Saturday, July 25, 2015

Get Your Brew On

When learning something new, it only makes sense to learn from someone who's an expert. Having been there and done that in the realm of home brewing, Emma Christensen's new book, Brew Better Beer is the expert advise you need to walk you through getting started making your own beer. (Or, if you've made a few batches and aren't quite sure why it's not tasting how you'd like or imagined, the book will steer you in the right direction!)

Christensen does a super job at laying out the basics for everyone who has wanted to try making beer but found themselves overwhelmed in the beginning. I appreciate that she does a bit of hand-holding (and lets experienced brew masters know when to skip ahead unless they want to review the basics with us newbs). In addition to in-depth narrative, the book includes easy to read and follow charts on all the basics from equipment needed to the rich variety of ingredients needed. She even has a chart to help beginners figure out if they are more likely to enjoy and find success with brewing smaller 1-gallon batches or larger 5-gallon quantities. (I suspect I'm more your 1-gallon sized brewer as I'm the type who doesn't want to have to drink through a whole lot before I get to try something else.)

My eyes were certainly opened to the plethora of possibilities home brewers have when it comes to ingredients that will affect the beer you make. Varieties of hops, types of grains, different yeasts, even the mineral content of the water used will provide different flavors in the final product. Christensen takes each ingredient in hand, explains what its purpose in the brew is, and then lists the options available for each ingredient and what it will do to your beer. I was amazed and thankful for a concise "play-by-play" scorecard that will provide handy reference in the future.

With the opening elementary chapters behind, the rest of the book is divided up according to styles of beer to brew: Pale Ales, India Pale Ales (IPAs), Brown Ales, Porters & Stouts, British Ales, Belgian Ales, Scottish & Irish Red Ales, Wheat Beers, Rye Ales, Session Ales, Gluten-Free Beers, and Lagers. Interspersed between chapters are great tips and talks on things like "How To Pour and Taste Beer" and "Ten Small Habits That Will Make You a Better Brewer". (Especially helpful, the section labeled "Common Problems, Easy Solutions"!)

Each chapter on a style of beer includes several tried and true recipes for brewers. What I love is that each recipe offers readers several beers that are already out there on the shelves to try which are similar in nature to the one in the recipe. Don't know if you're up for a whole batch of "Bitter Brit English-Style Pale Ale"? Well, run out and grab Whale's Tale Pale Ale by Cisco Brewers, Inc. or Schlafly Pale Ale from The Saint Louis Brewery to find out!

Each recipe also includes "Brew Notes" to help ensure optimal success with your batch of brew and "Make It Yours" ideas on ways to switch up the ingredients to tweak your flavor results in a way that might be more to your own liking.

If you've ever thought of making your own home brew, Brew Better Beer is the book you will want to get! Thanks to Blogging For Books for the review copy I received in exchange for this review.

From the Publisher . . .

In this colorful homebrewing guide, The Kitchn’s Emma Christensen gives you the keys to the brewery. Start out by mastering the basic styles, like A Very Good IPA and A Very Good Porter, then move on to inspired variations such as Centennial Dry-Hopped Double IPA, Campari IPA, and Smokey Chipotle Porter to discover which flavors, infusions, hops, and yeasts work best with each ale and lager. Want to brew a signature beer with your own personal stamp? Go wild with the “Make It Yours” suggestions and try tossing anything from cherries to chai spices into your brew.

This handy manual also dives deep into the mechanics of brewing all-extract, partial-extract, and all-grain brews, and includes a big, beautiful photographic guide to brewing beer so you can see exactly how each step is done. You can brew small 1-gallon batches, perfect for apartment brewers and low-risk experimentation, or brew 5 gallons and have enough to share with all your friends. You’ll also be introduced to up-and-coming beer trends like rye malts, barrel-aging at home, sour beers, gluten-free beers, and Old World beer styles.

