29 November 2014

Weekend Cooking: Gift Ideas for the Cooks on Your List: 2

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.

Gift ideas for cooks from Beth Fish ReadsLooking for some good ideas for the cooks on your holiday shopping list? Here are three cookbooks that are sure to inspire some kitchen creativity in the coming year--and I love that they all rely on fresh, nutritious ingredients to help start 2015 off on a healthful note.

Green Smoothies for Every Season by Kristine MilesGreen Smoothies for Every Season by Kristine Miles (Ulysses Press; ISBN 9781612431727) The popularity of smoothies for breakfasts and snacks can't be denied, but so many of us are getting bored with the same old banana or blueberry drinks day after day. In Miles's lovely little book, you'll find a new smoothie for every week of the year, each one using seasonally fresh ingredients. The stars of the show are fruits and vegetables, which provide fiber, antioxidants, minerals, and vitamins. The first part of the book consists of information about nutrition, blending, storage, and ingredients. The remaining chapters contain the recipes, arranged by season. Start 2015 off with a Mandarin Mania (clementine, pineapple, spinach) and work your way through the book by making a spring Pina Colada (with mesclun mix), a summer Berry Blast (with romaine), and a fall Detox Diva (with endive). Most of the ingredients are easy to find, although a few (borage) may not be readily available in your area and some (macadamia nuts) may be expensive. Regardless, smoothie lovers will find plenty of delicious new ideas for their daily drink.

Drink the Harvest by Nan K. Chase and DeNeice C. GuestDrink the Harvest by Nan K. Chase and DeNeice C. Guest (Storey Publishing; ISBN: 9781612121598) The eye-catching photographs and design of this gem of a book will grab your attention, and the recipes and ideas for turning produce into beverages will inspire you to develop new kitchen skills. Chase and DeNeice provide everything you need to know about making and storing a variety of fresh drinks from vegetable juices and ciders to fruit syrups and herbal teas. There's even a chapter on wine, mead, and other adult beverages. Gardners, CSA members, and farmers market denizens will love learning new ways to preserve their summer bounty. I'm particularly interested in the Spiced Ginger-Bay Syrup, the Berry Juice, Luscious Limoncello, and Citrus Peel Tea. Cooks will appreciate that the authors don't leave them stranded; the book provides detailed information on harvesting, pressing fruit, canning, fermentation, and more. If you're lucky, the recipient of this beautiful cookbook will thank you with a bottle of homemade Mixed Berry Mead.

Homemade Condiments by Jessica HarlanHomemade Condiments by Jessica Harlan (Ulysses Press; ISBN: 9781612432236) Here's a great cookbook that you can either buy for someone else or use to create your own homemade gifts fresh from the kitchen. Why make your own condiments? As anyone who has a food allergy or sensitivity will quickly tell you, commercially made sauces, dressings, and other condiments are a mine field of iffy ingredients. Why worry if that mustard or chutney has stray nuts or gluten? Make it yourself and be sure. Plus, most store-bought sauces have too much sugar, too much salt, and too many preservatives. Harlan has collected a nice variety of easy-to-follow recipes for all kinds of kitchen staples, such as barbecue sauces, ketchups, mustards, pickles, salsas, vinegars, salad dressings, dessert sauces, and chutneys. A great feature is the "Use It For" list that accompanies each recipe: Try drizzling the Maple Tarragon Vinaigrette over grilled peaches, and stirring the Grainy Porter Mustard into mac and cheese. The book, which also includes information on safely storing the products, will be a welcome addition to any kitchen.

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27 November 2014

Graphically Reading: First Issues 1

 If you're into graphic novels and comics, then you've probably spent some time browsing the Comixology website. When there, one thing I always look for is their periodic free (or sometimes really inexpensive) first-issue sales. It's a great way to get a feel for a comic series, author, and artist without investing a lot of money and time. Here are four first issues I read this month.

Archer & Armstrong #1; Butterfly #1Archer & Armstrong by Fred Van Lente and Clayton Henry (Valiant, 2012): Raised and educated in a fundamentalist encampment, Obadiah Archer is sent out into the world (New York City) to defeat the Evil One. Armstrong, however, has already survived thousands of years, and Archer's martial arts training is not going to be enough to bring the big man down. Right in the middle of their confrontation, everything changes when they are suddenly united in a fight against a common enemy. Verdict: continue the series: You'll find good humor, lots of political jibes, fast action, and expressive art. This will particularly appeal to the more liberal crowd. Butterfly by Arash Amel, Marguerite Bennett, and Antonio Fuso (Boom-Archaia, 2014): When her cover is blown and she's accused of crime she didn't commit ex-CIA agent Rebecca Faulkner (aka Butterfly) is on the run, heading to a location known to her only by its coordinates. When she gets there, she finds a surprise that changes her world. Verdict: pass on the series: the colors are gorgeous and the artwork shines, but the story is uneven, it's hard to connect to the characters, and the ending doesn't pack the punch that I think we were supposed to feel.

Dead Letters #1; Girls #1Dead Letters by Christopher Sebela and Chris Visions (Boom-Studios, 2014): When Sam wakes up to the sound of pounding on his door, he knows only that he's lost his memory and that he needs to run from whoever is trying to get in. After car chases, a confrontation with a gang, and a rescue by a pretty woman, Sam is about to learn the surprising truth of his current situation. Verdict: read the series: the premise may sound familiar, but this is not your usual amnesia story; plenty of action and the mystery of Sam's past pull you along; the art is dark, a bit sketchy, and perfect for the story. Girls by Joshua Luna (Image, 2005):  Lonely, single Ethan Daniels lives in a small town, where everyone knows everyone. One night, after spending time in the local bar, he's driving home along dark, country roads, when he almost hits a naked woman who is standing in the middle of the pavement. Seeing that she can barely talk and is in trouble, he gets her in his car, intending to offer help--not realizing that someone has been watching. Verdit: try the series: this has potential, but I need to read more to decide what I think; Ethan doesn't seem all that appealing, but I have the feeling that his discovery of the dazed woman is about to change him--plus who was hiding in woods? I love the clean lines and muted colors of the panels.

