vamysteryfan: (books)
I pick up cookbooks for many reasons. Some I keep as references, some I use the recipes. Sometimes I get them just to give away. These recent acquisitions illustrate my different categories.
 
It Ain't Sauce, It's Gravy: Macaroni, Homestyle Cheesesteaks, the Best Meatballs in the World, and How Food Saved My Life by Steve Martorano. One of the cookbooks I got for the stories. I loved the author's stories about growing up in South Philly with a ::cough:: colorful group of relatives and friends. They look like wonderful Italian food recipes. I'm looking forward to trying them. 
 
The Covenant Kitchen: Food and Wine for the New Jewish Table by Jeff Morgan. This is an excellent cookbook for any cook. I'm not Jewish, but I liked it. The first 40-some pages are a brisk discussion of the requirements of kosher cooking and a kosher kitchen, a listing of the various types of wine and how to pair them with food, and some history. I found that part interesting. Then on to the recipes. They are all quite doable. Many of them would fit well if you follow a Mediterranean diet. I loved the details of wine pairings for each dish.
 
Home: Recipes to Cook with Family and Friends by Bryan Voltaggio. I was fortunate enough to receive an early copy of this book. This cookbook falls into my subcategory of food porn. There are gorgeous photos accompanying each recipe that will make your mouth water. It is more for the advanced home chef, rather than a novice. Fortunately, I live close enough to Frederick that I can eat his food at his restaurant. This will be a cookbook I will leaf through for inspiration.
 
Quick Check Guide to Organic Foods: Discover the Benefits of Going Organic for Your Health, the Community, and the Environment by Barbara Wexler. The first 50 pages cover the basics: why choose organic, what organic means, resources, and separating out the hype. The real value of this book lies in its detailed comparisons of foods readily available in most supermarkets. It has calorie counts and extensive nutrition information. If you focus on organic eating, this is a reference book you will want to have.
 
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 I made a truly yummy sweet potato hash over the weekend. It kept well in the fridge, too. Basically sweet potatoes, onions, red bell pepper, Italian sausage and a little rosemary for flavor. It was surprising satisfying as well as supplying veggies.  It was actually from a paleo cookbook.
 
ETA: don't know why the pics didn't show up. I'll see what I can do.
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This one was a bakeoff for the floor I work on. From the top, homemade biscotti (3rd place), Key lime pie (1st place), guava bites (2nd place), flan and peanut butter cookie at the bottom. treats 2 I spent the rest of the afternoon in a sugar stupor.
vamysteryfan: (books)
In Search of the Perfect Loaf by Samuel Fromartz. Breadmaking requires all the senses: the way the dough feels in your hands while kneading, the way it looks when it's ready, the way bread smells when it's done, even the hollow sound a well-baked loaf makes. The book could have used scratch and sniff paper for the smell of bread. It does have some recipes but that's not the point, as even the author acknowledges. The point of baking is hands-on practice. Along the way, he discusses biodiversity, cultural differences, journeys around several countries, and more. I even liked the technical details about fermentation and yeast. He did explode one of my cherished myths about the air in San Francisco being special to sourdough bread. Even if you aren't a baker (I'm not), I think you'll find this an enjoyable read.

The Cambridge Companion to the Literature of New York edited by Cyrus Patell and Bryan Waterman. I enjoyed this quite a bit. It's well-researched and the essay selection is well done. It's arranged chronologically through various genres, moving from the authors of the early days to the Age of Innocence to the bohemians to the modern days of poetry slams and musicians. Immigrant and ethnic literature are not ignored. Overall, a very solid review of New York-centric books.

The Universe edited by John Brockman. The back cover blurb is a little misleading. The essays are not tied to the discoveries of March 2014, but that doesn't diminish the collection of essays at all. They cover various scientists' views of cosmology over the last 15 years. But this is an elite group indeed. Leonard Susskind talks about meeting Murray Gell-Mann; there's an essay by Benoit Mandelbrot (fractals); Andrei Linde explains string theory. Some theorists believe they need to go back to philosophy. My favorite essay covered the concept that the universe computes. Not for everyone, but if you are interested in the topic, then you will enjoy the collection.
vamysteryfan: (books)
There are cookbooks I get because I need the recipes (Weight Watchers Cook It Fast). Others are essentially food porn, like Mike Isabella's Crazy Good Italian, with beautiful pictures and mouthwatering descriptions of dishes I'll never cook. Then there are the ones I call food memoirs - partly recipes, partly stories and descriptions of the lives behind the food. Here are three worth reading.

