Thursday, February 28, 2013

Michael Symon's Carnivore: 120 Recipes for Meat Lovers

I'm Michael Symon, and I love meat! No, that is not a confession, but rather a proud proclamation. I'm not sure if it's my Midwestern upbringing or my caveman good looks, but as long as I can remember, my favorite meals have always been built around meat. Whether it's been my grandmother's hearty bolognese - a flavorful sauce of ground beef paired with slightly acidic tomatoes, salty parmesan, and buttery noodles - or a platter of succulent braised chicken thighs and kale topped with crunchy bread crumbs, meat has always managed to bring a smile to my face.

Ever since Michael Symon competed on Next Iron Chef, I have been smitten. I knew before the results were ever announced that he would be the winner. He just had such a zeal for life and infectious laugh that it was - and still is - really hard to dislike him, even when he says things you might disagree with.

I reviewed his first cookbook, Live to Cook, back in 2011, and was incredibly excited over the fact that I actually learned some new things in that book. By that point I was worried that I had exhausted all of my home cook knowledge and that all cookbooks I read were just going to be a regurgitating of all the other recipes I'd ever read in my entire life. With Live to Cook, I not only discovered some new and flavorful recipes, but I also learned a great deal from Symon's teachings and techniques.

I wouldn't say I learned as much from Carnivore, but this book was a great reiteration of Symon's food philosophy, and I appreciate that his focus is and always has been on quality ingredients.

So what is Symon's food philosophy? Well, besides the importance of focusing on ingredients, Symon wants his readers to understand the importance of balance in a dish - the need for a variety of flavors and textures. There's nothing he despises more than a big hunk of meat swimming in a rich sauce only to be served with bland mashed potatoes. That is why whenever you find yourself dining at a Michael Symon restaurant, you will always be served some sort of  bright, acidic component to go along with your big hunk o' meat, as is always the case whenever I dine at his Detroit restaurant, Roast, where, as an example, instead of potatoes to go along with this rich meat dish, it was served with a spicy pickled relish:

So despite the fact that the meat is obviously the star in this book, equally as important are the sides, which are not your typical mashed potatoes and gravy. Instead you will find bright pops of flavor like a grapefruit salad with feta and kalamata olives, apple and celery root salad, shaved Brussels sprouts served with a vinaigrette, grapefruit tabbouleh, the list goes on, but each side dish is meant to brighten and complement the meat's richness, not compete with it. As Symon says on p. 13:

I strive to counter meat's inherent richness, fattiness, and intenseness (all the things we love about it) with an equal and appropriate measure of acid, salinity, and texture. This formula is what makes a dish a glorious symphony as opposed to a sad one-note song.

But let's talk about the real star, the meat, shall we? This book is divided into chapters thusly:
  • Beef
  • Port
  • Lamb & Goat
  • Poultry
  • Game
  • Sides
Pork is definitely the star meat in this book as it has the largest amount of recipes, but since Symon is an unapologetic pork lover, that is not a surprise. Still, even with pork being the star meat in this book, Symon does not skimp on recipes for the other types of meat. I was particularly intrigued by the fact that Symon created a recipe in this book for making your own homemade hotdogs (intrigued, but not particularly compelled to try it any time soon), as well an interesting technique for roasting bone marrow that has me even more curious to try it, even though I'm not sure I would be courageous enough to make it at home (have the butcher cut the marrow bones in half lengthwise so as to allow more of the fat to caramelize which also make them less intimidating to eat).

All in all, this was a wonderfully organized book with beautiful photos and mouth-watering recipes. I initially checked this book out at the library but decided I liked it so much that I needed to own it and purchased my own copy. I have since made three recipes from the book that that were quick and easy and not intimidating in the slightest -- I need to work up the courage for the roasted bone marrow.

Apple and celery root salad from Michael Symon's Carinvore
While I didn't particularly love the three dishes I made from the book, there were facets of each dish that I enjoyed and found could be made better with some tweaking. For example, I made the orecchiette with chorizo and Swiss chard, which my husband and I found good, but we would have eliminated the cannellini beans because it made the dish too heavy and granular in texture. I also made the apple and celery root salad, which I was excited to try celery root for the first time, but after using it in this dish, I discovered I wasn't a fan of its fibrous texture. I loved the crunch of the granny smith apple in the salad, and while I liked the flavor of the celery root (a milder form of celery), I just couldn't get past the awkward texture. However, I did like the idea of this salad, which would be a perfect accompaniment to a very heavy meat dish, so I would find a way to tweak it a bit in the future: maybe try it with red onion and regular celery instead of celery root.