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26 November 2014

Wordless Wednesday 317

November Walk, 2014

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25 November 2014

Today's Read: Compulsion by Martina Boone

Compulsion by Martina BooneWhat if you lived your whole life in complete ignorance of your extended family? When Barrie Watson's mother dies and her godfather can no longer care for her, the teen learns not only that she's the ultimate heir to a family plantation, located clear across the country on a South Carolina island, but that her mother has a living twin sister. What else will Barrie discover after she settles in to her new home in the east?

The heat that crept into the airport baggage area whenever the door opened should have told Barrie Watson that she had arrived in hell. But it wasn't the Charleston weather, or the fact that her mother's sister, who she'd never even heard of before the funeral, was three hours late picking her up. Neither of those things kept Barrie's butt glued on top of her suitcase and her eyes on the door.

It was hope that kept her stuck, that stole her breath and made her eyes smart every time some likely looking woman rushed in and scanned the nearly empty area around the luggage carousels. Barrie hated hope. Too often, it was a Go Directly to Jail card that led to disappointment.
Compulsion by Martina Boone (Simon & Schuster / Simon Pulse, 2014, p. 1)

Quick Facts
  • Setting: Watson Island, South Carolina; modern times
  • Circumstances: When Barrie's mother dies, she moves in with her aunt on the family plantation and learns that the Watsons are entangled in a three-hundred-year-old history with the other two main families on the island. That history, Barrie soon realizes, involves blessings, curses, secrets, and perhaps a little witchcraft.
  • Characters: Barrie Watson, who has the gift of finding things; Charles (Eight) Beaufort, who has the gift of knowing what people want; Cassie Colesworth who is cursed with never getting what she wants; the teens' relatives and others on the island
  • Genre and audience: Southern Gothic, contemporary fiction; cross-over young adult to adult
  • Themes & story elements: curses, family feuds and secrets, murder, revenge, Native American spirits, folk lore, pirates, voodoo, love, loss, loneliness, trust, family, friendship, death
  • Character development & plot: This was a slow start but is now picking up speed; Barrie is smart, somewhat impulsive, and knows how to stand up for herself; the romance aspect was predictable and a bit quick but is believable enough; Eight (not crazy about the nickname) has a few flaws to keep him real; Cassie's true self is easy to spot (though apparently not to Barrie).
  • Things I like so far: The strong Gothic elements; the unearthing of family secrets (and maybe treasure) drew me in and is keeping me there; I like the adults in Barrie's life (Aunt Pru and godfather Mark)
  • Recommendations: For fans of Southern Gothic and stories with voodoo, curses, and family secrets
  • Miscellaneous: The first in the new Heirs of Watson Island series; hoping this doesn't end on a cliff-hanger

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24 November 2014

2014 Gift Ideas for the Readers on Your List: 1

I know it's still November, but it's not too early to start thinking about gifts for all the readers on your holiday shopping list. I have a lot good ideas this year, so watch this space for more suggestions over the coming weeks. Hope you find the perfect present for someone special.

Texts from Jane Eyre by Mallory OrtbergFor your well-read friend with a great sense of humor: Mallory Ortberg's Texts from Jane Eyre can be summed up by it's subtitle: And Other Conversations with Your Favorite Literary Characters. From the ancient Greeks to Harry Potter, these text convos will have you LOL'ing right from page 1. It won't take you long to realize that Ortberg really nails her characters' personalities: whether it's Peeta and Katniss bickering or Lizzy Bennett trying to deal with her mother, her imagined texts are spot on. Just imagine Scarlett O'Hara with a smartphone (poor Ashely . . . or maybe poor Mammy). To give you a hint, the following is just the one of the text conversations found on Hamlet's phone. Texts from Jane Eyre is the perfect stocking stuffer, promising hours of good fun. (Henry Holt; ISBN 9781627791830)

Gertrude: darling I don't mean to criticize but you really hurt your father's feelings last night
Hamlet: hes not my real dad / why do you even like him

Jane Austen Cover to Cover by Margaret SullivanFor the Austen lover: Jane Austen Cover to Cover: 200 Years of Classic Covers by Margaret C. Sullivan, is a gorgeous coffee table book. This collection of the cover art of Austen's novels ranges from the early 1800s all the way through to the movie tie-in editions. Sullivan even includes the spin-offs, like Sense and Sensibility and Sea Monsters, illustrated editions for young readers, and comic book versions. The text provides the publication history of Austen's work and information about the books' paper and bindings. Some of the covers are beautiful abstracts or details from classic paintings; others made me laugh, especially the editions that show Austen's characters in Victorian clothing. Austen fans will spend many enjoyable hours with Jane Austen Cover to Cover. (Quirk Books, ISBN: 9781594747250)

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22 November 2014

Weekend Cooking: Bourbon by Dane Huckelbridge

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.

Bourbon by Dane HuckelbridgeAlthough many people think of apple pie, hot dogs, and baseball as being particularly American, one of the true gems of our nation is the invention of bourbon, which is based on a New World native plant: corn. Corn whiskey has been around since the first colonists and has grown from family stills to a mega-industry and now full circle back to craft distilleries over the last few hundred years.

In Bourbon, Dane Huckelbridge tells the story of the development of bourbon from the corn beers of the Aztecs to the finest sipping whiskeys of the twenty-first century. His fun, entertaining, and casual style masks a well-researched study of the history of American whiskey and the part it played in our society. The books is easy to read because Huckelbridge quotes diaries, letters, and historical documents and breaks up the text with fabulous old photographs and period advertisements.

