Pizza & Murder!

Pizza 911

9781459728073On a cold winter’s day there is nothing better to do than to curl up with a good mystery and a hot slice of pizza. Put the two together and you get Pizza 911.

A coworker of mine discovered this gem sometime ago. It actually became something of a joke amongst the WPL staff. It just looked so ridiculous. We’ve seen our fair share of odd books here at the library but this one was right at the top. Pizza 911. Complete with a cover showing a pizza cutter covered in blood. But then one day, I had nothing to read, so I thought…..why not?

Well let me tell you, this book had us all fooled. Pizza 911 a great read. Seriously. It’s a clever, fast-paced mystery about Vancouver-based crime journalist Hakeem Jinnah who is struggling to keep his status as a front page reporter. He gets a tip about a ghastly murder – a body was found inside a pizza oven. Desperate to get the scoop on the murder before anyone else, Jinnah follows the clues to a biker bar where a rage-fueled brawl erupts. Satisfied that he’s on the right trail, the mystery leads Jinnah all the way to Africa.

Jinnah is an unscrupulous, egotistical, self-centered jerk but somehow author Donald Huaka makes him very likable. He mixes in the right amount of humour with Jinnah. I found myself laughing at his egocentric outbursts and cunning journalistic tactics. You can’t help but root for him when the pieces of the mystery start to fall into place. His world of tabloid journalism is so accurately described, right down to the adrenaline addicted reporters eager to stab each other in the back for a lead, to the no-nonsense editor nicknamed “Frosty.”

I guess I learned my lesson. Don’t judge a book by cover – or its title. I enjoyed every minute of this story and I was happy to find out that reporter Hakeem Jinnah appears in another novel: She Demons.

If you need a fun, quick read, give Pizza 911 a try. Then check out Joe Beddia’s Pizza Camp and learn how to make some real gourmet pizza.

Pizza Camp

31305588Joe Beddia didn’t plan on owning a pizzeria but that’s where he ended up. Food was a big part of his childhood and he still remembers the taste of Argento’s cheese pizza from when he was a kid. Beddia studied hotel, restaurant and institutional management in school, which led him to working in numerous pizzerias. Finally, he opened his own pizza shop, Pizzeria Beddia, in 2013. A few years later, Bon Appetit voted it the “Best Pizza in America.” Beddia has now shared some of his best recipes in Pizza Camp.

Pizza Camp is unlike any cookbook I’ve ever read. It is part recipes, part artwork and part memoir. The beginning of the book starts off with very basic instructions, including a diagram of how to set up your cooking space with ”stainless steel bowl” and “cheese grater” labeled for clarity. The recipes are organized from basic pizza to composed pizza – with every kind of pizza you’d ever want. This includes: pistachio pesto, fennel and sausage, as well as breakfast pizza, just to name a few.

The pictures in the book aren’t just your typical shots of ingredients and perfectly baked food. There are street shots, food inspired landmarks and a section of just dogs eating pizza. Dozens of anecdotes are intermixed with the recipes, often detailing what inspired a particular pizza creation. For example, the creation of marinara and anchovy pizza is quite a story:

“Some drunk guy invented this pizza. He came into the shop and ordered, ‘Hold the mozzarella cheese, add garlic and anchovy. The grated cheese is ok, too, but no mozzarella.’ And then didn’t come back to pick it up. That forced me to eat it and I discovered how great this pizza is. “

Even if you don’t use any of the recipes, Pizza Camp is so full of interesting stories that it reads like a regular book. There is plenty of Beddia’s personality sprinkled in the pages which makes for a light and enjoyable read.

— Lesley L.

Joe Beddia’s Marinara and Anchovy Pizza (14 inch to 16 inch)

1 ball of dough
1.5 cups tomato sauce
1 or 2 large cloves of garlic (or more, if you like) thinly sliced
2 pinches of Sicilian oregano
3 tablespoons of extra-virgin olive oil
½ cup or more grated hard cheese
6 to 8 anchovy fillets cut in half

Preheat the oven and pizza stone to 500°F or if possible, 550°F.

(To make the dough and the sauce there are great instructions in another section of the book)

Spread sauce on the dough. Add the garlic then the oregano and drizzle with 1 tablespoon of olive oil. Bake until well done. Just keep checking so you don’t burn it. Look for the cheese to color and the crust to turn a deep brown. This pizza normally cooks a minute or two faster than one with cheese. It will also be crispier. (Both good things.)

Sprinkle the grated hard cheese over the finished pie. Drizzle with the remaining 2 tablespoons of olive oil. Cut the pizza. Lastly, arrange your anchovies so each slice has one anchovy, adding more if you like.

 

Eat A Little Better

When a book promises a behind-the-scenes look at something I find it irresistible. If the author is telling me that the secrets they will provide will be about 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue then I never miss reading that book. It’s a tempting mix – the White House and secrets. One of my favourite cozy mysteries is top of this list partially due to the way that the author made her series seem authentically set in an atmosphere that is notoriously hard to get any information about. It’s just too good.

