September 30, 2011

Review and Recipe

For today's Review and Recipe, I'm going to step out of the Read.Eat.Think box a bit and highlight a food event for the "recipe," rather than an actual step-by-step procedure. Think of it as a recipe for fun for this weekend.
And speaking of doing things differently, since it's a major book award season, for the month of October I am going to give you more reviews:
CWA Daggers
On Oct. 7, the Crime Writers Association will announce the Dagger Awards. Starting on Monday, each day I will highlight one of the nominees for the Gold Dagger award. Since there are only four nominees, on Friday I will write about one of my favorite mystery writers, who won last year's CWA Diamond Dagger Award for a lifetime of mystery writing. She has written over 20 books in one series, and I adore her. But no more hints.
Man Booker Prize
This award honors the best novel of the year by a citizen of the United Kingdom. The winner will be announced on Oct. 18, and I will highlight the shortlist nominees the week of Oct. 10.
Mysterious and Spooky
Since I will hit a bit of a black hole at the end of October, thanks to my day job, I'll give you two weeks of seasonal suggestions. The week of Oct. 17, we'll start out gently with spooky and kooky books and then hit my list of the five scariest books I've ever read the week of Oct. 24. On Halloween, we'll return to the treats instead of the tricks. Now back to the Review and Recipe:

Review: New York
by Edward Rutherfurd
Historical fiction can be tricky, but the thing I have always admired about Edward Rutherfurd's extensively researched books is the seamless blend between historical facts and fictional characters that you think about even when you've finished the book.
Known for novels that stretch across centuries, Rutherfurd has only ventured off the British Isles once before, with the book Russka. So I was intrigued to see how he would approach the long history of the New World.
He begins as he always does, by drawing you in to the earliest days of the location, and beginning to build the land into the real central character of the book. With New York, those early days did not include the Europeans, of course, but rather the indigenous tribes who called the island Manna hata. Once settlers arrive, the forested island almost overnight becomes the bustling city of immigrants that it still is today, moving from a Dutch settlement to a British city to the center of revolution.
Interwoven into the history of New York City is the fictional story of families based on the real immigrants who came here for a new life. Some succeed and begin great empires, some are ground down by hardship and challenges. New York is an engrossing book that captures the can-do spirit that became the signature for the city that never sleeps. (2009 - Random House) 
Other Recommended Books By Edward Rutherfurd: Sarum, London, The Forest

Recipe for Fun: New York City Wine & Food Festival
Autumn is the time for some of the best food festivals in the country. I plan to indulge a bit myself this weekend at the Dixie Classic Fair. In keeping with the theme of today's book, this weekend also kicks off the New York City Wine & Food Festival (click here). This year, the theme seems to be all about food that's easy to carry.
Tonight, burgers are on the menu and chefs will create 21 varieties on the all-American classic. On Saturday, chefs like Bobby Flay will serve up 30 takes on tacos. Sunday's theme is meatballs, made of more unusual ingredients like crab, mushroom, or lamb.
All of the cooking, and the accompanying wines, are for a good cause, with proceeds from the event going to the Food Bank for New York City. So enjoy the crisper temperatures and find your favorite foodie event this weekend.

September 29, 2011

Typecasting

If you've read this blog for any amount of time, you know how much I love words and that I am fascinated by typefaces.
My nerdy friends and I have ongoing discussions about our favorite fonts and the ones we really dislike (*cough cough* Papyrus *cough*). For the font that everyone loves to hate, there is even a website called BanComicSans.com.
Back in the day, the choice of typefaces was less of a chore. There were only so many that a typesetting machine could produce  and yes, I remember those days.
With the arrival of the personal computer, everyone was able to use as many fonts as their hearts desired. And suddenly everyone became an expert, which explains how Papyrus and Ponderosa became so prevalent.
I just found out that my font obsession has a name ― typomania. According to Simon Garfield's new book Just My Type, there are a lot of people like me out there who want to identify every font they see. For a fun sneak peek at the book and its look at the history and psychology of fonts, see Garfield's recent article in the Wall Street Journal (click here).
And the first one to correctly identify the font I'm using as the body copy in my blog will get a gold star.

September 28, 2011

Wednesday's Cookbook: Cook's Illustrated

The Cook's Illustrated Cookbook
by Cooks' Illustrated magazine
I've always wanted to visit America's Test Kitchen, the massive cooking gallery in Brookline, Mass, and the publisher of Cook's Illustrated magazine. My mom introduced me to this bimonthly publication and its no-nonsense approach to recipes and cooking.
I particularly love the tips, like best ingredient substitutions, the right way to marinate meat, or how to freeze garlic.
After 20 years, America's Test Kitchen has gathered its best tips, recommendations, and 2,000 recipes for its first cookbook, aptly titled Cook's Illustrated Cookbook.
Guaranteeing "foolproof cooking," the cookbook is organized in my favorite way: with each meat, each type of dessert, and each grain in its own chapter. I never thought cakes should be in the same group with pies. They are two very different things.
Recipes include the Brined Thanksgiving Turkey that started a nationwide trend, and the Foolproof Pie Dough that includes a shot of vodka.
If you're a fan of the magazine, this cookbook gathers the very best of what that publication does. If you've never seen it, I promise you'll want a subscription after you go through the book.
For step-by-step cooking videos, rankings of kitchen equipment, and taste tests of ingredients, be sure to see the America's Test Kitchen website (click here). (2011 - America's Test Kitchen)