I enjoyed this short history of the quintessential American drink and learned quite a bit about bourbon and its role in American history. Here are few things I discovered:
  • George Washington had multiple whiskey stills; not surprising considering that the farm manager of Mount Vernon was a Scotsman.
  • Moonshiners made a fortune selling whiskey to soldiers during the Civil War; a canteen full of bourbon cost at least $10.
  • Many of the brands of bourbon we drink today have roots more than 150 years deep.
  • Most of the whiskey sold in the Wild West saloons was bourbon, although not all of it was the good stuff from Kentucky.
  • Within an hour of the passing of the Volstead Act, a "medicinal whiskey" supplier had been robbed of $100,000 worth of bourbon.
  • Bourbon distilleries were used to produce industrial alcohol during World War II.
Bourbon is a quick read that takes you through the history of America as seen through the rise and fall and rise again of an all-American drink. As I mentioned, Dane Huckelbridge's style is far from academic, and he includes a number of stories about famous Americans and their love of corn whiskey. This isn't what you learned in high school American history!

Thanks to Huckelbridge, I think I'm going to have to take a drive along the Bourbon Trail, tasting my way through Kentucky. I wonder if I can talk Mr. BFR into being the designated driver.

Published by HarperCollins / William Morrow, 2014
ISBN-13: 9780062241399
Source: Review (see review policy)
Copyright © cbl for Beth Fish Reads, all rights reserved (see review policy)

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21 November 2014

Giveaway: If I Stay (Book & Movie)

If I Stay (movie)Yesterday I talked about the movie If I Stay, based on Gayle Forman's award-winning novel of the same name.

I loved the story so much I jumped at the chance to offer one of you a copy of the movie (Blu-Ray, DVD, Digital HD) and a copy of the paperback novel. Seriously, this is a giveaway you have to enter!

I know there is always the question of whether the movie does the book justice. Fans of the book can watch with confidence because author Forman played an active role in the creation of the film and is moved by the results.

Here is 7-minute video interview in which Forman talks about what inspired her novel and the process of turning it into a movie.

Now on to the giveaway. Whether you like to read first and watch second or the other way around, I've got you covered, thanks to Think Jam and Twentieth Century Fox Home Entertainment. Here's all you have to do to be entered for a chance to win one copy of If I Stay the movie and one copy of If I Stay the book: You need to have a U.S. or Canadian mailing address and must fill out the following form. I'll pick a winner using a random number generator on December 3. Once the winner has been verified, I'll erase all personal information from my computer.

Good luck and don't forget to stock up on tissues!

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20 November 2014

Book to Movie: If I Stay (Review)

If I Stay / Blu-RayDo you remember back in 2009 when Gayle Forman's If I Stay was published in hardcover? This young adult novel won the hearts of readers of all ages and earned much critical acclaim, becoming an Indie Next pick and winning the 2009 NAIBA Book of the Year Award and a 2010 Indie Choice Honor Award.

I loved the novel and was thrilled when I learned that If I Stay was going to be turned into a movie directed by R. J. Cutler. Because music is at the core of this story, sensitive acting and a solid soundtrack were going to be key to the movie's success. Fortunately, If I Stay has both.

The film stars Chloe Grace Moretz and Jamie Blackley, who couldn't be better for the parts of Mia and Adam, the two teenagers who meet and fall in love. The young couple is wonderfully supported by the likes of Mireille Enos, Joshua Leonard, Stacy Keach, and Liana Liberato. And then there is the music, which includes classical pieces and golden oldie rock songs supplemented by rock originals, played and sung by Blackley himself.

Just in case you somehow missed the story, here's the studio's summary:

Mia Hall thought the hardest decision she would ever face would be whether to pursue her musical dreams at Juilliard or follow a different path to be with the love of her life, Adam. But what should have been a carefree family drive changes everything in an instant, and now her own life hangs in the balance. Caught between life and death for one revealing day, Mia has only one decision left, which will not only decide her future but her ultimate fate.
If I Stay (Film)The Blu-Ray / DVD of If I Stay was released this week, and I have already had a chance to see it. I can't tell you how beautifully this novel was translated from print to screen. I admit was concerned about how the actors would handle the music, but Moretz and Blackley are absolutely amazing. Not only do they come off as relaxed and natural during the many scenes with cello and guitar, respectively, but their onscreen chemistry is positively sparkling (and I'm not talking vampires).

A story that deals with death, music, love, and destiny could so easily come off as corny on the big screen, but If I Stay is instead both intellectually and emotionally strong. Be warned: You'll want a huge box of tissues near you before you start watching. Be warned again: You'll be surprised at just where your eyes will start to well up. The soundtrack and the acting work together in a special way that will intensify your feelings and keep you fully invested in the film.

The Blu-Ray / DVD pack of If I Stay contains several great special features, such as an interview with Gayle Forman, a discussion about the music, and insight into the book to movie adaptation. Viewers also be able to listen to different levels of commentary (don't miss Cutler's thoughts about the music).

If I Stay (Film)Giveaway Alert: Come back tomorrow when I'll be hosting a giveaway of one copy each of the Blu-Ray / DVD movie pack and Gayle Forman's novel If I Stay. You won't want to miss this; If you're anything like me, I know you'll want to watch this movie more than once.

Twitter Extra: To help celebrate the release of If I Stay on Blu-Ray, Gayle Forman herself will be live tweeting a viewing of the film tonight (November 20). I encourage you to join in and ask Forman questions about the film or the story and to discuss your favorite characters and scenes. Be sure to follow @Cambio and the hashtag #IfIStayIn. I'll be online tonight, tweeting along, starting at 8:00 pm EST.

In the meantime, check out the theatrical trailer:

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18 November 2014

Wordless Wednesday 316

Fall Evening, 2014

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Today's Read and Giveaway: Snow Angel Cove by RaeAnne Thayne

Snow Angel Cove by RaeAnne ThayneImagine you're a single mother of a five-year-old and you've just pulled up roots and set your future on a job at a small-town inn. Now imagine that on the very day you arrive at your new home, just before Christmas, that inn goes up in flames. That's what happened to Eliza Hayward, who finds herself stranded in Haven Point, Idaho, jobless and homeless in the middle of a snowstorm.

Oh, this wasn't good. At all.