To Eat: A Country Life by Joe Eck and Wayne Winterrowd, illus. Bobbi Angell This book refused to be categorized. The authors had decades of experience in working the land and they distilled it down to the purest essence. Each chapter is only a few pages long and covers a single vegetable. There's information about how to grow and cook it, but also how it fit into the farm, the seasons, and their lives. There are no tricks anywhere and I suspect their recipes and farm are much the same. It's an education in plain good language. Bobbi Angell's illustrations added greatly to my enjoyment of the book. Simple and beautiful.

Every Day in Tuscany: Seasons of an Italian Life by Frances Mayes. Twenty years ago, Frances Mayes and her husband bought a house in Tuscany. They've been repairing it ever since, interspersed with good meals and good friends. This third book in the series has an air of farewell about it, not just to their life there but to the Tuscany that they knew. It tried to cover a little too much territory - it wasn't as cohesive as the earlier story. Still I enjoyed it.

Jam Today Too by Tod Davies. I loved the subtitle The Revolution Will Not be Catered. Revolutionaries seldom think about food and usually expect the women to do the cooking. The book is organized into life circumstances and the foods that might be appropriate to them. The recipes are arranged more as stories within the stories she's telling, rather than lists of ingredients. Her description of how to build a basic pantry was spot on. I loved her approach to the importance of eating locally and sustainably. She's at her best when she stays at the local level. Broader pronouncements aren't her strength. I was disappointed she repeated the old story about the Irish and fish (the English hanged poachers, so fish wasn't an option to solved the famine.)

And then there was Local: The Lexicon of Sustainability by Douglas Gayeton. This book annoyed me so much, I wanted to throw it across the room. I received an ARC for it, and it had a different subhead. I hope that means they changed some of the problems within. I've never seen a book so sabotaged by its design. Who thought it was a good idea to write in script across or (worse) around a photo? Or write in dark green across light green? Whole sections are inaccessible to people with vision difficulties. And readers don't put down a book to scan a QR code. I battled through enough of the text to realize it was badly organized as well. The goal is laudable, but this book does it a disservice.

I am reminded of <lj user="elmyraemilie">'s link to the NPR podcast on why we buy cookbooks. Strikes me that this is a good description of why and what I get.

Book post

Jan. 21st, 2014 12:05 pm
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Murder and Moonshine by Carol Miller. A very enjoyable debut mystery. The setting is novel and the characters engaging. I hope the author doesn't try to create a love triangle. I liked the bootlegging brothers and the slightly dotty aunt. There's room for growth but I will be looking for the next one.

The Food and Feasts of Jesus: Inside the World of First-Century Fare, with Menus and Recipes by Douglas E. Neel, Joel A. Pugh. This was an enjoyable and informative book. The chapters tie together the types of food, and where and when they might be eaten. The recipes at the end of each chapter strive for authenticity and are clearly written. They look worth trying. The role of food in the community for harvest and celebrations is nicely explained. The authors left out the foods that would not have been available, so it is the original Mediterranean diet. The authors also offer their thoughts on what prayers would have been recited.

Book post

Jan. 7th, 2014 08:34 am
vamysteryfan: (books)
The Forgotten by David Baldacci. I hadn't read the earlier books in this series about Puller, but now I'll have to. This book is about human slavery in the U.S. and what the profits from it can buy. The action scenes didn't obscure the underlying horror of modern slavery. I liked the characters and the ending was a surprise. Definitely worth reading.

Suffer the Little Children by Donna Leon. I am not sure enjoy is the right word to describe reading this book. It's well written and focuses on Brunetti as he works through several cases. It's not her usual format. There aren't as many family scenes or meal descriptions. There's more of a focus on solid police work. But these are moral crimes more than acts violating laws. The innocent victims will haunt you.