September 27, 2011

Just Plug Me In

I am often asked if I use an e-reader, with the questioner saying something like "Which do you prefer, a printed book or an e-book?"
To me, it is not an either-or question. I like to keep printed versions of favorite books that I know I'll read again, and it is somehow comforting to have my books on a shelf where I can visit with them like old friends.
But there is nothing to beat my Nook when it comes to reading while I travel. (I have actually paid fees for a heavier-than-allowed suitcases full of books.) I also like reading on the Nook at the gym, in line for whatever reason, and for books that I know I want to read, but not necessarily keep on a shelf.
I don't like to read magazines on the Nook, but I do read Vanity Fair on an iPad. And I listen to books on my iPod all the time in the car.
I like to consume information at a rapid rate, so any device that keeps me plugged in is a good thing.
Just as television didn't kill the film industry, I don't think the rise of e-books necessarily means the demise of  traditional publishing.
The publishing world is evolving and changing to suit the way people want to interact with the world. My only concern is that writers should always be compensated for their ideas and talent. And, at this point, research shows that authors are still being paid a steady rate, whether their book is published digitally or is printed.
Let's just keep people reading, and thinking, no matter what new word-vehicle comes along.

September 26, 2011

Banned Books

It is National Banned Books Week, which is held to celebrate the freedom to read what we want. This is the 30th anniversary of the event, organized by the American Library Association in support of our First Amendment rights of freedom of speech and freedom of the press. That doesn't mean you have to agree with what someone is saying, or that you have to allow your child to read a book that you deem inappropriate for their age. But it does mean that you can't prohibit everyone else from reading that book. Three books that found their way onto banned or restricted lists this year are below. For more banned book lists, or for more information about this week, click here.

The Curious Incident of the Dog
in the Night-Time

by Mark Haddon
Christopher John Francis Boone is an amazing 15-year-old. He can name all the countries of the world and he can manipulate numbers in his head with computer-like speed. But Christopher is autistic and has trouble understanding human emotions; he even carries a cheat sheet of facial expressions so he can comprehend his interactions with others. Only animals are easy for him to understand. When a neighbor's dog dies, Christopher is accused of the crime. He decides that he will follow in the footsteps of his hero, Sherlock Holmes, and find the true criminal. Curious Incident is a touching, funny, and insightful look at an autistic boy whose mind just works a little differently.
Removed from the Lake Fenton, Mich., summer reading program after parents complained about its “foul language.” (2004 - Knopf Doubleday)

The Hunger Games
by Suzanne Collins
I discovered the first of this trilogy a couple of years ago and was completely enthralled. Suzanne Collins imagines a future where the government maintains tight control over its 12 districts by demanding a harsh tribute of two children chosen by lottery from each territory who will fight in a televised gladiator game. Katniss offers to take her younger sister's place to fight to the death. She sees no other way except to join in the inhuman reality show, but will she lose her own humanity along the way? This is a searing look at our own modern world, and its fascination with violent games, reality television, and an occasional inability to see the danger in blindly following others. Look for the filmed version of this book in December.
Challenged and presented to the Goffstown, N.H., school board by a parent claiming that it gave her 11-year-old nightmares and could numb other students to the effects of violence. (2008 - Scholastic)

The Diary of a Young Girl
by Anne Frank
The ironic thing about this title being on a banned book list is that it is often held up as a warning against dictatorial societies that repress an individual's rights. The Nazis were well-known for banning and burning books that they deemed inappropriate, or that did not agree with the party line.
Anne Frank was not a paragon of virtue. Much like any other teenager throughout time, she struggled at that precipice between childhood and adulthood. But she went through her awkward teen years locked in an attic and in fear for her life and the lives of those she loved.
I would hate for anyone to read my early diaries. It literally makes me squirm to think about it ― all the earnest writings and over-the-top emotions. But Anne's diary shows her strength and her vulnerability in the face of situations that we all encounter, in a time that I hope we never live through again.
Challenged at the Culpeper County, Va., public schools by a parent requesting that her daughter not be required to read the book aloud. The director of instruction announced the edition published on the 50th anniversary of Frank’s death will not be used in the future despite the fact the school system did not follow its own policy for handling complaints. The remarks brought criticism and international attention to the school system. The superintendent said, however, that the book will remain a part of English classes. (1947 - Doubleday)

September 23, 2011

Review and Recipe

Review: The Lost King of France
by Deborah Cadbury  
In case you missed it, we had a bit of a theme this week with a selection of historical narratives.
We'll finish up with a great read that mixes science, suspense, and history.
In all of the books I’ve read about Marie Antoinette or the French revolution, the storyline usually ends with the Queen's death. The fate of her children, however, has been a mystery. Many in Europe today claim to be descendants of the lost Dauphin, with historians insisting that he actually died as a child, soon after his parents.
So many claimants to the throne came forward in the early 1800s. that Mark Twain even included a joke about the missing Dauphin in Huckleberry Finn. One serious contender, a Prussian named Karl Wilhelm Naundorff, was so convincing that he had his own courtiers and his descendants today still believe they are the heirs to the French throne. Naundorff even convinced the only survivor to the royal bloodbath, the Dauphin's sister Marie-Therese.
So what did happen to the young prince? This book lays out what we do know, including one of the most realistic and detailed accounts about the barbaric treatment of Marie Antoinette’s son that I've ever read. The viciousness of the Parisian mobs and the lack of any sympathy for a little boy of eight is shocking in the extreme.
The royal family's imprisonment isn’t treated as the opening act to the final guillotine’s blow, but rather an essential part of the narrative, so readers are given every gripping detail, many of which were taken from letters, journals, and official papers of the day. So many witnesses wanted to share their stories as the government flipped from royalist to republican and back again that there is quite a bit to work from. However, the fate of the prince is lost as he enters a final prison and seemingly disappears. The government insisted that he died of an illness, but did he?
Fast-forward to today’s world of science and technology. In a hidden corner of a cathedral rests a small heart, reportedly that of the lost prince. It's own history is one of intrigue and adventure. The heart was dropped, left in a dust heap, stolen, and finally hidden by the Archbishop of Paris. It’s amazing that it survived.
Scientists decided to use that tiny heart to test the DNA of known descendants of Marie-Therese, a process that was only possible thanks to the habit of those during the 18th century to keep locks of hair from loved ones.
In 2000, the mystery was solved. Did the heart belong to the Dauphin? You'll have to read the book to find out or you can Google it. Even if you already know the answer, this page turner will have you looking at every clue with fresh eyes.  (2002 - St. Martin’s Press)