Eliza Hayward stood with sleet pelting her like hard little pebbles, gazing at the blackened charred bones of her future. Cold dread wormed its way beneath her coat like the wintry wind blowing off Lake Haven, just a few hundred yards away.
Snow Angel Cove by RaeAnne Thayne (Harlequin, 2014, first paragraph)

Quick Facts
  • Setting: Redemption Mountains, Idaho; modern times
  • Circumstances: Eliza moves to Haven Point for a hotel management job; on her first day there, the hotel burns to the ground and she is hit by a car. Full of guilt and remorse, Aidan Caine, the handsome man who was driving the SUV that skidded on ice, must find a way to help the woman he injured.
  • Characters: Eliza and her daughter, Maddie; Aidan, a well-know tech entrepreneur; Aidan's extended family; various townspeople and hospital personnel
  • Genre: contemporary small-town romance
  • Complications to the storyline: Aidan and Eliza's late-husband had a history--and it wasn't good. Little Maddie suffers from a serious heart condition.
  • Reviews: Romance readers have nothing but good things to say about Snow Angel Cove, mentioning the well-developed characters and the realistic development of Eliza and Aidan's relationship. So far I'm enjoying this comforting Christmas read.
  • Recommendations: Fans of contemporary romance; lovers of feel-good Christmas stories
  • Miscellaneous: The first in a new spin-off series of Thayne's popular Hope's Crossing books
The Giveaway

If you like happily ever after and you like Christmas, then I have the giveaway for you. Thanks to the wonderful people at Harlequin, I'm hosting the romance holiday giveaway to end all giveaways! One of you with a U.S. or Canadian mailing address will win five paperbacks and one eBook, plus a package of ornament charms and a box of Harlequin-themed gift tags. What more could a romance lover want?

The prize pack includes the following books. The first five are mass-market paperbacks and the last one will be in the digital format of your choice:
  • Christmas with the Billionaire by Carole Mortimer, Maisey Yates, and Joss Wood
  • Maybe This Christmas by Sarah Morgan
  • Snow Angel Cove by RaeAnne Thayne
  • The Heart of Christmas by Brenda Novak
  • The Lodge on Holly Road by Sheila Roberts
  • Her Holiday Man by Shannon Stacey
All you have to do to be entered for a chance to win is to have a U.S. or Canadian mailing address and to fill out the form. I'll pick a winner on November 20, using a random number generator. Once the winner has been confirmed, I'll erase all personal data from my computer. Good luck!

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17 November 2014

Review: Another Side of Bob Dylan by Victor Maymudes

Another Side of Bob Dylan by Victor MaymudesFrom the early 1960s until he died in 2001, Victor Maymudes was one of the few people who lived inside Bob Dylan's personal sphere. Off and on throughout that time, Maymudes was more than just a friend of Dylan's he was also his road manager, driver, and business partner.

After a major falling out between the two, Maymudes found himself without an income and thus decided to write a book about his years with the famous musician. Unfortunately, after recording twenty-four hours of memories and stories, Maymudes died of a brain aneurysm in 2001, never having put pen to paper.

Twelve years later, Jacob Maymudes started listening to his father's tapes and going through a couple of boxes of his father's memorabilia. Another Side of Bob Dylan is essentially a transcription of the tapes, supplemented with never-before-published photographs and Jacob's own memories and thoughts.

Maymudes's stories include everything from his first meeting with Dylan in the Gaslight in the Village to touring through the Jim Crow South and vacationing in Greece. The friends spent endless hours together playing chess, listening to music, and talking, both on and off the road. And, of course, they crossed paths with well-known actors, artists, poets, and musicians of the 1960s and 1970s. In the tapes, Maymudes addresses all these aspects of his years with Dylan.

Although Maymudes described the night Dylan met the Beatles, talked about what it was like to drive from gig to gig in a station wagon, and revealed Dylan's thoughts about women, he never really pushed aside the veil of mystery that surrounds his old friend. I can't help but wonder what kinds of details would have been filled in if Maymudes had lived to finish the project.

Dylan fans (like me) will find it hard to resist reading Another Side of Bob Dylan and looking through the photographs. Despite the fact that the book often reads as a vindication of Victor Maymudes's own life choices rather than a biography of Bob Dylan, it's worth taking a look. Perhaps Maymudes lived up to his reputation of "the keeper of the secrets" a little too well because the only surprising revelations are those he tells about himself.

Published by St. Martin's Press, 2014
ISBN-13: 9781250055309
Source: Review (see review policy)
Copyright © cbl for Beth Fish Reads, all rights reserved (see review policy)

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15 November 2014

Weekend Cooking: Skinnygirl Cocktails by Bethenny Frankel

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.

Skinnygirl Cocktails by Bethenny FrankelWith the holidays fast approaching (Thanksgiving in the United States is less than two weeks away!), my thoughts are turning to entertaining and to those unwanted pounds we all seem to gain after too much celebration. Thus when I saw that Bethenny Frankel had come out with Skinnygirl Cocktails, I knew I had to take a look.

Right from the start, I liked Frankel's attitude toward the cocktail: keep it light, cut down on the high-calorie mixers, rely on low-sugar spirits, and don't skimp on flavor. Even better, many of her concoctions come in under 150 calories. What's not to love here?

If you start with Frankel's "Fixologist Formula," which provides the keys to becoming a low-cal bartender, and her suggested tools and ingredients, you'll quickly be ready to host a holiday party, a book club meeting, or a drinks night with friends. Or maybe you'll whip up a little something just for yourself while you cozy up to the fireplace or head on out to the deck, depending on the season.

Skinnygirl Cocktails @ Bethenny FrankelI like that the drinks are grouped into familiar categories: margaritas, martinis, sangrias, Champagne, and so on. I find myself drawn to both the holiday drinks (like mulled wine) and the herbal ones (such as a strawberry basil cocktail). Although I know I'll never make recipes like the Pink Panther (it's just a little too pink for me), most of the drinks are quite appealing--and are not just for women (for example, the straightforward Old Hollywood martini).

In addition to the absolutely gorgeous photos (see the scans), Frankel provides some party tips and ideas for snacks. There's even a how-to guide for making your own alcohol infusions and advice for getting out stains, in case there's a drink mishap.

