Best school year ever

I’ve stopped actually saying these words out loud, “this is going to be the best school year ever”, but I still secretly think them.  And every year I start planning for making it the best school year ever by looking at books from the library that will help me to better organize our home or cook the perfect meals and snacks that will  help to tamp down the chaos.  This year we will have two kids in high school so you would think that I have either pulled my act together by now or raised the white flag and given up.  I have not.  Every July I begin again with fresh enthusiasm and new books – I just don’t say the words aloud any longer as I have teens at home and they make fun of me.

Although I didn’t use this book for planning for the new school year it did turn out to be a real treat to have at home over the summer.  When the kids were just hanging around it was nice to have this one on the kitchen counter for them to flip through.  They never did grab a cutting board and try any of the more ambitious chicken recipes but the ones that involved ingredients we have in the pantry or fridge were popular, like DIY Hummus (so much less expensive and delicious than the one from the grocery store) and the variations on plain cheese quesadillas.  It also inspired  them to request a few trips to the store for meals that we hadn’t tried before which is what I always ache for – someone please suggest something new for dinner.  This kind of inspiration for a quick and easy meal can come in handy during the busy school season.  A book like this looks like it is made for kids but it can be a perfect choice for anyone.  Give it a try.  We loved it – maybe your kids will use it too.  Or just look at it for a few minutes and give you some moments of peace while you are cooking.

Some years I have become too caught up in making a system out of the back-to-school planning and that has been my downfall.  Well, one of the things that led to my downfall.  There are several problems in trying to make it the best school year ever and one is taking the fun out of it.   In times of trouble like this it is always a good idea to turn to Jenny Rosenstratch, blogger and author of three lovely books about food and life.  Her most recent book, How to celebrate everything, reminds us that there are little moments to treasure in the busy days of getting meals on the table, even on Thanksgiving.  She also gives great tips on how to cope with all of the regular events that come at you in a school year – bake sales, Halloween, sleepovers, birthday parties and making the perfect celebration cake.  Jenny’s book will give you the inspiration to cook beautifully when you can manage it, love your family, enjoy your home and sneak in a few treats once in a while.  And, she reminds everyone to give yourself a break during the school year so you can rest easy with less pangs about what might have been.  Good-bye guilt!  Oh, and if you are having trouble sleeping any night, just turn down the brightness on your device and spend some time with Jenny on her site right here – http://www.dinneralovestory.com

Speaking of great sites you might want to puruse here is a sensational Canadian one to love.  The Sweet Potato Chronicles authors (former magazine editors) have spectacular images and recipes on their site and came out with a cookbook in 2013 that just rocked my world.  I can’t keep track of the times I have checked out this cute cookbook with the image of a little plastic giraffe toy on the cover.  Well, just in time for the 2017-2018 school year they have given us their version of a best school year ever cheat sheet.  It is a little thin on the planning side of things but it more than makes up for it in valuable recipe suggestions broken into sections that work for most families – breakfast, lunch, dinner, snacks and treats.  Within those sections they have been sensible enough to know that every family has challenges in a busy week so they include make-ahead meals.  Snacks are broken into two sections – one that can be enjoyed at school another for those that need to be enjoyed at home where food allergens are not a concern.  However, their Chocolate snack balls are incredible, look like Timbits but are filled with pumpkin seeds, dried apricots, sunflower seeds, oh my.  Not a nut in sight so eat them at home and at school.   It’s a colourful cookbook with practical suggestions that are relevant to the Canadian market.  I just love it.  They might be a little impractical in suggesting that we will all clean out our pantries and replace the containers with lovely matching jars but they are magazine editors so we can forgive them for thinking that we might ever find that possible.  I am trying to get through a school year here,  I don’t have time to find matching jars.

