Friday, September 30, 2011

Laini Taylor comes to Nicola's in Ann Arbor

Nicola's Books in Ann Arbor, Michigan has been hosting a lot of awesome book signings lately. Last night, author Laini Taylor only compounded the awesomeness of all the rockin' authors who have been gracing its presence.

I have been coveting Daughter of Smoke and Bone ever since I read a glowing early review of it during the summer. I never was able to snag an ARC so I immediately started reading it as soon as the finished copy arrived on my doorstep. I have been reading it extremely slowly because this school year has been so exhausting for me that I get home from work and I fall asleep before I can read two pages. Even though I wasn't able to finish the book before the signing, I was able to get into the book enough to be enchanted. Laini is such a talented writer. Her ability to manipulate language to do more than just communicate, but make it something artful and beautiful is a true gift.

I'm so happy I was able to be there and witness such talent for myself. Thanks for visiting Michigan Laini! I hope you can come again when the sequel comes out!


 



 

 

As an aside, at the event last night, I ran into awesome zombie-slayer author Carrie Harris. I met her at her book launch party for Bad Taste in Boys over the summer and she is such a hoot. Evidence of her hilarity came in the form of this "contract" she wrote out for me when I asked if she'd come visit my school. I promised I'd make her ice cream since she often declares her need for it on Twitter. When she said she'd work for ice cream, I asked if I could have that in writing. She pulled out coloring book page from her purse that I'm presuming was one of her kids' -- but given her love of all things quirky, I wouldn't be surprised if it was actually hers -- and wrote the following:

How can you just not love a person like that? I have a feeling she'll fit right in with my junior high students. :)

Sunday, September 25, 2011

Giveaway winners


Congrats to the winners of two of my recent giveaways.
The winner of The Kitchen Counter Cooking School by Kathleen Flinn was Book Snob

The Winner of Dreamland by Alyson Noel was Kathy of Ms. Martin Teaches Media

Thanks to everyone who entered!

Celebrate Banned Books Week

Celebrate your right to intellectual freedom this week by reading a banned book. Prove to book banners around the country that the only thing they do by challenging books is generate more revenue and publicity for the authors. Because, really, the only thing you do when you ban a book is incite curiosity and cause more people to read it than would have if you had just kept your mouth shut.

For parents out there, the temptation is very strong to challenge books that are against your morals and beliefs, but rather than inciting outrage and uproar, use the book as a teachable moment to talk to your children about right and wrong. Just because authors write books and teachers use them in their classrooms does not mean that we are condoning the sex, alcohol, drugs, and violence that appear in these books. Just because book characters behave in certain ways does not mean that we're asking you to see them as role models. I don't think there's a person out there who reads The Catcher in the Rye and thinks, "Wow! Holden is so cool! I want to be just like him." Ummm... no. Even my lack of sophistication at critical thinking when I was a sophomore in high school saw what a pathetic mess Holden was. So book banners, the fact that you're worried that kids will see these characters as role models regardless of what is taught to them in the classroom shows what little faith you have in teens to think critically. And the only thing you're going to do by attempting your sanctimonious disregard for the first amendment is make kids and adults alike want to read the book all the more.

Another thing that irks me about book banning, well besides the whole going against the first amendment thing, is that people who challenge books are putting pressure on schools to teach books that are clean and about benign topics. Obviously these people are asking literature teachers to teach something other than literature then because the very nature of literature is conflict. And the older students get, the more complicated conflicts become. That's just life. And it's precisely the reason why you saw Harry Potter get darker and darker as the series progressed. He was no longer a little kid at the end. The older Harry got, the darker and more complex the conflicts in those stories became because adult problems are more complicated than kid problems. When choosing books for teens, it is very difficult to find literature that isn't controversial because if you don't have conflict in a book, then, well, you don't have literature! So if that's the case dear book banners, what then do you suggest literature teachers teach in place of, well, literature?

I'm going to leave you with John Green's video from a few years ago where he discusses his frustration over people trying to ban his book, Looking for Alaska, in schools. He makes the point so much better than I do about authors having characters behave in morally reprehensible ways, not to say that it's OK, but just the opposite. Again, as I said before, just because authors are writing about it, doesn't mean they're saying to go out and do it! Have faith in your kids to be able to discern that.

In My Mailbox (47)

In My Mailbox is a weekly meme hosted by The Story Siren, inspired by Pop Culture Junkie. The books you share do not have to be ones you actually received in the mail. They can be ones you bought at the book store, checked out at the library, or downloaded to your e-reader. The idea is just to share what's on your TBR pile for the upcoming week. 

For review:
 
Legend by Marie Lu

Purchased:
 
Daughter of Smoke and Bone by Laini Taylor
I am so excited! Laini is coming to Ann Arbor this week so I'll be able to get my copy signed!

Bought from my library's used book store:
 
Surviving Hitler: A Boy in the Nazi Death Camps by Andrea Warren
Amulet: The Stonekeeper by Kazu Kibuishi
The Little Prince by Antoine de Saint-Exupery
Pay It Forward by Catherine Ryan Hyde
The Dogs of Babel by Carolyn Parkhurst
The Princess Plot by Kirsten Boie
A String in the Harp by Nancy Bond
Witch Child by Celia Rees
A Ring of Endless Light by Madeleine L'Engle

What did you get in your mailbox this week?

