Salt.” I haven’t tried the “Luckiest Biscuits in America” yet but I will – biscuits are my nemesis, the only successful ones I’ve ever made are “Evil Cheese Biscuits” from OLD-SCHOOL COMFORT FOOD by Alex Guarnaschelli.  “Blueberry Cake with Almond and Cinnamon” is made with a combination of almond flour and all purpose and is one of those deceptively simple coffee cakes that is just wonderful. There are fruit desserts, “Sorbet in Grapefruit Cups” is just beautiful, “Jen’s Key Lime Pie” and a “Cocoa Banana Bread” that has me intrigued. Finally, the last recipe in the book, “Brown Butter-Buttermilk Cake” is described as “something that tastes like an old-fashioned donut” and is next up in my kitchen.

My only criticism is that I wish there was a photograph of every recipe. Don’t get me wrong, there are lots  of pictures – Roman has a huge Instagram following so knows the value of good food porn, but there are recipes without photos that I would have liked to see.

Obviously, I’m not done yet. All I can say is I love this book and hope you will, too.

4/18 Stacy Alesi, AKA the BookBitch™

DINING IN by Alison Roman. Clarkson Potter (October 24, 2017). ISBN 978-0451496997. 303p.


THE LAST BATTLE by Peter Hart

March 29, 2018

Victory, Defeat, and the End of World War I

Hart is a renowned historian whose particular interest is World War I, its battles, politics, and results. The Last Battle deals with the final year of the war to end all wars.

The continuation of massed charges through no man’s land existing between the two sides setting men against all the mechanized killing machines that were developed to kill as many of them as possible. The book is scheduled for publication at a time that roughly coincides with the hundredth anniversary of the armistice that ended hostilities on the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month of the year 1918 and provided for a short period awaiting the more definitive Treaty of Versailles that set out the formal terms of the surrender of Germany to the allies – England, France, and the United States.

Battles during the months prior to the armistice included the fifth battle of Ypres, the Sambre, the Selle and the scene of the United States’ greatest contribution to the war effort: the Meuse- Argonne. Hart utilizes a method he has perfected in his other books  dealing with the war which is to find written pieces by men fighting in the battles, that describe what they felt and experienced and incorporate those pieces into their proper places allowing the reader to get more of a feel for what happened.

There are , in effect, three sections of the book. The first is a description of the battles with the horrendous slaughters that are part and parcel of massed charges across a short stretch of land between two sets of trenches separating the two sides. The next segment concerns the participation by men with the feeling that the war will shortly be over and wanting to live and return to normal life. The final section brings into play the somewhat reluctant feeling of many soldiers about leaving the comradeship of being part of a band of brothers and having to go it alone in civilian life. They have had decisions made for them for the years spent in the trenches and now will go it alone.

The world is different after the conflict: attitudes and mores have been shaped by a global conflict that killed and wounded millions, a flu epidemic that strikes and causes probably more casualties than the war did. The conditions of the participants are radically changed with the U.S. emerging as a great power, Germany bankrupt after funding their war and having to pay reparations assessed against them by the allies that placed the blame for the conflict on them. England and France drained of young men and with their own enormous war debts. Worse, another world war less than 20 years after WWI ends looking like a continuation of the first and merely waiting for another generation of men to be readied to rush into combat.

Woodrow Wilson, the U.S. president, presented Germany with a 14 point program to accept in order to reach an agreement to end the conflict. This was basically accepted. Wilson was in a unique position to place himself into the group that handled the details to end the conflict. He had won the presidential election in 1916, taking office in 1917 with the slogan, “He Kept us out of War.” Then several months after the election he found cause to enter the war on the ally’s side. With neither side having sufficient strength to make war on the U.S. it may have been a carrot handed to Wilson to entice him to enter the war on the ally’s side in order to have a strong voice in setting the terms of any peace treaty.

Peter Hart has the gift of being able to present nonfiction as an interesting read with his audience coming to an understanding of what it really meant to be subjected to the horrors of war and the battlefield. Very well done.

3/18 Paul Lane

THE LAST BATTLE by Peter Hart. Oxford University Press; 1 edition (March 1, 2018).  ISBN 978-0190872984. 464p.