One simply gorgeous book I found when I was trying to streamline our planning for the ‘new year’ is this 2017 release from a former recipe tester from Saveur magazine.  Personally, I would like to be a taster at Saveur, but I don’t think that is a real job and I looked very carefully at their web site just to be sureIn any case she has put her skills to good use in One pan and done : hassle-free meals from the oven to your table and the title does not lie.  She provides some of the best instructions I have ever seen and, something I rarely see in cookbooks, she does this with a fantastic sense of humour.  The recipes are diverse, from cozy classics to things you would see in a hipster café, but she admits that some of the things she has included weren’t popular with her family at first or that she had to tweak them as she went to make them more family-friendly.  This sounds familiar.  We have made several of the meals in this book – including the cover recipe – and, they looked nothing like the pictures but were so popular at our house that I have actually written them onto recipe cards so that I can make them again.  Just imagine.  This doesn’t have the cachet of being a book marketed to families – there are no toys displayed on the cover – but it will make the cook in the family happy and save you time.  That makes everyone happier, I think. 

Okay, I’ve changed my mind.  I’ve read some fantastic books, I’ve made some good plans, sourced some new ingredients, tried many great recipes and I have the weight of hundreds more on the shelves to back me up.  I’m saying it – this is going to be the “best school year ever”.

-Penny M.

To Buy or Not to Buy

I very rarely buy books.  Why ever would I? Every book I want to read is here in the library so I just check it out or put it on hold and then check it out.  When my loan period is up I bring it back to the library for safekeeping and I know I can come and get it again when I need it.  It’s just the best system ever.

I am occasionally tempted to buy a book though if it is particularly beautiful to hold in my hands.  For example, just a few weeks ago there was a fantastic book about the history of card catalogues, called The Card Catalog : books, cards and literary treasures, published with a foreword by Carla Hayden (you should really check out her Twitter account – she is @LibnofCongress – it will make your day), and I so enjoyed reading that book and then flipping through the gorgeous pages again that it seemed like it might be worth having to keep.  But, I didn’t buy it.

Once in a while I find a book so charming that I check it out of the library more than once and then I think that it might just be worth it to buy a copy to save myself the trouble of coming in to check it out over and over again.  Then I remember that it isn’t really that much trouble.  It’s fun to come and find it on the shelves again and really, since I am reading it for the second or third time, is it really a rush job anyway?  No.  So I don’t buy that book even though it meant so much to me. This has happened a few times, especially with novels written about books or booksellers.  Like with Gabrielle Zevin’s The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry or Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore by Robin Sloan.  Really sensational books.

Well, in this summer’s list of Featured Titles I have found a book that is making me think I might change my ways.  This might be the beginning of a whole new me.  Feast: recipes & stories from a Canadian road trip is an outrageously beautiful cookbook that extends beyond that genre into coffee table book-style with photography that will knock your socks off.  Maybe you will put it in your kitchen or maybe you will leave it artfully displayed in your living room to impress visitors?  It is that stunning.  The authors, Lindsay Anderson and Dana VanVeller, decided that they would spend the summer of 2015 traveling across our country to write about Canada’s food, culture and the wonderful people they would meet.  They have done this in a way that includes recipes, of course, but also has a warmth and sense of spirit that you don’t expect in a cookbook.  The idea of ‘road trip’ comes across just as strongly as the food does.  They are in love with our country and they write about it with such passion.

downloadThe recipes in Feast are wonderful, of course, and are broken down into regions and also into sections like “grazing” and “cheers”, and the instructions included with each one are very clear.  I like clear directions with my recipes and they have done so every time.  It’s comforting and encouraging, it’s absolute perfection.  They photograph each recipe and also include images from the places that they visited to source those foods and that is where the true beauty of our country shines.  This is one of the rare cookbooks where you won’t skip a single page.  Say you find that an individual recipe doesn’t suit your family, maybe you are vegetarians and you won’t be interested in the Slow Cooker Moose Stroganoff, but you will want to read all about how they came to meet chef Roary MacPherson, who gave them that recipe.  It’s 304 pages of great reading and it just happens to have beautiful photographs and incredible recipes.

