The Owl & Moon Café
written by Jo-Ann Mapson
Congratulations to giveaway winner Anne H.!
I loved this novel! The publisher’s website describes the novel as follows…
“After losing her teaching position at the local university, Mariah Moon will do anything to keep her gifted twelve-year-old daughter, Lindsay, in a prestigious private school — which means moving in with her mother and grandmother in an apartment above The Owl & Moon Café.
When her mother, Allegra, is diagnosed with leukemia, Mariah rises to the challenge of running the café: mastering her mother’s famous fudge and chatting up customers — including a man who might just reawaken her heart. Meanwhile, Lindsay’s controversial entry in a major national science contest creates a minor maelstrom in the cosseted Monterey Bay community. And Allegra, with one last great love affair in her, will revisit a man she loved so many years ago, and disclose the biggest secret of the Moon family: the identity of Mariah’s father.
Will the Moon women recognize this as the moment to do away with their family history of dubiously fathered children, and learn to forgive others and themselves in order to move forward? In her poignant new novel, bestselling author Jo-Ann Mapson explores the complexities of love and family with the keen eye and stylistic grace that have made her books perennial favorites.”
Need a copy of this book right away? Click here: The Owl & Moon Cafe
The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake, by Aimee Bender
Congratulations to José T., Winner!
“My mouth – always so active, alert – could now generally identify forty of fifty states in the product or meat I ate. I had taken to tracking those more distant elements on my plate, and each night, at dinner, a U.S. map would float up in my mind as I chewed and I’d use it to follow the nuances in the parsley sprig, the orange wedge, and the baked potato to Florida, California, and Kansas, respectively. I could sometimes trace eggs to the county” (p. 95).
As a child, I loved reading The Chocolate Touch, by Patrick Skene Catling. To me, The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake is the grown-up, quirky distant cousin of a childhood favorite. Instead of a greedy little boy who learns it really is possible to have too much of a good thing when everything he touches turns to chocolate, Aimee Bender offers us Rose Edelstein, a precocious little girl with a most unusual and unfortunate gift. To Rose’s great dismay, she learns she can taste emotions cooked and baked into her food.
Rose’s peculiar and unshakeable ability might be tolerable if she weren’t surrounded by such an odd cast of characters. But that wouldn’t make for an interesting story, would it? Instead, Rose lives with a detached and clueless father, a melancholy and secretive mother, and an older brother who blends into the background most extraordinarily well. Rose finds grains of sanity in her friendship with Eliza, whose mother can be relied upon to cook happy tasting food, and her unlikely alliance with George, the surprisingly normal friend of her very strange brother.
In The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake, Aimee Bender accomplishes the extraordinary… she gives her food characters the same depth and development as many fiction authors give their human characters. The textures, flavors, scents, kitchen environment, and baker of Rose’s favorite lemon cake are described in several pages of detail, and lemon cake is just one food of many to receive such grand attention to detail. Foodies and fiction aficionados alike will enjoy this eccentric tale.
As teenagers and college students are prone to saying around bites of junk food, “Just, Wow!” Based upon the author’s diverse writing background, including two years as a staff reporter for The New York Times, I was hopeful that Pandora’s Lunchbox would be well written and engaging. As a chemist and an educator myself, I was hopeful that this book would find and walk the line between depth of accurate food science detail and clarity of presentation for a wide audience. Melanie Warner delivered on both counts. And delivered, and delivered some more!
Pandora’s Lunchbox is as smartly written as it is impossible to set down. From her personal food “experiments” (Did this used to be a chicken nugget? Is that facial mask or avocado dip?) to her broadly painted historical overview to the interview vignettes which highlight her journalistic expertise, Melanie Warner illustrates the landscape of modern day processed food in stark detail. Ms. Warner begins by explaining what a processed food is not (“pasteurized milk…. frozen peas, canned beans… frozen ground beef shaped into hamburgers”) before succinctly clarifying what we are really talking about: “A processed food is something that could not be made, with the same ingredients, in a home kitchen. Your home kitchen” (p. xvi).
Prior to reading this book, I thought I had a pretty solid grasp on the “no-no’s” of processed food. Little did I know! Pandora’s Lunchbox had me rethinking the origins (and wisdom) of my daily multivitamin, the journey of ingredients in my children’s “healthy” breakfast cereal, and even my store bought loaf of whole grain bread. As I progressed from chapter to chapter, I was both humbled by how little I knew and inspired to do better for my own health and the health of my family.