Filled with inspiring recipes like Riding Lawn Mower Pale Ale, Maple Cider Dubbel, Finnish Juniper Rye Sahti Ale, Figgy Pudding British Barleywine, and Farmers’ Market Gruit, Christensen’s accessible approach will have you brewing better beer in no time.

About the Author . . .

EMMA CHRISTENSEN is the recipe editor for the popular homecooking website The Kitchn (, and a graduate of the Cambridge School for Culinary Arts in Cambridge, Massachusetts. A former beer reviewer for the Columbus Dispatch, she is a dedicated home-brewer always eager for the chance to nerd out about fermentation. Emma lives in the San Francisco Bay Area.

To learn more, visit

Tuesday, July 21, 2015


What would you do if a bunch of confused, naked people walked into your back yard from the woods next door? It happened to Sean Casey in Boone County, Iowa this past Sunday*!

This book was impossible to put down after Sean's house becomes ground zero. As quickly as he was running through sheets and towels to help the confused no-longer-dead folks cover up, I was reading through the pages trying to find out what would happen next!

You might think that having loved ones return from death would be a good thing. Some people don't see it that way. And it seems that only the folks who died from accidental causes are coming back. Aunt Jenny died of cancer? Not likely to see her again... Jones does a great job of explaining the ins and outs of why some dead come back and others don't. In the Spore universe, it all makes perfect sense.

Unfortunately, this mass resurrection sets in motion a nearly insurmountable catastrophe in the small communities of Boone County, Iowa. (I just LOVE that the story is set in a location so close to where I live!) Is is just a coincidence that kids start disappearing about the same time? And that the M.O. is eerily familiar to a crime spree that happened 20 years ago?

Also coinciding with the miraculous return, Sean's nightmares from his own childhood abduction are increasing and intensifying. What is his subconscious mind trying to tell him?

If you're a fan of horror, enjoy putting the pieces of a mystery together, or get a kick out of books set close to home (in this case, central Iowa), you are going to want to get your hands on a copy of Jones' book, Spore--ASAP! I'm thrilled mine came from a book signing event where the author herself signed my copy!

[Do note: the book contains adult language and references to child sexual/physical abuse. If these offend you, just know that you are going to encounter them in this text.]

*The book lists the event as happening on July 19, 2015.

From the Publisher . . .

The dead are coming back.

Ten naked people walk from a cemetery into artist Sean Casey’s backyard: ten Spore People who used to be dead. One, Mindy, stays with Sean while trying to reclaim her life, but her ex would rather she return to her grave. Sean struggles to protect Mindy and other Spores while battling his recurring—and worsening—nightmares. Meanwhile, the media feeds a panicked frenzy that leads both the hopeful and hateful to Sean’s front door.

As the Spore fungus spreads, so does the fear. When mutilated children match Sean’s nightmares, he realizes his own worst terror may be closer than he thinks.

About the Author . . .

Tamara started her academic career as a science geek, earned a degree in art, and, when she's not making quilts or herding cats, writes tense thrillers as Tamara Jones and Tamara Siler Jones. Despite the violent nature of her work, Tam's easygoing and friendly. Not sick or twisted at all. Honest.

Saturday, July 18, 2015

Go Set a Watchman

Although written roughly 60 years ago, Harper Lee's novel, Go Set a Watchman, could not be more relevant to the world in which we live.

You can read the plot synopsis below in "From the Publisher." Suffice it to say that this is the story of a young woman coming to terms with the fact that her idol is a human being; that she is her own person; and that the world operates in terms of murky grey areas rather than clearly defined black/white rules.

As I scan my Facebook page I see a plethora of memes offering up the idea that the world is black and white. This is courage. This is not. This is right. This is wrong. This is good. This is bad. Taken at face value, it's a very polarizing world on social media. Sadly, this is the world in which many people are immersed. It's no wonder that people find themselves feeling isolated and afraid.

Go Set a Watchman presents the notion that sometimes things are not as clearly "black and white" as they appear. We live in a world that daily offers us not simply "either/or" choices, but "both/and" options. How we choose to navigate in such a world speaks volumes to our character and beliefs.