Despite the fact that the dishes I tried didn't bowl me over, I found them to be a great starting point for tweaking. Symon gave me the tools (focus on balance and quality ingredients), now I just have to use these recipes as a starting point.

Apple and Celery Root Salad
Symon suggests using this as an accomainament to pork
Serves 8

2 granny smith apples
1 medium celery root, peeled and cored
1/2 cup cider vinegar
kosher salt
1 shallot, minced
2 tablespoons grainy mustard
1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil
2 tablespoons chopped, fresh tarragon (don't leave this ingredient out! It makes the dish!)
1 cup watercress, tough stems removed

Slice the apple and celery root into long, thin matchsticks either by hand or with a mandoline. Put in a nonreactive bowl and toss with the vinegar. Add a large pinch of salt.

In a small bowl, combine shallot and a good pinch of salt. Whisk in the mustard, olive oil, and tarragon. Pour the dressing over the apples and celery root and toss to combine. Let sit for about 20 minutes.

When ready to serve, toss in the watercress. 

Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Leap Into Books giveaway hop

For my portion of the giveaway hop, I am giving away the first two books in the Immortals series by Alyson Noel:

Evermore and Blue Moon
(Click links to take you to Goodreads summary)

Terms and conditions:
Must be 13 or older to enter and have a U.S. mailing address
One winner will be selected
Use the Rafflecopter widget to enter

Tuesday, February 26, 2013

ARC review: Period 8 by Chris Crutcher

From Goodreads:
Paul "the Bomb" Baum tells the truth. No matter what. It was something he learned at Sunday School. But telling the truth can cause problems, and not minor ones. And as Paulie discovers, finding the truth can be even more problematic. Period 8 is supposed to be that one period in high school where the truth can shine, a safe haven. Only what Paulie and Hannah (his ex-girlfriend, unfortunately) and his other classmates don't know is that the ultimate bully, the ultimate liar, is in their midst.

Terrifying, thought-provoking, and original, this novel combines all the qualities of a great thriller with the controversy, ethics, and raw emotion of a classic Crutcher story.

I'm going against my usual policy of writing my own synopsis instead of relying on Goodreads to do it for me, but this book is just hard to summarize. Even the official synopsis doesn't really do it justice. This was one ARC I had to nab at NCTE in November, and while I found the story to be interesting, I thought this most definitely was not classic Chris Crutcher. Yes, there's lots of strong language and controversial, challenge-worthy scenes that we're used to seeing in a Chris Crutcher novel, but behind all the grit, there is usually an equal layer of heart and feeling for the characters. I found myself feeling nothing for any of the characters in this novel, even the bad guys.

What sustained my reading and kept me turning the page was the suspenseful plot (that really didn't start to pick up until page 120) which was carried mostly by dialogue. In that regard, it would be a great selection for reluctant readers, especially guy readers, which has always been Crutcher's target audience.

Period 8 by Chris Crutcher
Expected Publication: March 26, 2013
Publisher: Greenwillow
Pages: 288
Genre: Mystery
Audience: Young Adult, especially reluctant guy readers
Disclosure: ARC acquired at NCTE conference

Monday, February 25, 2013

Reaching out in the name of faith and understanding

I've been teaching in a Catholic school for the past seven years and to this day, one of my most vivid memories from my time here is when, during my first year, the junior high visited a mosque. It is so vivid in my mind because, while I like to think of myself as quite an open-minded person, that experience really helped eradicate a great number of prejudices and misconceptions I (and I'm sure a majority of non-Muslims) had about the faith of Islam.

Today I was lucky enough to attend a field trip with our school's seventh graders to the same Islamic Center we visited seven years ago and it was just as moving of an experience. Our students asked questions, took a tour of the center, met a student from the Muslim American Youth Academy next door, as well as the mosque's Imam.