I brought the book home, slowly turned the pages and called out to my family about the things that caught my eye like “bannock!”, “sausage rolls!”, “come look at these chickens!”, “holy cow, they went to Churchill and had apple fritters!”  Generally my kids don’t love it when I do this but I did wear them down and they had to come to see what these two cookbook authors were up to.  It’s beautiful from the first page, from the cover.  You can, by the way, read the whole story of how they got to the final decision on the cover of their book on the website that they maintained as they traveled across the country.  Check it out at edibleroadtrip.com

Their adventure began on their blog and they continue to update it with lovely posts about food and travel.  It’s inspiring, vibrant writing and a wonderful way to get to know more about the two women who created this incredible book.  I’ve seen many Canadian-themed cookbooks before, as I am sure so many WPL customers have, but this one stands out because they aren’t just talking about food, they are talking about our country with humour and cheer.  They cover many of the foods that you think that someone might in a typically Canadian cookbook and introduce you to people in bakeries, restaurants and communities across the nation while they do it.  I’m going to buy my copy and return this one for the shelves now.  I hope that this doesn’t start a new personal trend and I just keep buying more books for my home.  Perhaps I should start looking at bookshelf designs? I know that we have some great books on that topic (one nice choice that I’ve found on the shelves is called Bookshelves & Cabinets) if I do.

— Penny M.

 

The truth about food

One of my favourite ways to find new-to-me books and authors is word of mouth. There’s nothing like finding a book based on a friend’s recommendation. The New Farm by Brent Preston is one of those books that a friend strongly recommended I pick up. I’m not a huge non-fiction reader but I liked that the book is set in our local(ish) area and I was intrigued by a big city couple trying to make their mark on the food industry.

I won’t lie, I went into this book humming the theme song from Green Acres but The New Farm is so much more than a story about a couple leaving the big city to start a farm. Preston’s writing is engaging and humorous and he isn’t afraid to show his missteps or naive notions about what it would take – financially, time-wise or personally – to run a successful, organic farm.

He shares the hard truth about where much of our food comes from, how we can and need to do better for ourselves and our environment and how good quality food should be available for everyone, no matter their socioeconomic standing. Throughout the book he weaves in the social, economic and environmental aspects of the food we eat. He stresses that it’s important to know where our food is coming from and how it has been treated from the very beginning and that we need to insist on better food for our health and the sustainability of our food industry and environment.

This book is well paced and you find yourself learning about sustainable farming, the good food movement, immigrant workers in Canada and so many other important issues all within the framework of a humorous and entertaining read. You don’t have to have an interest in organic farming or know the difference between a rutabaga and a turnip to enjoy this book. This is a story about a family who wanted to do better and did. The Prestons challenged the food industry, small farming, who has access to organic food and much more.

I have a new understanding of our current food industry and a greater expectation for quality, safe food for my family. I now wander the food store and wonder where and how this head of lettuce or potato was grown. I want better food and plan to take better advantage of the local farmer’s markets near me and even inquire about a local Farm Share.

I’m so happy that I picked up this book. It is inspiring, educational, funny, honest, important and has helped to remove the blinders I’ve had about the food that I buy. Even though the issue of successful, sustainable organic farming feels like a huge challenge Preston shows that it is possible.

–Laurie P.

Drop in for a book chat

Please join us for a book club conversation at any of our meetings. No need to sign up – you can just drop in!

How to Bake Pi : An Edible Exploration of the Mathematics of Mathematics by Eugenia Cheng

Monday, June 12 – 7:00pm – Main Library Auditorium

What is math? How exactly does it work? And what do three siblings trying to share a cake have to do with it? In How to Bake Pi , math professor Eugenia Cheng provides an accessible introduction to the logic and beauty of mathematics, powered, unexpectedly, by insights from the kitchen: we learn, for example, how the bechemel in a lasagna can be a lot like the number 5, and why making a good custard proves that math is easy but life is hard.