Recipe: Bad-for-Your-Heart Sauce
One thing the French know how to do is delicious food without all the hang-ups. I have used this beurre blanc recipe from Julia Child for years. But, being an uptight American, I only bring it out for super-nice occasions. It goes fabulously with fish, chicken, vegetables ― it would probably make a paper napkin taste amazing. It is also heart-cloggingly bad, which makes it perfect for our book review.
1 cup of butter, must be cold and cut into chunks
1/2 teaspoon of salt
1/2 teaspoon of pepper (white if you are picky)
1/4 cup white wine vinegar
1 Tablespoon minced shallot
In small saucepan, heat white wine vinegar with salt, pepper, and shallot. Bring to a low boil and let it reduce down to just a couple of teaspoons of liquid while whisking to avoid sticking. Here comes the interesting part ― remove from heat and drop 2 tablespoons of the butter into the liquid and begin to whisk with a wire whisk. This just does not work as well with a rubberized whisk. Put the pan back on low heat and continue to add the butter, whisking it into the sauce until you have used all of the butter. Taste for seasoning and then serve when it is completely combined and creamy.

September 22, 2011

Not-So-Horrible History

This summer, my daughter and I went to the British Museum. It wasn't our first time there, so we had a very targeted idea of what we wanted to see. Amid all the incredible displays and stunning sculptures, what do you think made my 21-year-old jump up and down like a kid?
Well you're wrong. It was the display of Horrible Histories books in the bookshop.
The first time my daughter was in England, she was a 7-year-old who was just hitting the perfect age for gross-out humor and subversive ideas. She found her first Horrible Histories book at the Tower of London. It was Measly Middle Ages, and she begged for an entire selection of the series. Luckily, they were (and are) very cheap, so we scooped up several for the flight home. I am unashamed to say that I also read them on the plane, and was completely (and literally) engrossed by the time we landed back in the U.S.
The series, written by Terry Deary, is designed to engage and entertain while imparting facts and figures about history. The action is fast-paced and the illustrations by Martin Brown are hilarious. If you have a child who thinks history is boring, I promise you'll change his/her mind with any of these books. Or if you are an adult who forgot everything you once knew, these will make you laugh out loud while you re-learn. Just FYI, they aren't all about England. You'll find plenty of other world events in books like Groovy Greeks and Rotten Romans.
My daughter bought her way around England this summer, acquiring Smashing Saxons, Vicious Vikings, and more (luckily this time with her own money). I haven't yet told her that publisher Scholastic has branched out into new series and genres ― Murderous Maths, Horrible Geography, Horribly Famous, and the one I know will be on her holiday list, Horrible Science.
For more terrible fun, be sure to check out the Horrible Histories website here.

September 21, 2011

Wednesday's Cookbook: Baking History

Heirloom Baking with the Brass Sisters
by Marilyn Brass and Sheila Brass
There are recipes that are handed down from generation to generation, the type of dishes that bring back strong memories of someone you love. We have a lot of those in my family sausage gravy makes me think of my grandma, ginger crinkles remind me of my great-grandmother, and chocolate pies make me think of my Chris-Mom (That's the name I made up for my other grandma. And it fits her).
For my mom, there are almost too many dishes to list. But her blintzes send me into orbit. When we were kids, we could barely wait until she had them off the baking sheet. I can't tell you how many times I burned my tongue on them. I never learned.
This cookbook, recently named a James Beard finalist, is the follow-up to the Brass Sisters book on heirloom cooking that was published in 2008 and it has a similar nostalgic flavor.
The Winthrop, Mass.-based sisters (named Marilyn and Sheila) have spent a lifetime collecting archival recipes. They have snapped up old recipe boxes at flea markets and yard sales, purchased old cooking pamphlets and guides full of recipes, and have poured over their own family journals to collect these amazing recipes.
Adding to the nostalgia of the food are photos of antique cooking implements and cookie cutters, as well as the covers of old recipe books from 1900 to 1940. A date is listed with each recipe so you can get a sense of the time period.
But this isn't an antiquated cookbook; directions and ingredients are completely up-to-date. In some cases, the expert Brass Sisters have slightly changed the recipes to adjust for more modern tastes.
The book is organized by type (like "Keeping the Cookie Jar Filled" or "Waking Up to Breakfast") and by occasion ("A Southern Lady Pours Tea" or "Bridge with the Girls").
I also like the interesting sidebars. For example, Sweet Touch gives suggestions for additional ingredients or toppings. Sweet Tips offer cool ideas like coating a spoon with cooking spray before measuring honey.
The heart of this book is that sense of family and of sharing. And in that spirit, the Brass Sisters also included pages in the back of the book so you can write down your own heirloom recipes, as well as a built-in envelope to store old notes and cards. So my next task is to convince my mom that I need the blintz recipe. Stay tuned...
(2011 - Black Dog & Leventhal - awesome name for a publisher)

