30 August 2014

Weekend Cooking: Peach Galette

Weekend Cooking hosted by www.BethFishReads.comWeekend Cooking is open to anyone who has any kind of food-related post to share: Book (novel, nonfiction) reviews, cookbook reviews, movie reviews, recipes, random thoughts, gadgets, quotations, photographs. If your post is even vaguely foodie, feel free to grab the button and link up anytime over the weekend. You do not have to post on the weekend. Please link to your specific post, not your blog's home page. For more information, see the welcome post.

I love the fruit of late summer and early fall, particularly farm-fresh peaches. We've been eating them in hand, on cereal, grilled (see JoAnn's recipe), and in crisps (my favorite peach crisp recipe). This week I made a galette, based on a recipe published in the New York Times.

If you've never made a galette or just want to learn some nifty tricks, be sure to watch Melissa Clark's video on the Times site, where you'll also find her recipe, which can be used for pretty much any kind of fruit.

I made the dough exactly as the original recipe, but I tweaked the filling. (For metric measures and a non-food-processor method, see the Times site.)

Peach Galette
Adapted from the New York Times
Yield: 8 servings

For the Dough
  • 1⅓ cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 tablespoon sugar
  • ½ teaspoon fine sea salt
  • 1 large egg
  • Heavy cream, as needed
  • 1 stick unsalted butter, cut into big pieces
  • 2 teaspoons lemon juice
  • 1 teaspoon grated lemon zest
For the Filling
  • 3 cups cubed peaches
  • ⅓ cup sugar + extra for sprinkling
  • 1 teaspoon almond extract
  • Pinch of salt
  • 3 tablespoons cornstarch
Make the crust: In a food processor fitted with a steel blade pulse together flour, sugar and salt. In a measuring cup, lightly beat the egg, then add just enough cream to get to ⅓ cup. Lightly whisk the egg and cream together. Add butter to flour mixture and pulse to break up the butter--do not overprocess; you need chickpea-size chunks of butter. Drizzle the egg mixture (I used ¼ cup) over the dough and pulse until it just starts to come together but is still mostly large crumbs. Mix in lemon juice and zest. Save the extra egg mixture.

Put dough on lightly floured counter and pat it together to make one uniform piece. Flatten into a disk, wrap in plastic and chill for 2 hours, or up to 3 days.

Heat the oven to 400F. Roll the dough out to a 12-inch round (it can be ragged). Transfer to a rimmed baking sheet lined with parchment paper and chill while preparing the filling.

 Make the filling: Toss together peaches with sugar, salt, extract, and cornstarch. Pile fruit on the dough circle, leaving a 1½-inch border. Gently fold the pastry over the fruit, pleating to hold it in (sloppy is fine). Brush pastry generously with leftover egg and cream mixture. Sprinkle sugar on the crust.

Bake for 35 to 45 minutes, until the filling bubbles up vigorously and the crust is golden. Cool for at least 20 minutes on wire rack. Serve warm or at room temperature.

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28 August 2014

Review: The Isobel Journal by Isobel Harrop

Isobel Harrop is just eighteen years old, saying good-bye to being a teenager and looking forward to college and pursuing her dreams. The Isobel Journal is a doodle-book look at her inner world. Here are my thoughts in a Bullet Review.

What's inside? Many of the pages of Harrop's debut consist of line drawings of people and faces on a plain background, supplemented by the author's thoughts. A few pages are more elaborately drawn (some in full color), and others have a scrapbook feel.

What's it about? The Isobel Journal does not tell a conventional story, and there's no plot. Although the drawings are arranged in a logical order, most of them could stand on their own. Harrop's book is not a graphic autobiography but an illustrated stream of consciousness. Through her drawings, we learn quite a few things about the teen, such as her taste in music, her favorite things to do, and what she observes as she explores her city.

What worked and what didn't? For the most part, I like Harrop's art style, with its simple lines and expressive faces. A few of things that caught her eye, made me smile (see the scan at the right). On the other hand, I had trouble relating to Harrop, and so most of the book was lost on me. It's not that I'm older than the intended audience but that I wasn't her kind of teen. We don't seem to share many interests, and thus I found it difficult to connect with her. For example, she likes to spend a lot of time in bed and shops for vintage clothing. I, on the other hand, spent most of my time outdoors and was happy in jeans and T-shirts.

General recommendations. Many other people will love Isobel Harrop's The Isobel Journal and will be thrilled to discover a kindred spirit. My issues with this book are purely personal and have nothing to do with Harrop's talent or her ability to express herself in art and words. This is a book that will likely resonate with a particular group of readers, and you might be one of them.

Capstone / Switch Press, 2014
ISBN-13: 9781630790035
Source: Review (see review policy)
Copyright © cbl for Beth Fish Reads, all rights reserved (see review policy)

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27 August 2014

Wordless Wednesday 304

At the County Fair, 2014

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26 August 2014

Mr. BFR Recommends: An Outdoor Adventure Trio

Although Mr. BFR reads across a wide variety of genres (and audiences), he recently finished three books that feature adolescent boys in the great outdoors. He had so many good things to say about these novels, he agreed to let me paraphrase his thoughts about each one and then share his (brief) collective thoughts.

Navigating Early by Clare VanderpoolClare Vanderpool's Navigating Early is set in Maine in the late 1940s. Mr. BFR noted that this a unique coming-of-age story in that the protagonist is a boy who is an autistic savant at a time when such diagnoses were not part of the general vocabulary. Mr. BFR is not the only one who loved this novel -- it is a multiple award winner (the Indie Bound website lists 11 awards for Navigating Early).

When Jack Baker’s father sends him from his home in Kansas to attend a boys’ boarding school in Maine, Jack doesn’t know what to expect. Certainly not Early Auden, the strangest of boys. Early keeps to himself, reads the number pi as a story, and refuses to accept truths others take for granted. Jack, feeling lonely and out of place, connects with Early, and the two become friends.