Combined with her infectious enthusiasm for cooking and a true zest for life, Cheng’s perspective on math becomes this singular book: a funny, lively, and clear journey through a vast territory no popular book on math has explored before. How to Bake Pi offers a whole new way to think about a field all of us think we know; it will both dazzle the constant reader of popular mathematics and amuse and enlighten even the most hardened math-phobe. So, what is math? Let’s look for the answer in the kitchen.

Punishment by Linden MacIntyre

Thursday, June 15 – 1:30pm – Main Library Auditorium

In Punishment , his first novel since completing his Long Stretch trilogy, Scotiabank Giller-winner Linden MacIntyre brings us a powerful exploration of justice and vengeance, and the peril that ensues when passion replaces reason, in a small town shaken by a tragic death. Forced to retire early from his job as a corrections officer in Kingston Penitentiary, Tony Breau has limped back to the village where he grew up to lick his wounds, only to find that Dwayne Strickland, a young con he’d had dealings with in prison is back there too-and once again in trouble. Strickland has just been arrested following the suspicious death of a teenage girl, the granddaughter of Caddy Stewart, Tony’s first love. Tony is soon caught in a fierce emotional struggle between the outcast Strickland and the still alluring Caddy. And then another figure from Tony’s past, the forceful Neil Archie MacDonald-just retired in murky circumstances from the Boston police force-stokes the community’s anger and suspicion and an irresistible demand for punishment. As Tony struggles to resist the vortex of vigilante action, Punishment builds into a total page-turner that blindsides you with twists and betrayals.

You can find more information about WPL Book Clubs here or contact Christine Brown at 519-886-1310 ext. 146.

Our best Spring picks

Our Spring 2017 Featured Titles are here! These picks are some of the best and brightest of recent publications that we think you should know about.

The fiction selection highlights novels that dig deep into cultural history, untold family stories, wars (past and present), migration and self-discovery.  Like us, you may fall in love with a reluctant criminal named Samuel Hawley and his lovely daughter Loo.

The non-fiction line up is a gorgeous selection of must have titles for the curious reader: new recipes, an investigation into the complexity of  modern relationships and loneliness, immigration and assimilation, physics for the layperson, work and weekend culture, and the rags to riches story of Vij and his suitcases of spices.

Have you read some of these picks? Let us know what you think!

 

 

 

 

Fun, Foodie Mysteries

Mystery novels. Are you a fan of them? I am, to a point.  This is not my #1 favourite genre but there definitely are some mystery series that I absolutely love.  The series which I do read faithfully are by British authors and the tone is generally between a cozy mystery and a thriller.

A colleague of mine who loved gory police procedurals used to comment on the fact that both she and I read mysteries but mine were the ones with the “bloodless” murders.  And really, that’s true. I have no interest in reading a book that will give me nightmares and I’m definitely more about the solving of the crime(s) through deduction rather than guns ablazing and shootouts in the menacing back alleys of big cities.

Sometimes though I need a change from the small village, multiple murder novels from the UK and switch to something lighthearted. These two American authors fit the bill.

Diane Mott Davidson was probably one of the earlier foodie mystery writers, starting her Goldy Schulz mystery series over 25 years ago with Catering to Nobody.  Goldy is a single mother who is trying to raise her son while make a living in Colorado as a caterer. In the course of building her client list and catering at various locations, public and private, evil doings start to occur and Goldy can’t help but become involved. Catering to Nobody was nominated for an Agatha Award for in the “Best First Novel” category but was beaten out by Katherine Hall Page for The Body in the Belfry.  All of Davidson’s novels include recipes of dishes mentioned in the story and in fact, in 2015, Davidson released a combination cookbook-memoir titled Goldy’s Kitchen Cookbook : cooking, writing, family, life.