September 20, 2011

The Art of Book Covers

Designing book covers is an art that requires a visionary viewpoint, but also a very pragmatic approach. After all, the end goal is to attract the reader, to make her pick up the book and take it home.
There have been books written about cover designs, and there are websites dedicated to them. Printworks, a Chicago art gallery, even celebrated its 30th anniversary last year with an exhibit titled "Cover Stories: The Art of the Book Jacket."
Chip Kidd is probably the most recognized name among American book cover designers. Time magazine recently showcased some of his best covers (click here), with accompanying text that allowed Kidd to describe his creative process. If you've read any blockbuster books in the last few years, you've picked up one of Kidd's designs. The book Dry is one of my favorites.
Books that have entered the the realm of classic literature have gone through many evolutions of cover art. For example, the original cover for Lord of the Flies was a very traditional '50s book jacket, above, which makes sense given its 1954 publication date. Compare that to a whimsical recent edition that seems to me a little too lighthearted for the frightening story, below right. I think the cover that best suits the story is the infamous design with the bloody boar. Scary.
If you happen to live in the UK, you have the opportunity to design your own cover for Lord of the Flies. To celebrate author William Golding's centenary, publisher Faber & Faber is holding a design contest for the next edition's jacket. Entry deadline is Jan. 20 (click here for more information).
How would you reinterpret the classic? Are there any other book covers you would re-do?

September 19, 2011

That's Entertainment

I'm almost on glamour overload, between Fashion Week in New York last week and the Emmy Awards last night. It's the perfect time to take a look at three entertaining books about Hollywood and the business that is show.

Upper Cut
by Carrie White
In the '60s, styling hair was a man's job in Hollywood, and it always had been. But then along came Carrie White, who styled her way to the most elite clients in music and film. She clipped hair for Elvis and Jimi Hendrix, coiffed Elizabeth Taylor and Goldie Hawn, and even did Sharon Tate's hair for her wedding to director Roman Polanski.
As she started to hit the pinnacle of her career, though, White also found herself enmeshed in another side of Hollywood, one of pills, alcohol, and late-night parties. She hit rock bottom in the '80s, and then began a long climb back.
Although this book is as much about White's life as it is about her career, it is full of the crazy lifestyles and gossipy tales that still make LaLa Land what it is today. (2011 - Atria Books)

Fifth Avenue, 5 a.m.
by Sam Wasson
Breakfast at Tiffany's has rabid fans. I'm not necessarily one of them, but I have always been fascinated by Audrey Hepburn's sophistication and charisma.
Fan or not, this book is an amazing look at the making of a movie, with the author pulling back the curtain on the politics and impact of Breakfast at Tiffany's.
When Truman Capote wrote the book, he already had a specific actress in mind to portray Holly Golightly. He wanted the up-front sexuality of Marilyn Monroe, not the seemingly uptight and prissy Audrey Hepburn. But the woman who made the role her own proved him wrong in every way, shocking her fans by agreeing to portray a prostitute who has no qualms about her life.
Wasson looks at the movie from every angle, from the strange casting of Mickey Rooney, to the birth of the iconic little black dress, to the selection of "Moon River" in this groundbreaking film. (2010 - HarperCollins)

The Big Show
by Steve Pond
I am crazy about the Oscars. I like the glitz, the gaffes, the tears, and every unexpected moment.
The Big Show is frothy fun, giving the reader an insider's look backstage with all the backstabbing, dress malfunctions, and strung-out presenters.
Steve Pond, formerly with Premiere magazine, looks at 15 years of the Academy Awards, starting with the 1989 show that infamously kicked off with Rob Lowe's duet with Snow White, and then went completely downhill from there.
Careers are made and broken at the awards, from the most low-key host who won legions of fans among the show staffers (Steve Martin) to the host that no one ever wants backstage again (David Letterman).
Then there are the nominees, those high-strung and nervous stars who refuse to be seated next to each other, who fight over precedence on the show, and who hide from their many exes in the wings. (2007 - Faber and Faber)

September 16, 2011

Review and Recipe

Review: Death and the Penguin
by Andrey Kurkov
Dark and frosty landscapes seem to inspire more introspection and a deeper examination of the human spirit. Russian authors, in particular, have a long history of writing about the hard edges of reality with a heavy dose of melancholy. But the Russians also have a corner on whimsical writing and the unique ability to look a the world a little differently.
Reminiscent of Everything Is Illuminated, Death and the Penguin shows the absurdity of life in post-Soviet Kiev, where violence and poverty rule the city with an iron fist.
Viktor Zolotaryov is a would-be writer with one friend, his penguin Misha. Viktor rescued Misha from the local zoo when it could no longer feed its inmates and had a fire-sale to find them homes.
Viktor is musing about how to keep himself, and Misha, fed and housed when a unique opportunity presents itself. The chief of the city's newspaper needs an obituary writer, but not for the short just-the-facts versions. He is more interested in a literary and cautionary tale about each person, and Viktor is just the man for the job. Every newspaper keeps files on VIPs, with info ready at hand for any unfortunate incident that might require a tribute in the next edition. Those files are to be the background for Viktor's pre-death writings, which will be held until the time is nigh.
Viktor takes to the job like a penguin to water, offering up unique tributes that capture the heart and soul of each person, no matter how dark. But a funny thing happens in the dark of the deep winter. Viktor's honored VIPs find themselves in need of his obituaries almost before the sheets of paper leave his typewriter.
Meanwhile, Viktor's chilly home life with Misha begins to slightly thaw as he acquires a "family." Leaving his daughter with Viktor for safe keeping, a friend makes a quick getaway, and then dies. Viktor hires the niece of another friend as a nanny, and then that friend dies. Is the Mafia involved? They do seem to enjoy inviting Misha to be the "formal" guest at their funerals. Or perhaps the state security forces are involved? With a looming sense of doom, Viktor wonders if it's time for his own pre-written obit.
It seems he can't trust anyone, only Misha the penguin. They are both birds out of water, to corrupt a phrase, but together they might find a way to navigate the slippery fields they find themselves in. (2011 - Melville House)
Also Recommended: The sequel to this book is just out ― titled Penguin Lost.