Saturday, September 24, 2011

The first step is admission...

I have a confession to make. I have the word Foodie in my blog name, but I am somewhat of a picky eater. In fact, if this were a straight-up food blog, I might be so inclined to name it The Finicky Foodie. That doesn't mean my blog name is a lie. I do consider myself a foodie. I love trying new and unusual flavor combinations and I have a great appreciation for well thought out, passionately crafted meals. I just have very strong preferences as to what my food should taste like. Actually, taste is only part of the equation. I am extremely attuned to texture with food. My husband is constantly making fun of me for this because, in his mind, if it tastes good, it is good. For me however, it can taste good, but if the texture is off-putting, I won't eat it.

Which is why I was very excited to come across this healthier type of pasta about a year ago at Whole Foods. Instead of whole wheat pasta, which I abhor for textural reasons, it's quinoa pasta.

For those of you who don't know, quinoa (pronounced KEEN-WA) is an ancient grain-like seed that is packed with protein. It looks and eats like a grain, but it is much higher up the scale of health benefits than wheat or rice.

Since I adore pasta but know its health benefits are slim to none, I have tried all different kids of pasta alternatives: whole-wheat pasta, brown rice pasta, buckwheat pasta, you name it, I've tried it. But all of them have failed to satisfy the taste and texture of semolina pasta -- until I discovered quinoa pasta.

The texture is identical to semolina pasta and the taste is pretty darn similar. The quinoa pasta is a tad bit nuttier, but all in all, if I were serving it at a dinner party, I doubt anyone would notice, let alone balk at the flavor and texture.

In fact, this pasta is so good, I often just serve it with just some garlic, olive oil, parmigano and a sprinkling of basil. I like the pasta itself to shine because it further emphasizes my elation that I found a healthier pasta alternative that doesn't make me wince at the awkward texture and/or flavor.

So I encourage you to give it a try sometime if you haven't already. I think you'll be pleasantly surprised at how much you can't tell the difference between the healthy pasta and the less-than-healthy pasta. Mangia!

Friday, September 23, 2011

Audiobook Review: The Knife of Never Letting Go by Patrick Ness

From Goodreads:
Prentisstown isn’t like other towns. Everyone can hear everyone else’s thoughts in an overwhelming, never-ending stream of Noise. Just a month away from the birthday that will make him a man, Todd and his dog, Manchee — whose thoughts Todd can hear, too, whether he wants to or not — stumble upon an area of complete silence. They find that in a town where privacy is impossible, something terrible has been hidden — a secret so awful that Todd and Manchee must run for their lives. But how do you escape when your pursuers can hear your every thought?

So just about every review I've read of this book has highly praised it and declared what an amazing story it is. I, on the other hand, found very little that I enjoyed about it. I want to state right off the bat, that doesn't mean I'm saying this is a bad book. I just found it incredibly difficult to get through. 


I'm going to start with what I liked about The Knife of Never Letting Go. The idea of The Noise I thought was so creative and like nothing I've ever encountered in a dystopia before. It's like Patrick Ness took the concept of "Big Brother" from Orwell's 1984 and amped it up tenfold. Despite the fact that I liked the concept, its execution I thought was extremely painful to get through. Virtually nothing about the New World's secrets is unearthed until the very end of the story which makes you feel like you're trudging through the plot to get to the Big Reveal at the end. For me, that was torturous. I like the plot to reveal itself bit by bit throughout the story rather than being bombarded with the whole shebang at the end.


The only thing that waiting till the end had going for it was that it kept me from abandoning the book entirely because I was determined to learn what the Big Secret was. And then once I did learn all the secrets by the end, they seemed to be too complicated for me to feel like this was a truly enlightening moment in the story. It's not like I didn't understand the secrets, but they just took my brain too long to process for me to have that moment where my eyes bug out and am amazed at what has just been revealed.

At the core of the story however, what really prevented me from enjoying it was how hopeless the whole situation felt. There is virtually NO hope to cling to whatsoever in this story. Most dystopias I've read and enjoyed had a modicum of hope to cling to, however small it may have been. While listening to the audiobook of The Knife of Never Letting Go, I felt incredibly depressed. Part of it I think was because I didn't have much faith in the main character. Yes, he was an inherently good person, but he didn't have much oomph to him. Maybe it was his ignorance that frustrated me. And it's not like that was his fault, but I just felt so frustrated to be going on this journey with him and not knowing ANYTHING about the secrets of Prentisstown.

The other thing that bothered me was the audio presentation. I did not buy Nick Podehl's performance of Todd in the slightest. What Nick sounded like to me was a refined, college educated man trying way too hard to sound like a young, illiterate 13-year-old boy and yet it was also half-hearted at the same time. Strangely enough though, I did enjoy his characterization of Todd's dog, Manchee. That was definitely the best characterization in the whole performance and the only one that felt authentic.