During a break from school, the boys set out for the Appalachian Trail on a quest for a great black bear. As Jack and Early travel deeper into the mountains, they meet peculiar and dangerous characters, and they make some shocking discoveries. But their adventure is only just beginning. Will Jack’s and Early’s friendship last the journey? Can the boys make it home alive?
--Delacorte Books for Young Readers, 2013 (ISBN: 9780385742092); ages 9-12

The Troop by Nick CutterMr. BFR picked up Nick Cutter's The Troop because it was supposed to be a good horror story. Although he didn't think the book was all that scary, he was particularly impressed with Cutter's ability to re-create the way young boys think. This novel is set in modern times and involves a Boy Scout trip that goes horribly wrong.
Once a year, Scoutmaster Tim Riggs leads a troop of boys into the Canadian wilderness for a weekend camping trip--a tradition as comforting and reliable as a good ghost story around a roaring bonfire. But when an unexpected intruder stumbles upon their campsite--shockingly thin, disturbingly pale, and voraciously hungry--Tim and the boys are exposed to something far more frightening than any tale of terror. The human carrier of a bioengineered nightmare. A horror that spreads faster than fear. A harrowing struggle for survival with no escape from the elements, the infected . . . or each other. Part Lord of the Flies, part 28 Days Later--and all-consuming--this tightly written edge-of-your-seat thriller takes you deep into the heart of darkness, where fear feeds on sanity . . . and terror hungers for more.
--Gallery Books, 2014 (ISBN: 9781476717715); adults

Trailing Tennessee by Cory Wheeler MimmsCory Wheeler Mimms set his Tailing Tennessee on the southern sections of the Appalachian Trail. Mr. BFR loved the realistic descriptions of life on the trail and of the beauty of the eastern mountains and wilderness. Although written for a young audience, the themes have a broad appeal: working through grief, discovering self-reliance, connecting to nature, and fulfilling a family tradition as a means of finding closure.
Winner of: PubWest Book Design Award Trailing Tennessee is a novel about a teen's journey on the Appalachian Trail. Eli Sutton isn't your typical runaway. When tragedy befalls his family, he sets out on the Appalachian Trail, determined to follow in his father's and grandfather's footsteps. With forest rangers close on his heels and his supplies running low, Eli soon discovers hiking through the Appalachian Mountains isn't nearly as forgiving as trekking through the woods behind his home. He fights blisters, hunger, rain, and pain. But worst of all, he faces his own self-doubt and fear. The ghosts of his father and grandfather, and the spirits of the woods lurk in his mind. When Eli joins up with a group of young hikers in Virginia, his goal begins to slip further away. With his obstacles surmounting, there may not be enough trail magic to save him.
--Craigmore Creations, 2013 (ISBN: 9781940052007); ages 10+

General thoughts from Mr. BFR: As a whole, these novels captured the way young boys think and act. They offer a perspective on how screwed up grown-ups can be, especially from an adolescent's viewpoint. Finally, these books give kids due credit for being able to cope with life's burdens and difficult circumstances.

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25 August 2014

Review: The Home Place by Carrie La Seur

The Home Place by Carrie La SeurOne of my most anticipated books this summer was Carrie La Seur's The Home Place. Set in the unforgiving high plains of Montana, the novel promised to be a moving look at the new west. Here are my thoughts in a Bullet(less) Review.

Quick plot: Successful Seattle lawyer Alma Terrebonne is called back home when her younger sister is found dead in the streets of Billings. As Alma teases out the tangle of Vicky's drunken, drug-addled life, she unexpectedly exposes family secrets.

The story: Orphaned a few months before she left for college, Alma rarely comes back for visits. She loves the land and her widowed grandmother, but she has never gotten along with her aunt and uncle, her sister's life is mess, and her older brother has his own issues. Besides, being on the family ranch means remembering all that she's worked very hard to bury deep inside.

But when her sister dies alone on a bitter January night, Alma immediately returns to support her grandmother and her now-motherless eleven-year-old niece. As the investigation into Vicky's death begins to hint at more than a tragic accident, Alma is forced to confront her family's past.

Thoughts: La Seur's The Home Place takes a frank, realistic view of Billings and of the people who've struggled to maintain their family ranches in the harsh environment of Big Sky country. Although Alma's ultimate fate is clear almost from the start, La Seur's beautifully descriptive prose and carefully crafted tension keep the reader fully invested in the lawyer's journey to self-acceptance. The novel may start with questions surrounding Vicky's death, but it's really about the complex ways home and place intertwine to make us who we truly are.

Note on the audiobook: I listened to the unabridged audiobook (Harper Audio; 10 hr, 53 min), read by Andrus Nichols, who perfectly keyed into the rhythm and beauty of La Seur's prose. My full audio review will be published by AudioFile magazine, but the short take is that this is a don't-miss audiobook.

HarperCollins / William Morrow, 2014
ISBN-13: 9780062323446
Source: Review (audio and print) (see review policy)
Copyright © cbl for Beth Fish Reads, all rights reserved (see review policy)

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23 August 2014

Weekend Cooking: The Green Teen Cookbook edited by Laurane Marchive and Pam McElroy

Weekend Cooking hosted by www.BethFishReads.comWeekend Cooking is open to anyone who has any kind of food-related post to share: Book (novel, nonfiction) reviews, cookbook reviews, movie reviews, recipes, random thoughts, gadgets, quotations, photographs. If your post is even vaguely foodie, feel free to grab the button and link up anytime over the weekend. You do not have to post on the weekend. Please link to your specific post, not your blog's home page. For more information, see the welcome post.

Earlier this summer when I was at BookExpo America, I spent some time looking through the booths for cookbooks. Laurane Marchive and Pam McElroy's The Green Teen Cookbook caught my eye because I know so many high schoolers and college students who are interested in cooking but want recipes that suit their modern tastes and sometimes limited skills.

There is a lot to like about The Green Teen Cookbook, especially because the vast majority of the recipes were submitted by and tested by real-life teens. And even better, the focus is on grown-up food, not glorified PB&Js.

The first thing I wanted to know when I started reading this collection is what was meant by green. This is not a vegetable cookbook or even a strictly vegetarian cookbook; instead, it's all about eating ecologically responsibly. And that translates to eating locally, seasonally, and organically. In fact, each recipe is tagged with icons to let you know when the called-for ingredients are at their peak.