The other is G.A. McKevett.  McKevett (a pseudonym for Sonja Massie) is the author of 50 books which include the 22 (so far!) which feature ex-cop turned private detective Savannah Reid. The titles always make me smile (“Fat Free and Fatal”, “Corpse Suzette”, “Cooked Goose” … you get the idea) and so do the stories themselves. A transplanted Georgia peach and lover of fine dining and Southern homestyle delights, Savannah sets up the Moonlight Magnolia Detective Agency and soon is trying to clean up the streets of LA…or at least, her area of Southern California.

In a side note about culinary mysteries, back in the 90s British culinary writer, Janet Laurence, wrote a mystery series featuring (surprise, surprise) a culinary writer named Darina Lisle. They were light reads but the sleuthing was well thought out. If you can get your hands on them, they’re worth a read.

Enjoy this recipe from Diane Mott Davidson’s “Catering to Nobody”, a favourite with my family. And if you’re looking for a light mystery, give these authors a try.

— Sandi H.

Dungeon Bars (a.k.a. Oatmeal Raisin Bars)

1 c. unsalted butter, softened

½ c brown sugar

½ c white sugar

2 eggs

2 tsp vanilla

1 c. all-purpose flour

½ tsp salt

¼ tsp baking soda

1 c. oatmeal

1 c. raisins

Preheat oven to 350F.

Cream butter and sugars.  Beat in eggs and vanilla. Add in flour, salt and soda. Stir in oats and raisins.

Spread mixture in a lightly greased 9 x 13” pan. Bake for 30 minutes. Cool slightly and cut into bars.

Voracious!

Food and storytelling go hand in hand. From The Very Hungry Caterpillar munching along to Winnie-the-Pooh and his beloved honey. Harry Potter’s shepherd’s pie with a foaming tankard of butter beer to the mouthwatering descriptions of chocolates in the aptly named Chocolat.  And judging by the number of “novels for foodies” lists online and the fact that culinary fiction is hugely popular, I’m obviously not the only one who noticed this.

Butcher and blogger, Cara Nicoletti, has always been a bookworm. In her world, from childhood forward, books and food have always been a focus. Whether the books were shared with her by a family member during a particularly challenging period in Nicoletti’s life and meant to give solace, or simply by a friend who couldn’t wait to share their latest favourite read, she was happily surrounded by books.

In her book, Voracious: a hungry reader cooks her way through great books, Nicoletti shares her favourite works of literature along with food memories connected to each book, and recipes which compliment the meals featured between the covers.

She kicks things off with her childhood favourites, which include breakfast sausage from Little House in the Big Woods by Laura Ingalls Wilder and salted chocolate caramels from Anne of Green Gables by Lucy Maud Montgomery. The middle section, which covers her university years, includes clam chowder (“Moby Dick”) and chocolate eclairs (“Mrs Dalloway”). Brown butter crepes inspired by Gone Girl help cap off the final “adulthood” chapters of Voracious.

I was intrigued by the concept of Voracious and had high expectations. Voracious was a quick, light read and I did enjoy Nicoletti’s memories however I was a little disappointed in the recipes. I’d hoped to find a few to try but in the end I wasn’t inspired enough to note more than one (chocolate-covered digestive biscuits…I love digestive biscuits and always stock up on Marks & Spencer’s brand when overseas).

Reading Voracious did get me thinking about some of my favourite books featuring food. Excluding food-focused memoirs written by Peter Mayle, Frances Mayes, MFK Fisher and others, there are still a number with memorable scenes…scenes which will send you hurrying to the kitchen for a snack or to get cooking.

One of my favourite classics is Little Women by Louisa Mae Alcott. I have lost count of the number of times I have read it over the years. Oddly enough, I never progressed on to the others in the series. “Little Men” and “Jo’s Boys” just didn’t not have the same magic as Little Women.

In Little Women, the pages overflow with mentions of fluffy popovers (which the March sisters long for during tough times), rich steak and kidney pies, asparagus fresh from the garden, homemade currant jelly on freshly baked bread, sugarplums, petit fours with lemonade, soothing blancmange, and more. Oh, and there are some fairly comical disasters in the kitchen as well, to which we all can relate.

