Monday, November 30, 2009

What's Cooking?

Here are a few things I've cooked up this Fall.

Oh boy I can taste these peppers! Roasted in the oven with tiny tomatoes, basil and olive oil these were divine. This recipe came from Nigel Slater's latest book, Tender.

My big green pot has been in heavy rotation.

Here is Emily Franklin's Gross-Looking but Very Delicious-Tasting Red Lentil Soup from Too Many Cooks: Kitchen Adventures with 1 Mom, 4 Kids, and 102 Recipes(loved this book). The recipe name is hers.

My family wouldn't touch this once they heard the word LENTIL. Sheesh. I liked this soup and might have liked it more if I had blended it. The best part about it was how easy it was to make.

I am sadly lacking a photo of the gorgeously colored cauliflower cheese soup from Jamie Oliver's latest cookbook, Jamie's Food Revolution: Rediscover How to Cook Simple, Delicious, Affordable Meals.

I've been a fan of Jamie's for years and I think he genuinely wants us to cook and eat better. I also think this is his best cookbook to date that will get the average person to achieve this. It's accessible, fun to read, and contains lots of 'take it to the next step or keep it simple' sort of recipes.

Next up, are my divine baked beans.

My grandmother was an amazing cook and she made the best baked beans ever. My favorite meal of hers was made up of these beans, roasted loin of pork and homemade cole slaw. I can still taste it and I haven't eaten it since I was a kid. These beans took me back. I combined two recipes to make these beans, using navy beans, lots of bacon, molasses, brown sugar, tomato paste, ketchup, mustard and maple syrup. They spent about 7 hours in the oven and they were truly amazing. Served alongside ham steak and great cole slaw, I had a happy family.

Here is the Cuban style black bean stew from The Splendid Table's How to Eat Supper: Recipes, Stories, and Opinions from Public Radio's Award-Winning Food Show.

That's a ham hock in there. I'm still not too sure how I feel about those. This was a tasty supper. Here is how I served it; over brown rice and topped with cheese and homemade guacamole. My family will eat about anything topped with cheese and guacamole. Except lentils.

Now I'm hungry. Luckily I have some of the bolognese sauce I made for dinner last night left over. Cheers!

Friday, November 27, 2009

Books from Britain Part 1 of ??

I always seem to read a disproportionally high number of books by British authors, but I think this year there has been a record number. Now that it is so easy to order from a particular depository of books I seem to order one book here, one book there (there is no minimum order for shipping).

While I am on the topic of this depository I thought I'd share a few tips I've gleaned from shopping there. First, there are two websites you can order from: the dot com and the dot UK. The prices are slightly different so check both places. Second, the preorder prices are AMAZING especially at the dot com site for some reason. I bought Nigel Slater's new book on preorder for a song, and have bought paperbacks, retail price $13-14 for $5-7. So, if there is something coming out you know you've got to have; preorder it!

Now for a few things I've read:

The Mesmerist by Barbara Ewing

Well, we know I love a good Victorian romp, and that is just how this engaging and entertaining book begins, with two somewhat-aged actresses looking for a new profession. Cordelia becomes a Mesmerist, Rillie her assistant. This is all fun and successful, but these two 'ladies' have secrets. Oh, do they have secrets! Suddenly, almost unexpectedly, things become much more Dark and Sordid, but also much more interesting. Scandal and murder and a Victorian style court case round out this book. This is just the sort of comfort reading I love to fall into. A delight!

Shadows of the Workhouse by Jennifer Worth

Shifting to the 20th century, this is the second of Worth's trilogy of her life as a nurse in the East End. I adored the first in the series, The Midwife: A Memoir of Birth, Joy, and Hard Times, and knew I had to have this. Worth is a master storyteller and one immediately becomes engaged in the tales she tells. Shadows of the Workhouse is made up of three stories, two real heart breakers that sandwich a lighter tale about a Nun Worth lived with.

Overall, Worth gives a fascinating peek into a world we rarely read about, that of the poor of the East End. This is a great book for lovers of social history, as well as medical history. I didn't find this book quite as engaging as the author's first, but still a worthwhile read.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Falling in Love with Louise

Receiving Louise Penny's The Brutal Telling (An Armand Gamache Novel) as an advance copy (thank you Minotaur Press/St Martins Books and you too FTC) turned out to be one of those miracle reading moments, the ones when you don't really know what you're getting into and it turns out to be a great reading experience.

The Brutal Telling is the fifth in Penny's Three Pines/Chief Inspector Gamache series set in a tiny village in Quebec. A village that sounds so charming you would love to visit it - except for the fact that murders keep occurring there.

The Brutal Telling is about the murder of a hermit who lived up in the woods amongst some of the world's most valuable antiques. As far as the mystery goes, I pretty much figured out who-done-it from the very beginning. Obviously, what I liked so much about this book was not so much the mystery aspect, but the characters that populate these books such as Chief Inspector Gamache. He is one of those 'knowing' souls, he sees and hears things the rest of us pay no attention to. He is polite, well dressed and he loves good food. Oh does he ever! I loved, loved, loved, reading about all the tasty things these characters were eating all the time. For me this novel was more about the why? and what if? than the who.