I have been sitting with Lee's words for a couple of days now. I plan to go back and re-read the book. It will join my list of books that must be re-read every couple of years or so. As I do, I hope that I will be inspired to work towards those causes which seem to me to be to the betterment of humanity while at the same time maintaining tolerance and an openness to dialogue and learning from others.

From the Publisher . . .

From Harper Lee comes a landmark new novel set two decades after her beloved Pulitzer Prize–winning masterpiece, To Kill a Mockingbird.

Maycomb, Alabama. Twenty-six-year-old Jean Louise Finch—"Scout"—returns home from New York City to visit her aging father, Atticus. Set against the backdrop of the civil rights tensions and political turmoil that were transforming the South, Jean Louise's homecoming turns bittersweet when she learns disturbing truths about her close-knit family, the town, and the people dearest to her. Memories from her childhood flood back, and her values and assumptions are thrown into doubt. Featuring many of the iconic characters from To Kill a Mockingbird, Go Set a Watchman perfectly captures a young woman, and a world, in painful yet necessary transition out of the illusions of the past—a journey that can only be guided by one's own conscience.

Written in the mid-1950s, Go Set a Watchman imparts a fuller, richer understanding and appreciation of Harper Lee. Here is an unforgettable novel of wisdom, humanity, passion, humor, and effortless precision—a profoundly affecting work of art that is both wonderfully evocative of another era and relevant to our own times. It not only confirms the enduring brilliance of To Kill a Mockingbird, but also serves as its essential companion, adding depth, context, and new meaning to an American classic.

About the Author . . .

Harper Lee was born in 1926 in Monroeville, Alabama. She attended Huntingdon College and studied law at the University of Alabama. She is the author of two novels, To Kill a Mockingbird and Go Set a Watchman. Harper Lee has been awarded numerous literary awards, including the Pulitzer Prize and the Presidential Medal of Freedom.

Sunday, July 12, 2015

Genius Recipes

Have you ever wished that you could have professional chefs right beside you in the kitchen, giving you their secret tips to ensure the dish you're working on turns out better than ever? Now you can!

Food52's Genius Recipes serves up 100 recipes from top chefs with genius tips, easy to follow directions, and extra help in note form--all designed to ensure your success in the kitchen. Along the way, you are sure to discover and adopt some new techniques which will change the way you cook other dishes too!

What's a great way to add creaminess to soups, purees and sauces without using cream or butter? Look to the Genius Tip on page 194 which is included with Julia Child's Gratin of Zucchini, Rice, & Onions with Cheese for the surprising answer.

Want a great way to simultaneously prepare both a first course and a vegetable course that everyone will be talking about for days to come? Don't miss the Genius Tip that goes with Alon Shaya's Whole Roasted Cauliflower with Whipped Goat Cheese on page 174.

The book is beautifully put together with introductory explanations, clear layouts, and gorgeous, full-paged photographs guaranteed to make your mouth water. Sections include: Breakfast, Snacks & Drinks, Soups & Salads, Meaty Mains, Meatless Mains, Vegetables, and Desserts. If you can't find at least a dozen recipes to try from this generous offering, I'll be surprised! (Did I mention that some of the recipes include secondary recipes that ride alongside? Cheater Soft Served Ice Cream anyone?)

I am thankful to the folks at Blogging For Books for the free copy I received in exchange for this review. I will be putting this one to good use for many years to come!

From the Publisher . . .

There are good recipes and there are great ones—and then, there are genius recipes.

Genius recipes surprise us and make us rethink the way we cook. They might involve an unexpectedly simple technique, debunk a kitchen myth, or apply a familiar ingredient in a new way. They’re handed down by luminaries of the food world and become their legacies. And, once we’ve folded them into our repertoires, they make us feel pretty genius too. In this collection are 100 of the smartest and most remarkable ones.