Going along with the theme in Voracious, I will share my recipe for popovers, inspired by the Christmas breakfast shared by the March family in Little Women. I love these when served warm with blackcurrant sloe gin preserves, but any jam will do.

— Sandi H.

Popovers

2 eggs
1 c milk
3 tblsp oil (I use Becel)
1 c all purpose flour
½ tsp salt

Preheat oven to 450F.

Beat eggs until frothy. Mix in milk and oil. Gradually add in flour and salt, gently stirring to combine.

Spoon batter into lightly greased muffin tins. Fill each cup ½ full. Bake for 20 to 30 minutes or until puffy and golden brown.

Serve warm.

Only in Naples

What is it about Italy?  I am not Italian nor do I have any Italian blood in my ancestry but like millions of others, I enjoy preparing Italian dishes to savour, dream of visiting Italy (especially when shovelling the driveway again after the snow plow rumbles through), contemplate trying to learn the language online (free through Mango Languages with your library membership, by the way) and love to read about those travelling or relocating to Italia.

So, when I spied “Only in Naples” by Katherine Wilson on the new books display at the Main Library, it was a no brainer. Charming cover, combination foodie memoir and travelogue, set in ITALY.  Yes, this was a book for me.

American Katherine Wilson, a Princeton graduate from a privileged family, travelled to Italy on an unpaid internship. Through reaching out to a local contact, she meets Salvatore Avallone and his family. She quickly falls in love with one while being completely and warmly embraced by the other.

This memoir is light and humourous with Wilson sharing embarrassing moments and charming ones. And she also shares very important facts with her readers. For example, “Never eat the crust of a pizza first.” This is a major faux pas in Naples, the home of pizza.  Apparently pizza originally was a dish only enjoyed by the poor but soon became widely accepted, especially after the visit of Queen Margherita of Savoy. Yes, that Margherita pizza you enjoy at Famoso in UpTown Waterloo was first made in Naples.

Through the close relationship she forms with her future mother-in-law, Raffaella, Wilson learns about the culture and traditions of the Neapolitan people.  She is guided through the “do’s and don’ts” of her adopted homeland. She is also painstakingly taken through the careful preparation of dishes which Raffaella swears her Salvatore will not be able to live without!  Not that he’d have to since the newlyweds end up setting up house in the same apartment complex as the parents.  And, you guessed it, Raffaella sends some of her “famous” dishes (which Katherine struggles to duplicate exactly) to them daily via the elevator. Now that’s takeaway with a personal touch!

“Only in Naples” is a heartwarming book and I did enjoy it although I have to admit the smattering of Italian words and phrases started to feel a bit affected by halfway through the book.  Recipes are included but I wasn’t enticed enough to try them.  The descriptions of the food, the sauces, the cooking methods, will send you scurrying to Vincenzo’s for provisions as soon as you can!

I have been lucky enough to visit Italy and yes, it was a wonderful as I imagined, and yes, you should go if you ever have the opportunity. We visited northern Italy for an all-too-brief time, lingering in Milan and at Lake Como and having the most incredible and memorable meal of our lives.  (my husband still says the best pizza he ever had was in Innsbruck, Austria but that’s another story) Oh, and YES, we definitely plan to return to Italy and explore many other regions.

I don’t have a traditional, Neapolitan recipe to share from my own collection at this time so another favourite Italian recipe will simply have to do!

— Sandi H.

Chicken Marsala

3 boneless, skinless chicken breasts, cut crosswise into 3 pieces
Salt and freshly ground pepper
2 tblsp olive oil
2 tblsp butter
1 onion, chopped
15 cremini mushrooms, sliced
2 tblsp minced garlic
1 c Marsala wine
3/4 c mascarpone cheese
2 tblsp Dijon mustard
2 tblsp chopped fresh Italian parsley
Fettucine or mashed potatoes

Instructions

Heat olive oil in heavy, large skillet.