Although the recipes assume you have some familiarity with the kitchen, they are quite doable, and the range of flavors and techniques is impressive. Here are some examples:
  • Easy: granola, Caesar salad
  • Regional: chicken and waffles, Spanish tortilla
  • More involved: risotto with arugula pesto, fish curry with spiced rice
The directions are clear and straightforward, and there is a full-color photo of each teen-submitted recipe. The beginning of the book includes basic information about ingredients, eating responsibly, and stocking the pantry. At the back of the book, cooks will find a useful index, resources for farmers markets, and the URLs for some popular food blogs.

If you click on the scan (from page 70), you'll get not only a very easy hummus recipe but a peek at the clean, green book design. I love that each recipe has a picture of the teen contributor plus a quote, quick tips, seasonal icons, and an appealing photo of the finished dish.

You don't need to be a kid to get some good use out of The Green Teen Cookbook. For example, this would be a great gift for a young adult moving into his or her first apartment. Experienced cooks who want to wean themselves from processed foods will also find many good dishes in this book.

Vegetarian alert: Although there are a number of vegetarian recipes in the book, vegans will want to look before buying.

Published by Zest Books, 2014 (US edition)
ISBN-13: 9781936976584
Source: Review (see review policy)
Copyright © cbl for Beth Fish Reads, all rights reserved (see review policy)

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22 August 2014

August Selections for the Scholastic Mother-Daughter Book Club

Remember when I introduced you to the Scholastic Mother-Daughter Book Club for middle readers? I'm committed to featuring or reviewing all the books selected for this club because I think Scholastic has picked winning titles that have broad appeal.

Don't forget that the Scholastic book club site includes more information about the books, recipes, reading guides, and contests. The resources are perfect for book clubs, teachers, homeschoolers, and any one who wants to get more out of reading books with middle grade readers.

Your young readers will have a hard time picking between the two winning books for this month's book club. One is adventure and mystery and one is tough historical fiction. Both, however, are excellent.

Loot by Jude WatsonJude Watson is best known for her 39 Clues series, but her new book, Loot: How to Steal a Fortune, is destined to win her a whole new group of avid fans. March McQuin, just a few weeks shy of his thirteenth birthday, is visiting Amsterdam with his dad. But don't be misled, this is no ordinary father-son team; they are, in fact, notorious jewel thieves. Well, March is still in training.

When his father's latest heist goes terribly wrong, March is there to witness his father's fall from a tall building. Left with some cryptic last words, a list of random words, a deck of cards, and a book, March tries to figure out what he should do next. As he begins to solve the clues his father left him, with the help of three other kids, he learns some truths about himself and his family.

Loot is one rollicking adventure, with a cast of four young criminal minds pitted against some not-so-trust-worthy adults. There are magical moonstones to be found, locks to be picked, computers to be hacked, and millions upon millions of dollars to be made. The clues are fun to work out, and the action is almost nonstop. Twisty, funny, and sometimes scary, the novel is sure to grab the attention of both boy and girls.

Book clubs will have a lot to discuss. The main themes are family and trust, but kids will also want to talk about having adventures and what it might be like to try to live on their own. There's also the issue of stealing, which in this book is simply the McQuin family business. Other great questions can be found on the Scholastic mother-daughter book club site. The suggested recipe is for homemade ice pops which has particular meaning to March and one of the other kids in the gang.

Zane and the Hurricane by Rodman PhilbrickMany reviewers have heaped praise on Rodman Philbrick's Zane and the Hurricane, which is a story about a boy whose first visit to relatives in New Orleans is disrupted by Katrina. Zane Dupree, just twelve years old, travels from his native New Hampshire to meet his great-grandmother and to get to know her city. When the storm hits, his dog escapes and Zane goes running after him. The two survive the storm but risk getting trapped as the waters begin to rise.

Fortunately, boy and dog are saved by an old man and the little girl in his care. As the group paddles through the flood water to safety, they see things that Zane will never forget: snakes, destroyed houses, and even dead bodies. This journey is not easy, and Philbrick doesn't hide the dark side of Katrina or New Orleans.

Young readers will not only learn about the impact of the storm on the city but will also get some insight into how our country reacts to natural disasters. Clubs will want to discuss the differences between heroes and villains; race, class, and social divisions in the city; and Zane's New England perspective on what he learns about the South. More discussion questions can be found on the Scholastic mother-daughter book club site. The suggested recipe is for king cakes, which are a special New Orleans treat associated with Mardi Gras.

Loot: Scholastic Press, 2014; ISBN-13: 9780545468022
Zane and the Hurricane: Blue Sky Press, 2014; ISBN-13: 9780545342384
Source: Review (see review policy)
Copyright © cbl for Beth Fish Reads, all rights reserved (see review policy).

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21 August 2014

Bookishly Cozy: A Mystery Roundup

Sometimes all I want is a quick, light read that will take me away from reality and introduce me to some great characters. One of my favorite escape genres is cozy mysteries, and this month I discovered three that feature book-loving, bookstore-owing amateur sleuths. Take a look.