Pandora’s Lunchbox confronts the business realities of the food industry, where processing and preservatives allow longer shelf lives and lower costs, corporate shareholders demand high profits over high nutrition, and consumers respond to slick marketing and artificial flavors. Melanie Warner ends her well written book with 216 referenced endnotes, placing well organized facts gently and firmly in the hands of her readers. Read Pandora’s Lunchbox, and you will – to your benefit – never experience a trip to the supermarket quite the same way again.
By Annie Spiegelman, Illustrated by Maggie Agro
Congratulations to Liz W., who won a free copy of this book!
Who says Divas can’t play in the dirt?
If you fancy yourself to be the forward-thinking sort of gardener, you need to read this book. If your experience with gardening books is limited to toast dry narratives of rules and instructions, you really need to read this book. The Dirt Diva – Annie Spiegelman, that is – offers sage gardening advice in whimsical prose, injecting plenty of tongue-in-cheek humor to keep you laughing all the way from your favorite reading chair to your backyard garden.
In a very manageable sized text, The Dirt Diva walks the reader through a gardening season from beginning (“Let’s Start with a Plan”) to end (“You did it! You and Your Garden Grow Up, Finally”). Ms. Spiegelman accommodates those of us with limited warm weather attention spans (cough, cough) by dividing her text into five succinct, convenient sections. In the first and longest section, readers are given a comical crash course in everything from plant taxonomy, gardening tools, understanding soil, composting, irrigation, and pest control. In this last subsection, Ms. Spiegelman’s perspective on the importance of going organic is crystal clear. Regarding conventional pesticide use, she explains, “You’re now on an endless cycle of wasting money: weakening your plants; killing off the bird, butterfly, and bee populations; depleting your soil; and polluting the neighborhood’s groundwater. That’s not gardening. That’s lunacy!” (p. 57)
Subsequent sections address growing and rehabilitating your organic garden, including flowers, food crops, and an easy to understand seasonal division of labor. Garden rehab is not to be underestimated. In Ms. Spiegelman’s words, “You don’t want hyperactive and sugar-addicted plants. (Aren’t hyperactive and sugar-addicted children enough?) Stop being an enabler.” (p. 75) Put that way, it sounds just crazy enough to be true.
My personal favorite chapter in Talking Dirt is Chapter 13, “Shall Hell Be Paved with Weeds?” After all, weeds are the first excuse given by many spray bottle wielding backyard gardeners, yes? Ms. Spiegelman is not dismissive of this reality, nor does she accept the excuse. “It’s best to face the fact that you’ll be doing some serious hand weeding a few times a year,” she states plainly (p. 123). From there, she goes on to provide a few pages of sensible advice on how to avoid losing your sanity in the process.
I would recommend this book for the last few pages, “Your Final Pep Talk,” alone. But really, you may as well start at the beginning to laugh and learn your way through a few rainy days. Then, go play in the dirt!
The All You Can Dream Buffet, by Barbara O’Neal
Congratulations to Robyn, our Thirsty Thursday winner! Congratulations also to Rachel, our Soup Sunday winner!
Barbara O’Neal wrote a book about me! OK, so it’s not really about me… but close enough. Barbara O’Neal’s latest book, The All You Can Dream Buffet, tells the story of an unlikely collection of foodie friends whose lives span both states and decades. Lavender, Ginny, Ruby, and Val – the “Foodie Four” – found each other through their passion for blogging. What’s not to love about that?
On the surface, Barbara O’Neal weaves a tale of a feisty, elderly organic farmer seeking a suitable heir for the fruit of her life’s work, Lavender Honey Farms. Under the guise of an 85th birthday party invitation, Lavender Wills lures her young(er) foodie friends to her farm to vet an appropriate successor. Ginny, Ruby, and Val each show potential, and each blossoms in different ways at Lavender Honey Farms.
Dig a little deeper, and astute readers will unearth poignant themes related to the cycle of life. Personal stories of emotional droughts and cataclysmic storms are soothed by examples of personal growth and bountiful if surprising harvests. Comedy and tragedy, drama and romance, all flank a central story of friendship between four unique women.
The pièce de résistance in The All You Can Dream Buffet is a two page chapter… you’ll know it when you read it. If these two pages aren’t the most heart stoppingly memorable pages you ever read in a work of fiction… well… what am I saying? They will be, of course they will. Go ahead, brew a cup of lavender tea and settle in with The All You Can Dream Buffet. Your soul will be warmed by this book.
Winner: Lisa W.