Beer Is Proof God Loves Us: Reaching for the Soul of Beer and Brewing by Charles Bamforth. I enjoyed this book. The title is a humorous misquotation of Ben Franklin. The topics covered are far-ranging and include Thatcher's misguided beer laws, the international history of beer, industry mergers and acquisitions (ever wonder what happened to your favorite brew?), and a section in craft brewing. The endnotes are not quite half the book but are fun to read. He hides some good stories back there. The arguments in favor of the social and health benefits of drinking beer were disingenuous. The history and persons were far more interesting.
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One reason I like visiting art galleries is the chance to discuss process with the artists. Last night I went to a photography exhibit. The artist displayed photos taken during a 72-hour period in Las Vegas. The photos were taken at extremely high ISOs but he couldn't use a tripod. His use of lighting was amazing. We had a nice conversation about f-stops and the pros and cons of digital photography over film. He was so generous sharing his time and knowledge.

I talked to another artist about an exhibit earlier this year at the same gallery. He had missed his own opening because he was traveling. His art is quite different - three-dimensional constructs with a strong mythic base. Frogs, fairies, snails all appear in his works.

I shopped at the local farmers market before going over, so I had this bag of peaches. I couldn't stay out too late - I had to get them home. So ripe, I had to eat one standing over the sink so the juice didn't go everywhere. Delish!
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There is red, white and blue potato salad in my future.

red, white and blue
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I had dinner with a friend Friday night. I hadn't seen her since the holidays so we yacked for two hours catching up on all the news. We let too much time go by in between meetups. I always have a good time talking to her.

Most of the rest of the weekend was spent reading and starting spring cleaning. The bad part was the jellybeans. I bought a bag thinking they would last at least a few days. No, I ate them all in about 2 hours. I need to put them out of reaching distance while I'm reading.

It's so sad - I count the calories and I'm good all day until I reach JELLYBEANS-1500 calories! In one Bag!
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I thought I'd try making my own breakfast bars/energy bars. I got a very simpple recipe from the Doctor Oz Show - instant oats, peanut butter, dried fruit, honey, and vanilla. They were really tasty, but it only made a small amount. Then I calculated the calories. Yikes! Each small bar had about 200 calories in it! It would have been really easy to eat them all at one sitting, too.
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I had a really nice weekend. Busy but with things I wanted to do.

I spent one whole day learning about designing (or redesigning) websites for mobile telephone users. I got a lot of very good information about it. It's put the emphasis back on content for sure. Met some nice people too. I took notes like a mad woman and the organizers will be posting them as part of the overall summary of the event.

My reward was an evening of wandering around art galleries. Six Georgetown galleries joined together to create an evening out. Gorgeous art, snacks, and I had a chance to talk to some of the artists. Plus Georgetown is such a pretty walking area. It deserves a separate post because I love sharing it with you all :)

One day was spent cleaning many things and doing some cooking ahead with my nice veggies from the farmers market. There's spicy mushroom pasta sauce in the freezer and the rest of a tasty chickpea/red onion/cucumber salad marinating in the fridge. It's good the second day.

And to top it all off, we have a new Butterstick! Mei Xiang, the DC panda, had a new cub! The first few days are always fragile, but I hope the little cub thrives.
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I got some nice green beans, basil plants, brioche, and the first fresh corn of the season.

Why is mozzarella the essential ingredient? Well you may ask. First we have fresh tomatoes topped with mozzarella topped with fresh basil and drizzled with olive oil. My version of Caprese salad. Then we have fresh green beans lightly cooked and tossed with balsamic vinaigrette dressing and grated mozzarella. There's never any leftovers if I bring that to a potluck. There's always little homemade pizzas to be made too. And as Danny knows, pizza is mozz and tomatoes. Maybe a little pepperoni.

We can talk about those scrumptious bocconcini balls another time. I'm hungry now.
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I had a mellow weekend. It was too hot to go out and I unplugged for most of it. I am really enjoying the new British channel on WETA. I watched Doctor Who with Christopher Eccleston. I do love the way he says "Fantastic." And they've tacked on excerpts of Doctor Who Confidential so we see a little "making of." I also watched a miniseries called "The Last Enemy" with Benedict Cumberbatch, Nicholas Rush and other very cool actors. It's a little like Person of Interest except the surveillance is public and government-sanctioned. Benedict was very good as a mathematician. I hadn't heard of it before but it's worth catching. I still have a couple of episodes to watch.