Sprinkle the chicken with salt and pepper. Cook until just brown, then remove to a plate and cool slightly

While the chicken cools, melt 2 tblsp of the butter in the skillet over medium-high heat. Add onion and saute 2 minutes or until tender.  Add mushrooms and garlic. Saute 12 minute or until mushroom juices evaporate. Add wine and simmer 4 minutes or until the sauce reduces by half. Stir in mascarpone and mustard.

Cut the chicken into 1/3″ thick slices. Return to the skillet and coat with sauce. Cook for 2 minutes over medium-low heat until chicken is completely cooked through. Stir in parsley. Season with more salt and pepper to taste.

Serve with buttered fettucine noodles or mashed potatoes. Smells divine and tastes even better! If serving with potato, I recommend roasted carrots as a side dish.

Not New, But New to Me

We all love a shiny, new book, but sometimes a slightly scuffed cover, sitting on a book cart, returned to the library and awaiting reshelving, catches our eye.  These books can be gems, too, even if they no longer have the privilege of being displayed front and centre on the new book shelves.

The word “ingredients” jumped out at me since I am a keen amateur chef and am always on the lookout for a new (or new to me) foodie read.  I soon had “The School of Essential Ingredients” by Erica Bauermeister tucked away in my book bag.

In Bauermeister’s novel, Lillian, a restaurant owner and self-taught chef, had learned at an early age that the only way to reach her distant Mother was through food.

Lillian’s Father had walked out when she was a toddler, and her Mother found solace in books, escaping into the chapters of favourite novels any second she had. Lillian was lost and alone when her Mother disappeared behind the covers of her cherished tomes.

By the age of 8, she had taken over the cooking completely in their household of two and, with the help of friends’ sympathetic mothers, had developed decent skills. Realizing how people react to spices, to textures, to smells, she hatched her great plan.

“I’m going to cook her out.” Lillian proclaimed, determined that her food would entice her Mother to step out from behind her books and back into her daughter’s life.

Many years later, with a successful restaurant bearing her name, Lillian decided to start a small cooking school to share not only the art behind her tantalizing dishes, but to also show how food, and recipes shared, can transform friendships and even, in some cases, lives.

I really enjoyed this book. Each chapter is dedicated to one of the 8 students who meet each month at Lillian’s restaurant. We get to peek into their lives; their loves, their joys and their sorrows too. It was interesting to see how their lives intertwine and change through a chance meeting over the common interest of learning to cook.

And as for the descriptions of the food and its preparation, they made my mouth water and my fingers itch to get cooking, too.

To learn more about Erica Bauermeister and to check out her favourite recipes, visit her website.

— Sandi H.

Extra note: I recently read the sequel to “The School of Essential Ingredients” which is called “The Lost Art of Mixing” and, while it ties up some of the relationship loose ends from the first book, I felt it lacked a bit of the charm of “The School”. Was it worth reading? Yes, but only if you really enjoyed the first and wondered about the future of the characters.

As usual, I am happy to share a recipe along with my review. I’ve selected a recipe that is suitable for all levels of cooks. The recipe is easy, looks wonderful for presentation and is moist and flavourful each and every time.

FN_Ina Garten Lemon and Garlic Roast Chicken.tifLemon Roast Chicken

1 onion, sliced thickly
Carrots, peeled and cut into thick slices lengthwise
1 – 5 to 6 lb. roasting chicken, fresh or thawed
Salt
Freshly ground black pepper
1 large bunch fresh thyme
1 lemon, halved or quartered (depending on size of chicken)
1 head garlic, cut in half crosswise
2 tbsp butter, melted

Preheat oven to 425F.

Put onions and carrots in roasting pan.

Rinse chicken inside and out. Pat dry with paper towel.  Set chicken on top of vegetables.

Liberally salt and pepper inside the cavity, then stuff with the thyme, lemon and garlic.  Tie legs together with kitchen string and tuck wings up under the body.  Brush outside of chicken with melted butter; salt and pepper.