“Organic farming is so much more than just a set of standards and a marketing label, more than just a way to make money in a competitive industry, more than just a growing system that doesn’t use chemical inputs. Organic farming has the potential to be solely based on renewable energy – the sun. We know how to work with the soil, the sun, and plants to manage fertility, pests, and disease through soil health and biological diversity. This is security. This is the future. It is our resiliency and our redemption. As long as the sun rises every morning, organic farming systems will remain viable. Our experience is proof of our success, but knowing is not enough.” (p. 269)
If only every skeptic would read this book. Turn Here, Sweet Corn weaves together lessons of modern science and ancient wisdom, the realities of urban sprawl and wildlife displacement, the clashes between Big Oil and small town activism, and lays bare the incompatibility of fossil fuel-based economics and long term environmental health. This book is not told through a detached, anthropological lens, but is offered as a collection of first-person lived experiences of Atina Diffley, organic gardener-farmer, educator, respected community member, wife and mother.
Whether sharing funny memories of nine year-old boys and exploding beetles, or gut wrenching stories of devastating hailstorms and unwelcome development, Ms. Diffley infuses her memoir with true emotion. In sharing the realities of marriage, mothering, planting, growing, harvesting, selling, and building community, Ms. Diffley illustrates the complete lifestyle and commitment that is organic farming. Turn Here, Sweet Corn is at times difficult to read, and yet impossible to set down.
Readers of Turn Here, Sweet Corn will never look at land development or non-organic produce quite the same way again. What a blessing that is, not only for ourselves, but also for our children who will inherit the earth we leave behind.
The Art of Eating In: How I Learned to Stop Spending and Love the Stove, by Cathy Erway
Winner: Jo at Over the Edge of the Wild
“…people will say that the world of restaurant food is vast. But the world of cooking and eating in far exceeds it in scope, even in a city as seemingly disinclined toward home cooking as New York.” -p. 317
As someone who used to have an (almost) daily restaurant habit and slowly became a (mostly) scratch cook, I truly loved this book. In The Art of Eating In, Cathy Erway tells the story of both extremes. Immediately on Page 1, she sets the context of common food attitudes in New York City by describing a showing for a two-bedroom apartment that didn’t have a kitchen. While the very idea sounds like science fiction to my Midwestern sensibilities, Ms. Erway patiently and thoroughly explains the saturation of dining establishments, normalcy of evening take-out, and patterns of socializing over food that are common in the burgeoning city she calls home.
Then, she deconstructs these norms with precision as she unveils her plan to avoid any and all New York City restaurants for an entire year. Cathy Erway leaps right in, walking the reader through her own personal journeys of cooking and baking, creative food sourcing, and grappling with the sometimes awkward realities of developing and maintaining personal relationships sans restaurants. From urban foraging adventures to unabashed dumpster diving to underground supper clubs, Cathy Erway leaves no stone unturned in her exploration of the expansive culinary world beyond the restaurant scene.
As I read this book, I was captivated by Ms. Erway’s candor and her learning curve. For example, while she entered into this project without any experience (and little enthusiasm for) yeast baking, she was undaunted by meat processing or cooking with offal. This runs completely contrary to my own kitchen experiences, and was fascinating to ponder. I found myself on more familiar ground as Ms. Erway earnestly described how her project made her acutely aware of the waste associated with restaurant food. At one point, she even designed an experiment whereby she weighed and measured the waste associated with a restaurant meal compared to a similar home cooked meal. Very interesting. Her commitment to becoming better informed is clear in her references to the works of authors such as Michael Pollan and Mark Schapiro.
Cathy Erway’s book is written from a refreshing perspective – rather than teaching the reader from a position of preexisting expertise, Ms. Erway invites the reader to share in her own journey of learning and discovery. Along the way, Ms. Erway shares fun recipes and quirky stories guaranteed to keep the reader engaged. If you could use a boost of enthusiasm to enjoy your kitchen even more, I highly recommend picking up a copy of Cathy Erway’s The Art of Eating In!
The Beekeeper’s Lament, by Hannah Nordhaus
March Madness Book Winners: Justin and Denise!
Brilliantly written and genre defying, The Beekeeper’s Lament is a book that stays with you long after you reach the back cover. Hannah Nordhaus’s decorated journalistic background will come as no surprise to readers who find themselves absorbing careful research couched within well written and occasionally comic prose. While honey bees shine as main characters, their story is not told in a vacuum. Instead, Ms. Nordhaus tells the story of honey bees within the greater story of their ecosystem… we learn about the bees in such varied settings as the clover and alfalfa fields of North Dakota, the blueberries of Maine, almond trees of California, and winter storage destinations including Texas and Florida.