Set in Fort Myers Beach, Florida, Well Read, Then Dead kicks off a new cozy mystery series by Terrie Farley Moran. Sassy Cabot and Bridget Mayfield left their Brooklyn homes to pursue their dream job of owning Read 'Em and Eat, a bookstore cafe. Their customers consist of a good mix of quirky locals, snowbirds, and demanding tourists, all of whom share a love of books and good eats. When one of their regulars is murdered, Sassy and Bridget can't help but get involved with trying to solve the case. You'll love the literary references, the humor, the food, and the deep connections among the characters. By the time the two friends figure out who done it, you'll already be looking forward to the next Read 'Em and Eat mystery. (Berkley Prime Crime, ISBN: 9780425270288)

Book Fair and Foul is the fourth installment in Erika Chase's Ashton Corners Book Cub Mystery series, set in Ashton Corners, Alabama. Bookstore owner Molly Mathews is busy organizing a mystery book festival, complete with visiting authors and special events. When death threats become reality, one of the local book club members looks like the prime suspect. Although Lizzie did indeed know the murder victim, she's innocent and it's up to her and her friends to help the police solve the crime. This fast-paced series is full of Southern humor, warm friendships, a long-suffering local cop, and intriguing mysteries. Fortunately you don't have to start with book one to get in on the fun. Besides, who can resist a mystery involving book clubs and book fairs? (Berkley Prime Crime, ISBN: 9780425271490)

Allison Kingsley's Extra Sensory Deception is the fourth in her Raven's Nest Bookstore series. Set in Finn's Harbor, Maine, this series combines books with a little bit of fortune telling. Stephanie and Clara Quinn are not only cousins but also best friends and co-owners of the local bookstore. Clara, however, inherited the special gift of being able to see into the future, and sometimes what she sees isn't pretty. When Clara's premonition of death at the rodeo turns out to be right, she gets involved with solving the murder. Small town antics, a little paranormal, family dynamics, books, a loyal dog, and a sprinkling of romance spice up this popular series. Although you won't want to miss Clara and Stephanie's earlier adventures, you won't feel lost if you start with the newest in the series. (Berkley Prime Crime, ISBN: 9780425271384)

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19 August 2014

Wordless Wednesday 303

Back from the Farmers' Market, 2014

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Today's Read: Dollbaby by Laura Lane McNeal

Imagine that you're almost twelve years old when your father dies. Then just days later your mother drives you from Seattle to your grandmother's house in New Orleans. That might be OK, but you never even knew you had a grandmother, and now you're watching your mother drive off, with no clear idea of when she'll return. This is what happened to Ibby Bell in early July of 1964:

There are times you wish you could change things, take things back, pretend they never existed. This was one of those times, Ibby Bell was thinking as she stared bug-eyed out the car window. Amid the double-galleried homes and brightly painted cottages on Prytania Street, there was one house that didn't belong.
Dollbaby by Laura Lane McNeal (Penguin USA / Pamela Dorman Books, 2014, p. 3)

Quick Facts
  • Setting: New Orleans, 1960s
  • Circumstances: After her father dies, Ibby Bell is left at her fraternal grandmother's house in New Orleans. Ibby doesn't understand why her mother abandoned her and she feels lost in a world that includes household staff, civil rights unrest, Vietnam War protests, church, and unfamiliar foods. As she matures into a young woman, Ibby learns that life is unpredictable and sometimes "you got to dance, even when there ain't no music."
  • Characters: Liberty Bell (teenage years); Fannie Bell, her eccentric grandmother; Queenie, Babydoll, and the rest of the Trout family; various neighbors and friends
  • Genre: historical fiction; coming of age; Southern fiction
  • Themes: family, love, civil rights, doing what's right, helping those who need our help
  • What I liked: I'm not quite finished yet, but McNeal has created memorable characters, each with their own issues, who help one another as best they can. I particularly like following Ibby's maturation, as she gains perspective on social class differences and human rights.
  • Recommendations: Even though I haven't gotten to the end, I can recommend Dollbaby for anyone who likes a good coming-of-age story, quirky characters, and time pieces. Although the topics are deep (making it a good book club choice), the novel can also be approached on a lighter level as a good summer read. Yes, Fannie's life is sometimes hard to believe, but I have enjoyed getting to know her, Queenie, Dollybaby, and Ibby.
  • Audiobook: I listened to the unabridged audiobook (Penguin Audio; 11 hr, 12 min) read by January Levoy. Let me cut to the chase: Levoy's performance is nothing short of brilliant. I love her characterizations and that she changes her tone so we can tell that Ibby is growing up. I can't distinguish among Southern accents, but I think Levoy does a great job with the various Louisiana dialects. Don't hesitate to listen to this one.

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18 August 2014

Review: Sven the Returned by Brian Wood

One of the graphic novel series I read this summer was Brian Wood's Northlanders, which is historical fiction that takes place during the time of the Vikings. Instead of focusing the entire fifty-issue series on a single character or plot line, Wood wrote seven independent story arcs, each of which is set in a different location and in different years, spanning roughly from the 700s to the 1200s. Here are my thoughts (with a minor spoiler) in a bullet review.

What's it about? The first volume, Sven the Returned, is set in the Orkneys in 980 BCE. Sven, the son of a Viking lord, left his northern home when he was a boy, rejecting his inheritance as much he felt his family rejected him. He eventually ended up in Constantinople, where he made a good a life for himself as a Varangian. When he learns of his father death, however, Sven decides to return to the islands to claim his wealth and defeat his uncle, who has taken over the lands.

The good. I was initially drawn to the series because it was about Vikings and because I loved the artwork (by Davide Gianfelice) (click the scans to see full size). I also appreciated that the story was fairly realistic, with almost no fantasy or myth elements. You should be aware that Northlanders is most definitely an adult series, with plenty of violence and some sex.

The not so good. Sven wasn't a very sympathetic character and came off as selfish and greedy. This made it difficult for me to feel sorry for his situation and to root for him to regain his inheritance, especially because he wanted the money and didn't really care about what happened to the people. In the end, he showed a better side of himself, but it was not enough and a little too late. Furthermore, the women in the book, were not very well developed, although I liked Enna, a Scotswoman, whom Sven met when he was living in Orkney wilderness.

My main problem with the book had to do with the setup of the comic itself. There were quite few instances in which Wood resorted to descriptors instead of illustrating what was happening. For example, instead of demonstrating a change in seasons through the artwork, Wood includes a narrative bubble that reads, "Months pass, winter comes" (p. 84). In another instance, instead of showing us through facial expressions that Sven is attracted to a young woman, Wood adds a thought bubble that says "And she had my heart" (p. 112).

My final complaint was that the ending was fairly predictable and that a few plot points were glossed over or dropped.

General thoughts. Unfortunately I can't wholeheartedly recommend Sven the Returned. In fact, for the reasons I discussed, I don't plan on reading more of Brian Wood's Northlanders series. On the other hand, it's important to remember that each story arc in the series is independent, and the other collected volumes may be much more successful.