The White House Chef series by Julie Hyzy is one of the most enjoyable cozy mysteries on our shelves. Her books are action-packed, funny, with a supporting cast of sous chefs, fussy West Wing staffers, and gruff secret service agents who make the White House feel like a real community you want to return to in each book, despite constant murders and kitchen chaos. Hyzy includes recipes for a “complete Presidential menu” at the end of each book and the details about the high pressure life serving the First Family make this one of my favourite choices to read or recommend.

However, I was truly thrilled when I read that a real White House chef for the Obamas, Sam Kass, was publishing his own cookbook. A chance to really learn about the daily work life of one of the White House chefs? Sign me up!

This cookbook, Eat a Little Better, is more than just recipes – it is inspirational. Sam Kass is gently encouraging us to try and eat better, adjust the way we shop for food, arrange our pantry and think about how this will change our world. And the very best part of his message is that he writes the whole book without using guilt or making it seem like his suggestions are easy to accomplish. I was relieved that Kass acknowledges that very few families can quit eating brownies altogether and that he, as a former advisor to the First Family, couldn’t make that happen. Even Michelle Obama wasn’t able to make her kids listen to her so how can we be expected to make magic happen when people walk into the house after school and work, claiming that they are ‘starving’? Instead Kass suggests that there be a balance between the healthy choices and less healthy choices for everyone and outlines how that can happen in his book. It’s the idea that we can all eat a little better that is so appealing.

t1larg.elmoThe recipes in the book vary in difficulty but there weren’t many that seemed overly daunting. Kass is realistic in his expectations of us. I like Sam Kass. He even spent time with the gang from Sesame Street – you can look this up. He did forget to include a chapter on desserts in Eat a Little Better which I found disappointing. He mentioned that Barack Obama was a fan of pie but neglected to include many stellar recipes for that favoured choice. Do you remember how Barack’s performance in the first presidential debate in 2012 was a little lackluster but in the second he seemed to turn up the heat on Mitt Romney? It seems that it wasn’t the days of reported prep work in Virginia that gave him the extra fire. According to the story in this book, Kass asked Obama what he wanted to eat (and he was ready for anything, having packed a variety of ingredients to take along and cook in a tiny kitchen on Air Force One) and made him exactly the right meal for crushing the competition. He liked it so much that he cooked it for him again on election night making it “lucky pasta”. If there is one recipe you try from this cookbook it has to be this one – not to mention it is chock-a-block full of wonderful stuff – garlic, spinach, basil, pine nuts, chicken – and then it will be your family’s lucky pasta. It also makes a tasty leftover so you can take it to work the next day and impress your friends by saying you are eating President Obama’s favourite pasta.

The real highlight of the recipes for me was the last grouping, where he organized beans and grains into different seasons in an attempt to encourage families to add them into every meal of the year. His inventive suggestions for using up pantry staples will make so many busy weeknight meals (and lunches!) easier. I know that I am going to be checking this practical cookbook out so many times over the next few months and will love it even more when September hits.

Sam Kass began cooking for the Obama family long before they moved into the White House. It’s really hard to say which is a more challenging meal to cook – one for a family with a parent who is the leader of the free world or a meal for one who is working 24-7 trying to get that job. This cookbook is actually an opportunity to learn a bit about how the food that they ate and how they connected over meals was a part of what kept that family strong during challenging times. He started on the journey of being more conscious of the impact of food when he worked as a senior policy advisor for nutrition in the White House and as the executive director of Michelle Obama’s Let’s Move! initiative and he includes that journey in this book making it a little bit like an autobiography.

Kass was an important part of the work that Michelle Obama did when she created a kitchen garden on the South Lawn. This was a controversial decision at the time but it allowed them to invite thousands of children and adults into the space and let them see how food is grown instead of seeing it come in glossy packages from the local supermarket. They chose to go even further by using that produce in state dinners, advancing to add honey production to the garden and eventually creating more than one White House beer while they were in office. Since leaving the White House Kass has continued to work on initiatives with Michelle and Barack Obama. If you wanted to fall into an inspiring Internet rabbit hole you could check out what he is up to now – he is hard to keep up with.

We might not all have kitchens with the same accoutrements as Sam Kass, have the opportunity to entertain heads of state (or Elmo) but we can all try some of his recipes, learn from his research, and enjoy reading about the real life of a White House Chef.

— Penny M.

While you’re waiting…

It’s really no surprise that Louise Penny’s latest book, Glass Houses, was at the top of our holds list for September. It’s the 13th in her series featuring Chief Inspector Armand Gamache of the Sûreté du Québec and with each book fans love Louise, and her writing, even more. Every one of her book signings sell out in just a few hours and this summer she hosted Hillary and Bill Clinton in the small Quebec town where she lives and writes – her fans can be found everywhere. Her bestselling novels involve Gamache and his team puzzling through a complicated investigation and, more often than not, using his impeccable instincts to find their way through the darker side of human nature.  Members of the entertaining supporting cast from the village of Three Pines have a chance to shine in each novel but it’s Gamache at the centre of it all every time.