The recipes in Skinnygirl Cocktails are on the trendy side and some have cute names (Lemon-Melon Tongue Twister), which make the book especially attractive to the younger set. On the other hand, the tips and techniques are rock solid, and the flavor combos are well thought out, so don't shy away from the pink cover. If you're looking for some fresh ideas to spark up your bar, you'll find them here.

Note that Frankel's recipes sometimes call for one of her own Skinnygirl products (spirits and wine). Fortunately, the ingredient lists also offer substitutions, so you won't feel locked into her brand.

This easy pear drink says fall to me. Perhaps it will make its way to our Thanksgiving dinner this year.

Pretty Pear

Skinnygirl Cocktails @ Bethenny FrankelOne drink, under 150 calories
  • 3-inch spring of fresh rosemary
  • 1 canned pear half (in light syrup), drained (or use pear puree)
  • 1 1/2 ounces light rum
  • 1 ounce fresh lemon juice
  • Lemon wheel for garnish
Strip the bottom inch of leaves from the rosemary sprig and reserve the sprig for garnish. Chop the rosemary leaves and put them in cocktail shaker. Add the pear half and muddle. Add the rum and lemon juice and shake with ice until well chilled. Double-strain (using both the cocktail strainer and a small sieve) into a chilled martini glass. Garnish with the rosemary sprig and a lemon wheel.

Published by Simon & Schuster / Touchstone, 2014
ISBN-13: 9781476773025
Source: Bought (eBook) (see review policy)
Copyright © cbl for Beth Fish Reads, all rights reserved (see review policy)

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13 November 2014

Review: Fables 14: Witches by Bill Willingham

Fables 14: Witches by Bill WillinghamIt's been a very long time since I reviewed a volume in Bill Willingham's imaginative Fables series. I read all the Jack of Fables spin-off arc and then came back to the main story through volume 13: The Great Fables Crossover.

Now that Jack is out of the limelight and the Literals seem to have been banished, the story returns to the destroyed Fabletown, the Farm, and the regained Homelands. I was happy to see familiar faces and to get a hint at where the main story may be going.

This post assumes you've read the previous volumes, but there are no spoilers for Fables 14: Witches. Click on the scans to see them full size.

    Fables 14: Witches @ Bill Willingham
  • What happens? There are three story lines. One focuses on Frau Totenkinder, Ozma, and the other spellcasters; one takes us to the lost Fabletown Business Office, where Bufkin has been trapped; and the other takes us to Ambrose in the conquered Homelands.
  • The witches: The power seems to be shifting on the thirteenth floor, as Frau Totenkinder takes on her youthful form and leaves (in secret, she thinks) the mundie world in hopes of finding a way to conquer Mr. Dark. Meanwhile Ozma  is plotting a way to take advantage of Totenkinder's absence.
  • Bufkin: Stuck in the Business Offices with only Franky and the Magic Mirror to talk to, Bufkin is getting restless. When he discovers that Baba Yaga has gotten free, he realizes it's up to him to defeat her. He is at a loss until the Magic Mirror reminds him of all his book learning
  • Ambrose/Fly: Although he's determined to have a negative-free kingdom, Ambrose soon learns that it will be impossible. Forced to dispense justice from the throne, he struggles with how he can remain kind yet strong.
  • Fables 14: Wtiches @ Bill Willingham
  • Thoughts on the story: I'm so happy to be back to the old Fables. I love the mix of humor (much of it adult) and action. Some of the characters are truly frightening, but then we see a puppy Dalmatian (one of the 101!), and he's just so darn cute (see the scan above right) we temporarily forget Mr. Dark. It was fascinating to see Bufkin in a new light, to learn the Magic Mirror's story, and to see Ambrose find some peace and balance. Although the collection doesn't end on a major cliffhanger, the seeds are planted for the next volume, and I can't wait to read it.
  • Artwork: The illustrations in Witches are great. I love the rich colors and the characters were well drawn. I haven't been a fan of all the artwork in the past, but this volume is a winner. The bad guys look bad, the creatures are expressive, and the action is easy to pick up on. Bravo to the team of artists, which includes Mark Buckingham, Steve Leialoha, Lees Loughridge, and Todd Klein. The cover is by Joao Ruas, who also created the covers for the individual issues (see the scan to the left).
Published by DC Comics / Vertigo, 2010
ISBN-13: 9781401228804
Source: Bought  (see review policy)
Copyright © cbl for Beth Fish Reads, all rights reserved (see review policy)

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12 November 2014

Wordless Wednesday 315

Fall Reflections, 2014

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11 November 2014

Today's Read: Duplex by Kathryn Davis

Duplex by Kathryn Davis
What would it be like to live a world that was as familiar as 1950s America but was inhabited by both humans and others? Miss Vicks, her neighbors, and her students are navigating through just such a place.
It was a suburban street, one block long, the houses made of brick and built to last like the third little pig's. Sycamore trees had been planted at regular intervals along the curb and the curbs themselves sparkled; I think the concrete was mixed with mica in it. I think when it was new the street couldn't help but draw attention to itself, inviting envy.
Duplex by Kathryn Davis (Graywolf Press, 2014 [paperback], p. 3)

Quick Facts
  • Setting: somewhere between here and there; 1950s to 1960s; suburbia . . . kind of; our world, or maybe not
  • Circumstances: life in the future or perhaps the past or maybe in a parallel world; the love story of Mary and Eddie; a snapshot view of a neighborhood
  • Characters: Miss Vicks, a fiftyish schoolteacher; her students; her neighbors; her sorcerer ex-lover; Mary and Eddie; robots
  • Genre: coming-of-age story, literary science fiction, adult fairy tale, love story, horror, dystopian
  • Descriptions from reviews: dreamlike world, dualities and dual planes of existence, blending of real and unreal, breathtaking, surprising, haunting, enchanting
  • Why I'm going to give it a try: Although almost every reviewer had a hard time describing the genre and the general story line, almost every one walked away from Duplex totally taken in by Davis's prose and the world she created. Sounds like something unique; I'm not sure why I missed its hardcover release last year. Praised by NPR, most major newspapers and review outlets, and many bloggers

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10 November 2014

Ten Short Takes: Catching Up with Book Reviews

Here are ten books I read or listened to in 2014 I never got around to reviewing on Beth Fish Reads (though reviews and blurbs may have appeared elsewhere). This post catches me up on books I don't plan on reviewing individually in this space.

