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“In Defense of Food” by Michael Pollan

defensefoodEat Food.  Not too much.  Mostly Plants.

Michael Pollan’s advice to reader/eaters is simple, but more complicated to actually accomplish than it should be.

In a country where we’re fantastically good and producing food, very little of it is actually pure food that our Great-Grandmothers would recognize.

Have you looked at the ingredients in that loaf of bread from the supermarket lately?  Thanks to Pollan’s “In Defense of Food,” I did, and (combined with a newfound interest in the effect of GMOs and the like) promptly realized it was time to change my and my family’s food rules.  So we signed up for a farm share, and I’m doing a ton of canning, and we’ve have stopped eating as much meat and are experimenting with more things like beans and rice. I’m trying to steer us largely Organic, and though I’d like us to be GMO-free, I’m coming to realize that it’s basically impossible to do so.  The folks in the food industry lobby have made it really hard to discern what is and what isn’t real food anymore, and it’s scary to think about.

Yeah, this book is that powerful.

If you’re at all interested in the history of the American Food System, read it.  If the idea of a book about the history of food production bores the crap out of you, shut up and read it anyway.  Combine “In Defense of Food” with Barbara Kingsolver’s “Animal, Vegetable, Miracle,” and I promise you’ll be looking at the food you eat in an entirely different way.

This one’s a keeper.


“A Pig in Provence: Good Food and Simple Pleasures in the South of France” by Georgeanne Brennan

pigprovFor those of us who suffer from serious cases of Wanderlust, “A Pig in Provence” should be required reading.  Georgeanne Brennan’s memoir of her time as a Goat Cheese Artisan in Provence, and the experiences surrounding that time, is completely enthralling and completely makes you want to kick back with a glass of wine and imagine yourself in her shoes.

Much of the book consists of recollecting time spent with Provence locals, gathering to create and enjoy enormous and day-long meals.  There’s discussion of Bouillabaisse, a traditional fish stew that has people coming to near blows over the correct methods of it’s preparation.  The family scenes are also charming – as Brennan’s young daughter comes to experience the full spectrum of farm life – and all the life and death and beauty and nasty it entails.

Brennan is also a cookbook writer, so there’s a few recipes scattered throughout the book as well.  I sort of desperately want to make her recipe for a Tomato Tart, but the Leg of Lamb and Vegetable Soup recipes are also mouth-watering and tempting.

I’m keeping this book forever. It’s like taking a beautifully organized quick little trip to France.

“Mobil Travel Guide New York 2010” – or, don’t waste your time.

mobilnyguideOkay, really I try not to tear books apart.

There’s almost always something in a book worth giving it a look-see.

Honestly, the “Mobil Travel Guide: New York” is the worst travel guide I’ve ever encountered.

Hands down.

I’m a person who adores travel guides, even if they’re to places I never plan to visit, so I think I’ve seen enough to make this call.

Now granted, the Mobil Travel Guides were (since the 2010 edition I checked out from the library) bought by Forbes, and maybe they’ve seen some improvements, but this 2010 New York edition is downright bad.  Since the back cover indicates it would retail for $18.99, let me lead you away from buying it and toward any of the other amazing travel guide companies out there.  Lonely Planet, Rough Guides, heck even the Moon Handbooks would be a better (and cheaper) option than this thing.

As my husband said – “You’re paying for the word Forbes. ‘Cause you’re sure not paying for the word Mobil.”

Why is it so awful?

Well, for starters, there is not one photo anywhere inside the book, and the entire thing is in boring black and white.  For $18.99, in a world where I can google any information I might actually find in a travel guide for free, I’m going to expect a little something pretty.

The table of contents is completely useless.  This guide is supposed to cover the entire state of New York.  New York is a fairly large state with several interesting regions, yet the table of contents only gives you the information that “New York” goes from pages “8-288.”


No, I’m not joking. This is the actual table of contents. Without actually telling you what contents are contained.

On what pages does NYC begin? Where would I look for hotels in Albany? What is interesting to see in the Hudson Valley? All you’ll find is that somewhere between pages 8 and 288, this information supposedly lies.