I know there were lots of people who loved this book and who sing its praises to the moon and back. I was just not one of those people. That doesn't mean I wouldn't recommend this book to anyone. I think it has a great deal of literary merit and there are so many amazing talking points that it would be a perfect choice for a book club or literature circle. 


Final Assessment:
Would recommend to mature readers who like a challenge and can handle the slow, torturously secretive plot.


The Knife of Never Letting Go by Patrick Ness
Audiobook narrator: Nick Podehl
Original Publish Date: May 5, 2008
Publisher: Candlewick
Pages: 496
Audiobook Length: 11 hours, 55 minutes
Genre: Dystopia
Audience: Young Adult

Monday, September 19, 2011

Dear Bully: Seventy Authors Tell Their Stories

Bullying has always been a problem in schools, but it seems like it's running more rampant these days, with the nexus of cyber bullying in the past few years. Or maybe this is just something the media is choosing to emphasize right now and will move onto something else next year. Though as a teacher, I hope this is always something that is on the forefront of everyone's psyches.

I was listening to the radio the other morning and they were having listeners call in about a particular mom that took the law into her own hands and beat the crap out of a girl who was bullying her daughter. The hosts of the morning show were talking about how what the mom did was obviously not the right way to handle the situation, but as a parent, when the school is not helping, they could understand the anger and frustration that would lead you to do something like that.

Then some meat-head called in and said something along the lines of, "Well I was bullied as a kid. Lots of kids are bullied. It's just a part of growing up. It toughens kids up."

Really dude? Because there's a difference between going through a tough situation to build character and being mercilessly tormented. There's a difference between being challenged and being so afraid to go to school that it affects your health. Kids who are bullied aren't always just faking medical maladies to avoid going to school. Many of them suffer digestive ailments, debilitating headaches, and many other medical conditions induced by the stress of dealing with their tormentors on a daily basis.

I know. I speak from experience. I was bullied in 7th grade. It was during that year of my school career that I began to develop what would be a long string of digestive ailments that have followed me around my entire life. From that moment on, that one year of my life would define how my body handled stress and it continues to manifest in new and frustrating ways - all from just one single year of my life almost twenty years ago.

So you see, this isn't something that should be expected to be a part of growing up. We should all be doing something to try to stop it from happening.

So seventy authors got together and compiled their own stories to help kids know that they're not alone. Dear Bully is an important work for kids to read on their own, but it would be even better for middle and high school teachers to use these stories as a place to begin the conversation in their classrooms and at their faculty meetings about how they can help prevent this from continuing to run rampant throughout our schools.

Every author's story in this book is unique to their own voice, but heartbreaking to read. And yet, so necessary to share with the world. I made sure to flag some of the more memorable stories from this compilation and will be using them as read-alouds in my literature classes to help get this conversation going.

One thing I think that is a really important take-away for adults reading this book is that telling a kid who's being bullied to just ignore their tormentor is like rubbing salt in a wound. Most likely the child has already tried this and to no avail. Oftentimes bullies who are ignored only torment harder. I was told this very thing by my parents and other adults in my life and my bully didn't stop tormenting me until a year later when we were no longer in the same homeroom and moved onto bigger and better things.

We need to remember that kids don't have the ability to think long-term. They are in the here-and-now. When you tell them, "Someday this won't even matter to you anymore," it is not helpful because most of the time, they are incapable of thinking past next week, let alone years into the future. That is why a book like this is so important. Kids can read this book and see that, despite everything they've been through, the bullies didn't win. At the very least I pray this book will help give kids hope. At the most, it may even save some lives.

Dear Bully: Seventy Authors Tell Their Stories edited by Megan Kelley Hall and Carrie Jones
Published: September 6, 2011 by HarperTeen
Pages: 352
Genre: Nonfiction
Audience: Young Adult

Sunday, September 18, 2011

ALL THESE THINGS I'VE DONE winners

Congrats to the winners of my ALL THESE THINGS I'VE DONE giveaway.

Mrs. Heise of Heise Reads and Recommends won a copy of the hardcover.
and
Ricki of Reading Challenged won a copy of the audiobook.

Both winners have been notified and confirmed.

Thanks to everyone who entered. You still have time to enter my other two giveaways:
The Kitchen Counter Cooking School by Kathleen Flinn (ends 9/20)
Dreamland by Alyson Noel (ends 9/24)

In My Mailbox (46)

In My Mailbox is a weekly meme hosted by The Story Siren, inspired by Pop Culture Junkie. The books you share do not have to be ones you actually received in the mail. They can be ones you bought at the book store, checked out at the library, or downloaded to your e-reader. The idea is just to share what's on your TBR pile for the upcoming week.

For review:
 
The Kitchen Counter Cooking School by Kathleen Flinn
Free e-book for Nook and Kindle:

Bright Young Things by Anna Godbersen

Borrowed:
 
Between Shades of Gray by Ruta Sepetys
The mom of one of my students was good friends with the author in college and she sent her an ARC so she brought this in for me to read.

Bought at my library's used bookstore:
 
Glass by Ellen Hopkins
The Book Thief by Markus Zusak

Saturday, September 17, 2011

Divided loyalties

I might have gone to college at Eastern...

...but I'll always be a Michigan fan!

Go Blue!