As the honey bees travel from one destination to another, they face real life challenges worthy of an adventure novel. Perilous interstate travel, unpredictable weather, pesticide exposure, the economic and nutritional tightrope between corn syrup and honey, ants, mites, CCD or Colony Collapse Disorder, and of course PPB… Piss-Poor Beekeeping. 😉
Beekeeping. The story of the honey bees would be woefully incomplete without the stories of their keepers. In The Beekeeper’s Lament, Ms. Nordhaus gifts her readers with a comedic cross section of stories told by beekeepers themselves. These stories range from accounts of beekeeping conventions to the recovery of stolen beehives to the rise and fall of a particularly inventive drug runner who kept his contraband hidden inside of active beehives. The real hero of the story, as the reader will soon discover, is John Miller, the beekeeper and email poet who opened his life to Hannah Nordhaus and his story to each of us.
In the quest to educate ourselves about where our food comes from and how it was produced, The Beekeeper’s Lament is a valuable tool. This book will shape the way you think about the familiar buzzing sounds of summer.
“Thank you!” to the following book recipients: The Wandering Abode, who is bringing us a soup-filled guest post, and to The Book Cat, who is bringing us a new book review!
It would be easy for a casually concerned consumer to read the title of this book, think of the reusable shopping bags hanging by the door, and feel smug. In 168 pages, many of which include shocking full color photos, Dan Imhoff lays out the clear and compelling case that we have a long, long way to go before we can even begin to consider our global packaging waste problem solved. Appropriately published by Sierra Club Books, this 2005 text remains highly relevant for people who wish to really understand the scope and scale of the damage our current packaging habits are wreaking upon our planet. This book serves as an excellent resource for those who wish to really delve into the complex changes that will be necessary to facilitate environmental healing.
As an educator, it strikes me that this would be a wonderful book for classroom use at the high school and college levels. The author does a brilliant job of back-loading a copious amount of research into hefty appendices and end notes; as a result, the text itself tells an important story without becoming dry, and is as easy to read as it is informative.
In the first section, “The Packaging Landscape,” the reader is guided through an explanation of the sobering scope and scale of waste created by our tacit obsession with packaging (an average of 300 pounds of waste per person per year!). The second section, “The Search for Solutions,” walks us through an engaging set of case studies which range from high tech electronics companies to frozen confections. Promising research and development initiatives are explored, as are foreign legislative policies aimed at mitigating our global packaging waste crisis (not surprisingly, the United States lags woefully behind global leaders in this arena). The third section, “A Future Beyond the Box,” provides the reader with guidelines for distinguishing between bad wraps and better packaging. We are also provided with thirteen very clear, simply explained steps each of us can take to do our part to help solve this often overlooked global crisis.
Paper Or Plastic: Searching For Solutions To An Overpackaged World is as well written as it is important. Each of us needs to read this book.
March Madness Book Winners: Bridget and Jill!
The Lost Recipe for Happiness was my first foray into Barbara O’Neal’s world of culinary fiction. I love how recipes are woven into the story, often as very appropriate stand-alone chapters, and am looking forward to trying Abuela Maria Elena’s Posole in my own kitchen. I had barely finished the last page before going online to find more Barbara O’Neal books, and was thrilled to learn she has a new release (The All You Can Dream Buffet) coming out March 4th!
Page after page, readers will find themselves rooting for Jefa Elena Alvarez as she takes on her dream of an opportunity to head the kitchen of an up-and-coming Aspen restaurant. Readers are given an inside glimpse of restaurant life including both the humor and the grit, the complicated and diverse backstories of kitchen staff, and the realities of working brutally hard in a shockingly wealthy tourist enclave. Between her elegant, East coast – moneyed sommelier and Maître D’ Patrick, her talented, Mexican-immigrant master saucier Juan, brilliant but unpredictable chef Ivan, celebrity boss Julian, and adorable dog Alvin, Elena sure has her hands full!
The Lost Recipe for Happiness is literary meat and potatoes (or should I say, tamales!) rather than frosting and fluff. Elena’s had a tough go, getting to this point in her life, and author Barbara O’Neal doesn’t sugarcoat the details. Small parts of this book are downright dark, and readers may never think of the sugar skulls displayed in restaurants for El Día de los Muertos quite the same way again. It’s the difficult details, though, that make the reader respect Elena even more for continuing to put one, sometimes painful foot in front of the other, moving forward toward a bright future in both her professional and her personal life. Don’t be surprised if, at the end of this book, you have a craving for tamales.