Recipe: Fish Chowder
Like Misha the Penguin, I am particular about my fish. This is a fish chowder recipe that a relative gave me many years ago. It's perfect for the fall days ahead ― or even for a cold Russian night.
2 Tbsp. of olive oil
1 1/2 cups chopped onion
1 cup chopped celery
1 cup chopped carrots
2 cloves garlic, diced
2 pounds frozen haddock, in chunks
2 cups chopped potatoes
1 tsp. salt
1/2 tsp. pepper
1/4 tsp. red pepper
3 cups water
2 1/2 cups milk
1/2 cup half and half
Heat oil in a large pot. Add onion, celery, and carrots. Saute until celery is softened. Add garlic and fry for 1 minute more. Add fish, potatoes, salt, peppers, and water. Simmer 30 to 35 minutes, or until vegetables and fish are tender. Remove from heat and add milk and half-and-half. Reheat to just boiling. Serve with crackers or bread. (Recipe from my archives)

September 15, 2011

The First Domestic Goddess

Sometimes it pays to do your spring cleaning. A woman in Plymouth, England, recently found a 200-year-old cookbook in the back of her kitchen drawer. Written in 1796 by Hannah Glasse, The Art of Cookery Made Plain and Easy, offers recipes (called receipts at the time), remedies, and even "cures" for illnesses like rabies. The first edition of the book was published in 1747 and continued to be published until 1843.
Despite its huge popularity, Hannah herself ended up in a debtor's prison and almost faded into obscurity while others took credit for her work. Her identity was finally confirmed in the 1930s and she was even featured in recent years in a BBC documentary titled "Hannah Glasse: The First Domestic Goddess." You can see the link here
For photos of the recently discovered book, click here for the news story. There's even a play-by-play description there for how to cook a calf's head. Just in case you were planning that as the centerpiece for your next dinner party.
Meanwhile, the next time you do decide to pull a cookbook off the shelf, pause to remember Hannah and her groundbreaking legacy. All of us modern-day domestic goddesses owe her our gratitude for curing rabies, if nothing else. How many of us can claim to have done that?

September 14, 2011

Wednesday Cookbook: All's Fair

On a Stick!
by Matt Armendariz
It's almost time for the Dixie Classic Fair, a good old-fashioned agricultural fair here in North Carolina. If you haven't been to a fair like that, you don't know what you're missing.
My friend Julie and I have a very specific path at the fair first we see the chickens in pants (well, that's what they look like); then the sheep, cows, horses; then the huge veggies and the apples that look like old people; which leads into the flower arranging arena; then quilts, baked goods, and jams; and then it is all about the food. Amazing and very unhealthy food.
Oddly enough, food at fairs seems to always come on a stick. Anything can be put on a skewer, as proved by the recipes in On a Stick (I refuse to use the exclamation point again). You can make your own fair favorites at home with these recipes, including Fried Mac 'n' Cheese, Candy Apples, Fried Pickles, and Deep Fried Candy Bars. 
FYI ― I saw a woman practically give herself third-degree burns with one of those once, but I digress.
Now don't send me nasty emails about hardened arteries and heartburn...there are healthier items that can be served on a stick, too. For example, Red Curry Shrimp and Pineapple, Fruit Salad Skewers, and Antipasti Skewers. And there are some whimsical ideas that I would never imagine you could get on a stick, like Margarita Jell-O Shots. Those would sell like crazy at the fair, I bet.
Great dips, sauces, and marinades add new flavors to the speared bites, and not-the-norm sticks like rosemary and sugarcane make this a fun-filled cookbook. (2011 - Quirk Publishing)

September 13, 2011

Meeting Lisa See

If you've read my review of Snow Flower and the Secret Fan (click here), you know I'm a fan of Lisa See. So I was happy to hear that she would be speaking at the Bookmarks Festival in Winston-Salem last weekend. There she is to the right during the event.
I'm not a stalker-fan when it comes to meeting favorite authors. I like to hear them speak, but I don't hang around at the foot of the stage with books clutched to my chest (okay, there was that one time with Elizabeth George, but I was younger then).
I was charmed by Lisa See, however. I knew she would be intelligent and hopefully entertaining. But who knew she would have such a wicked sense of humor?
She also agreed with my assessment that the movie edition of Snow Flower did not mesh with her book. Unlike other authors who have given interviews about how much they hated the filmed version of their works, Lisa See had a much more sanguine viewpoint. She said that her book was her vision as an artist, and that once the director took on the film project it then became his vision as an artist, so there was a part of her that respected that.
But she followed that with a quick comment that she had also learned a few lessons that will come in handy when filming begins later this year on the adaptation of her book Peony in Love. 
See also talked about her own laotong (or life friend), Amy Tan, and their interesting parallel lives. And she gave us some insights into the book she's working on now, tentatively titled China Dolls. It will tell the story of women on the "Chop Suey" entertainment circuit in the '30s and '40s, and how they straddled the line between American looseness and Asian cultural rules. Sounds great!
If you  live in the area, be sure to mark your calendars for the next Bookmarks event, held the second weekend in September. To tempt you, I'll post a couple more photos from this year's festival.