Friday, September 16, 2011

"Cookbook" Review: Jeni's Splendid Ice Creams at Home by Jeni Britton Bauer

I started the summer with an ice cream recipe book review, so why not end the summer with one?

Jeni's Splendid Ice Creams in Columbus, Ohio is one of the most well-known, popular ice cream shops in all of America. Her commitment to quality ingredients and unusual flavors, in addition to her tireless work at experimenting with different base concoctions before getting just the right texture, has put her on the map.

Now, home cooks can recreate some of her most popular flavors in their own kitchens with this new recipe collection.

What sets this one apart from other ice cream recipe books is that Jeni has really gone above and beyond with trying to get the perfect ice cream texture. She sees ice cream making as an art AND a science. Anyone who has been around the block with ice cream making knows that while the most popular way of making ice cream, an egg custard isn't the most ideal way to freeze milk, cream, and sugar because it doesn't prevent water that sneaks in the mixture from freezing and messing with the ability to get a smooth, creamy texture.

Jeni's solution to this problem is to use corn syrup, corn starch and cream cheese as a binder instead of eggs.

While this adds several extra steps to the process, it really does make for a perfectly smooth, creamy texture as promised. And better yet, the integrity of the texture remains stable quite a few days later, unlike an egg custard base that so often needs to be eaten within two days because it deteriorates quickly by getting sticky and mealy.

However, I don't think the cream cheese as a binder is ideal for delicate flavors like vanilla. I made the basic vanilla ice cream (disclosure: I didn't get the "Ugandan" vanilla beans as specified in the recipe) and as I already mentioned, the texture really was beautifully smooth, but the cream cheese is not a neutral enough flavor to use for vanilla. I can taste the tang of the cream cheese in each bite, and while it's very mild, it's still strong enough for me to feel like I'm not eating a true vanilla ice cream.

For stronger flavors like chocolate, the cream cheese would probably work better, but I would stick with an egg custard for the more delicate flavors.

So if you're interested in the science behind ice cream making and/or your ice cream batches stick around for longer than two days and you're frustrated with how quickly egg custards deteriorate in the freezer, then I highly recommend giving this book a try. However, if you have a highly discerning palate (i.e., "picky") then you more than likely won't be diggin' the cream cheese base for those lighter, delicate flavors. Save the cream cheese for the stronger, heavy flavors.

Jeni's Splendid Ice Creams at Home by Jeni Britton Bauer
Published: June 11, 2011 by Artisan
Pages: 217
Genre: Cookbook
Audience: Ice cream lovers

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Dreamland Giveaway

Zietghost Media is offering one lucky reader a chance to win the third book in Alyson Noel's Riley Bloom series, Dreamland.

Book specs:
Dreamland by Alyson Noel
Publish Date: September 13, 2011
Publisher: Square Fish
Genre: Fantasy
Audience: Middle Grade

Riley’s finding that the afterlife can be a lonely place when all you do is focus on work. So she goes to the place where dreams happen, hoping to find a way to contact her sister, Ever. She meets the director, who tells her about the two ways to send dreams. As a Dream Jumper, a person can jump into a dreamer’s dream, share a message, and participate. As a Dreamweaver, an entire dream can be created in a studio and sent to the dreamer. But Dreamweaving was outlawed decades ago, and the studio was boarded up. Thinking it’s her only way to reach out to her sister, Riley goes in search of the old studio. There she finds a ghost boy, who’s been creating and sending nightmares to people for years. In order to stop him and reach out to Ever, Riley is going to have to confront and overcome her own fears.

Check out the book trailer:


Contest Rules:
  • Must be 13 years or older to enter
  • Open only to US/Canada
  • You are not required to be a follower to enter but it is greatly appreciated
  • Contest ends September 24, 2011 at 11:59 EST
  • Winner chosen at random using Random.org 
  • To enter, fill out this form

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

A promise fulfilled

I have said on this blog many times, but it bears repeating, that I love reading picture books to my junior high students. Most of the time I read them because that particular book has an important lesson that I want them to "get" and therefore use as a journal topic. Sometimes though, I just read them for fun. One such book that I read for fun was Is Your Buffalo Ready for Kindergarten? It was such a hilarious premise and had the most adorable illustrations, that I just had to read it to them for no other reason than I loved it and wanted to share it with them.

Well it turns out, those sixth, almost seventh, graders that I read this book to back in June LOVED IT! When they found out that the sequel, Teach Your Buffalo to Play Drums, didn't come out until July, they begged me to come visit them in their seventh grade class and read it to them when the new school year started.

So that's what I did today. Last week I arranged with the seventh grade homeroom teachers if I could come in and read the book to their classes first thing in the morning one day this week. Now that they're seventh graders, they might be "too cool" for picture books, but they were still highly entertained. Just look at all these smiling, attentive faces:



Monday, September 12, 2011

Ten Years and One Day Later

I avoided writing about September 11th yesterday because I felt like there are so many people out there who have more important and more personal stories to tell. Like Meg Cabot's story of waiting in agony to know whether her husband, who worked in lower Manhattan, was OK. Or the fighter pilot who was prepared to give up her life to bring down Flight 93. My experience was nowhere near as tragic and heart-wrenching as so many Americans experienced on that fateful day ten years ago.