March Madness Book Winner: “averyht” Congratulations, Avery!
Hilary Reyl’s debut novel, Lessons in French, is neither a recipe book nor a travel guide. That said, I dare you to read this book without feeling an irresistible urge scour through French cookbooks or invest in a plane ticket. Lessons in French leads readers on a meandering journey through the heady sensory experience that is Paris, while sharing the coming-of-age story of Kate, a young American returning to the scene of difficult childhood years under very different circumstances. A lesser author might allow the backdrop of the swank Sixth Arrondissement to overwhelm the story, but Reyl builds rich characters and plot layers worthy of both her chosen environment and her doctorate in French Literature.
…and the food, Oh, the food. Spaghetti with baby clams, red peppers, and bursts of garlic. Artichoke hearts topped with crème fraiche and served with haricots verts. Petits fours and pâte feuilletée. Chestnut profiteroles and omlettes aux bolets. Turkey with hazelnut and prune stuffing. Camembert-and-butter baguette sandwiches and Comice pears. Have you booked your plane ticket yet?
When not distracted by the urge for an epicurean delight, readers will enjoy the peculiar puzzle that is Lydia, Kate’s eccentric employer. Readers may find their teeth set on edge by Clarence, Lydia’s husband, and Portia, the couple’s grating daughter, while still feeling compelled to read just one more page. And another. And another. As for Olivier, and Bastien, well, you’ll just have to read the book.
Link to the book: http://www.amazon.com/Lessons-French-Novel-Hilary-Reyl/dp/1451655037
The Girls’ Guide to Love and Supper Clubs, by Dana Bate
Janine (Seattle, WA) won an author-donated copy of this book as part of a February Freebie promotion!
Hannah Sugarman has well connected parents, an ambitious live-in boyfriend, and a competitive job with a Washington, D.C. think tank. All of this might be easier to bear if only someone would appreciate her carrot cake.
Readers will laugh their way through Dana Bate’s debut novel, The Girls’ Guide to Love and Supper Clubs. When Hannah’s boyfriend reveals himself to be more of a toad than a prince, and working for a barefoot boss becomes untenable, Hannah dusts herself off and decides to launch her own supper club. It might help if she had start-up funds, a skilled assistant, an appropriate venue, or a restaurant license, but hey – those are just details. What could go wrong?
In the process of cooking meal after harrowing meal, Hannah learns to trust herself and stand up for her dreams. She learns not to leave her heart, her future, or her turkey confit in just anybody’s hands, and learns that sometimes love is waiting in unexpected places.
The Girls’ Guide to Love and Supper Clubs leaves readers with a satisfied smile and seven recipes, including the fateful confit. As I closed this book I was left with only one regret. Hannah, Oh Hannah, where is your carrot cake recipe?
[I feel a Crowded Earth Kitchen carrot cake contest brewing, don’t you?]
Bria (Iowa) won an author-donated copy of this book as part of a February Freebie promotion!
“Bread built the first cities, established cultures, drew people into community. It was buried with Pharaohs and dug from the ashes of Mount Vesuvius, perfectly petrified loaves, gray and hard as stone. It survives. Those credentials don’t need a side dish.” (p. 7)
In Stones for Bread, Christa Parrish tells the story of a charming if somewhat reclusive bakery owner, while inviting her readers along on a wonderfully written, well researched journey of the history of bread. Ten fabulous bread recipes, along with vignettes of global food culture and relevant verses of Biblical Scripture are artfully woven into the story of Leisl McNamara, for whom an old stoneware crock of sourdough yeast starter represents a more meaningful family tie than she initially realized.
I love this book for its portrayal of the inextricable connections between food and human relationships. Leisl’s warm memories of her Oma are shared in the context of sourdough in several varieties, which Crowded Earth Kitchen plans to explore more fully in the coming months. A heart-wrenching experience baking Christstollen inspired me to dust off my own great grandmother’s stollen recipe and share a memorable day baking with my mom. For that alone, I am grateful to have read this book.
Beyond helping you bake and leading you to reflect, Stones for Bread will make you laugh. Cheeky recipes such as “‘Stick to Your Buns’ Sticky Buns” highlight the humor in life and in baking. Leisl’s lamentations over the odd combinations of spreads and toppings being lavished on her “poor bread” at the hands of a simple yet delightful man who has meandered into her life serve to remind readers of the often humorous compromises inherent in human relationships. Crowded Earth Kitchen encourages you to read this book, and try your hand at baking a loaf of bread!