DC Comics / Vertigo, 2008
ISBN-13: 9781401219185
Source: Bought (see review policy)
Copyright © cbl for Beth Fish Reads, all rights reserved (see review policy)

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16 August 2014

Weekend Cooking: Spiced Lamb Burgers

Weekend Cooking hosted by www.BethFishReads.comWeekend Cooking is open to anyone who has any kind of food-related post to share: Book (novel, nonfiction) reviews, cookbook reviews, movie reviews, recipes, random thoughts, gadgets, quotations, photographs. If your post is even vaguely foodie, feel free to grab the button and link up anytime over the weekend. You do not have to post on the weekend. Please link to your specific post, not your blog's home page. For more information, see the welcome post.

After my success with the Bon Appetit's spatchcocked chicken, I decided to look for other interesting grilling recipes. In the July issue, I found this for grilled lamb burgers. Even though Mr. BFR had his doubts, we went ahead and gave this recipe a try.

Because there are only two of us, I cut the recipe in half and made only four burgers. The leftovers were delicious cold the next day. Note too, that I weighed the meat mixture so that each pita pocket would have the exact same amount of meat. I used Wegman's brand whole wheat pitas.

By the way, you could use any ground meat, of course, and any spice mixture. Next time we're going to make Cajun-spiced burgers and tuck in a bit of blue cheese with the meat. Yum! The photos are mine.

Spiced Lamb Burgers
Makes 8 burgers
From Bon Appetit (July 2014)
  • 2½ pounds ground lamb, preferably shoulder
  • 1 medium onion, very finely chopped
  • ¾ cup chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley
  • 1 tablespoon ground coriander
  • ¾ teaspoon ground cumin
  • ½ teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 2 teaspoons kosher salt
  • 1½ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • ¼ cup olive oil, plus more for grilling
  • 8 thick medium pita breads with pockets
Using a fork, mix lamb, onion, parsley, coriander, cumin, cinnamon, salt, pepper, and ¼ cup oil in a large bowl. Cover and chill at least 1 hour.

Prepare grill for medium heat and oil grate. Working one at a time, open each pita pocket by cutting along seam, halfway around perimeter. Spoon filling into pitas, spreading to edges. (I used my hand to fill the pitas.) Close, pressing on filling to seal.

Grill pitas until filling is cooked through and bread is crisp, about 5 minutes per side. (At 400F, our pitas were perfectly medium rare after 5 minutes a side.)

Notes from Bon Appetit: Filling can be made 8 hours ahead; keep chilled. Pita breads can be stuffed 1 hour ahead; cover and chill.

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14 August 2014

Sound Recommendations: A Summer Quartet

Sea of Shadows by Kelley ArmstrongKelly Armstrong is starting a new young adult series (Age of Legends) with her Sea of Shadows. At the center of the story are twins Moria and Ashyn, who were tapped from birth to become the Keeper and the Seeker, respectively, of their village on their 16th birthday. Now that they've come of age, their principal duties involve protecting the people from the evils that live in the surrounding Forest of the Dead by performing very specific rites. Despite their training, something goes horribly wrong on their first try, setting off a series of events that ripple throughout the land. Much to love here, from the strong female characters to the complex world (with its underlying Japanese feel). Yes, there is some romance, but it doesn't take center stage; the girls' quest and the larger political issues are more important. Genre: high fantasy Audiobook: The unabridged audiobook (Harper Audio; 12 h, 31 min) was nicely read by Jennifer Ikeda. She varied her pacing, inflection, and volume to match the action and tension, and her characterizations were consistent.

Life Drawing by Robin BlackLife Drawing by Robin Black is an introspective look at a modern marriage. Artist Augusta (Gus) and her writer husband, Owen, have moved to an old farmhouse to revive their marriage and immerse themselves in their art. After a couple of years living in near isolation, the couple is surprised when Alison, a British ex-pat who is also an painter, rents the farmhouse across the field. An innocent walk around the pond and a few shared secrets between Gus and Alison entangle the two families in unexpected ways. I was surprised by how much I was invested in Gus's story, even though I didn't always like her or the choices she made. The book touches on several complex issues, making it a good choice for book clubs: aging, marriage, friendships, alternative lifestyles, family duty, death, and parenthood. Genre: contemporary fiction Audiobook: The unabridged audiobook (Random House; 9 h, 55 min) was read by Cassandra Campbell. Campbell is at her best on this audiobook. Her silky smooth narration seems to wrap around the words, bringing out the depth of the emotions without ever straying into dramatization.

Lucky Us by Amy BloomSet in the 1940s, Amy Bloom's Lucky Us explores the art of self-reinvention as a means of survival for two half-sisters who have few resources and fewer opportunities. The story is mostly told from Eva's perspective, who matures from a fairly naive 12-year-old into a world-weary but tough young lady about a decade later The older Iris is the ambitious one, and her dreams of stardom take the girls to Hollywood. When their fortunes shift again, the sisters, with a friend and their father in tow, decide to start over in Great Neck, New York. My heart went out to Eva, and I admired her spunk and determination to keep the wolf from the door. As other reviewers have noted, the story is bittersweet: it takes some dark turns, but the well-timed humor lightens the mood. This is another good book club pick, with its themes of sexuality, family, and honesty. Genre: historical fiction Audiobook: The unabridged audiobook (Random House; 7 h, 18 min) was read by Alicyn Packard. Although Packard did a fine job bringing the emotional aspects of the book to life, she was less skilled with her characterizations. Regardless, this is an enjoyable listen.