I also avoided watching the news because I feared I would get sucked in and I would just start sobbing uncontrollably. I just didn't feel like having my emotions manipulated and toyed with.

But I couldn't avoid it completely because this morning, as my homeroom and I were watching Channel One and they showed the footage of those towers falling, the tears in my eyes inevitably started falling. The kids, who were only babies when this happened, sat there rather stoic, but for me, it all came back to me in vivid detail. It amazes me that ten years later, that day can still invoke such emotions in everyone who remembers it, even if we weren't directly affected.

My prayers are with all the families who lost loved-ones on September 11th. Just know that an entire country grieves with you and always will.

Back to the Books Giveaway Winner

I have been remiss in announcing the winners of my Back to the Books Blog Hop giveaway. School started last week and I have been so exhausted when I get home from work that I just completely crash as soon as I walk in the door. I've been going to bed before 9:00 since school started last Tuesday. I have never gotten used to getting up at 5:30, even though I've been doing it for 5 years. My body does not like 5:30. It much prefers 7:00.

Anyway, the winners of my blog hop were:
Karen P.
Cindy M.

Both winners have been notified and confirmed. Thanks to everyone who participated. Check out my other giveaways going on right now:

All These Things I've Done (Hardcover AND Audiobook) by Gabrielle Zevin (ends 9/17)
The Kitchen Counter Cooking School by Kathleen Flinn (Ends 9/20)

Saturday, September 10, 2011

In My Mailbox (45)

In My Mailbox is a weekly meme hosted by The Story Siren, inspired by Pop Culture Junkie. The books you share do not have to be ones you actually received in the mail. They can be ones you bought at the book store, checked out at the library, or downloaded to your e-reader. The idea is just to share what's on your TBR pile for the upcoming week.

For review from Macmillan Audio:
 
All These Things I've Done by Gabrielle Zevin

Won:
 
Dark Souls by Paula Morris

Purchased:
 
Dear Bully: Seventy Authors Tell Their Stories, edited by Megan Kelley Hall and Carrie Jones

Library Loot:

Cookbook:
 
Eva's Kitchen: Cooking with Love for Family and Friends by Eva Longoria

Graphic Novel:
 
American Born Chinese by Gene Luen Yang

Audiobook:
 
No Passengers Beyond This Point by Gennifer Choldenko

Picture books:
 
A Ball for Daisy by Chris Kaschka
Blockhead: The Life of Fibonacci by Joseph D'Agnese, illustrated by John O'Brien

 
Dude: Fun with Dude and Betty by Lisa Pliscou, illustrated by Tom Dunne
The Sandwich Swap by Queen Rania Al Abdullah with Kelly DiPucchio, illustrated by Tricia Tusa


Beatrice's Goat by Page McBrier, illustrated by Lori Lohstoeter

What did you get in your mailbox this week?

Q&A with Kathleen Flinn, author of KITCHEN COUNTER COOKING SCHOOL + giveaway

Back in December, I listened to Kathleen Flinn's memoir of her experience as a student at the famous Le Cordon Bleu in Paris, The Sharper Your Knife the Less You Cry, and was mesmerized. Now Kathleen Flinn has written a new book, set to be released in October, that sounds equally as mesmerizing.

Book Specs:
The Kitchen Counter Cooking School: How a Few Simple Lessons Transformed Nine Culinary Novices into Fearless Home Cooks by Kathleen Flinn
Publication Date: October 3, 2011 by Viking
Pages: 304
Genre: Nonfiction
Audience: Adults

After graduating from Le Cordon Bleu in Paris, writer Kathleen Flinn returned with no idea what to do next, until one day at a supermarket she watched a woman loading her cart with ultraprocessed foods. Flinn's "chefternal" instinct kicked in: she persuaded the stranger to reload with fresh foods, offering her simple recipes for healthy, easy meals. 

THE KITCHEN COUNTER COOKING SCHOOL includes practical, healthy tips that boost readers' culinary self-confidence, and strategies to get the most from their grocery dollar, and simple recipes that get readers cooking.

Check out the book trailer:



A Conversation with Kathleen Flinn

Q: What was your inspiration for writing THE KITCHEN COUNTER COOKING SCHOOL?

A: It turned out to be a confluence of events. I was asked to do a graduation speech at Le Cordon Bleu in Paris and it hit me. Who am I to give anyone advice? I’m not even working as a chef. Right after that, I ran into a woman shopping with her young daughter in a supermarket, her cart packed with processed foods. I observed her through the store and ultimately ended up talking to her. She was a smart woman who relied on convenience foods because she felt she was a poor cook and that got me thinking. Is this the real state of cooking in America? So I set on a project to find out.

Q: Whatever happened with that woman?

A: I wish I knew. I didn't get her contact information, something I truly regret. I didn't ask. I thought it was weird enough that I stalked her through the store and then prompted her to get rid of all the boxes of food in her cart. But I think about her all the time. Did she follow the advice? I hope one day she knows what she inspired.