Once you bravely delve into the book, it doesn’t get much better.  My family is heading to NYC this summer, so that city has particular interest for me. Now, in order to find the NYC section, I had to keep flipping through pages of black and white text until page 84, where in the middle of the page the words “New York City” are in just a slightly bigger font size than the rest of the text.  Had I been paying less attention, I’d have flipped right by it.

This book is not intuitive, not easy to navigate, and frankly it’s just boring.  Travel should be exciting, and all about seeing new things.  This book bummed me out. I’m so glad I checked it out of the library instead of purchasing it, because I would have been livid and fighting for a refund.

If you’re looking for far superior NY region guides, try these.

Frommer’s New York State

Moon New York State Guide

New York, New Jersey, and Pennsylvania: Lonely Planet Guide

Now, I’m off to my beloved TripAdvisor to see what THEY have to say.

“Hawaii The Big Island” Lonely Planet Travel Guide

For those of us with wanderlust who don’t have unlimited funds, travel guides serve a special purpose – they’re the books of dreams.  Personally,  if it’s so much as suggested that I might get to travel someplace, I’ll likely head right out in search of a guide to the place — and, if I’m lucky, the people at Lonely Planet (who have my undying loyalty and love) have created a guide for my trip of dreams.

My husband and I traveled to Hawa’ii (specifically the island of O ‘ahu) for our honeymoon in 2010, and fell head over heels for the beauty and history of these amazing islands.  We’ve been talking about going back (and retiring there) since the day we returned, and recently pretty much decided to return on our 5 year wedding anniversary, with our son – who will be about three and a half – in tow.  On O’ahu, we didn’t see any volcanoes, so it’s The Big Island this time around.

Off I went to the Chicago Public Library, where I’ve recently discovered an incredible collection of Lonely Planet guides.  I picked up “Hawaii The Big Island” and have been reading it while letting my mind peruse the possibilities.  Being a Lonely Planet guide, of course it’s well laid-out and has gorgeous photography, but it’s the insider information that keeps me addicted to this company.  Already, I’ve learned that November is when the Kona coffee belt has an annual coffee festival,  that I probably want to stay in Hilo, and all about the trek to the volcano and night dives with manta rays.  There are sections on being green in Hawaii, local myths and legends, and suggested itineraries for differing length trips to the islands as well.

Now, granted, the edition I got from the library is from 2008 so I’ll obviously do some more up-to-date research over the next few years, but with this guide in hand I feel like my education as to the wonder of The Big Island is beginning.


Sneak Peek of Lonely Planet’s Fall Releases!

I love the Lonely Planet travel guides/magazine/website.  Their writing is great, their information spot-on, and I can’t even find an adjective strong enough to describe their photography.

Here’s a sneak peek at their hot fall releases.


A Literary Dinner, thanks to “The Book Club Cookbook” by Judy Gelman & Vicki Levy Kupp

A while back, I made vegetable soup from a recipe in Judy Gelman and Vicki Levy Krupp’s “The Book Club Cookbook,” which I’d found at a used bookstore for a few dollars and was delighted/intrigued by. The soup, from “Girl with a Pearl Earring,” was really great, and I was completely pleased with my purchase.

Then I was contacted by the good folks who published said book and informed that there was an updated version about to come out – oh, and did I want one to peruse?


The Revised & Updated version is really nice.  It includes recipes from and inspired by such recent smash hit reads as The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo and The Help, in addition to a color photo insert.

To test this new book, I invited some friends over for a literary dinner. My only rule was that I could only make recipes from books I’ve actually read.  So, I picked my dishes and spent a whirlwind day cooking up the eats.  (My darling husband agreed to play bartender, and went to work making the libations.)

Yes, that's a Zora Neale Hurston finger puppet magnet.

The menu:

Mint Juleps, from F. Scott Fitzgerald’s “The Great Gatsby.”

Seafood Chowder, inspired by Sena Jeter Naslund’s “Ahab’s Wife.”

Black-Eyed Pea Cakes with Jalapeno-Avocado Salsa, inspired by Zora Neale Hurston’s “Their Eyes Were Watching God.”

Chocolate Pie, from Kathryn Stockett’s “The Help.”