There isn’t yet a single cookbook where you can find Marcella Hazan’s Tomato Sauce with Onion and Butter, Jim Lahey’s No-Knead Bread, and Nigella Lawson’s Dense Chocolate Loaf Cake—plus dozens more of the most talked about, just-crazy-enough-to-work recipes of our time. Until now.

These are what Food52 Executive Editor Kristen Miglore calls genius recipes. Passed down from the cookbook authors, chefs, and bloggers who made them legendary, these foolproof recipes rethink cooking tropes, solve problems, get us talking, and make cooking more fun. Every week, Kristen features one such recipe and explains just what’s so brilliant about it in the James Beard Award-nominated Genius Recipes column on Food52. Here, in this book, she compiles 100 of the most essential ones—nearly half of which have never been featured in the column—with tips, riffs, mini-recipes, and stunning photographs from James Ransom, to create a cooking canon that will stand the test of time.

Once you try Michael Ruhlman’s fried chicken or Yotam Ottolenghi and Sami Tamimi’s hummus, you’ll never want to go back to other versions. But there’s also a surprising ginger juice you didn’t realize you were missing and will want to put on everything—and a way to cook white chocolate that (finally) exposes its hidden glory. Some of these recipes you’ll follow to a T, but others will be jumping-off points for you to experiment with and make your own. Either way, with Kristen at the helm, revealing and explaining the genius of each recipe, Genius Recipes is destined to become every home cook’s go-to resource for smart, memorable cooking—because no one cook could have taught us so much.

About the Author . . .

Kristen Miglore is a food writer who blogs at Food52.

Thursday, July 9, 2015

We Never Asked For Wings

What I love about Vanessa Diffenbaugh's books is that she exposes me to people who could be living next door or just down the street, people I'd likely never meet or know.

My book club read her first novel, The Language of Flowers, which was a great book which offered up a lot of discussion. I found it interesting to read at the end of this novel Diffenbaugh's struggle with writing the dreaded second book. In my opinion, her efforts shine through another great story of struggles overcome and the triumph of the human spirit.

Set in southern California, the novel deals with issues of illegal immigration, motherhood, ramifications from teen/young pregnancy, class struggles, family, and more. Diffenbaugh draws well-defined characters who draw you in from the get-go. At the beginning I thought the main character, Letty Espinosa, was a self-centered person who had managed to get herself pregnant by two separate men and foisted her kids off onto her mother to raise so she could keep on living life on her own terms. What I discovered, however, was a person who had fewer choices because of the decisions she had made as a young person (i.e. getting pregnant at 18 and not wanting her boyfriend to feel obligated or trapped, she did not tell him about the child.) She was not unwilling to raise her children; she was simply young, afraid, inexperienced, and had a mother willing to step in and help. (Unlike her counterpart in the story, Carmen, who had no support system and even fewer choices as an illegal immigrant.)

If you are looking for a book with great characters and a lot of potential talking points for discussion, you will definitely want to get your hands on We Never Asked For Wings. It will give you pause to consider the people around you in a new light and with more compassion. For that, I say thanks Vanessa!

I received an Advance Reader Copy of Diffenbaugh's novel from Shelf Awareness in exchange for this review. Thank you!

From the Publisher . . .

From the beloved New York Times bestselling author of The Language of Flowers comes her much-anticipated new novel about young love, hard choices, and hope against all odds.

For fourteen years, Letty Espinosa has worked three jobs around San Francisco to make ends meet while her mother raised her children—Alex, now fifteen, and Luna, six—in their tiny apartment on a forgotten spit of wetlands near the bay. But now Letty’s parents are returning to Mexico, and Letty must step up and become a mother for the first time in her life.

Navigating this new terrain is challenging for Letty, especially as Luna desperately misses her grandparents and Alex, who is falling in love with a classmate, is unwilling to give his mother a chance. Letty comes up with a plan to help the family escape the dangerous neighborhood and heartbreaking injustice that have marked their lives, but one wrong move could jeopardize everything she’s worked for and her family’s fragile hopes for the future.