Q: Many inexperienced cooks can be intimidated by the instructional language of recipes. Can you give 1-2 examples of an instruction that sounds complicated, but is actually quite easy?

A: The top example is the classic “season to taste.” I talk to home cooks all the time and they think “what does that mean? What’s season? To whose taste?” It’s simply referring to adding salt and pepper until you think it tastes good to you as a cook. The other one is the infamous “cook until done.” What the heck is done? What does it look like? If you’ve never cooked something like a roast chicken then how would you know what this means? Modern recipe writers worth their salt (forgive the pun) know this issue and address it. So here’s my answer to that dilemma: if you’re using an older recipe and you run into this phrase, search out a reliable source of recent recipe for the same thing and see what they say.

Q: This brings up a good issue. How do you find “reliable” recipes, especially online?

A: I’m a fan of any recipe in which the proprietors actively test and stand by their recipes, which generally includes most cookbook authors, newspapers, magazines and high-quality online sites. The reality is that most cookbook authors who have several books under their belt know the awful experience of hearing from readers that recipes don’t work, ditto for magazines and newspapers, so they do their very best to assure what they’re publishing for posterity works for home cooks. Online, I look for sites in which the proprietors have a lot at stake in terms of their recipes working and dedicate themselves to quality work. There’s a lot of terrific stuff happening on food blogs and a lot of sloppy work, too. It’s hard for novice cooks to gauge whether a recipe works or not, so I recommend that starting out, you try to stick to people who have a strong history.

Q: What online sites do you use for recipes?

A: Ok, I’ll admit it. I have more than 800 cookbooks but often when I come down to, say, that last tomato, bit of kale and chicken in the fridge, I’ll put those ingredients into a search engine and see what comes up. Or, it’s zucchini season, so what to make? Sites I find reliable include Food52, Foodista, Fine Cooking, SimplyRecipes, SmittenKitchen, WhiteOnRice, Epicurious, Leite’s Culinaria, AllRecipes, FoodNetwork but that’s a very short list among the dozens that I frequent. I’m dubious of sites that seem to be populated with thousands of recipes that have no determinable origin. I wouldn’t trust those. I’m dubious of most personal food blogging sites. Many lack the kind of rigor and discipline that’s involved in traditional food writing. I suggest if you find someone whose voice you like, try one of their recipes and see how it goes. You’ll find they’re making up recipes out of thin air or they’re you’re new best friend in the kitchen.

Q: What are things you always have on hand in your own kitchen?

A: I believe in the power of a good pantry. I always keep garlic, onions, celery, carrots and chicken or vegetable stock around. I feel lost without a basil plant on my kitchen window. I keep around various kinds of whole wheat pasta, brown rice, fast-cooking whole grains such as quinoa, good canned tomatoes, cans of various colored beans (white beans are the household favorite), tinned local clams, frozen wild shrimp, dried mushrooms, ingredients for curry sauces, anchovies and small doses of high-quality, fresh spices. Among those items, you can make almost anything.

Q: Any three ingredients you think are the most important?

A: I’d venture garlic, onion and chicken or vegetable stock since they’re kind of the basis of everything. Did I mention the basil plant?

Q: Is there a dish/ingredient you’d never spend money on? Do you think there’s one dish/ingredient that’s worth splurging on?

A: I can’t imagine buying a simple vinaigrette. It’s one of the most expensive things you can buy in terms of volume in a supermarket, yet so simple and inexpensive to make at home. I spend money on are quality meats, poultry and seafood. I’d rather eat less and know that it’s good quality in terms of being grass-fed, hormone free and so on than having a huge piece of cheap stuff of dubious origin. With that in mind, we try to keep in mind that a portion of protein is four ounces. It’s pretty small, so even the expensive stuff in small doses doesn’t have to be expensive.

Q: Why do you think so many Americans are insecure about their cooking abilities? How has our relationship to food changed over the past few generations?

A: As a culture, we’ve downgraded the value of cooking. A lot of people never learned to cook from their parents, or, if they did they don’t consider it worthy of their time. Some of this blame falls at the feet of food manufacturers which have for years been spending millions of dollars in marketing to convince people that cooking isn’t worth the effort. As a result, they’ve successfully sold products that are little more than dressed-up military rations to a couple generations of cooks. When you buy a boxed pasta mix that has 27 ingredients but it’s meant to replicate the flavor of olive oil tossed with cheese or a simple cream sauce, guess what? You’re eating the equivalent of Army rations – and often paying a steep price per serving. But there’s something odd. Once something comes in a box, whether it’s cake mix or cheese sauce, it suddenly seems like it’s too hard to make from scratch. It’s like the box erases our ability to remember the original.

Q: But what about people who don’t have time to cook?

A: A fraction of people are genuinely time pressed. Most people suffer from what researchers refer to as a “concept of time poverty.” They don’t perceive cooking as important as, say, picking the kids up from piano lessons or, in some cases, even watching television. So, therefore, they don’t have “time” to cook. Unfortunately, our society reinforces this. After all, what is a headline that yells “20-minute meals” doing other than underscoring that the less time you spend cooking, the better?

Q: In the book, you go into the correlations of the wide availability of food and its impact on food waste in America. Can you talk about that?