Roast for 90 minutes or until juices run clear when you pierce the flesh between leg and thigh.

Serve hot with roasted carrots and onion, and mashed potatoes.

Battle of the Confections

How often do you have two books you’ve placed on hold come in at the same time AND they both have a slightly unique word in the title?

Last week The Confectioner’s Tale (by Laura Madeleine) and Confections of a Closet Master Baker (by Gesine Bullock Prado) came in for me at the library. One fiction, the other non-fic. One new, one oldish. Both I’d looked forward to reading. Both had engaging covers…not that we ever judge a book by that!

After a very technical decision process (eenymeenyminymoe) I started with the novel, The Confectioner’s Tale. The book bounces between Paris in 1910 and Cambridge (England, not Ontario) in 1988. A reluctant student, Petra, discovers a mysterious photo of her beloved grandfather. Setting aside her studies, Petra sets out on a quest to learn the truth behind the old black and white.

The back story follows a young man, Gui, who is struggling to survive in Paris in the early days of the 20th century. He works long days, labouring for the railway, sending the majority of his pay home, while dreaming of a better life. This “better life” would be in the kitchen of one of the top patisseries in Paris, learning on the job to become a top if not master baker. A chance encounter with the owner’s daughter and a dramatic rescue during the devastating Paris floods, sets Gui on the path to the career (and the woman) of his dreams. But, as we all know, “be careful what you wish for” are words to heed.

While I found the story, particularly that focusing on Petra’s journey through her grandfather’s past, interesting, the book really didn’t hold my attention completely. I could put it down BUT I was curious enough to read it cover to cover and crave a freshly made raspberry macaron. Onto Confections of a Closet Master Baker.

I learned about Gesine Bullock-Prado through a friend. Yes, the author is Sandra Bullock’s sister but this book isn’t about stars, Hollywood or the movie industry. Those topics are touched upon lightly as Bullock-Prado previously worked as head of her famous sister’s production company. While she and her sister are very close, the Hollywood lifestyle was not for Bullock-Prado. Basically, she hated it.

Bullock-Prado and her husband, Ray, who is also in the movie industry, made the leap. They quit their jobs, moved to Montpelier, Vermont and open a small bakery/coffee shop. Throughout the book, family recipes are shared as are memories, the majority focusing on Bullock-Prado’s mother, a former opera singer.

The stories she shares are in turns humourous and touching. The recipes sound wonderful although some are most definitely not for beginners. I flew through the book, enjoyed each shared memory and made note of a fair number of recipes I definitely want to try.

So, the winner of the Battle of the Confections? Confections of a Closet Master Baker. I’m looking forward to reading her other biography/memoir, “My Life From Scratch.” which I have already placed an interlibrary loan request for as it is not part of the WPL collection. For a list of Bullock-Prado’s cookbooks, visit http://www.gbakes.com/p/books.html

In honour of Bullock-Prado generously sharing family recipes for her favourite baked goods, I will do the same, sharing my great-grandmother’s recipe for devil’s food cake. She first made it in the late 1930s/early 1940s and it has been THE birthday cake recipe in our family every since. Enjoy.

— Sandi H.

Devil’s Food Cake

½ c Fry’s cocoa
2 tsp baking soda
½ c. warm water
¾ c butter, softened
1 ¾ c. white sugar
¾ c sour milk*
2 eggs, room temperature
2 ½ c all purpose flour

Preheat oven to 375F.

Grease 2 – 8” round baking tins. Set aside.

In medium bowl whisk together cocoa, soda, and warm water. Set aside.

In mixing bowl, cream butter and sugar. Stir in sour milk and eggs. Blend in flour and then the chocolate-soda mixture.

Divide batter evenly between the two pans. Bake for 20 to 25 minutes or until the cakes pass the tooth pick test. Let cool slightly in tins before removing the cakes to cool on racks. When completely cool, ice with your favourite frosting.

* for the sour milk, we measure out the ¾ c milk, add a little lemon juice, and letting stand for a few minutes