Summer Reading

Were you the kind of kid who did her summer reading right away, or did you put it off until the last minute?

I was the latter, if I finished started the book at all.  I loved reading in elementary school, but something happened when the stack of books I had to read piled up high, and the stack of books I wanted to read grew dusty on the back of my shelves.  I loved reading in elementary school, rarely read in middle and high school, and thankfully, grew to love reading again.

Which brings us to this summer.


We have a couple of trips on the calendar, and I have a growing list of books I’m dying to read.  Lately, I’ve been loving cookbook/memoirs by food writers.  You know, the ones that tell the story of a dish, with recipes at the end of each chapter?  I have no idea if there’s a name out there for them yet, but they seem to be everywhere.  They remind me of a food blog taken to the next level.  Here are my faves.

I stumbled across this one completely by accident, before I knew anything about Amanda Hesser, her work at NYT, and Food52.  And I loved it.  You can tell this is a woman who gets food, and who understands its importance in bringing people together.

This is the best book I’ve read recently, and my first real experience with David Lebovitz.  I have a copy of The Perfect Scoop, but if you check out my summer list, you’ll know why it remains untouched.  Reading all about how someone falls in love with a country through not only the quirks of its people, but also through its food was delicious.  Lebovitz’s writing is so natural, you just want to pull a chair up right next to him and make some gooey chocolate dessert together.

Now I’m in the middle of this one, by Bonny Wolf.  My husband and I were at Eastern Market on a random Sunday in May, only to find a local authors book fair going on.  Since I just missed getting a copy of The Good Stuff Cookbook signed, I started browsing and happened on this.  Bonny’s book reminds me of someone narrating an old family cookbook, one recipe at a time.

What’s on your reading list, dear readers?

Building Your Library

If I had my way, every wall of our home would be made up of a giant, fully stocked bookshelf.  I have spent a considerable amount of time building my own collection of favorite books, none of it more enjoyable than a recent Saturday afternoon.  Grandma Glass of Milk is downsizing and our family began the packing process over the weekend by sorting through knickknacks, pictures and books. I left her current abode with some vintage Noritake china and fabulous new reading material.

This is the story of King Arthur, illustrated by Howard Pyle, circa 1902.

And this, Gentle Measures in the Management of the Young is the What to Expect When You’re Expecting of 1872.  There is lots of talk on obedience and authority.  It’s right up my alley.

And when I want to curl up with a classic, I can now reach for The Complete Works of Shakespeare.

This book of Carl Sandburg’s poetry might look a little worn,

but upon closer inspection, it’s definitely worth keeping around.

But out of everything I brought home, this is the item I’m happiest with.

This is Grandma Glass of Milk’s Great Aunt’s cookbook.  It’s a healthy mix of printed recipes and family classics.  And I mean classics.  After all, we’re talking 5 generations ago, here.  Admittedly, this is only on loan until Grandma is back in her kitchen and cooking again.  In the meantime, I’ll be getting as much deliciousness out of this as I can.  Cheers, dear readers.

MMXI Inspirations

Goodbye 2010, you were a blast.

And hello 2011.  I was wondering how we would turn you into glasses, and I’m happy to see that someone found a way.

Oh, that’s cv, frequent commenter, colleague-extraordinaire/love of my life/co-wearer of year-glasses.

Just a handful of days into the new year and I’m full of inspiration.  I’ve been bookmarking recipes on my fave blogs left and right, but I’ve also been delving deeper into my cookbook collection.

I’m sure it pales in comparison to other collections, but my husband sure seems to think I have plenty.  You know all about these already,

and it’s likely you know about these too,

although they haven’t been on such a heavy rotation lately.  The Barefoot Contessa and Giada cookbooks are the lucky ones.  They have glitzy shows that accompany them.  I watch them make a dish, dream about how good it looks and sounds, and head to my collection to look it up.  Easy, right?

But the others don’t have glitzy Food Network shows.  I don’t get to watch the chefs cook, and be inspired to recreate their food on my table.  The effort to open these hefty volumes stands with me and me alone.  Oh, the pressure.  These cookbooks are all of my baking cookbooks.  With one church cookbook mixed in.  Because every home cook needs a church cookbook in her arsenal.  It also contains a framed card I once gave Grandma Glass of Milk which states, “Mashed potatoes are good.”  Amen.

These are the classic American cookbooks.  Patricia Wells, Alice Waters, Mark Bittman, you name it, it’s here.  But these are hardly ever touched.  Actually that’s not true.  I look through them and flag recipes all the time, but I never actually make anything from them.

Meet the oldies, but goodies.  The old Gourmet Cookbooks come from Grandma Glass of Milk and I picked up the others at my favorite used bookstore.  These have no glossy photos, thus, I rarely touch them.

And these are the others.  Relegated to the bottom shelf for their lack of attractive display potential (or the ability to look up all of their recipes online, sorry Ree!) They’re the least touched of all.  But you can see the little sticky notes popping out of nearly all of them.  There’s good stuff in there people!  What am I waiting for?

2011 is going to be the year of the cookbook.

You heard it here first.

A Couple of New Additions

I have a cookbook addiction.  It’s getting to be too much.

When I saw these volumes at a used book store for $3.00 each, I knew the deal was too good to pass up.

And I bit the bullet and committed to Dorie.  The TWD bloggers just rave about how wonderful each of her recipes is, and even more people cite Dorie’s as their favorite cookbook.  What tipped the scales for me though, was an endorsement from Ina.  While I was watching her make (my favorite) lemon-yogurt cake this weekend, she mentioned that she got the idea for this cake from her “dear friend” (oh, Ina!) Dorie Greenspan.  I was sold.

We’ll see what comes out of the kitchen first.