A: You can get food anywhere and you don’t have to make it. But this doesn’t mean it’s good food. In the United States, we spend the least amount of our paycheck as a percentage on food, about 10 percent. So as a society, we spend a very small amount of time and a relatively little amount of money on one the key things to nourish us in our lives. This lack of investment may also explain why we collectively waste so much food about 30% to 35% of all the food an average person brings home from the grocery store.

Jonathan Bloom, the author of the blog and book of the same name, Wasted Food, notes that a lot of us shop for our “aspirational lives,” and not our real ones. I’ve been guilty of that too. We think we’re supposed to eat a lot of fruit and vegetables so we buy them only to watch them die a slow death in our crisper drawers while we eat out, heat up leftovers or eat something else that doesn’t involve a lot of food preparation.

Q: What kinds of things can people do to cut their food waste?

A: Here’s one suggestion. For two weeks, mark all of your food in a fridge with sticky notes with the price of each item. When you throw anything away, collect the notes. You’ll be surprised how much it adds up. You might throw away a head of lettuce and some vegetables with a slight wince and a shrug of regret. But how would you react to tossing a five- or ten-dollar bill in the trash? Probably not with a wince and a shrug. In a nation of plenty, we have plenty to learn about how to shop and how to cook to use up our leftovers to avoid waste. One thing this experiment usually teaches people is that rather than stocking up, they’re better off shopping more frequently and buying less. It might take a little more time but saves money in the long run.

Q: What do you think is the ultimate downside to not knowing how to cook?

A: Studies show that the more you cook at home, the healthier you are as a general rule. If you can’t cook, you put yourself at the mercy of companies to feed you and they’re interests are purely financial. Honestly, do any of us want to be reliant on companies for something so critical? If you can’t cook, you’re often going from one pre-packaged item from a company to another, starting with the corn-syrup laced pre-packaged breakfast sandwich at a coffee shop chain to the fast food chicken sandwich at lunch to the frozen dinner at a grocery store. As a general rule, they don’t care if they feed you well and they don’t care about your health. All they care about is that they maximize profits, often by serving the cheapest, low-quality products possible or engineering their foods for the longest possible shelf life or even to eat more than you need. Most companies don’t care if their food contributes to obesity, diabetes or heart disease as long as whatever they do makes a profit. It’s one downside to capitalism.

Q: So what can consumers do?

A: Ruth Reichl often says that “You only get to vote for president once every four years, but you vote every day, three times a day with your dollar.” If you demand better quality work, you’ll get it. The thing that will work the best is if we all demand it.

Q: After your research, what are the top lessons that will change how people cook?

A: Get a chef’s knife and learn basic knife skills. Hands down, that has the biggest long-term impact. The second thing is to learn fundamentals of roasting, steaming, braising and sautéing. Learn to use a whole chicken. For the same costs as a package of boneless skinless chicken breasts, you can buy the entire bird. Once you get the hang of it, it takes less than 10 minutes to cut one up. But I think a key thing is that the sterile nature of plastic-wrapped chicken breasts often makes us forget that was once an animal; working with a whole chicken helps you remember and, as a results, I found consistently that people waste less meat when they work with this in mind after starting with a whole chicken.


So here's your chance to win a copy of THE KITCHEN COUNTER COOKING SCHOOL along with this magnet for your fridge.

Giveaway rules:
  • Must be 13 years or older to enter
  • Open only to US residents
  • No P.O. Boxes
  • You are not required to be a follower to enter but it is greatly appreciated
  • Contest ends September 20, 2011 at 11:59 EST
  • Winner chosen at random using Random.org 
  • To enter, fill out this form

Thursday, September 8, 2011

Broetry by Brian McGackin

Broet Laureate Brian McGackin has created this side-splitting book aptly titled Broetry, for the men in the world who - I'm not going to pull any punches here - are not cultured in the finer things in life (though I guess what constitutes "finer" completely depends on who you talk to). Rather than reading poems about love and butterflies or Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening, McGackin tackles topics like Star Wars, crazy stalker girlfriends, why guys cheat, cougars, and even Steve Guttenberg.

What McGackin was trying to accomplish in Broetry was to show that poetry can be relateable to guys. As he says in the intro:
" A poet I admire once wrote, 'Saying you don't like poetry is like saying you don't like food.' In other words, a beet is just a beet. If you're not into beets, you can eat spinach. Don't like vegetables? Have pizza! The point is, if you think you don't like poetry, you just haven't found a poem that's right for you."

This is pretty much the exact thing I have been telling my students every year when we start studying poetry extensively (though this book is definitely NOT appropriate for my students, who are sixth graders). The students who say they don't like poetry only hate it because they haven't found poems in a topic they can relate to. Brian McGackin has filled a niche that has pretty much gone unfilled since the beginning of time, unless you count dirty limericks.

But does taking an uncultured, non-literary population of males and turning their interests into poetry automatically make it literary? No, but I don't think that was Brian McGackin's goal anyway. Broetry is kind of like the gateway drug. Oh, you like these poems? Well, why don't you try your stab at some of these Billy Collins poems? Or Langston Hughes? Or William Carlos Williams? Perhaps they'll never fully appreciate Emily Dickinson, but hey, it's a start.

