Sunday, October 16, 2016

Book Review: The Never-Open Desert Diner by James Anderson

I haven't chosen many novels from Blogging for Books, but this one was a lot of fun. An interesting read driven by the intrigue of the characters and their lives, it's a fascinating look at life and how it is lived.

Ben Jones is hard-life trucker who ambles up and down a single stretch of Route 117 in the Utah desert. Ben lives the same life day after day, encountering quirky desert-rat characters, people running from something, even a remote-chance at love. When Ben meets Claire on an abandoned patch of the highway, he finds her playing a cello in an abandoned lonely house in the desert...naked. Their chance encounter leads to more depth and character-driven looks at life and how it can be lived, often in unexpected ways. But, one mystery eludes them the most: what really happened all those years ago at The Never-Open Desert Diner?

A fun read with interesting and vexing characters, full of fascinating intrigue.

*Note: this book was given to me by Blogging for Books in exchange for an honest review. 

Tuesday, March 8, 2016

Book Review: Spark Joy by Marie Kondo

Spark Joy. What a great title for a book. For anyone who has read her previous book, The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up, you know the reference to which this title refers.

"When something sparks joy, you should feel a little thrill, as if the cells in your body are slowly rising. When you hold something that doesn't bring you joy, however, you will notice that your body feels heavier." ~ Marie Kondo, Spark Joy

With this zen-like approach this tidy expert has created, sparking joy is resonating with people around the globe. Connecting with what really brings you joy and only keeping those things in your home - basically, surrounding yourself with joy. Amazing concept. But, does it really work?

Millions seem to think so. Plenty of people have tried her methods, but it seems that most I have talked to are just diving right in and staying the course with finding what sparks joy. I think that is a phenomenal idea. It's the beginning of creating a culture of connection to yourself, what's around you, and keeping only that which sparks joy within you.

"...through this process represents the driving force that can make not only our lifestyle, but our very lives, shine." ~ Marie Kondo, Spark Joy

Does everything spark joy? Your phone, your wallet, the little pads of paper you write on? According to Marie Kondo, yes. If those little blocks of sticky paper don't spark joy, then maybe you should find something that does. And, really, her concept is about defining who you want to be and harboring those FEW things that spark joy. In truth, after reading these books, you realize the goal is not to go out and buy more, but to create the life you want to live and Marie Kondo feels most people would choose minimalism and simplicity, the essence of quiet to spark joy. Instead of shelves full of items that sort of spark joy, you have two items on that same shelf that truly ring true to the home you want to create and the rest can provide joy for someone else.

I think this can be a challenge for many people.

"But this does spark joy! I love it! I never use it, but I love it!"

Does this image spark joy? 

Really? How much do you love something that you never use or will use. Or are you misinterpreting joy? Kondo's books really get into the heart of the matter with this and in her matter-of-fact way, she's asking clients and readers to really master themselves and find what truly sparks joy. What most people find is that it's not the stuff they have that spark joy - it's what it means to them.

Why does the dolphin fountain spark joy? Or is it the connection to nature?

Why does your iPhone bring you joy? Or is it the connection to others?

I am a fan of her methods. I think she helps readers and clients find respect for the things they do have and give away what they just don't need, want, or desire. She helps people find a better way to present their belongings to themselves to make your home feel better, more peaceful, more joyful - whatever you are truly wanting. She starts by having clients envision what they really want their home to be, then methodically discarding what isn't part of that vision. Most people won't have visions of stacks of magazines on their floor. What they want is inside that magazine (the ideas, the information, the creativity). She assists clients in getting to know themselves and that's why her rebound percent is non-existent.

In her newest book, Spark Joy, she tackles how to define what joy is and what it feels like. Many folks don't know or they think they know what joy is. Joy is not sentimentality or holding onto hundreds of sugar packets because grandma kept them in her closet (unless Sweet n' Low brings you great joy). She also translates the difficult task of learning how to fold, what to store, etc. with a no-nonsense method by really engaging the reader or client to see the tangible items as living energy - without really saying that. How we treat what we have around us, that which we choose to express ourselves with, is reflective of what we feel about ourselves. Crumpled-up heaps of clothes on the floor, dirty with clean, tells much about how who you choose to be, as much as a closet that is color-coded. Neither is right or wrong, but being aware of what you are choosing makes life more joyful and reflective on what you might not appreciate as much within yourself.

And, this method begins to help you recognize what joy feels like. Each time you shop or find something new, you can ask yourself the same question and feel the answer. It will change what you choose to bring home.

Organized the KonMari way.

Her new book is a more hands-on approach to tidying (not cleaning, mind you. Cleaning and tidying are two different things, according to Kondo, and I completely agree after she explains her thoughts on it.). There are illustrations, in-depth guides to specific types of situations, and a more detailed approach to figuring out what to keep and what not to keep. Fewer personal stories with considerable guidance to finding your own personal oasis.

Highly recommend, if you are willing to really evaluate yourself. I also advocate something strongly that isn't really expressed much in either book: donate those items, give them to friends, sign up for Buy Nothing ( or another gift economy, but avoid the landfill, if you can. There's already enough garbage in there and unless that item is truly unusable, there may be someone out there who finds great joy in what you no longer do.

"I believe that when we put our things in order and strengthen our bonds with what we own, we get back in touch with that delicate sensitivity to mono no aware*. We rediscover our innate capacity to cherish the things in our lives and regain the awareness that our relationship with the material world is one of mutual support. 