As the kids asked questions about the Islamic faith, three thoughts kept going through my mind 1) How alike our faith traditions truly are 2) When it's not being sullied by the media and popular culture, Islam is a truly beautiful faith. 3) I wish more people could see and be open to what a beautiful faith this is. I'm grateful our school has a pastor who works with people of other faiths and is open to reaching out and helping to heal wounds and prejudices.

I always say that the reason I love to travel is because it is an education in and of itself and that my favorite quote about travel comes from one Mark Twain:

"Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness... Broad, wholesome views of men and things cannot be acquired by vegetating in one little corner of the earth all one's lifetime."

After an experience like today, I think that quote can apply to our own communities as well. Don't vegetate and fester in your own prejudice and bigotry. Reach out and find the beauty in everyone, even those you don't understand. You'll be amazed at the commonalities you find when you do finally make an attempt to better understand.

Entering the sanctuary

Inside the mosque

The Imam shows the Koran - and the skylights give it a Heavenly glow

Need to find Mecca? There's an app for that. The Imam shows the student his app to find the direction of Mecca on his iPhone so no matter where he is, he know which direction to pray.

Explaining the prayer on the wall

It's Monday! What Are You Reading? 2-25-13

Originally hosted by Sheila at Book Journey, Jen and Kellee  over at Teach Mentor Texts also host a kidlit version of It's Monday! What are You Reading?

I was able to get a great deal of reading done last week due to our school's midwinter break so that made me very happy.

Books I finished last week:

The Fellowship for Alien Detection by Kevin Emerson
October Mourning: A Song for Matthew Shepard by  Leslea Newman

Artists and Writers of the Harlem Renaissance by Wendy Hart Beckman
The Harlem Renaissance: An Explosion of African American Culture by Richard Worth
I've been on a huge Harlem Renaissance kick lately. I just love this era of American history. 

Graphic Novels:
Babymouse Monster Mash by Jennifer L. and Matthew Holm
Lunch Lady and the Cyborg Substitute by Jarrett J. Krosoczka
I will fully confess that I didn't finally decide to read Lunch Lady until I received an ARC of Jarrett's latest book from Walden Pond Press last week called The Platypus Police Squad and in his bio, I read that he has a pug. Well, being a crazy pug owner myself, I can't not read an author's entire body of work once I realize they are a fellow pug lover. :)


Code Name Verity by Elizabeth Wein
Like Water for Chocolate by Laura Esquivel
I'm sorry to announce that I didn't love Code Name Verity with the same fervor as so many others did. I just could not emotionally connect with the characters. I didn't even cry, which was a huge shock to me given the fact that oft dry-eyed readers even admitted to sobbing over this book. I will fully admit I am perplexed over my lack of crying with this one.

Picture books:

The Lonely Moose by  John Segal
 Bink and Gollie: Two for One by Kate DiCamillo and Alison McGhee, illustrated by Tony Fucile

The Great Migration: Journey to the North by Eloise Greenfield, illustrated by Jan Spivey Gilchrist
Silent Star: The Story of Deaf Major Leaguer William Hoy by Will Wise, illustrated by Adam Gustavson 

Currently reading:

Bomb: The Race to Build - and Steal - the World's Most Dangerous Weapon by Steve Sheinkin
Wow! This book is fantastic! No wonder it won so many awards! It reads just like a spy novel. If only all nonfiction were this exciting to read. But based on the first sentence of Sheinkin's author bio, you can definitely tell he's not your run-of-the-mill nonfiction writer: "A former textbook writer, Steve Sheinkin has dedicated his life to making up for his previous crimes by crafting gripping narratives of American history." Boom. I'm sold.

Currently listening:

The Big Sea by Langston Hughes
Again with the Harlem Renaissance. Langston Hughes is my favorite poet of all time so I wanted to learn more about his life by reading his autobiography. So far I have to say I prefer his poetry to his prose writing, but I'm enjoying learning more about his life nonetheless.

Last week I reviewed:

The Wall: Growing Up Behind the Iron Curtain by Peter Sis.

Current giveaway:
Notes from Ghost Town and The Butterfly Clues by Kate Ellison

Other posts from last week:
Probiotic drinks: I'm here for the flavors, the healthy part is just a bonus
A poem to start a conversation about bullying and self-worth

Sunday, February 24, 2013

The Wall: Growing Up Behind the Iron Curtain by Peter Sis

Peter Sis grew up in communist Czechoslovakia under the watchful eye of the secret police during the Cold War. Under communism, Peter grew up a typical, brainwashed child of the Soviet regime. But as he grew older and art and western culture began to seep into his belief system, he realized that life under communist rule was not the ideal that the Soviet puppet masters made it out to be.

