Sunday, May 31, 2015

Francophiles, Find Yourself In A French Kitchen

If you love books and films set in France and spend as much time soaking up the sensual background details in each and every scene on the page or frame, you are sure to be delighted by Susan Herrmann Loomis' revealing new cooking memoir, In a French Kitchen: Tales and Traditions of Everyday Home Cooking in France.

To my delight, I discovered at the outset of the book I must actually be French! First, I love food. (Chapter 1: Loving Food begins, "The French love of food is primordial.") Second, I owe the vast majority of my kitchen and cooking knowledge to my grandmother. (Chapter 2: It All begins With Mamie.) [Never mind that my family tree stretches back to England and Germany and that I was raised in the tradition of Midwestern farmhouse cooking; I am now considering it a high probability that my ancestors somehow stumbled into these areas from regions of France!]

Despite Julia Child's best efforts, I believe that most American cooks still see French cooking as the most complex/difficult form of food/technique to master. Loomis' book is a reassurance that any one of us, with whatever we have on hand at this very moment for equipment, can likely whip up a meal on par with what is being served in a typical French home on any given day. If I was skeptical that any book could answer the question as to how the French cook can put "a multicourse meal on the table at least once every day, and usually more often than that, and still manage to look great, act normal, and do everything else that needs to be done, from working to raising kids, to taking care of the dog," all I needed was the reminder that they are just like me, simply being intentional and mindful about everything to do with food.

Loomis describes most of the French home kitchens as being on the small side. That means that the cooks are organized. They know what utensils and equipment they need and they know where each item is kept. I so appreciated her chapter on this and have been inspired to get my own kitchen in better order. (Goodwill is going to be getting some great items I rarely or never use!)

The rest of the book is devoted to chapters on courses typical to French meals: salad, cheese, dessert. She includes a chapter on bread (it's French cooking after all, who wouldn't include baguettes and croissants?) as well as using leftovers (the French are not wasteful). If you love breakfast, rest assured that the French do as well. (It's the basis for Chapter 8.) In Chapter 10 readers get the inside scoop on indispensable techniques used in every French kitchen. I was so inspired, I made my own mayonnaise!

The recipes included in the book come with delightful introductions and plenty of detailed instruction to walk you through to a successful completion of the dish. As with any new recipe, simply be sure to read it through once or twice before embarking on the actual preparation. At the end of the book Loomis offers ways to put together varies recipes from throughout the book into complete, successful French meals. Voila! C'est fini! Vous l'avait fait! (Voila! It's finished! You did it!)

If you are interested in all things French, in cooking, or in learning new ideas, techniques and recipes, you are definitely going to want a copy of In a French Kitchen! Check back in the next couple of days for your chance to win one!

I would like to thank Gotham Books for the Advanced Reader Copy of book I received in exchange for this review.

From the Publisher . . .

A delightful celebration of French life and the cooks who turn even the simplest meals into an occasion

Even before Susan Herrmann Loomis wrote her now-classic memoir, On Rue Tatin, American readers have been compelled by books about the French’s ease with cooking. With In a French Kitchen, Loomis—an expat who long ago traded her American grocery store for a bustling French farmer’s market—demystifies in lively prose the seemingly effortless je ne sais quoi behind a simple French meal.

One by one, readers are invited to meet the busy people of Louviers and surrounding villages and towns of Loomis’s adopted home, from runway-chic Edith, who has zero passion for cooking—but a love of food that inspires her to whip up an array of mouthwatering dishes—to Nathalie, who becomes misty-eyed as she talks about her mother’s Breton cooking, then goes on to reproduce it. Through friends and neighbors like these, Loomis learns that delicious, even decadent meals don’t have to be complicated.

Are French cooks better organized when planning and shopping? Do they have a greater ability to improvise with whatever they have on hand when unexpected guests arrive? The answer to both is: Yes. But they also have an innate understanding of food and cooking, are instinctively knowledgeable about seasonal produce, and understand what combination of simple ingredients will bring out the best of their gardens or local markets.

Thankfully for American readers, In a French Kitchen shares the everyday French tips, secrets, and eighty-five recipes that allow them to turn every meal into a sumptuous occasion.

About the Author . . .