First of all, I need to note that the only reason I read “Ahab’s Wife” in the first place was because of it’s description in the original “The Book Club Cookbook.” I read the whole cookbook to see what books were featured and why, and that one leapt off the page as one that interested me.  I can safely say it’s one of my favorite books of all time now.  So thanks to the ladies for creating this whole thing in the first place.

Second, the food turned out great!


I’m not really a chowder person, but this seafood chowder was amazing – and it’s a recipe I’ll keep in my back pocket for the future.  Despite going to two stores the morning of the dinner, I was unable to find black eyed peas (right?) so I substituted black beans in the cakes.  I’ll be honest, while the cakes turned out fine – and gave me my first experience using our FryDaddy, they didn’t blow my mind – but the Jalapeno & Avocado salsa sure did!

My husband played bartender and went to work crushing ice, bruising mint leaves, and whipping up Mint Juleps for everyone.

The piece de resistance, however, was the chocolate pie.  Awesome. Simply awesome.  (For those of you who’ve read/seen “The Help,” I hope you get the humor of the dish.)  The pie was super easy to make, no baking required, and I was glad I had five friends to share it with or I would have eaten the whole thing all by myself.

I had a blast cooking up all this stuff.  This book will remain on my shelf for a long time, and I’m absolutely planning to make more of the recipes contained within.  (The “Love in the Time of Cholera” Mojitos almost made the cut this time around, as did the “Angela’s Ashes” Irish brown soda bread.)

Maybe I’ll even have another Literary Dinner… Hmmm….


“Soup & Bread: Building Community One Pot at a Time” by Martha Bayne


Those from Chicago may have heard of “Soup and Bread,” a weekly free dinner at The Hideout Bar, where soup is king and donations go toward good causes like the Greater Chicago Food Depository.  Anything goes as far as soup – folks bring whatever kind of soup they want, and it’s a collective feast of people eating good food for a good cause.

Author/Soup and Bread founder Martha Bayne has compiled a whole bunch of these recipes, along with other soup-tastic tidbits, into “Soup & Bread: Building Community One Pot at a Time.”  There are over sixty soup recipes packed into the book – everything from chili to vegetable soups, contributed by everyone from writers to regular folk.  I was delighted to see that the book contains a recipe for a chili courtesy of Doug Sohn from Chicago’s best hot dog place/encased meat emporium, Hot Doug’s.  (The charred Elvis from Doug’s is one of the best things I have ever eaten in my entire life.  The end.)

Recently, Ms. Bayne swung by FoodEase in the Water Tower Place to sign books and offer soup samples, and I went by.  In addition to a signed copy of the book, I got to sample the Mexican Corn Soup, which was really good.

As is my way, once I got home I had to put the cookbook to the test.  The book features a recipe for “Kewaunee Inn Cheddar Cheese and Beer Soup” contributed by John McKevitt, and – being a fan of beer cheese soup like no one’s business – I made it for dinner last night.  (I used Guinness for the “dark beer,” and I highly recommend you do the same if you’re going to make this soup.)


Dude. It was delicious.  And not too difficult to make.  (Also, the recipe makes a ton of soup.)


I’ll absolutely be making this soup again.  Total win.

For fans of soup and good social causes, check out Martha Bayne’s book.  It’s full of interesting and delicious-sounding recipes that I can’t wait to try out.

Take a literary tour via steamboat!

File this under my “dream vacations.”

The Great American Steamboat Company offers a “Southern Culture” tour that promises the following:

Immerse yourself in the literature, music and culture of the South, as well as its traditions, history and cooking. Our Southern Culture Vacations carry you deep into the worlds of William Faulkner, Flannery O’Connor, Tennessee Williams and Harper Lee. You’ll visit the towns that inspired literary and musical greatness. Along the way, you’ll experience the sounds of the Delta blues and sample plenty of Southern cooking.

Right? I know.  I’m swooning.  Go check out the site, look at the photos, and dream of sailing down the river on the boat pictured above.

I’m in love.

“Hungry Girl: Recipes and Survival Strategies for Guilt-free Eating in the Real World” by Lisa Lillien


Just a quick note to say that I’ve made two recipes from Lisa Lillien’s 2008 “Hungry Girl: Recipes and Survival Strategies for Guilt-free Eating in the Real World” in the past week and they’ve both been absolutely delicious.