As an artist, Sis was constantly under suspicion from the secret police and his life in Prague was a discontented one. This book is the story of an artist's life behind the Iron Curtain.

Let me start off by saying right away that this is not your typical children's picture book. In fact, The Wall is a perfect example of why you can't assume that all picture books are for young children. There is a great deal of complexity going on with the text and illustrations that I would be so bold as to say that this book is geared more for high school, but definitely no earlier than middle school.

As a teacher, when I read a book like this, I can't help but get excited at the idea of using it in my classroom to teach text complexity. So many people are under the mistaken presumption that classic novels are the only texts that can show students any sort of sophistication and complexity that I wish more people would look to picture books. I highly recommend The Wall if you teach English or social studies in a middle school or high school setting. You will be surprised at the wealth of lessons your can pull from this text. If  you're a teacher in desperate need to stop using boring textbooks and start finding real texts full of voice (which, let's face it, we should ALL be that teacher!) then get yourself a copy of The Wall today!

 The Wall: Growing Up Behind the Iron Curtain by Peter Sis
Published: August 21, 2007
Publisher: Ferrar, Straus, and Giroux
Pages: 56
Genre: Graphic Memoir
Audience: Middle School/High School
Disclosure: Purchased Copy

Saturday, February 23, 2013

Probiotic drinks: I'm here for the flavors, the healthy part is just a bonus

Despite the fact that I'm a foodie, I must confess I do not have an iron stomach. In fact, ever since I was in middle school I have always had quite a sensitive gastrointestinal system. New ailments seem to pop up every other year for me. I tried taking a probiotic once, and the instructions on the back said you might feel worse for the first two weeks of taking it, but when two weeks came and went and I still felt terrible, I figured perhaps that was not the best course of action for me. I've tried eating yogurt regularly as well but sometimes that upsets my stomach too.

Well one of my new favorite Whole Foods discoveries has been probiotic drinks. I was a bit skeptical at first, but to tell you the truth, I was drawn more to the flavors than the fact that they were labeled probiotic. That's the thing for me: if it doesn't LOOK good, I don't care how good for you it is, I'm probably not going to want to try it.

My two favorite brands of probiotic drinks are Good Belly and KeVita. Good Belly is strictly a juice drink and KeVita is a sparkling drink.

Both brands have some really great flavors (like mango, pomegranate blackberry, grapefruit, lemon ginger), but my Whole Foods only carries a few of them. I'm hoping they eventually start carrying more.

KeVita, while delicious, is on the pricey side (close to $4.00 for a 15 oz bottle), so I only buy a couple at a time, but I especially love the lemon ginger flavor. It's very refreshing and has a nice little kick to it.

I have also noticed a small improvement in how my stomach feels since I started on these drinks. Only time will tell if they show any sort of long term effects. But as of right now, the probiotic part is just a bonus. I wouldn't be drinking them if the flavors weren't appealing because to me, that's the most important part. So I will keep drinking them for the yummy flavors, but I will keep my fingers crossed that they will continue to improve my gastrointestinal health.

Friday, February 22, 2013

A poem to start a conversation about bullying and self-worth by Shane Koyczan

You want to start having some conversations with your students about bullying? Show them this incredibly emotionally raw spoken word poem by Shane Koyczan, watch the tears fall, tell your students it's okay to cry, and then ask them to respond to it in writing.

Recommended for grades 7 and up. 

Monday, February 18, 2013

It's Monday! What are You Reading? 2-18-13

Originally hosted by Sheila at Book Journey, Jen and Kellee  over at Teach Mentor Texts also host a kidlit version of It's Monday! What are You Reading?