Julie & Julia [orzo chicken salad with lemon vinaigrette]

I’ve got a light and delicious orzo salad by my side as I sit to type this post.  Inspired by the Barefoot Contessa’s Curried Couscous, I threw together some orzo, chicken, dried cranberries, almonds and scallions with a lemon vinaigrette and some parmesan cheese, and I think I have achieved the perfect balance of both flavors and textures.  The saltiness of the parmesan with the sweetness of the cranberries.  The bite from the almonds with the crunch of the scallions.  It just came together tonight.

Orzo Salad

Which is perfect, considering tonight is my re-entry into the blogging world.  I saw Julie and Julia yesterday.  It took me almost a month to get around to it.  But really, this was years in the making.  I couldn’t resist Julie Powell’s book back in January of 2006.  That bright teal cover with the cute little egg whisk?  I had to find out what this lady was all about.  I liked the premise of cooking your way through such a hefty volume, and I identified with Powell’s voice.  She approached MtAoFC with caution, and rightfully so… “It’s not lushly illustrated, there are no shiny soft-core images of the glossy-haired author sinking her teeth into a juicy strawberry or smiling stonily before a perfectly rustic tart with carving knife in hand like some chilly blonde kitchen dominatrix.”  Is anyone else picturing Sandra Lee right now?  I thought Julie dragged a little in the middle, so I put her down, but finished her quickly once we were reunited.

julie & julia

Fast forward to this summer.  Eagerly anticipating the movie, I checked My Life in France out from the library while on vacation.  Up till that point, my knowledge of Julia consisted of 1)the reverence with which my grandmother spoke of her; 2)a glance at her kitchen on a trip to the Smithsonian; 3) bits of information I gathered while reading J&J.  Which is all just to say, I didn’t know much.   But what a life, and what a way with food!  Julia describes her kitchen endeavors in a way I’ve never read about before.  Just listen to her…

my life in france

“She occasionally sallied forth to whip up baking-powder biscuits.”

“I’d usually plop something on the table by 10:00 p.m.”

“La Truite’s true glory was its sole a la Normande, a poem of poached and flavored sole fillets surrounded by oysters and mussels, and napped with a wonder-sauce of wine, cream, and butter, and topped with fluted mushrooms.  Voluptuous was the word.”

“The sauce was composed of flour and water (not even chicken bouillon) and hardly any salt.  It was horrible to eat, but a wonderful cultural experience.”

“I was miffed, but not deterred.  Onward I plunged!”

“I girded my loins, spit on the old Underwood, and began to type up my suggestions—clickety clack—like a determined woodpecker.”

And finally:

“Zut!  We had muffed it!”

Which brings us to the movie.  Amy Adams clicking and clacking at her laptop reminded me a little too much of Meg Ryan’s wistful character in You’ve Got Mail.  The movie dragged a bit in the middle, just like the book, but I still loved it.  My dad was laughing out loud.  A must-see for all!

Animal, Vegetable, Miracle

If you haven’t read Animal, Vegetable, Miracle yet, it’s time.  No, really.  This is the perfect time of year to read Barbara Kingsolver’s nonfiction narrative all about eating seasonally and locally.


“Most of us agree to put away our sandals and bikinis when the leaves start to turn, even if they’re our favorite clothes.  We can learn to apply similar practicality to our foods.”

Well, when you put it that way….

I read this book in February.  Since I had not canned anything at the end of the previous summer, I was out of luck in terms of finding enough local, seasonal produce to sustain me through the winter months.  But I vowed to find a local farmer’s market when the warmer months hit.

And find one I did.  Right down the street, in fact.  I wish you could smell these peaches.  I wish you could taste this corn.  I want you to pop one of their cherry tomatoes in your mouth.  And the blueberries.  Oh, the blueberries.

But you probably don’t live here.  So you’ll have to read the book.  We can have that in common.  Barbara Kingsolver is a woman who understands cooking and has a respect for the food she serves.  As you follow her family through their year of eating, you’ll notice that her book stops being about food and starts focusing on a way of life.  It’s about taking time to eat as a family, and being mindful of how you nourish yourself.  I found it pretty easy to get on board with the Kingsolver clan.

So though I still eat bananas and key limes, and I purchase skim milk at a big chain supermarket, Kingsolver has me thinking much more about how and what I eat.  What’s for dinner tonight?  Orzo with roasted vegetables, most of which are locally grown.


Mr. Latte

You’ll rarely find me sans book in the summer.  I just finished Cooking for Mr. Latte, by Amanda Hesser.  It may humble Ms. Hesser, a true foodie, to learn that, so sorry, I knew nothing about her before I stumbled upon her “food lover’s courtship, with recipes.”  This is a lady who has an opinion or two about things.  She was the food editor for The New York Times Magazine.   In fact, her book is a compilation of her Food Diary columns for the publication.  She likes to name drop, and though you may know all about Craft, Babbo and Jeffrey Steingarten, you can choose to be impressed or not.

Mr. Latte

Snobbery aside, Amanda Hesser’s love of food is clear.  She writes honestly about the meals she eats with friends, family and future in-laws.  She frames her menus in unique ways, labeling them “recipes to hold onto” or “a dinner for when you need to be together.”

Here are a few more of my favorite snippets:

“What I eat is inextricably tied to where I eat, when I eat, why I eat and with whom I eat.”

“The first meal you cook for someone is intimate.  Not just if it’s for a date.  And not just because no one cooks anymore—it really has nothing to do with whether you are a good cook or not.  It’s an entry into the way you think, what you’ve seen and know, the way you treat others, how you perceive pleasure.”

“When you make a dish again and again, altering it to your liking, it becomes an expression of your aesthetic, of your palate, of who you are.”

If you love cooking, it’s worth a read.

Here’s a taste of the other food-related books on my summer reading list:

Cooking Books