September 12, 2011

Erik the Read

Erik Larson sees history a little differently. He takes the big picture ― a hurricane, a war, a World's Fair ― and then narrows his view to a smaller story, something a bit more on the sidelines. He lets the two stories run side by side until they intersect, sometimes violently. Then he weaves the two narratives together into one strongly compelling history that I dare you to put down. 

The Devil in the White City
The 1892-93 World's Columbian Exposition ― also known as the Chicago World's Fair ― featured pavilions from 46 countries full of amazing wonders and new inventions that awed and inspired attendees.
Buildings were designed by titans of the architectural world, using so much white stucco and marble that the main Court of Honor was nicknamed the White City. Anything seemed possible ― machinery powered by new electrical currents, the very first moving pictures, the original Ferris wheel. Everyone in the country wanted to to see the amazing sights and trains were flooded with passengers eager to be the first in line. Many of them were young women, exhilarated by the promise of freedom in a new modern age.
Behind the magic and entertainment was a darker story. The Fair was disorganized and plagued by a lack of funds and workers' strikes. The chaos, and the influx of young and unchaperoned women, offered an unexpected boon to young Dr. H.H. Holmes, a serial killer with a penchant for architecture, too. But his most famous building would be known as Murder Castle. (2004 - Knopf Doubleday)

In the Garden of Beasts
This is the newest of Larson's histories, one that interestingly also begins in Chicago.
William Dodd was a long-time professor at the University of Chicago, serving as the head of the history department and working quietly toward retirement.
His dream, though, was to finish his book, a multi-volume series with a title only a professor could love ― The Rise and Fall of the Old South. Dodd's chance comes when, out of the blue, President Roosevelt offers him the role of ambassador to Germany. Oh, did I not mention that the year is 1933?
Dodd readily accepts. He speaks fluent German, after all, and he imagines that the easy diplomatic schedule will offer him plenty of time to write. So he packs up his household, which includes his wife and two grown children, and heads for Berlin. His son and daughter throw themselves wholeheartedly into the whirlwind of parties and gaiety that marked that German city in the '30s, refusing to believe the rumors they hear about their new friends, including Goebbels and Goring. But we all know how this story ends. Dodd now has to navigate a minefield of diplomacy, and somehow must convince his bosses in the State Department that the threat from the new German government is all too real. (2011 - Random House)

Thunderstruck
This is a story about a race against time and the book itself keeps a breathless pace.
There is Guglielmo Marconi, rushing to introduce a new and amazing means of communication that requires no wires. He is trying to outpace his competition and the skeptics that threaten to end his venture before it gets off the ground.
Then there is Dr. Harvey Crippen, a kind and sweet man who wouldn't hurt a fly ― until he murdered his wife. Now he's on the run with his mistress, who is disguised as a boy. They board a ship to Canada, safe in the knowledge that they will never be caught. And then Marconi's invention crackles to life.
That's where the final race comes in, as Scotland Yard and a bevy of excited reporters race to catch Crippen before he vanishes into the wilderness of North America.
For the first time, newspaper readers around the world are able to follow a "live" story as it happens, and the excitement starts the first media feeding frenzy. (2007 - Random House)

September 9, 2011

Review and Recipe

Review: Skippy Dies
by Paul Murray
Well now you know how the story ends, so there's no point in reading this book.
Kidding.
I do have to admire the audacity of an author who gives away the ending right there on the cover. Anyone with gall enough to do that better also have the chops to keep me engaged. Luckily, Paul Murray does. Rather than a sad book about a boy's death, Murray produces a funny, poignant, and fast-paced tale.
Set in a boys' school in Dublin, Skippy Dies is really about how Skippy lives. He is a 14-year-old who's trying to figure out the elusive character of girls, how to deal with his home life, and how to avoid bullies, some of them adults. He finds his escape through a healthy fantasy life and a not-so-healthy reality.
The school, Seabrook, is also going through some growing pains. The Acting Principal is a bully himself, with a master plan to rid the school of its historic affiliation with the Catholic church and to force the teachers and students to abide by his fickle rules. The boys and men in Seabrook find themselves in parallel universes of obsession and deception, universes that intersect at a fateful school dance.
But there is still a mystery that isn't answered in the title: Why did Skippy die on the floor of a doughnut shop? He wasn't eating anything, so the doughnuts can't be blamed. And why did he write "Tell Lori" in jelly filling on the floor? It's the "how did we get here" questioning that defines Skippy's story. (2011 - Faber and Faber)

Recipe: Crazy Burgers
It would be too obvious (and creepy) to give you a doughnut recipe here. So I thought I'd go with the next best thing, at least according to the boys at the Seabrook school. I received this hamburger recipe from a good friend years ago. Since then, I've seen variations on its peculiar ingredients, but they do combine well for a very moist and flavorful patty.
2 pounds hamburger
1/2 cup applesauce
1/2 cup crushed Ritz crackers
2 Tbsp. Accent
1 Tbsp. Tabasco
1/4 tsp. garlic powder
2 Tbsp. Worcestershire sauce
1/2 envelope Lipton onion soup mix
Mix together and form into patties. Makes about 10 hamburgers. (from the terrific cook Harold Craven)