Susan Herrmann Loomis is an award-winning journalist, author, professionally trained chef, and proprietor of a cooking school, On Rue Tatin. She is the author of twelve books, including French Farmhouse Cookbook and her memoir, On Rue Tatin: Living and Cooking in a French Town, which was named the IACP’s Best Literary Food Book in 2002. She lives with her two children in Louviers, where she moved nearly twenty years ago.

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

The Sound of Glass

I had just returned from my first trip to Maine when I was presented with the opportunity to vie for an ARC of Karen White's new novel. I follow the life rule of "never judge a book by its cover" -- however, the moment I saw the cover of The Sound of Glass, I knew I had to read it. (I had just been looking at the sea glass I collected on the beach in Maine and there on the cover was an image of what I had hoped to do with my own pieces!)

Then I opened the book to discover a woman wrapped in an air of secrecy and got swept up alongside her in the explosion that lit up the night sky. When something hits her roof and slides off, my heart was pounding! What was she about to discover in her garden that had fallen so abruptly and unexpectedly from the sky? A piece of the aircraft? A body? Something worse?

For more on the gist of the story, see below. Suffice it to say, the story is engaging from the get-go. The characters are believable and feel real. Although you will likely intuit some of the character's motives before the narrative confirms your instinct (doesn't that make you feel smart?!), it does not detract from the story line. I found myself rooting for each of the characters along the way.

It turns out that the family "secret" which Merritt uncovers is a common issue for many families. I appreciate the gentle way in which White deals with what could be a delicate issue. Readers will find themselves thinking about the issue from different perspectives through the differing choices made by various women throughout the book. (Trying not to give away too much!)

The Sound of Glass is a quick read and one which I hope you will enjoy as much as I did! Thanks to the publisher for the ARC I received in exchange for this review.

From the Publisher . . .

The New York Times bestselling author of A Long Time Gone now explores a Southern family’s buried history, which will change the life of the woman who unearths it, secret by shattering secret.

It has been two years since the death of Merritt Heyward’s husband, Cal, when she receives unexpected news—Cal’s family home in Beaufort, South Carolina, bequeathed by Cal’s reclusive grandmother, now belongs to Merritt.

Charting the course of an uncertain life—and feeling guilt from her husband’s tragic death—Merritt travels from her home in Maine to Beaufort, where the secrets of Cal’s unspoken-of past reside among the pluff mud and jasmine of the ancestral Heyward home on the Bluff. This unknown legacy, now Merritt’s, will change and define her as she navigates her new life—a new life complicated by the arrival of her too young stepmother and ten-year-old half-brother.

Soon, in this house of strangers, Merritt is forced into unraveling the Heyward family past as she faces her own fears and finds the healing she needs in the salt air of the Low Country.

About the Author . . .

Karen White is the New York Times bestselling author of eighteen novels including A Long Time Gone, The Time Between, After the Rain, and Sea Change. She grew up in London but now lives with her husband and two children near Atlanta, Georgia.

Friday, May 8, 2015

Dinner's On, Hipsters!

"This is a cookbook by Chris Taylor, a musician, and Ithai Schori, a photographer. They are also cooks. One trained at home, the other trained in restaurants. They believe that great food is just what happens when you do simple things well. They believe that great meals are as much about the people you cook for and with as they are about the food. They believe that cooking can be a lazy, beautiful thing, and they want to show you why."

This gem of a description for Twenty Dinners is tucked away neatly inside the back cover of this beautifully printed and bound book from Clarkson Potter Publishers.

The book is a collection of dinner party menus this dynamic cooking duo has put together. It's arranged according to seasons of the year, which is brilliant because it allows you to make the most of what's in season at the local farmers market, produce stall and market. I loved this aspect of the book because I am learning to eat more local foods which definitely change according to the time of year.

Don't let the description of "dinner party menus" fool you. This isn't fussy food that will take three days to prepare in order to serve a crowd. The book and the recipes have a very intimate feel designed to get everyone involved in the kitchen/cooking space together. Throughout the book there are suggestions for getting even the most inept-feeling friends involved in the fun of truly sharing a meal. (Surely your friend with two left thumbs can at least open a bottle a wine and pour, no?)