Books I finished last week:
The Lover's Dictionary by David Levithan
Free to Dream: The Making of a Poet: Langston Hughes by Audrey Osofsky


The Shadow of the Wind by Carlos Ruiz Zafon

Graphic novel:
Babymouse Skater Girl by Jennifer L. and Matthew Holm

Picture books:

Martin's Big Words: The Life of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. by Doreen Rappaport, illustrated by Bryan Collier
My Brother Martin: A Sister Remember Growing Up with the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. by Christine King Farris, illustrated by Chris Soentpiet

Dizzy by Jonah Winter, illustrated by Sean Qualls
Noah Webster and His Words by Jeri Chase Ferris, illustrated by Vincent X. Kirsch

Still Reading:

The Fellowship for Alien Detection by Kevin Emerson

Currently and Still listening:
Code Name Verity by Elizabeth Wein
Like Water for Chocolate by Laura Esquivel

Posts from last week:

Notes from Ghost Town and The Butterfly Clues by Kate Ellison (ends 3/4) US & Canada only

Sunday, February 17, 2013

Reading about Langston Hughes leads me to thoughts about what Common Core means for our students

I'm sitting here in my home office on this lazy Sunday afternoon (lazy only because it's midwinter break and I don't have to go to work tomorrow) reading Free to Dream: The Making of a Poet, a biography of Langston Hughes (my favorite poet of all time), and I am struck by his educational background. While Hughes did very well in primary school and high school and was praised by his teachers for his love of learning, Hughes, one of our most celebrated American poets, was a college dropout. His first attempt at college was a failure. He went to Columbia University on his father's dime, and after one year decided that he preferred to read books and attend lectures instead of go to class.

I'm struck by this new piece of information I learned about Hughes today because, by all intents and purposes, he should have been a model student: he loved learning, did well all throughout his K-12 education, and was often recognized for his writing prowess by his teachers and classmates. If that's not a formula for someone who should succeed in college, then I don't know what is.

But that's just it. Education can't be whittled down to a formula -  numbers to crunch, multiple choice questions to answer. By today's educational reformers, Hughes would be considered a failure. Politicians would deem him a product of a failed system and no doubt his teachers would be blamed (and perhaps fired) for his inability to understand physics and trigonometry, which were the classes he chose to skip and ultimately drop out of Columbia.

But in the 1920s, Hughes used his passion for writing and poetry to seek out like-minded, accomplished people who took him under their wing and nurtured his passion and talent, which we now know turned him into one of the most beloved writers in all of American history. I continue to wonder how people responsible for making decisions about education today can be so narrow minded and refuse to see past the numbers and into the minds and hearts of our students. While we're busy trying to "race to the top", students' needs and talents are disregarded. (Does anyone else see the irony in the fact that Arne Duncan has deemed "No Child Left Behind" a failure yet, with a name like "Race to the Top", the initiative which he created to replace NCLB, isn't the very nature of a race to leave people behind?)

Langston Hughes: a CCSS poster boy he is not (photo: Poetry Foundation)
So as the Common Core State Standards are asking me to make my students "college and career ready" and turn them into good little test-takers, I can't help but know in my heart that there are much more important things we should be focusing on, like nurturing passions and talents, showing students we care about them as people, and teaching them the importance of lifelong learning for their future instead of the desire for all A's on their report card and good standardized test scores. Despite the fact that CCSS architect David Coleman infamously told an audience of educators in 2011, "As you grow up in this world, you realize people really don't give a $#!% about what you feel or what you think," I'm going to nurture the Langston Hugheses in my classroom and make sure they know that they have a voice in this world and that I do give a $#!% what they feel and what they think. If I didn't give a $#!%, then well, I wouldn't (and shouldn't) be a teacher. And for all the David Colemans out there, well, it scares me that you are making decisions on behalf of my students and the Langston Hugheses of this world.

I've been scarred and battered.
My hopes the wind done scattered.
Snow has friz me, sun has baked me.
Looks like between 'em
They done tried to make me
Stop laughin', stop lovin', stop livin' --
 But I don't care!
I'm still here!

from "Still Here" by Langston Hughes

Saturday, February 16, 2013

Movie Review turned rant: The Five-Year Engagement

When Tom (Jason Siegel), a successful up-and-coming chef in San Francisco proposes to the love of his life, Violet (Emily Blunt), they both assume they will get married, stay in their hometown, and live happily ever after. But when Violet gets an acceptance letter to the University of Michigan for a 2-year doctoral fellowship in experimental psychology, Tom, being the supportive fiance, moves with her to Michigan.