I fiddled about with a favorite chicken salad recipe. It's chunkier than most and includes new potatoes. I made it with three different types of dressing - standard mayo-based, mustard, and a basic vinaigrette. All good but the vinaigrette would be best for a picnic.

This week's books:

Dissolution and Dark Fire by CJ Sansom. Set during the later years of Henry VIII, the series features Matthew Shardlake who is a lawyer at Lincoln's Inn. He solves political and murder mysteries. Very well-written and researched and quite absorbing. The author doesn't mince any words when it comes to some of the less savory details of the time. The series was recommended by elmyraemilie. Thanks!

The Bad Book Affair by Ian Sansom. While looking for those, I came across another series by an author named Sansom. These are set during current times and feature a librarian for a bookmobile in northern Ireland. They are ostensibly murder mysteries but just as much slice-of-life stories. A little too self-consciously quirky but still entertaining. I'll try another one.

Founding Brothers by Joseph Ellis. It looks at the interwoven lives of the Revolutionary War leaders. The first twenty years were pretty fragile and personal relationships shaped outcomes. There was interesting information on how slavery issues shaped those first 20 years, on the Burr/Hamilton duel, on Abigail Adams, and on the last years of Adams and Jefferson. Good stuff.
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Our local PBS station has started a channel that's all UK shows. It seems they are starting many of the series from the beginning. Tomorrow night we get the first episode with Doctor 9. I've never seen it. This morning I watched the first episode of As Time Goes By with Judi Dench. Life on Mars is coming soon. This should be good.

In honor of the Queen's Jubilee, I've purchased some good shortbread cookies, to be accompanied by fresh strawberries and whipped cream.

Last night we had some wicked weather. DC was under a tornado watch. No tornados but we had some very high winds with rain. We even lost power for a while. Today there are lots of cleanup crews out.
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I tried a new one this week, near the White House, which was open over lunchtime. It offered a lot more sandwiches, drinks, and things that could be eaten on the spot. I had one currant scone that disappeared pretty quickly.



Pictured are radishes, strawberries, cranberry pecan bread, and squashes. Not in the picture are green onions,lettuce, and a really scrumptious slice of pate just large enough to cover that scone. Nom.

I do believe there is some pasta primavera in my future. And a happy June 1 to you all!
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I got the last of the sugar snap peas, strawberries, REALLY new new potatoes (just dug that morning), and a loaf of potato bread with truffle oil. I also got a tiny thyme plant. The bread is pretty tasty, I will say. Very robust.

The snap peas are over but the English peas are just coming in. Next week!

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I purchased some bison meat at the farmers market. I tried cooking it very simply - 5 minutes on a side after coating it with olive oil. That made it a little rare for my taste. I sliced the leftovers and gave those another minute a side in butter. Turned out very nicely. I sauteed some mushrooms and onions and made a salad from the butter lettuce to put alongside.

The verdict: I'd buy it again. It tasted nicely steaky. The lower fat content does mean it has to be watched closely but the higher iron content makes it worthwhile.
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The haul from yesterday - a bunch of radishes, locally made honey, popcorn on the cob, bison meat, and a beautiful head of butter lettuce.



Guess which side came from the supermarket and which from the farmers market?



I've been eying the bison meat for a while and have decided to give it a try. It's much leaner than even chicken and higher in iron. The popcorn on the cob is for my nephew. It's vaguely science-y but still fun. Win-win.
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despite a cold. I usually revert to a five-year-old when I have one, but I'm trying mightily to remain a grownup this time.

Today I went to a class on writing for websites. I know a fair amount about it, but I wanted to brush up. Plus there was a free lunch. I caught up with some friends I hadn't seen in a while, too. I also went to a different farmers market today. They had popcorn on the cob, which I bought for my nephew. He'll think it's hilarious.

Friday, I'll have another stint of decluttering. Cleaning all the things is much more fun when I'm throwing out other people's stuff. My stuff is all important of course (yeah sure).

Last weekend I went to a bunch of embassy open houses. Estonia, Latvia, Ireland, the Netherlands, Slovenia, and the European Union HQ. I have photos to share, just not with me right now. Maybe tomorrow, when my nose isn't dripping. (eww grossed myself out with that one).

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