Should you be looking for another pensive, Canadian inspector to fill your TBR pile while you wait for your copy of Glass houses you might want to spend some time with Domenic Jejeune, the recently appointed Chief Inspector in a small British town. Quite unlike Inspector Gamache who has the respect and admiration of many, you will find that Jejeune spends a great deal of his time coping with officers who are openly suspicious of him and his methods. From the moment he arrived in the UK he has had to work on his cooperation and diplomacy skills when he would prefer to be solving crime or just taking a long walk outdoors. You see, this series is about a brilliant police inspector who also enjoys birding as a hobby. Don’t let the sweetness of the title, like A Shimmer of Hummingbirds, make you think this is a cozy mystery – these books will keep you fascinated to the last page and author Steve Burrows delivers fantastic detail to satisfy anyone who is interested in the police procedural side of a mystery.

Louise Penny has said that she modelled Chief Inspector Gamache on her own husband Michael Whitehead. When she decided to write mystery novels she thought that she would need a main character with characteristics she could love for many years. There is no doubt that she succeeded with her inspector just as Donna Leon has done with the cultured and capable Commissario Guido Brunetti. Crimes don’t just happen in a remote part of Quebec, they can also occur in sunny Venice, and for Donna Leon’s successful series they have happened twenty-six times. In Earthly Remains, her most recent novel, Bruno has made a brash decision during an investigation which leads to a forced leave of absence. Even as he is taking a break from his work he finds himself involved in a criminal investigation and this is good news for mystery fans but makes the time off far less relaxing for poor Bruno.

With police officers and inspectors you expect crime to be a regular part of their lives but with a citizen it can change the path of their lives, as it did with one of Gail Bowen’s characters, Joanne Kilbourn. In Bowen’s first novel Joanne is a university professor helping with a political campaign when the politician becomes the victim.  As the series progresses her skills as a sleuth develop and by the time Bowen’s latest book arrived on the shelves she had become a favourite here at WPL. In The Winners’ Circle Joanne and her husband are involved in an investigation surrounding a triple homicide and, as usual, she is grappling with bigger questions than just finding out who committed this crime. Joanne is loved for being trustworthy, honourable and thoughtful – characteristics that she shares with the investigators created by Donna Leon, Steve Burrows and Louise Penny. Their characters are solving crimes as they also try to decipher what they mean on a deeper level – making for fabulous reading each and every time a new one is published. Here at WPL we eagerly await the next book in a beloved series like these and can help you to find something else to read while you wait because we are doing exactly the same thing.

-Penny M.

Who Done It? (or as the French say, Qui Fait?)

I love a good mystery. And even though I haven’t read many Agatha Christie novels (shame on me), I was interested in Agatha Christie’s Criminal Games when I recently saw this DVD on WPL’s list of new items. I always like to consult the Internet Movie Database (IMDB) to get an impression of viewer ratings, but when I typed in this title, it didn’t come up. Instead, there was something called Les Petits Meurtres d’Agatha Christie, a French television series. A quick review of the DVD description on the catalogue confirmed that these must be one and the same, and the IMDB rating was 7.5 out of 10. Not bad. I took it home.

That night when we popped it into the DVD player and pressed play, I was a bit dismayed to see English subtitles pop up with French audio. While I have high school level French and did a minor in university, it’s been a while. I can get us through Quebec, but this was France French, not Quebecois. And my husband’s French is pretty much limited to oui, comment ca va, au revoir, and frites. I wasn’t sure he’d go for watching the movie, but given his interest in learning French, he agreed to give it a chance.

8409e218d65dde23069e23e5295a1a3aIt was a good decision. Even though it meant a lot of pausing to read the subtitles, I eventually picked up much of what was being said audibly and my husband expanded his French vocabulary. Not only that, but the actors did an excellent job of portraying their characters. Samuel Labarthe convinced the viewer that he was an arrogant Commissaire, the only detective with the intelligence to get the job done. Blandine Bellavoir (I just love saying her name) is fantastic as his sidekick, Alice. An advice columnist seeking the big story that will finally earn her recognition as a bona fide journalist, she is always underfoot and an aggravation to the Inspector. Of course, the viewer also gets the sense that the two have an attraction for each other, though each pursues alternate romantic interests. A third prominent character is played by Elodie Frenck. Marlene is the Commissaire’s receptionist/ secretary. She is head over heels for her boss, but he either doesn’t see this, or pretends not to.

We had a ball watching this and were sorry when the discs ended after only six episodes. I don’t know whether too much translation work was involved in creating subtitles for more episodes, but hope there’s a sequel that includes English language viewers. The plotlines are quite intriguing and there’s always a twist at the end.

Next on the list of foreign language films I’d like to see are A Man Called Ove (Swedish) and Son of Saul (Hungarian)

Wonder if I can get my husband to join me!

— Susan B.