The Girl with All the Gifts by M. R. CareyYes, I know, you've had it up to here with zombie stories. That's what I thought before I listened to M. R. Carey's The Girl with All the Gifts. After a fungus has jumped from its insect host to humans, the world is divided into three groups: the Hungries (zombies), the Junkers (survivalists), and everyone else. This is the surprisingly moving story of how smart, curious 10-year-old Melanie discovers that she's no ordinary girl attending an ordinary school. She is instead a Hungry who is being observed by scientists hoping to find a cure to the fungal infection. Although the plot seems stereotypical--a small group of humans is forced into the wilds to battle its way to the safety of the next enclave--the story has plenty that is new and fresh. It's part coming-of-age story and part an exploration of what it means to be human. Genre: dystopian / zombie apocalypse Audiobook: The unbridged audiobook (Hachette Audio; 13 h, 14 min) was read by Finty Williams. Williams's sensitive performance makes this an outstanding audiobook experience. Her pacing is perfect and her characterizations are spot-on. Don't miss this one.

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13 August 2014

Wordless Wednesday 302

Yellow Wildflower, 2014

For full effect, click image to enlarge. For more Wordless Wednesday, click here.

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12 August 2014

Adventures in Buying a Travel Camera: Olympus, Nikon, Canon

copyright cbl for BethFishReads.comAs some of you know, I had been shopping for a pocket camera for everyday photography. I thought I'd share my experiences trying out three different models.

In general, I was looking for something small, without interchangeable lenses, that would do what my phone camera couldn't. Thus I wanted a good zoom and a good macro. But I also wanted to have manual controls and wifi. I did not want to have to buy and change lenses. In other words, I wanted what is now called a travel camera.

I did a lot of research and read a lot of reviews and narrowed my choices down to three models. I had a budget and hoped to spend no more than $350 for something that was going to live in a coat pocket or purse and be taken camping and hiking.

My three choices were the Olympus Stylus TG-3, the Nikon Coolpix S9700, and the Canon SX700HS. I also liked a Sony model and a Fuji, but neither of them had a good enough macro for my tastes. For a little more money, I could have gotten a camera that shot RAW, was mirrorless, and/or had a touch screen. I decided against moving up in class because I didn't want to spend the extra money and because I really wanted the camera for quick everyday photos, not for my best shots on a photo expedition. (I have a big camera for that.)

I should also mention here that I'm not really a camera reviewer. I didn't set up side-by-side tests under exact conditions. I'm simply reporting on my personal experience. I took the three photos shown below while standing more or less in the same place in my yard, using the zoom, and then cropping--but the shots were taken on different days. (Click on the images to see them full size.)

The Olympus. I decided to buy the Olympus Stylus TG-3 because it was waterproof and drop-proof and was supposed to have an amazing microscopic macro. I knew the zoom was not as powerful as my other choices, but there was an optional telephoto lens, which I thought I wouldn't mind in return for the ruggedness of the camera. So I ordered the TG-3 in April. And then I waited. And I waited. And I waited. And I finally got the camera in the last week of July. The short story is that I owned the camera for about 3 hours before sending it back.

  • The pros: The camera was light and fit in my pocket. The controls and menus were fairly intuitive. Olympus customer service was very easy to deal with, and they took the camera back, no questions asked.
  • The cons: The camera seemed to take forever to turn on and focus. The zoom was even slower, and almost all the bees and birds I tried to photograph had long flown away before the zoom had even extended. The macro too was very difficult to focus, and I knew I'd just be frustrated every day I owned this camera.
Look at the cropped and zoomed photo. Do I even need to say anything? I was so disappointed with the color and resolution.

The Nikon. It was a close race between the Canon and Nikon for my next try. I picked the Nikon Coolpix S9700 because it was supposed to have a bit better lens and much better battery life. I was initially impressed with the zoom and the clarity of the focus but I had major issues with some of the features.
  • The pros: The zoom was a pleasure to use; it was quick and focused nicely. The camera was light and generally easy to use.
  • The cons: The image stabilizing wasn't as strong as I'm used to in my old Canons or even in the camera app I use on my phone. I had a hard time standing still for long zooms and close macros. But the real issues with the Nikon were these: (1) There was no way to permanently turn off the flash in the auto setting. Thus each time I turned the camera to automatic, I had to remember to turn off the flash or it would pop up when I didn't want it to. (2) The automatic focusing was just plain annoying. There was no way to stop it from deciding what it was I wanted to focus on. I'd have to set the focus three or four times for each shot. I must have taken 30 photos of a nail head before I could get the macro setting to focus on it instead of the background. So maddening.
The cropped photo is much better than the Olympus and has a tiny bit of bokeh. But I think the focus is slightly off (the seed head looks a bit fuzzy), the pink is muted, and the center of the flower is too orange. In the long run, though, the focus and flash issues made me return the camera after two days.

The Canon. The question I've been asking myself is this, Since I've always loved my Canons, why didn't I just get the Canon in the first place? Well, the main reason was that SX700HS got consistently poor reviews in terms of battery life. Every single reviewer mentioned how it barely took 200 photos per battery and how annoying that was. Since I can easily take 200 photos in a few hours, that put me off.
  • The pros: I love the image stabilizing of the Canon and the terrific macro. There is a way to turn off the flash no matter what mode the camera is in. I can choose auto focus, center focus, manual focus, and several other focuses, so I am no longer frustrated by not getting the photo I want. Because I have owned Canons, the somewhat deep menus don't really bother me, and in fact I'm pretty used to them.
  • The cons: It has a little trouble taking night shots, but that might be because I haven't figured out all the settings. The camera sometimes gets confused when I focus on a cloud, but a switch to completely manual focus, takes care of that. Macros come out a little blurry sometimes, but not often enough to frustrate me.
I haven't had any battery issues at all. Either I use my camera differently from others (I'm in the habit of turning it off when not actively seeking a shot) or I've just been lucky. I do have extra batteries, though, just in case. I love the bokeh of the zoomed shot and the more natural-looking colors. The balloon shot at the top of the post was taken early one recent morning. I zoomed in and held the camera without a tripod and got a whole series of fantastic photos. (If you click on that balloon picture, you'll get the full effect.)

Conclusions. In general, I'm glad I spent the money on the pocket camera, and I'm having a great time taking photos with the Canon. My biggest complaints are with the category of cameras in general. If you're used to a lot of control with a wide range of speed, f/stops, and ISO, travel cameras are going to be slightly disappointing. On the other hand, a travel camera is perfect for taking walks, for family gatherings, and anytime you just want to get the picture and without any fuss.