Hooray for New Year’s Resolutions, right?

Lillien built her “Hungry Girl” empire on the idea that there should be lower-calorie ways to eat the foods you love, and people flocked to her ideas, including me.  A few years ago, I lost 40 pounds, and Lillien’s website and books were a key part of that transformation.  Because I’m not about to give up eating stuff.  So there. I appreciated the smartness of some of her food swaps, as well as her quest to reveal the hidden calorie horrors in food from restaurants.

The cookbook is full of tasty and low-calorie versions of everything from onion rings to pasta. There’s also an extended section of how to make blended coffee drinks that are comparable to Starbucks, and a chunk about the best options to pick when out in the real world. If I had a complaint, I’d say it’s a little skimpy on the photographs of the dishes, with only a small insert.

I made the Caramel Pumpkin Pudding Cupcakes, as well as the Crazy-Good Turkey Taco Meatloaf, and will absolutely be making both again.  The cupcakes (which are really more like muffins) benefit from pure pumpkin, light vanilla soy milk, and egg beaters in place of oil.  The MeatLoaf  is made from extra lean ground turkey, and involves a lot of veggies and taco seasoning for extra oomph.  (Lillien and her staff are big fans of cooking with certain ingredients – Canned Pumpkin, Splenda, Ground turkey, and Tofu Shirataki noodles – and they pop up frequently within these recipes.)

My copy is the 2008 edition, so there may very well be a newer one out there.  It’s a great book if you’re trying to get healthy and drop some pounds – and her other books are pretty cool, too.  (I also own her “200 recipes under 200 calories” book.)

The Hungry Girl herself herself appeared on the Rachael Ray show to make the cupcakes. I heard her speak at a Borders here in Chicago (you know, when Borders was a thing) and she was lively and charming.  Check it out.

“The Book Club Cookbook” by Judy Gelman and Vicki Levy Krupp

Things I like: Books and Food.

So when I found a copy of Judy Gelman and Vicki Levy Krupp’s 2004 “The Book Club Cookbook” for half-price at Chicago’s best used bookstore, Open Books, I was intrigued and bought it.

And then it sat in my pile of “things to read” for a while.

And then one day I decided that this blog was/is woefully lacking in cookbooks — and it all seemed to fall into place.

“The Book Club Cookbook” is a collection of over 75 recipes created to go along with books – from classic to contemporary – read by book clubs.  Some are recipes of foods actually made within the book, and some are simply inspired by the setting or time period for the book.  For example, there’s a recipe for Mojitos to correlate with Gabriel Garcia Marquez’s “Love in the Time of Cholera,” while J.K. Rowling’s “Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone” is represented by a recipe for Treacle Tarts, which are actually mentioned in the book.  (Don’t think for a second that I won’t be trying the chocolate/rum fondue from “Chocolat” at some point, either.)  Other books with recipes include “The Great Gatsby” (Mint Juleps of course,) “The Perfect Storm” (Swordfish kebobs, knock yourselves out), and “To Kill a Mockingbird” (Some Southern-inspired ambrosia.)

I decided to try out one of the recipes, because that’s how I roll.  My only rule was that the recipe I chose had to be based on a book I’ve actually read, so I selected “Griet’s Vegetable Soup,” inspired by Tracy Chevalier’s “Girl with a Pearl Earring” which I read a bunch of years ago.   (Sound familiar? The book was made into a movie starring Scarlett Johannsen and a pre-Academy Award Colin Firth.)  I was charmed by the recipe’s introduction, in which Chevalier herself decides to try and make the soup she’s written about, and (very pregnant) winds up nauseated.  No worries, Gelman and Levy Krupp have adapted a vegetable soup recipe from a Belgian cookbook.

The soup – made of bacon, chicken stock, cabbage, turnips, leeks, and onions – was pretty easy to make (as it really just requires a bunch of chopping), turned out delicious, and I’m definitely going to  make it again.  We had it with fresh-baked rye bread and a winter lager, and it was pretty darn super.

Bon Appetit!