Humming a Tune

Wonderland by D'Erasmo, There Goes Gravity by Robinson, Last Night at the Blue Angel by RotertWonderland by Stacey D'Erasmo is an introspective novel about Anna, a middle-aged indie rock star who goes on tour in hopes of staging a comeback. Although the audiobook (read by Xe Sands) was well done, the novel suffered from lack of cohesiveness. (Houghton Mifflin, 9780544074811). Rock-and-roll journalist Lisa Robinson has seen it all and met them all. Her memoir There Goes Gravity, is a gossipy, witty, sometimes nostalgic insider's look at the popular music scene both on the road and at home. A must-read for music fans. (Riverhead Hardcover, 9781594487149) Rebecca Rotert's Last Night at the Blue Angel is set in the 1960s and tells the story of a blues singer as she and her daughter face an uncertain future while preparing for her last gig at a rundown Chicago club. An enthralling character study and social commentary. (William Morrow, 9780062315281)

Graphic Duo

Saga by Brian K. Vaughan; Sweet Tooth by Jeff LemireBrian K. Vaughan's Saga series continues to surprise me. I never thought I'd be so caught up in a comic series that had science fiction roots. Love, war, family, and fascinating beings and worlds give this ongoing series universal appeal. A little humor lightens the mood. The beautiful illustrations are by Fiona Staples. (Image Comics) Jeff Lemire's Sweet Tooth series is one of my favorite comics. In a dystopian world, children who have been born with animal parts are hunted out and destroyed in the name of scientific study. Your heart will go out to our hero, the young Sweet Tooth, a fantastically complex character. This series has ended, so you can now read the entire story arc in collected volumes or in individual issues. (Vertigo)

Elements of Mystery

The Cuckoo's Calling by Galbraith; To Rise Again at a Decent Hour by Ferris, The Splendour Falls by KearsleyEveryone knows by now that Robert Galbraith is really J. K. Rowling. In The Cuckoo's Calling, the first in her Cormoran Strike series, she proves her diversity as a storyteller. Strike, a London private detective, is asked to investigate an already closed high-profile suicide case because a client insists it was actually murder. Great plotting and characters. (Mulholland Books, 9780316330169) Joshua Ferris's To Rise Again at a Decent Hour is not a mystery per se, but it involves elements of identity theft and a fringe religious cult. If I hadn't been listening to it for a freelance assignment, I wouldn't have finished this disjointed story of a dentist's journey to self-discovery. Others have loved the novel. (Little, Brown, 9780316033978) Susanna Kearsley's The Splendour Falls is a little bit mystery and a little bit romance. Enjoyable escape reading, the book is set in modern-day France but involves both World War II and a 13th-century queen. (Sourcebooks Landmark, 9781402258619)

Foodie Finds

Meet Paris Oyster by Guiliano; Edible by MartinMeet Paris Oyster is Mireille Guiliano's love story to her favorite bivalve. A charming and informative look at all things oysters, including species, how to order them, how to eat them, and what to drink with them. Although she generally likes her oysters raw, the book includes a handful of classic and simple recipes. A fun resource. (Grand Central Life & Style, 9781455524082) Daniella Martin has the answer to humankind's future food supply: eat insects. In Edible, she makes a strong case for the importance of insects in the human diet throughout evolution and argues that eating insects is key to providing low-fat, high-quality protein to large numbers of people with minimal environmental cost. She may be right. (New Harvest, 9780544114357)

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08 November 2014

Weekend Cooking: Spinning Plates (Documentary)

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.

Spinning Plates (film)I'm not sure what I expected from this 2013 well-received documentary about three very different American restaurants and their chefs. Whatever my preconceived notions were, I know I didn't factor in how often my eyes would well up with emotional tears.

Writer director Joseph Levy's Spinning Plates focuses on the personal stories of the people who have put their hearts and souls into nurturing their patrons. As the film points out, no matter the type of restaurant, the food and atmosphere reflect the personality of the chef; after all, the restaurant is at the center of the cook's life.

For Grant Achatz, his Chicago restaurant Alinea's is the studio in which he creates his artistic masterpieces consisting of whimsical presentations of award-wining food. Eating at Alinea's is a unique experience that takes diners to the cutting edge of culinary delights. In less than ten years after it first opened it doors in 2005, the restaurant had been named the best in the United States and was ranked 7th in the entire world.

Spinning Plates (film)Breitbach's Country Dining in Balltown, Iowa, has been owned and operated by the same family since 1861. Although the official population of the town is less than 100, the staff has been known to serve over 2,000 patrons in a single day. For the Breitbach family, the restaurant is more than a business and more than a family legacy, it's the glue of an entire community.

At the other end of the spectrum, the Martinez family is struggling to get their eight-month-old Mexican restaurant, La Cocina de Gabby, off the ground. The menu consists of traditional recipes that Gabby learned from her mother, and the couple have pinned their future and on the quality of the food and the success of their Tuscon restaurant. Although the bills are piling up and the turnover is slow, they work hard and try to keep a positive outlook.

I can't tell you how much I loved this documentary and how invested I became in the lives of these three families. Although I'll never be able to afford to eat at Alinea's, I admire Achatz's vision and drive. My heart goes out to the Martinezes, and I wish them all the luck in the world. Next time I'm traveling west, though, I'm going to make the effort to stop at Breitbach's; the Midwesterner in me already feels at home there.

Here's a look at the trailer. The movie is available for streaming from several services.

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06 November 2014

Review: Child 44 by Tom Rob Smith

Child 44 by Tom Rob SmithToday I'm venturing into the department of Why Didn't I Read This Sooner? Like many of you, I sometimes purposely hold off reading highly buzzed books because I'm so often disappointed when my expectations have been raised.