Well, I liked this book so much that I immediately went looking for books 1-4. And I wanted to read them RIGHT NOW! But I managed to ration myself to just one, reading Penny's first book Still Life: A Chief Inspector Gamache Novel (Three Pines Mysteries) and enjoying it immensely as well. This cleared up some the past history and relationships for me that I read about in book five and this time around, I wasn't so certain who the murderer was.

Now I am greedily holding on to books 2-4. I've decided to reward myself with book 2 when I go to the in-laws for Christmas. They're lovely people but Christmas there tends to be a bit....dull. It's handy to have a book to immerse yourself in. You know.

Friday, November 20, 2009

They Bake Cakes

As I try out my new format, I've been trying to consider what ties my recent reads together and how to group them for review. This batch was easy, as they all focus on baking (and life).

Set in post-genocide Rwanda, Baking Cakes in Kigali: A Novel by Gaile Parkin is the story of cake baker Angel. Everyone around comes to her for her brightly colored cakes (it's funny that the characters think our traditional white wedding cakes are BORING!) when they have a special event. Parkin tells her story through Angel, she is a natural sounding board for her clients and we get to know the various characters and how their lives have changed since the atrocities. Parkin has the ability to write about horrible subjects with a light hand, making this an accessible book. It is simply a novel, one that happens to be set in Rwanda. I enjoyed this book and would recommend it. Many thanks to Bantam Dell for this review copy.

Confections of a Closet Master Baker: One Woman's Sweet Journey from Unhappy Hollywood Executive to Contented Country Baker is Gesine Bullock-Prado's memoir of how she left the Hollywood rat race (she worked for her sister...get it...Bullock) to open a small bakery in Vermont with her husband. I enjoyed Bullock-Prado's voice, her straight talking, no-nonsense style appealed to me and made for a quick and fun read. While the greatest appeal of this memoir is probably for those who enjoy time spent in the kitchen (there are recipes!) , Bullock-Prado speaks to all who wonder if they dare to follow their dreams. Many thanks to Broadway Books for this review copy.

Fellow blogger, pastry chef, and Paris resident David Lebovitz has written a funny and charming book, The Sweet Life in Paris: Delicious Adventures in the World's Most Glorious - and Perplexing - City, encompassing a few of my favorite subjects - food, cooking it, eating it, shopping for it, and Paris. I've read a number of 'American moves to Paris and is surprised by how different things are there!' books, and had high hopes that this one would cover some new ground. I was happily satisfied. I loved Lebovitz's dry sarcasm and stories of his adventures in Paris, foodish or not. Lebovitz has included recipes at the end of each chapter and I'm looking forward to trying his dulce de leche brownies and chocolate yogurt snack cakes.

These folks are not the only ones who bake cakes! I do too. We have a birthday coming up next week, number 8, and The Girl wanted Molly's lemon yogurt cake. That's my girl. But. Can you imagine if I serve this to a bunch of second graders and they !gasp! didn't eat it and I had to throw it away? I would cry. So we have agreed on cupcakes for friends and lemon cake for the household. Good plan.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009


Hello there.

I didn't expect to be gone quite so long. I've been up to a few things since my last appearance here.

I've been on a fabulous trip to Boston. Oh, how we loved Boston. It fit us to a T. And we rode the T. Ha! If you get a chance to go to Boston you won't want to miss taking a tour with this gentleman. He works for the Freedom Trail Foundation.

We ate A LOT of seafood. Here is the rundown for me (my goal was to have seafood for lunch and dinner every day):

lobster roll x 2
crazy good lobster bisque
clam chowder x 2
my first raw oyster (I don't think I get the appeal)
some whitefish

Yum! And The Girl discovered that she loves mussels. Who knew? I mean, she wouldn't try a hush puppy but she eats mussels.

I spent a lot of time volunteering at school.

I did quite a bit of cooking; here is a sneak peek. This was one of my proudest moments as a home cook. I even told my husband to 'be more effusive'.

I went to the farmers' market. I never got to take photos some weeks but here is my most recent trip:

Isn't that kale pretty? Too bad it went to waste. I never did figure out what to do with it (that my family would eat).

I did a fair amount of reading.

Last week I met my new best friend.

Come here, lover.

I also spent some time thinking. Thinking about this space and what to do with it. Thinking about what has been bothering me about blogging and the like. Being put off by the popularity-contest aspect of it all. You know what I mean.

In addition, I am not a writer. I don't want to be a writer and writing is not why I'm here. I'm here because I love books. I came across a brilliant post last week at Kiss a Cloud. I identified with so much of what Claire wrote, especially this:

I would really rather spend more time with my children, read my books, read your thoughts on your books, than write.

Ahhhh. So true.

So what to do? I decided I wanted to come back to this space but I think it will be in a slightly different way. I think most books I read will get more of a 'blurb' and less of a review, and the really special books that stand out to me will perhaps get a highlight post. Or something like that. We'll see. Most of all, I know that if I'm going to do this it needs to be for me, a journal for ME. Not to please someone or to advertise for anyone. Not to generate traffic or more followers. Just for me.