Vanessa Diffenbaugh blends gorgeous prose with compelling themes of motherhood, undocumented immigration, and the American Dream in a powerful and prescient story about family.

About the Author . . .

Vanessa Diffenbaugh is the author of the New York Times bestselling novel The Language of Flowers, which was translated into more than forty languages. A mother of four, she lives with her husband in Monterey, California. In addition to being a writer, Vanessa Diffenbaugh is a passionate foster care advocate and sits on the board of Youth Villages, where she supports their mission to radically improve outcomes for America’s most vulnerable children and families.

Wednesday, July 1, 2015

This Book Will Stir You

I can only imagine that Jessica Fechtor's journey through the trauma of a broken aneurysm and surgeries on her brain was a long and arduous road to follow. Yet her memoir about the event that re-shaped her entire life, Stir: My Broken Brain and the Meals That Brought Me Home, is a story of courage, resilience, and grace.

As I read about this young woman's experience with a brain bleed, brain surgery to correct the aneurysm, and subsequent issues (some of which lead to yet more brain surgery!), I was amazed and uplifted by the fact that she was able rise above what so many of us might imagine for ourselves if we were in a similar situation. She did not get bitter. She did not assume the role of victim. She never saw herself as handicapped or limited. (Yes, she acknowledged her physical limits post-op and during her recovery, knowing it would take time to rebuild her stamina. This is a normal, healthy part of getting your life back.)

During the long hospitalization and rehab process and the equally long recovery process at home, Fechtor was surrounded by people who loved her and cheered her on. She found her way back to them, and to living her life to its fullest once more, through the foods she was able to enjoy, to create, and ultimately share with them and all of us fortunate enough to read her book.

Some may find it odd that a memoir about a life-changing trauma would center on and include so much talk of food and recipes. I find it most a propos! Because I was bed-ridden with pneumonia on my 18th birthday, my mother nursed me back to health by driving across town (in horrible wintry weather!) to get matzo ball soup from the only restaurant in town that made it. To this day I crave that soup whenever I get a winter cold or flu. Food has that kind of power in our lives!

I hope you will run out and get a copy of this amazing woman's story! I found it so encouraging and uplifting. Also, there are some great recipes included! My daughter and I can't wait to try her buttermilk biscuits and the cherry clafoutis! There are some serious comfort foods included. (Though I confess to a few fits of jealousy as I read about the seriously scrumptious toast in her near-by cafe and the ability to buy Copper River salmon in Seattle. I've had it twice. BEST. SALMON. EVER.) You will not be disappointed in this most stirring memoir!

My thanks to the publishers for the copy of Stir which I received in exchange for this review.

From the Publisher . . .

An exquisite memoir about how food connects us to ourselves, our lives, and each other.

At 28, Jessica Fechtor was happily immersed in graduate school and her young marriage, and thinking about starting a family. Then one day, she went for a run and an aneurysm burst in her brain. She nearly died. She lost her sense of smell, the sight in her left eye, and was forced to the sidelines of the life she loved.

Jessica’s journey to recovery began in the kitchen as soon as she was able to stand at the stovetop and stir. There, she drew strength from the restorative power of cooking and baking. Written with intelligence, humor, and warmth, Stir is a heartfelt examination of what it means to nourish and be nourished.

Woven throughout the narrative are 27 recipes for dishes that comfort and delight. For readers of M.F.K.Fisher, Molly Wizenberg, and Tamar Adler, as well as Oliver Sacks, Jill Bolte Taylor, and Susannah Cahalan, Stir is sure to inspire, and send you straight to the kitchen.

About the Author . . .

JESSICA FECHTOR writes the popular food blog, Sweet Amandine. She is a PhD candidate in Jewish Literature at Harvard University, where she has received numerous awards for her research and teaching. She lives with her husband and daughters in San Francisco, and doesn’t believe in secret recipes.