Your mileage may vary, and you really need to do your research and decide on the features that are important to you. Make sure you can return any camera you buy, so you aren't stuck with an expensive mistake. Again, if you move up to the $500 and above level, you can get mirrorless, RAW, and interchangeable lenses, even with a small camera body.

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11 August 2014

Guest Post: Getting Back What You Give by Hilary Grossman (Dangled Carat)

It's always surprising to me how often I connect with book people through non-book avenues. I met Hilary Grossman because we both consistently link up to Wordless Wednesday, a weekly photography meme. We naturally felt some affinity, seeing as I'm a book editor and she's an author.

Grossman's Dangled Carat is the true-life story of her relationship with the man who eventually became her husband. Although the two clearly loved each other, Marc was in no hurry to pop the question. What was the problem? In this open and honest memoir, Grossman talks about what it was like to wait for Marc to commit and how she coped with her mother's and her friends' opinions and advice.

Today, I'm happy to introduce you to Hilary, who stopped by to tell us about her book and why she decided to share her story with the world. She also reveals some of the rewards of becoming an author.

Getting Back What You Give

When I was a little girl I was always in awe of my mother. She could easily talk to anyone about anything. Unlike her I was shy and quiet. But over the years that changed, dramatically! I now follow in her footsteps and can easily share my life story with anyone who will listen. I am not afraid or embarrassed to share the difficult times either. After all, we all experience them. So I guess it isn’t shocking that I decided to bare my soul in my memoir, Dangled Carat.

Dangled Carat, while true, reads like a chick lit romance novel. It is the relatable and humorous story of my emotionally draining attempt to convert a commitment-phobic man into a husband with a little (okay, scratch that) a lot of help from his family and friends.

I decided to share my story in the hopes that I could assist someone else who was going through the same situation. Unfortunately, so many people experience falling in love with someone who has a fear of commitment. It is a very difficult predicament to be in. You are constantly second-guessing yourself and your decisions. You don’t know if you should listen to your heart or to your friends' advice.

While I hoped that my story could help someone else, I didn’t expect to know about it . . . I am beyond pleasantly shocked and surprised by how many people reached out to me after reading the book. So many people contacted me to share their own stories about how they too dated a commitment-phobe and how they were able to relate to my story. Others reached out to ask my advice for their dating dilemmas. They too bared their souls with me. But my favorite unexpected result after publishing my book was an email I received from a male reader.

He wrote to me and explained how much he was able to relate to my commitment-phobic boyfriend, and how much of Marc he saw in himself. He revealed that by reading the book he realized the ways he had sabotaged his relationships in the past. He also shared with me that after reading the book he learned he has to go at his own pace, regardless of what the other person seems to want--it will either work or not. He also told me that he learned he has to communicate his feelings and just relax, enjoy the moment, and let nature take it’s course rather than worry about what tomorrow will bring. This new attitude has kept him in a relationship that he would have already ended in the past!

Whenever I think of his email I am so thankful that I shared my story. Matters of the heart are difficult, but we have all been there. After all, love makes the world go round.
Thanks so much, Hilary. I'm still thinking of the man who emailed you because your memoir helped him find some personal insight. Wow! I'm always in awe of people like you, who are willing and able to share their life stories with others. If even one person realizes that she is not alone, then a memoir is a true success.

To learn more about Hilary Grossman, be sure to visit her blog, Feeling Beachie, where you can find out a few fun facts about her (and the secret to her chocolate chip cookies). Don't forget to friend her on Facebook, and follow her on Twitter. You can find Dangled Carat at Amazon and Barnes & Noble.

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09 August 2014

Weekend Cooking: Lemon-Ginger Yogurt Bread

Weekend Cooking hosted by www.BethFishReads.comWeekend Cooking is open to anyone who has any kind of food-related post to share: Book (novel, nonfiction) reviews, cookbook reviews, movie reviews, recipes, random thoughts, gadgets, quotations, photographs. If your post is even vaguely foodie, feel free to grab the button and link up anytime over the weekend. You do not have to post on the weekend. Please link to your specific post, not your blog's home page. For more information, see the welcome post.

Earlier this week I was given three quarts of organic lemon yogurt that was two days past its sell-by date. I needed to figure out quickly what to do with all that yogurt before it started to go bad.

I froze one quart in ice cube trays to use in smoothies (thanks to @wisekaren for the tip), and we're eating our way through another quart. I still, however, had a lot of yogurt left.

By the way, do you know how difficult it is to search for "lemon yogurt" as an individual ingredient? Well, believe me, it is. Anyway, I had a craving for quick bread, and eventually found a recipe I could use as a starting point. Without a lot of a trouble, I came up with an adaptation of Food52's adaptation of Mark Bittman's yogurt bread. (Did you follow that?)

The main change I made was to cut down on the sweetener because the lemon yogurt has sugars in it. I also discovered that what I thought was a 1/2 cup of molasses in the cupboard was really more like 1/3 of cup. I supplemented that with the last 2 tablespoons of honey left in the house. The recipe said to use a loaf pan, but failed to note whether that should be an 8-inch or 9-inch pan. Because of the 3 cups of dry ingredients, I opted for the larger loaf pan, thinking I'd rather have a flatter bread than one that spilled over the top. I was going to add craisins to the batter but at the last minute decided on ginger chips (sugared dried ginger).

The result was moist with just a hint of lemon and a nice bite of ginger. I'd gladly make this again for company.

Go to my pin or to Food52 for the original recipe. Here is my version.

Lemon-Ginger Yogurt Bread
Adapted from Food52, which was adapted from Mark Bittman
1 9-inch loaf

  • 2 1/2 cups white whole wheat flour
  • 1/2 cup coarse-grind cornmeal
  • 1 teaspoon sea salt
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1 2/3 cup whole milk lemon yogurt
  • 1/3 cup molasses 
  • 2 tablespoons honey
  • 1/2 cup ginger chips
Preheat the oven to 350F. Grease a 9-inch loaf pan.