Speaking of wine, I also really loved the fact that each of the dinners includes suggestions for wine and/or cocktails that will pair well with the food. There are even brief sections on wine, cocktails, and making coffee included which most other cookbooks I've read skip right over. You will love it! (I myself will be googling where to get a Chemex!)

Schori and Taylor suggest up front that your kitchen and your taste buds are different from their own. "We want you to tear this book apart--write in the margins, cross things out, change this around.'s cool to tailor a dish or menu to your taste." They'd like this book to be an inspiration, not a slave-master. So feel free to take inspiration and follow your own instincts!

Young, fresh, and vibrant are the words that jump out at me in the end to describe Twenty Dinners. It's hip. Period. I am thrilled to add this cookbook to my collection and I urge you to run out and get a copy pronto!

I received this book from Blogging for Books for this review.

From the Publisher . . .

A photographer (who happens to be an ex-restaurant cook) and an indie rock star (who happens to be an avid home cook) show you how to slow down your life by cooking beautiful, straightforward, but sophisticated, food for–and with–friends.

When he’s on tour with his band, Grizzly Bear, what Chris Taylor misses most about home is the kitchen and the company. With his friend Ithai Schori, he cooks dinner parties for four to forty, using skills Chris learned from his mom and Ithai picked up working at high-end restaurants. Their food is full of smart techniques that make everything taste just a little better than you thought possible–like toasting nuts in browned butter or charring apples for a complex applesauce–but their style is laid-back and unhurried. This is about cooking not just for, but with, your friends, and so the authors enlisted their favorite pastry chef, mixologist, sommelier, and baristas to write detailed material on wine, desserts, stocking a home bar, mixing drinks, and buying and brewing fantastic coffee. Through more than 100 seasonally arranged recipes and gorgeous, evocative photographs of their gatherings you fall into their world, where you and your friends have all day to put food on the table, and where there’s always time for another cocktail in a mason jar before dinner.

Wednesday, May 6, 2015

The Truth According to Us

The Truth According to Us is the compelling tale of an eccentric family with a storied past.

Annie Barrow introduces us to the Romeyn family from the town of Macedonia, West Virginia. Set in the summer of 1938, matriarch Jottie Romeyn takes on a boarder, Layla Beck, who arrives in town via the WPA Writer's Project. Beck has been commissioned to write up the history of Macedonia in time for the town's anniversary. (See synopsis below.)

Barrow provides readers with fascinating characters. I really enjoyed the fact that the story includes the perspectives of both the adults and 11 year old Willa as well. Adding to the interest is the fact that much of Layla Beck's storyline comes to the reader via chapters written as her correspondence with family, friends and co-workers. The variety of narrative style makes the nearly 500 pages fly by!

The story engages readers on multiple levels as well. Not only are readers swept up in the details of the Romeyn's storyline (the basics of who, what, where, when, and why of their lives and the dramatic event that shaped them into the people readers encounter), readers also find themselves caught up in the psychological and emotional impact those day-to-day events have on the characters. Willa's struggle to reconcile her childhood view of her father with the harsh realities that are brought to light will strike a chord with readers who will recall the moment the veil was lifted on their own childhood views of the adults they esteemed. Jottie's wrestles with moments when familial loyalty clashes with her personal needs and wants. I suspect most readers will be able to identify with that as well!

Macedonia's streets and citizens are so well painted throughout the book, that readers will find themselves transported. I know I found myself nearly faint from the sweltering heat of August in the small West Virginia berg in a day and age before air conditioning. My feet ached from hoofing it alongside Layla on her rounds to visit and interview Macedonia's prominent citizens. I caught a whiff of Emmet's odiferous Model T as it bumped its way along the dusty lane to big farm and had to hold my breath.

I thoroughly enjoyed The Truth According to Us. I believe there is something for everyone in this novel: history, romance, mystery, illegal activities, a coming-of-age story, family drama, and political intrigue. You will likely come away from it with even more ideas and themes! If you have the task of choosing a book for your book club to read, I highly recommend Annie Barrows' The Truth According to Us!

Thanks to Shelf Awareness and the publisher for the Advance Reader Copy of the book which I received in exchange for this review.

From the Publisher . . .

From the co-author of The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society comes a wise, witty, and exuberant novel, perfect for fans of Lee Smith, that illuminates the power of loyalty and forgiveness, memory and truth, and the courage it takes to do what’s right.