Since San Francisco is one of the few towns in America where chefs go to get noticed, Tom feels like he's giving up his dream for the sake of Violet's, especially when his quest for an executive chef job in Ann Arbor results in accepting a job at Zingerman's Deli instead.

Soon two years in Ann Arbor turns to four, and as they continue to postpone the wedding until they can move back home, Tom's resentment towards Violet builds to a comedic madness. Will Tom and Violet ever get married, or will their continued time in Michigan cause them to grow further and further apart?

When a friend of mine told me that the movie The Five Year Engagement takes place in Ann Arbor, I knew I had to watch it. The premise behind the story didn't interest me so much as the hometown setting did. In fact, I'm fairly certain I never would have watched this movie had it not been for where the story took place, as all romantic comedies seem to have the same storyline these days.

There was a handful of funny, laugh-out-loud scenes but I have to say, I was quite irked at the way my beloved Ann Arbor was portrayed in this movie. I might just be an unsophisticated Midwesterner, but the way we are often portrayed by people from more cosmopolitan cities like New York, L.A., and San Francisco is quite one-dimensional and "lesser than." I felt that same sense of superiority from the creators of this movie. For being "just a Midwestern town", Ann Arbor is very sophisticated, intellectual, and has quite a diverse and exciting food scene. Despite the fact that we will never be able to compete with cities like New York and San Francisco, I love that we are a small town with a "big city feel". There are many exciting things happening on the food scene in Ann Arbor if people would just bother to look. Given that Zingerman's is a nationally and internationally known delicatessen, I was surprised at how inferior they were made to appear, and many of the well-known, real-life, downtown establishments were treated with the same disrespect as a montage of fictional Ann Arbor chefs and owners laughed in his Siegel's face and called him #@%^&*! crazy for moving to Michigan from San Francisco. Granted, much of this attitude has to do with Siegel's character's own perception and resentment of having to give up his burgeoning career to move to Michigan, but the creators of this film never did anything to right that perception once *spoiler alert* Tom came to his senses about his and Violet's relationship.

Despite my distaste for making Michigan a punching bag in this movie, it was still an entertaining storyline that kept me laughing throughout. Still, for as much as I love to complain about my home state, it's a lot like siblings: you complain about them, call them annoying, and tell them how much you hate them, but when someone tries to mess with them, you will do whatever it takes to defend their honor. That is exactly how I feel about my home state, and that's why I spent a great deal of time annoyed while sitting through this movie.

Monday, February 11, 2013

It's Monday! What are you reading? 2-11-13

Originally hosted by Sheila at Book Journey, Jen and Kellee  over at Teach Mentor Texts also host a kidlit version of It's Monday! What are You Reading?

Last week I finished reading:
 Camp Babymouse by Jennifer L. and Matthew Holm

Period 8 by Chris Crutcher
I was disappointed with this one. Definitely not my favorite work of Crutcher's. Currently working on a review to work out my thoughts on this one.

Energize Research Reading and Writing by Christopher Lehman
Christopher Lehman wants to give teachers the tools to let students embrace research. So often the term "research paper" instills visions of tedium, apathy, and academic detachment. Students only do it because it is forced upon them by their teachers. But Lehman wants to change all that. He wrote this book as a toolkit for teachers to empower students with choice and curiosity in their own learning endeavors.  It's also a great book to empower teachers to change their perspective on how to teach research.

Currently reading:
The Fellowship for Alien Detection by Kevin Emerson

Currently (still) listening:

Like Water for Chocolate by Laura Esquivel
The Shadow of the Wind by Carlos Ruiz Zafon

Last week I reviewed:
Riot by Walter Dean Myers
Loved this audiobook. Great full cast production and soundtrack.

The Adventures of Mark Twain by Huckleberry Finn, by  Robert Burleigh, illustrated by Barry Blitt
This is by far one of the most entertaining, memorable biographies I've ever read. I laughed out loud the whole time. Despite the fact that this is supposed to be about Mark Twain, Huck definitely steals the show in this one.

Current giveaway:
 Notes from Ghost Town and The Butterfly Clues by Kate Ellison (ends 3/4)

Last week I also wrote about my sadness in discovering my favorite restaurant closed:
In memory of tapas, sangria, and traditions with friends