Tom Rob Smith's debut novel, Child 44, was an Indie Next pick for April 2008 and everyone was singing its praises. As a consequence, I pushed the hardcover book to the back tier of the shelves and kind of forgot about it . . . until this week, when I was looking through my audiobook backlog.

Here are my thoughts in a Bullet Review.

  • What's it about? There is no crime in Stalin's Soviet Union, but there are traitors to the state, and they are discovered through their actions, which range from reading the wrong book or saying the wrong prayer to being dissatisfied with one's rundown apartment. Only crazy people and spies commit murder. For the everyday citizen, the slightest misstep means torture followed by execution, life in the Gulags, or manual labor under conditions so horrific that life expectancy is counted in months. When Leo Demidov--war hero, model citizen, and MGB officer--dares to suggest that there's a serial child killer at work in the Soviet Union, his world is turned upside down: his family is punished and he's demoted and exiled to a village near the Ural Mountains. Because he cannot let the murders continue, he begins to play a dangerous game, balanced between doing what's right morally and doing whatever's needed to avoid arrest.
  • Fascinating, scary details. If only one-quarter of what Smith described about conditions in the Soviet Union in the early 1950s were true, that'd be bad enough. Even the most trusted officers in national security lived without reliable heating and plumbing, little fresh food, and shoddy products. It was every person for himself; there was no one to trust--not your parents, your spouse, your child, or your siblings. Basically, you were never safe, never secure, and never without fear, no matter who you were or where you lived.
  • Plotting, pacing, writing, characters. No wonder Child 44 was nominated for 17 awards, winning almost half of them, and no wonder the novel was optioned for a film (now in postproduction and scheduled for a 2015 release). Smith created memorable characters in stark, unforgettable situations. It's almost creepy how well he described the ease at which the killer could lure children to him, especially because Soviet children were never taught to be cautious around strangers. The tightly spun thread of tension, the heart pounding action, the accurate historical details, and the uncertainty of fate and luck work together to create one hell of thriller mystery.
  • Recommendation. Even if you don't normally read mysteries or thrillers, even if you think you don't want to read about Soviet Russia, you really do want to read Tom Rob Smith's Child 44. It's worth every bit of praise it's gotten. And you know you want to read it before the movie comes out.
  • Audiobook. I listened to the unabridged audiobook (Hachette Audio; 12 hr, 24 min), read by Dennis Boutsikaris. I loved everything about Boutsikaris's outstanding performance: the pacing, the tone, the subtle drama, and the characterizations. Because my grandfather was a native Russian speaker, I'm fairly sensitive about western Russian accents; fortunately, I found Boutsikaris's accent and inflections to be very believable. All in all an outstanding audiobook.
Published by Hachette Book Group / Grand Central Publishing, 2008
ISBN-13: 9780446402385
Source: Review (audio & print) (see review policy)
Copyright © cbl for Beth Fish Reads, all rights reserved (see review policy)

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04 November 2014

Wordless Wednesday 314

At the Lake, 2014

Click image to enlarge. For more Wordless Wednesday, click here.

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Today's Read & Giveaway: The Tiger Queens by Stephanie Thornton

The Tiger Queens by Stephanie ThorntonWhat if the safety of your family and the future of your people depended on you, a woman? If you lived in the early 1200s in Mongolia, it could have happened. From reading the oracles to wielding a bow and arrow in the heat of battle, the women of Genghis Khan's Mongol Empire did it all.

Our names have long been lost to time, scattered like ashes into the wind. No one remembers our ability to read the secrets of the oracle bones or the wars fought in our names. The words we wrote have faded from their parchments; the sacrifices we made are no longer recounted in the glittering courts of those we conquered. The deeds of our husbands, our brothers, and our sons have eclipsed our own as surely as when the moon ate the sun during the first battle of Nishapur.

Yet without us, there would have been no empire for our men to claim, no clan of the Thirteen Hordes left to lead, and no tales of victory to sing to the Eternal Blue Sky.
The Tiger Queens by Stephanie Thornton (Penguin Random House / NAL, 2014, p. 1)

Quick Facts
  • Setting: turn of the 13th century; Mongolia and beyond
  • Circumstances: The rise of Genghis Khan's empire as seen through the eyes of four women. This telling focuses on the women and the part they played in building and maintaining the great Khan's power.
  • Characters: Borte, Genghis Khan's chief wife; Alaqai, their daughter; Sorkhoktani, a widowed mother of four boys she grooms to serve the empire; Fatima, a Persian noblewoman enslaved by the Mongols; Genghis and his brothers; many other families, warriors, and enemies
  • Genre: historical fiction
  • General information: The story covers three generations; each part is told by a different woman, who played a significant and unique role in the Mongol Empire. Thornton is known for her deep research and vivid period details; these were a warring people, and the battles aren't pretty.
  • A personal note: I love this time period and find Genghis and the rise of the Mongol Empire fascinating. Both the Khan and the women in his life were smart, fierce, and power hungry. If you've never thought to read about this era, let The Tiger Queens be your gateway book.
  • Recommendation: Historical fiction lovers are the obvious first readers of Thornton's latest novel, but anyone who likes to read about real-life powerful women and/or who wants to know about the rise of one of the most feared empires in the ancient world will be hooked.
  • Book club alert: the back of the book contains nine thoughtful questions to jump-start your discussion, though I doubt you'd have any trouble finding plenty to talk about.
  • A bigger sneak peek: You can read the entire prologue and chapter one on Stephanie Thornton's website.
The Giveaway

Thanks to NAL and Penguin Random House, I can offer one of my readers with a U.S. mailing address a copy of The Tiger Queens. To enter for a chance to win, just fill out the following form. I'll pick a winner via random number generator on November 12. Once the winner has been confirmed, I'll erase all personal information from computer. Good luck!

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03 November 2014

Review: The Remedy for Love by Bill Roorbach

The Remedy for Love by Bill RoorbachI first heard about Bill Roorbach's new novel, The Remedy for Love, in the Algonquin booth at BEA last June. I knew even before I held the book in my hand that it was going to be a winner. Not only did I love the premise but I have a lot of trust in the editorial team at Algonquin, which has published some of the most memorable books I've read.