The language in Broetry is crass, obscene, and almost banal in its simplicity, but what it lacks in beautiful turn of phrase, it makes up for in clever play-on-words, hilarious titles, and unexpected topics. This book would make an amazing Christmas stocking stuffer for that "guy's guy" in your life who has always looked his nose down at poetry unless it starts with the line "There once was a man from Nantucket..."

Broetry by Brian McGackin
Published: July 5, 2011 by Quirk Books
Pages: 128
Genre: Poetry
Audience: Adult Males
Disclosure: book recieved for review from the publisher

P.S. If you don't recognize the poem on the front cover, please do me a favor, culture yourself and look up "This is Just to Say" by William Carlos Williams. What's on the cover is a lot more amusing once you know it was "inspired by" by an actual celebrated American poet.

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

All These Things I've Done giveaway: book AND audiobook

For giveaway, I currently have a hardcover and audiobook CD copy of ALL THESE THINGS I'VE DONE by Gabrielle Zevin.

Thank you to Zeitghost Media for providing a copy of the hardcover and Macmillan Audio for providing a copy of the audioboook.

Book specs:
All These Things I've Done by Gabrielle Zevin
Audiobook narrator: Ilyana Kadushin
Publish date: September 6, 2011 by Farrar, Straus and Giroux
Pages: 368
Audiobook length: 10 hours, 11 minutes
Genre: Dystopian
Audience: Young Adult

In 2083, chocolate and coffee are illegal, paper is hard to find, water is carefully rationed, and New York City is rife with crime and poverty. And yet, for Anya Balanchine, the sixteen-year-old daughter of the city's most notorious (and dead) crime boss, life is fairly routine. It consists of going to school, taking care of her siblings and her dying grandmother, trying to avoid falling in love with the new assistant D.A.'s son, and avoiding her loser ex-boyfriend. That is until her ex is accidentally poisoned by the chocolate her family manufactures and the police think she's to blame. Suddenly, Anya finds herself thrust unwillingly into the spotlight--at school, in the news, and most importantly, within her mafia family.

Check out the book trailer:



Giveaway Rules:
  • Must be 13 years or older to enter
  • Open only to US residents
  • You are not required to be a follower to enter but it is greatly appreciated
  • There are no extra entries, but I'd appreciate a tweet if you'd like. Just copy and paste this text: Win a hardcover or audiobook copy of ALL THESE THINGS I'VE DONE by Gabrielle Zevin from @FoodieBooklvr http://goo.gl/xevmv
  • Contest ends September 17th at 11:59 EST
  • Winner chosen at random using Random.org 
  • To enter, fill out this form

Monday, September 5, 2011

You call it Labor Day? I call it "Last Day of Summer Freedom"

As I mentioned before, pretty much all of Michigan goes back to school on the day after Labor Day. Needless to say, today I am mourning the loss of summer and I'm also brimming with excitement for the start of the school year.

While I finished setting up my classroom on Thursday, I am still working on some last minute details from home. I am sitting here right now doing seating charts for all my classes, I'm writing out my lesson plans for this week, and the least mundane of my preparations, I finished decorating my writer's notebook for the school year.

This is one of my favorite activities I do with the kids during the school year. I get to see their personalities on the cover of a notebook and it always speaks to who they are when you look at their writer's notebook. Just look at the cover of my writer's notebook. What do you suppose it says about me?
Front cover
Back cover
Front inside cover
Back inside cover

I'm hoping that giving the students the opportunity to show their personalities on the covers of their notebooks that it will help inspire them to write more and it will give them more ownership over their writing because they feel like the notebook is theirs rather than just something I hand out to them at the beginning of the school year. 

So what would you put on the cover of your writer's notebook?

Sunday, September 4, 2011

In My Mailbox (44)

In My Mailbox is a weekly meme hosted by The Story Siren, inspired by Pop Culture Junkie. The books you share do not have to be ones you actually received in the mail. They can be ones you bought at the book store, checked out at the library, or downloaded to your e-reader. The idea is just to share what's on your TBR pile for the upcoming week.

Audiobooks for review:
 
Wildwood by Colin Meloy
Supernaturally by  Kiersten White

Purchased:
 
The Fox Inheritance by Mary E. Pearson

From my library's used bookstore:
 
An Abundance of Katherines by John Green
The Hundred Dresses by Eleanor Estes
Cheated by Patrick Jones
The Not-So-Star-Spangled Life of Sunita Sen by Mitali Perkins
Something Rotten by Alan Gratz
Flags of Our Fathers by James Bradley
Year of Wonders by Geraldine Brooks
Jellicoe Road by Melina Marchetta
Tyrell by Coe Booth

Library Loot:

Audiobooks:
 
Beauty Queens by Libba Bray
The Knife of Never Letting Go by Patrick Ness

Picture books:
 
A Mango in the Hand: A Story Told Through Proverbs by Antonio Sacre, illustrated by Sebastia Serra
Hot, Hot Roti for Dada-ji by F. Zia, illustrated by Ken Min
 
Someday by Alison McGhee, illustrated by Peter Reynolds