Annie Barrows once again evokes the charm and eccentricity of a small town filled with extraordinary characters. Her new novel, The Truth According to Us, brings to life an inquisitive young girl, her beloved aunt, and the alluring visitor who changes the course of their destiny forever.

In the summer of 1938, Layla Beck’s father, a United States senator, cuts off her allowance and demands that she find employment on the Federal Writers’ Project, a New Deal jobs program. Within days, Layla finds herself far from her accustomed social whirl, assigned to cover the history of the remote mill town of Macedonia, West Virginia, and destined, in her opinion, to go completely mad with boredom. But once she secures a room in the home of the unconventional Romeyn family, she is drawn into their complex world and soon discovers that the truth of the town is entangled in the thorny past of the Romeyn dynasty.

At the Romeyn house, twelve-year-old Willa is desperate to learn everything in her quest to acquire her favorite virtues of ferocity and devotion—a search that leads her into a thicket of mysteries, including the questionable business that occupies her charismatic father and the reason her adored aunt Jottie remains unmarried. Layla’s arrival strikes a match to the family veneer, bringing to light buried secrets that will tell a new tale about the Romeyns. As Willa peels back the layers of her family’s past, and Layla delves deeper into town legend, everyone involved is transformed—and their personal histories completely rewritten.

About the Author . . .

Annie Barrows is the co-author, with her aunt Mary Ann Shaffer, of The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society, a runaway New York Times bestseller that was named one of the ten best books of the year by Time and USA Today. She is also the author of the children’s series Ivy and Bean as well as The Magic Half and its sequel, Magic in the Mix. She lives in Berkeley, California.


A voracious reader (but an admittedly poor speller!), Annie Barrows grew up in northern California. One of her first jobs, while she was still in school, was re-shelving books in one of her favorite haunts, the public library. She attended the University of California at Berkeley and graduated with a degree in Medieval History. After graduation, she went to work for a publisher, editing books in many different fields.

Bitten by the writing bug, Barrows received her M.F.A in Creative Writing from California's Mills College. She wrote several books on such diverse topics as fortune telling, urban legends, and opera before branching into children's literature. In June of 2006, she released Ivy and Bean, the first award-winning book in a series about two young girls who become best friends in spite of their differences. In 2007, she published The Magic Half, a standalone children's fantasy about the middle child (between two sets of twins) who travels back in time and befriends a young girl in need of her help.

In addition, Barrows and her aunt, the late Mary Ann Shaffer, collaborated on a post-WWII epistolary novel entitled The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society. Conceived by Shaffer, the novel was accepted for publication in 2006, shortly before Shaffer fell ill. Barrows stepped in to complete the project, and the book was published in 2008 to positive reviews.

Good To Know

Here are some fascinating outtakes from the Barnes & Noble interview with Annie Barrows:

I can read palms. I learned when I was researching a book on fortune-telling, and I figure it's my back-up career if this writing thing doesn't work out. I can also read head lumps, but no thanks.

In my house, we have a Museum of Despair. The collection includes a burst pipe; the wire hanger that was being used to open my car when I surprised the thief; the stitches from my daughter's knee; a bottle of vodka so old that it's a product of the Soviet Union; and a broken thermometer.

There are two quotations stuck to the wall over my desk. Here they are:

"But how could it be true, Sir?" said Peter. "Why do you say that?" asked the Professor. "Well, for one thing," said Peter, "if it was real why doesn't everyone find this country every time they go to the wardrobe? I mean, there was nothing there when we looked; even Lucy didn't pretend there was." "What has that to do with it?" said the Professor. "Well, Sir, if things are real, they're there all the time." "Are they?" said the Professor; and Peter did not know quite what to say.

--from The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, by C. S. Lewis

"Behold, you look on a man that is soon to be dust. Yet because love endures all things, tell me, I pray you, how fares the human race: if new roofs be risen in the ancient cities, whose empire is it that now sways the world; an if any still survive, snared in the error of the demons."

--from "The Life of St. Paul the Hermit"

Most of the time, I don't do anything but work and hang out with my family, but I just got back from a three-week trip to England, where I got a chance to indulge some of my secret fascinations: Neolithic standing stones, haunted battlefields, out-of-the-way castles, and Victorian anthropological collections.