Almost exactly two years ago today, I wrote about Roorbach's Life among Giants, which I said was about "family, fame, destructive relationships, and misplaced love." Although The Remedy for Love is also about relationships, it takes us in a different direction altogether.

Here are my thoughts in a Bullet Review.

  • The setup. On the eve of the so-called snowstorm of the century, Eric, a small-town Maine lawyer, is buying ingredients for a special dinner. In front of him in line is an indigent woman, who is a few dollars short of her bill. Eric offers to pay for her much-needed food, and later, when he notices she's planning to walk home in the cold and snow, he offers her a ride. Home for Danielle is an uninsulated summer cabin a long way down a wooded trail. Eric doesn't ask if she has permission to stay there, but seeing that she's in a bad way, he hangs around long enough to chop some wood and give her all his groceries. By the time he climbs up the trail to his car, the snow has gotten heavy, the roads are deserted, and his car's been towed. Eric returns to the cabin and begs Danielle to let him in out of the cold.
  • What happens next? The present day of the novel takes place in the little cabin as two strangers, who initially distrust each other, move through a full range of interactions as the days-long storm beats down on the Maine woods. As they tell their stories, we learn about the past and begin to make predictions of the future.
  • But what kind of book is it? Good question. The Remedy for Love is about what happens when two people who would have never normally met are thrown together under dire circumstances. As Eric and Danielle move from mutual unease to getting to know each other to interdependency for survival, they chip away at each other's defenses. As the snow gets deeper and deeper, the couple's secrets become more and more transparent. A fascinating examination of a unique relationship.
  • Plotting, pacing, and more. Although Roorbach didn't write a psychological thriller or a twisty mystery, he exquisitely draws out the tension in this novel. Because I don't want to give anything away, let me just say this: Several times I was sure I knew where things were going, and rarely was I right. The snow and cold, Eric's and Danielle's personalities and histories . . . the mix is volatile.
  • Extras. As in Roorbach's earlier novel, food plays a big role in The Remedy for Love. I was so impressed with the details of Eric's cooking, including techniques, ingredients, and flavors. Snowbound or not, Eric can come cook for me any ole time.
  • Recommendation. Perfect for fans of literary fiction, character studies (though there is action), stories involving mature relationships, and just plain good reading. Eric and Danielle will stick with you for a long time; once they get into your head and heart, I think they're there to stay.
  • Audiobook. The unabridged audiobook (Highbridge; 7 hr, 20 min) was read by Jeffrey Kafer. My full, very positive, review will be available through AudioFile magazine, but let me say here that Kafer's pacing, characterizations, and cadence were well matched to the story. Don't hesitate to listen.
Published by Workman / Algonquin, 2014
ISBN-13: 9781616203313
Source: Review (see review policy)
Copyright © cbl for Beth Fish Reads, all rights reserved (see review policy)

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01 November 2014

Weekend Cooking: The Vegetarian Flavor Bible by Karen Page

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.

The Vegetarian Flavor Bible by Karen Page and Andrew DonenburgWhen Karen Page quietly decided to become a vegetarian, she started with this fact: Most of the leading causes of disease-related death can be controlled or prevented by what we eat. Despite being committed to the concept and being a leading food expert, Page didn't necessarily find it easy to work with new ingredients or to use familiar foods in new ways.

Thus she started compiling lists of good foods to buy and then lists of "go-with" flavors. These lists ultimately became the heart of The Vegetarian Flavor Bible. Because she knew that simply not eating meat was no guarantee of a healthful diet, she set out to answer
three primary questions: what to eat (and in what quantities), how to make it healthful, and how to make it so delicious that its meatlessness is completely beside the point! (p. xi)
The introductory chapters of The Vegetarian Flavor Bible provides the answers to these questions, with up-to-date information and a non-fanatical approach. Whether you're a long-term vegetarian, an occasional dabbler, or somewhere in between, you'll find lots of useful information here. I especially loved the sections on maximizing flavor by paying attention to things like taste, mouthfeel, aroma, and visual appeal. What a way to help jump-start your kitchen creativity.

One thing that makes the beginning of the book fun to read are the many, many food- and health-related quotes that pepper the pages. Page gathered snippets from Ancient Greeks, modern medical researchers, literary authors, chefs, and musicians. I also like the sidebars, with their quick tips on a variety of subjects, such as nutrients and cravings.

The bulk of the book consists of a 450-page, A-to-Z list of food items, from acai to zucchini. These lists move beyond Page's personal experience and contain the collective wisdom of dozens of food and cooking experts. Some of these experts, like Gael Greene, are leading critics; others, like Molly Katzen, are well-respected vegetarian cookbook authors; but most of them are well known chefs and restauranteurs.

Rather than try to describe the vast array of information you'll find in these lists, I'll direct you to the scans, which you'll need to click to enlarge (pardon the shadows; I had a hard time getting clear scans). On the left is the key to the lists and the other two panels show sample pages.

So, you might ask, what does one do with these lists? Here are some ideas I came up with:
  • Putting together flavors for one-dish meals: Think soups, salads, and even smoothies.
  • Figuring out what do with that odd vegetable that came in the CSA box.
  • Discovering how to change up the flavors in everyday dishes, such as beans and omelets.
  • Learning about ingredient substitution: No epazole? Use Mexican oregano.
  • Creating menus: An apple or fig dessert might be good after that goat cheese tart. 
The Vegetarian Bible is a great resource to have in your kitchen, no matter your skill level or experience. If you want to wean yourself off recipes and/or want to make sure your diet is healthful and nutritious, read the beginning chapters. If you want to throw together dinner with confidence, check out the lists. I can't wait for next spring so I can make a garlic scape and mushroom ragout to serve over rice. Maybe I'll garnish it with some pine nuts.

Published by Little Brown, 2014
ISBN-13: 9780316244183
Source: Review (see review policy)
Copyright © cbl for Beth Fish Reads, all rights reserved (see review policy)

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