September 8, 2011

The Reality of Product Placement

We are bombarded by advertising on television and in movies through product placement. It's the price we pay for stepping away from traditional ads and commercials. Sometimes the products are just a bit too in-your-face, like a recent program I saw that had two main characters debate the finer points of Doritos. Sigh.
Books aren't immune to these hidden ads. There was a huge controversy a few years ago when author Fay Weldon was commissioned by Bulgari to write a book that would feature Bulgari products.
But here is a product placement I can get behind: The Los Angeles Times reports that Parks & Recreation will showcase Vroman's Bookstore in an October episode. The storyline focuses on the main character, Leslie Knope, as she tours the country promoting her new book, Pawnee: The Greatest Town in America, with a stop at Vroman's in Pasadena, Calif.
In a fun reality twist, publishing house Hyperion actually is releasing Knope's book on Oct. 4 in trade paperback.
My favorite part about the entire stunt, though, is having an independent bookstore as a film set. Vroman's will benefit from the exposure, and the show will put the spotlight directly on the independents at a time when they need it most.
And who knows, perhaps I'll review Knope's book in an upcoming post. Okay, maybe not. But I guarantee I won't post about why I like Doritos' original flavor more than the Cool Ranch version.

September 7, 2011

Wednesday's Cookbook - Diving In

Off the Eaten Path
by Morgan Murphy
When we head out on a road trip, my husband and I like to find the path least traveled, those little roads that were popular until the super-highways took over. That's where you find the tastiest treats and the places where the locals eat.
Food critic Morgan Murphy captures that spirit of discovery in a tour of Southern diners, covering 70 stops in 17 Southern states.
Each chapter starts with a state's "best drive," or a stretch of road that's particularly worth your time. GPS coordinates are included for each restaurant, ensuring you won't get lost along the way. Rubbernecker Wonders (like the Quirky Museum or the Crop of Cadillacs) as well as Food Finds (like bakeries, general stores, and drive-ins) promise fun scenic stops.
However, it's really all about the food. Recipes from the best of the pit-stops include Southern fare like biscuits, ham salad, and fruit pies. Regional dishes highlight the best of each state seafood near the coast and Tex-Mex in the more western areas. My favorite recipes offer good twists on traditional foods, including Jalapeno Hush Puppies and Tipsy Chicken.
Off the Eaten Path makes me want to head out on the road to try every one of these "dives" and stop at every kitschy spot. I'll have to start with the one that featured prominently in my childhood  Snappy Lunch in Mount Airy, NC, where my grandfather used to take me for hot dogs and pork chop sandwiches. Half the fun in any of these restaurants is the memories that are made. (2011 - Oxmoor House)

September 6, 2011

Print Power

There's nothing like the resounding whomp as a big, fat, healthy magazine hits your desk. It makes me absolutely giddy to see cover lines like "758 pages." Are we back to the good old days? If you have seen the September Vogue, you might think so.
It is exactly 758 pages, and it weighs in at a hefty 3.5 pounds. Yes, pounds. Can you imagine the postage bill per issue? But don't cry for them  they have so many advertisers in the issue that you don't hit editorial until after the 200th page. There also are enough blow-ins and fold-outs that it's actually hard to turn the pages.
But I love it. I adore the scent of ink (when I can smell it over the hundreds of perfume samples). I love to feel the paper the way a Bergdorf's associate smooths cashmere scarves  and I can tell you the difference between 80-pound and 100-pound paper in a second.
I love pixels and picas. I can throw around terms like "CMYK" and "process color" with the best of them. I like to debate saddle vs. perfect binding, and I love dipping into the well. If you know what I mean, you're in the print club. If you don't understand what I'm talking about, poor you.
Once you have ink in your veins, it's hard to remove it. I am not so old school that I don't see the allure of the new toys in the digital age, but I am enjoying the resurgence of the print world and the celebrations of the written word.
My favorite example right now is the new Pilcro collection of clothes at Anthropologie. The line has found some fun names for its pants  Serif, Stet, and Superscript. Makes me want to get out my red china marker and go to work.

September 5, 2011

Good Spirits

If a long weekend puts you in good spirits (sorry), or if you've found some other reason to raise a glass, you might find it interesting to discover how champagne gets its bubbles. Or why coffee was seen as a revolutionary drink in its early history. Or when the first real marketing of liquor began. These books serve up a helping of history with an entertaining look at the drinks that are beloved around the world.

The King of Vodka
by Linda Himelstein
In the early 1800s, it was almost unheard of that a Russian peasant would be able to leave his indentured life in the countryside, let alone to build a business empire. But Pyotr Smirnov was one of the lucky ones  and one of the smart ones. Never shy of hard work, Smirnov labored at multiple side jobs to enable him to purchase his freedom, and then found work in Moscow pubs where he learned all he could about the production and sale of the king of Russian drinks  vodka. After earning enough to open his own distillery, Smirnov spearheaded the movement to bottle the liquor (previously sold only in casks), and then showed his true genius in marketing. He was the first to recognize that word-of-mouth advertising was the cheapest, and quickest, way to successfully sell a product. (2010 - Harper Collins)


The Widow Clicquot
by Tilar Mazzeo
Just as the business of vodka was refined during the early 1800s in Russia, the commerce and industry involved in creating champagne was developing at the same time in France.
Champagne itself had been in existence since the 1600s, but the creation of the bubbly wine was haphazard and the vintners never knew what they would get when they opened the bottles. Enter a complex woman for the complex task  Barbe-Nicole Clicquot Ponsardin, an unlikely entrepreneur for her time.
After her husband's death, Barbe-Nicole took his small winery and transformed it into an unbelievably successful enterprise, spearheading many changes that we take for granted today  the shape of the bottle, trademarks, cork shapes, how the bottles are stored, and more. In doing so, she also paved the way for other women in the wine business (Pommery, Bollinger, Perrier), while transforming champagne into a symbol of celebration and luxury. (2009 - Harper Collins)