In a large bowl, whisk the flour, cornmeal, salt, and baking soda to mix. In a large measuring cup, whisk the yogurt, molasses, and honey until combined. Pour the wet ingredients into the dry and mix gently until the flour is almost incorporated. Add the ginger and mix just until all the flour has been moistened.

Spread the batter into the prepared pan, leveling off the top. Place in the center of the oven and bake about 50 minutes or until a tester comes out clean.

Let cool in the pan on a wire rack before cutting.

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08 August 2014

Imprint Small Press Friday: Graywolf Press

Welcome to a special edition of Imprint Friday which today is actually Small Press Friday. Although I usually celebrate new releases from my favorite imprints in this space, I thought I'd do something a little different and feature great reads from a great independent publisher: Graywolf Press. Take a moment to look through their catalogs and be sure to say congratulations on their 40 years in publishing.

I've been a fan of Graywolf for a long time, and I've always been impressed with their ability to consistently publish smart books that both entertain and make me think. And Graywolf doesn't just find the best in fiction, their poetry and short story collections, their memoirs and essays have grabbed my attention as much as their award-winning novels. Here are five books to put on your list.

I'll start with Vijay Seshadri's 3 Sections, which won the Pulitzer Prize for poetry. I haven't read this collection, but an article about Graywolf would be incomplete without bringing Seshadri to your attention. The poems touch on very contemporary subjects, making the pieces accessible to a wide range of readers. The first section is made up of shorter poems about modern society, life in New York, the perils of aging, and travel. I'm particularly interested in the second section, which is a longer poem about commercial salmon fishing in Alaska. It addresses both the beauty of the environment and the politics of the industry. Making up the bulk of the final section is a poem titled "Personal Essay," which explores, according to Publisher Weekly, "what it could mean to be personal, to be one person and not another, in this crowded age." The hardcover was published a year ago (ISBN: 9781555976620) and the paperback will be available in January.

The troubled characters in Robert Boswell's Tumbledown revolve around ambitious therapist James Candler, the soon to be director of the Onyx Springs Rehabilitation Center. Despite juggling his finances, putting up with a slacker temporary roommate, and second-guessing his upcoming marriage, Candler never forgets the clients who need his support. As we get to know the patients, who suffer from a variety of conditions, we ultimately realize that Candler, haunted by the memory of his older brother and pushed by his need to help others, has forgotten to take care of himself. Although the novel is sometimes funny, Boswell is respectful of mental illness and makes us think about what it takes to be able to function in modern society, what it means to be normal, and what happens when we forget to save ourselves. The hardcover came out last year, but the paperback will be available in September (ISBN: 9781555976866).

Jeffery Renard Allen's Song of the Shank is a novel about the real-life Thomas Green Wiggins, better known as the musical genus Blind Tom. What makes this story so incredible is that Tom, born into slavery, was not only blind but was also autistic. That he learned to play the piano and was allowed to pursue his craft despite his handicaps and color is in itself almost unbelievable. Allen imagines the life of the gifted and troubled pianist, filling in the details where the historical record is missing. We learn of the black child who performed for a president of the United States, the white woman who became his guardian, and the myriad others who either tried to exploit his talents or protect him from the evils of the world. Through Blind Tom's story, Allen takes us from the pre-Civil War South to the early 20th century, exploring the changing climate for American blacks and the particular dependency that was the lot of the talented pianist. Published this summer in paperback (ISBN: 9781555976804).

In Blackboard, Lewis Buzbee explores education in America from a number of perspectives. His treatise is not simply testimony to the negative effects of budget cuts, politics, unions, and technology; instead Buzbee looks deeper into his subject, considering everything from the way our schools are built to the subtle messages students pick up from their teachers. He brings his own experiences as both a student and a teacher to the table supplemented by what he learned from watching his daughter move through the system. He worries about the teacher-student ratio; teachers' salaries; society's respect for education; and the lack of funding for music, art, and libraries. Anyone who is bothered by the educational system's focus on tests and success and wishes that more time were devoted to encouraging the love of learning and to nurturing curiosity will appreciate this short, entertaining, and important book. Out in hardcover this month (ISBN: 9781555976835).

High on my reading list is Ru Freeman's On Sal Mal Lane, which made several top-ten lists when it was published last year. The novel is set in Sri Lanka in the late 1970s, during the period leading up to the country's long civil war. Through the families living on Sal Mal Lane, we see how the children's typical pursuits of love, sports, and friendship are affected and influenced by the building political tensions and cultural attitudes of their parents. Almost every reviewer mentioned how beautiful and moving Freeman's prose is, as she explores the divisions--socioeconomic, religious, and emotional--that are brought into sharp focus as war becomes inevitable. The novel brings these issues down to the personal level as the ripples of a country's larger concerns eventually reach even a quiet street inhabited by ordinary people, whom we have come to know intimately. Out now in paperback (ISBN: 9781555976767).

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07 August 2014

Giveaway: Have a Nice Guilt Trip by Lisa Scottoline and Francesca Serritella

Mother-daughter team Lisa Scottoline and Francesca Serritella have a unique and witty worldview. Have a Nice Guilt Trip, their most recent collection of humorous yet true-to-life essays is sure to brighten up your summer.

Their snappy banter covers topics as diverse as shopping, home decorating, dating, pets, and gardening. They moan about holidays and admit to struggling with the temptations of the Internet. Nothing is off-limits to Scottoline and Serritella: family, politics, cooking . . . you name the topic, they're sure to have a quirky opinion.

The Giveaway

Whether you're a longtime fan or new to the family, I have a great giveaway that you won't want to miss. One lucky reader with a continental U.S. mailing address will win a copy of not just one Lisa Scottoline and Francesca Serritella book but five! The prize pack includes one copy of every book you see below. All you have to do to enter for a chance to win is to fill out the form. I'll pick a winner via random number generator on August 18. Once the winner is confirmed, I'll pass the address along to the publicist and then erase all personal data from my computer.

But wait! There's more! You can also enter to win a Guilt Trip Giveaway prize pack worth more than $1,000. The entry form and details are on Scottoline's website.

To learn more about this mother-daughter team, here are their social media links:

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