A History of the World in 6 Glasses
by Tom Standage
Six drinks have literally changed the course of history  beer, wine, tea, coffee, spirits, and soda. From the Stone Age to the modern age, these drinks have nourished workers, started revolutions, pushed exploration, and raised empires. 
Standage examines each of the drinks individually, offering a unique and engrossing history lesson in each chapter.
Some of the fun facts: The earliest imbibers of beer had to use long straws to avoid choking on all of the chaff floating around in the drink. Wine has probably been in existence as long as beer, but has suffered from an elitist reputation all the way back to its earliest recordings in history.
Coffee fueled subversive meetings and revolutionary talk across Europe in the 1600s, while tea was seen as a civilized drink...if you forget about all the aggressive actions taken to ensure England cornered the market. Meanwhile, grog (made with rum) stopped scurvy in its tracks. And Coca-Cola started out as a coca-infused wine. (2006 - Walker & Company)

September 3, 2011

Local Book Festival

If you are within driving distance of Winston-Salem, NC, there is an amazing book festival taking place on Sept. 10 in the Downtown Arts District on Sixth and Trade Streets.
Bookmarks is a free annual one-day street book festival featuring readings, discussions, book signings, workshops, storytelling, demonstrations, and performances with more than 30 authors, illustrators, and chefs representing all genres.
There are some terrific writers on the schedule, including Lisa See, Tom Perrotta, and Kimberla Lawson Roby. For more info, click here. I plan to stock up on books there, too (one can never have enough). Hope to see you there!

September 2, 2011

Review and Recipe

Review: Breakfast with Buddha
by Roland Merullo
When you are young, you think you have all the answers.
When you are older, you are finally brave enough to ask the questions.
Otto Ringling is a a middle-aged man who has questions. But the day-to-day busy-ness of life keeps him from really listening to his own inner voice. When he's tricked into driving his sister's spiritual guide across the country, Otto is not in the mood to discuss "hokem" or spirituality for six days. All he wants to do is get to their final destination as quickly as possible with the least amount of religious proselytizing.
To his surprise, the maroon-robed guru from Russia, known as Rinpoche, isn't about conversion or pushing Otto to the "right path." But there is a stillness and resoluteness about Rinpoche that intrigues Otto, and he finds himself asking more and more questions.
As they travel across the country, Otto shows Rinpoche the "real America," like bowling and miniature golf. And Otto reluctantly tries yoga, meditation, and fasting. Despite himself, Otto realizes his cynical outlook about spirituality is really covering fear and uncertainty, and a need to know the one answer to everything. With Rinpoche's gentle discussions, Otto discovers that the problem lies more in his questions than in the answers.
I have this odd belief that sometimes books find you at just the right time. I'm not necessarily on a serious spiritual journey myself, but I am at the right age to have the same "deep thoughts" that Otto does in this book. And I can sympathize with his attempts at yoga. Just ask my poor teacher Heather who has to watch me flounder around every week.
Despite the talk of mystical or spiritual searching, the author gives his topics a light touch, instead concentrating on the search that we all find ourselves on at one time or another ― basically, why are we here? The book is written with humor and without being preachy or pushing one religion or agenda.
As I read Breakfast with Buddha, I kept thinking of my own "guru"...my mom. She has a saying that I've always remembered, and that I think really fits this book's theme: "If you concentrate too hard on the destination, you won't enjoy the journey." ( 2007 - Algonquin Books) 

Recipe: Muesli
Yeah, I know. The name is a bit gross to American ears, but this is a delicious breakfast. I first had it years ago in a family-owned hotel in Cologne, Germany. I stayed at that hotel several times over five years and finally coerced the recipe out of the mother. I've changed it up a bit to fit my tastes and to accommodate whatever fruits I have.  And, like Rinpoche in Breakfast with Buddha, it looks a little strange, but is full of surprises.
2 cups vanilla yogurt                 2 cups rolled oats
1 cup milk                                  3 spoons sugar
1/2 lemon, squeezed                 2 grated apples
2 bananas, peeled/chopped      1 orange, peeled and copped
All you have to do is combine the first five ingredients, and then add the fruit. Let it sit covered in a refrigerator overnight. Feel free to add grapes, strawberries, pineapple, dried cranberries, raisins, nuts, as desired. (Recipe my own)

September 1, 2011

"Great" Books

I spent Sunday morning in the bookstore  as I do  and I perused the big table of Summer Reading selections. Those are the books that teachers have assigned for upcoming English or literature classes.
Looking through the stacks, I found a few old friends (Pride and Prejudice, Tale of Two Cities) and some enemies (Finnegan's Wake, Beowulf). I've re-read my favorites over and over, but I pity the poor kid who has to start on something as tough as Pilgrim's Progress.
Traditional classics can be hard to read in a 21st-century world. The language is often old fashioned, the prose can be breathless (you can almost hear the bodices heaving), and the storylines can seem staid. But great plots that stand the test of time are there to be discovered if you push your way past the old-school verbiage in books like in Vanity Fair or in anything by Dickens.
The online magazine Slate recently asked authors to name their least-favorites in classic literature. In the article (click here), the consensus seems to be that Catcher in the Rye is overwrought and that Ulysses isn't worth the time. I agree that Thomas Hardy needed Prozac, but I would debate Mark Twain over his hatred for Jane Austen. As one sarcastic wit to another, you would think he'd be a big fan. Or was he jealous?
Let's add to the debate. What are you favorites in classic literature, and the books you hope to never read again? I'll publish the results in a future post.