If you feel anxious all the time, but are not sure why, try putting things in order. Hold each thing you own in your hands and ask yourself whether or not it sparks joy. Then cherish the ones that you decide to keep, just as you cherish yourself, so that every day of your life will be filled with joy." ~ Marie Kondo, Spark Joy

*Mono no aware is a Japanese term that literally means "pathos of things," describing the deep emotion that is evoked when we are touched by nature, art, or the lives of others with an awareness of their transience. (from Spark Joy by Marie Kondo)

**Note: this book was given to me via Blogging for Books in exchange for an honest review. 

Sunday, January 10, 2016

Book Review: The Longevity Kitchen by Rebecca Katz with Mat Edelson

The Longevity Kitchen has become a new favorite cookbook. It's no surprise that I love a good cookbook and I order them often. But, this one, I hemmed and hawed about for awhile.


I'll be honest. I love cookbooks, but I am not a fan of diet books. I've read many in my lifetime and they often say the same thing: eat this, don't eat that; do this and you will be svelte. But, if that were true, the weight loss industry wouldn't be a billion-dollar industry. It should be simple - eat healthy and you'll be healthy. Somehow, this isn't always true. Don't we all know folks who eat crazy healthy and still have ails and others who eat processed franken-food every day and seem to be healthy as a herd of horses?

Still, I was willing to take a look.

Roasted Asparagus Salad with Arugula and Hazelnuts

This book had some intriguing elements. It's endorsed by Andrew Weil, a health-guru physician whose life purpose has become about teaching folks to eat, live, and be healthy to enjoy health and wellness; it's about lifestyle, not a quick fix; it never once mentions weight loss. This book mirrors Andrew Weil's motto: food is medicine. And what you put in does affect the machine.

The book begins with a nice foreword by Dr. Weil, followed by a short-and-sweet intro by the author. Some background, some reasoning, some life lessons that lead to a future in nutrition counseling. The next several chapters include an in-depth, but not overwhelming look at nutrition, the top 16 powerhouse foods, and a very generous introduction about how various body systems are affected by food. A definite favorite is the section on the culinary pharmacy and how specific foods, such as kale, walnuts, cabbage and cardamom interact and affect the body. A great definitive go-to A-Z listing of many top healing foods (well beyond the top 16). This is followed by a common ailments section where you can look up specific body issues such as stress, immunity, and flexibility and match them to healing recipes found in the book. Another great cross-reference section. The final intro section includes some great cooking tips about how to make food taste great. Let's be honest. No matter how much kale, spinach, or broccoli is good for you, people aren't going to make lasting changes if the food doesn't taste great. Some basic tips about fats, acids, sweet, and sour can make all the difference between success and abandonment.

Bella's Moroccan-Spiced Sweet Potato Salad

From here, we jump right into the healing recipes: Magic Mineral Broth, Chicken Tortilla Soup, Southeast Asian Seafood Stew, Roasted Asparagus Salad with Arugula and Hazelnuts, Sweet-and-Sour Asian Cabbage and Kale, Sweet Potato and Zucchini Pancakes, Cauliflower Puree with Cumin and Lime, Roasted Halibut with Lime and Papaya and Avocado Salsa, Greek Chicken Salad, Mediterranean Kebabs, Sweet Potato Bars, Silk Road Spiced Walnuts, Curried Deviled Eggs, and many more, plus recipes for dressings, elixirs, tonics, and sweets. Yum.

I'm hooked.

There's not much in this book that I wouldn't make and eat. I find that when I eat this way, I feel great. I can go for longer periods of time between meals without any haze or drop in blood sugar and I crave the healthy stuff. Food does heal. We just have to give it a long-term chance and put down the Twinkie.

Finishing touch: Insanely Good Chocolate Brownies

*This book was given to me by Blogging for Books in exchange for an honest review. I'm glad they did. I have found a new favorite. 

Sunday, December 20, 2015

Book Review: The Best and Lightest by the editors of Food Network Magazine

I'm a big fan of Food Network and Food Network's magazine. I love to read it, I love to watch it, I love to try new things. And I have learned so much over the years. It's been a wonderful tool for me, as a home cook.

I'm always on the search for new things to try: new food, new ideas, new delicacies. Who doesn't love good food?

So, when I was offered a chance to check out Food Network Magazine's compilation of their best and lightest dishes, how could I say no? As soon as it arrived, I started plowing through, much like I do the magazine. Cover to cover, pouring over each recipe with delicate care. Reading the ins and outs and ups and downs - every ounce to seep out all the inspiration and deliciousness.

First thing I see is that one of my favorite parts of the magazine has found its way into the cookbook: the visual recipe index. A glorious index organized by category and filled with images of each dish along with the title and page number. Heaven. I love that they put it right in the front, ready for when you want to find something fast. A quick glance and there is whatever you might be ready to make in delectable and mouth-watering color. The book does not disappoint here.

This is followed by a short and simple introduction and then onto the 150 healthy recipes for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. So many choices. Thank goodness that most of us eat three times a day, at least. And, thank goodness, there are leftovers.

As I slowly flipped through the book, there were a lot of really wonderful choices. Some I had seen in the magazine, others I didn't recall. Plenty of fairly simple dishes, a few more complex. Light, simple, easy - just as described. But, here was the strange part for me - the recipes seemed lackluster. I just wasn't excited. They looked yummy and sure, I'd eat them, if prepared. But, the pure joy of wanting to make some of them just wasn't there. I don't think they picked the most interesting recipes to add.

Light and healthy fare doesn't have to be boring. But, I must say, in comparison to what I know of Food Network Magazine, this book is a little boring. I don't think I would run right to it to make my next party fare, let alone my next meal. I might take an idea or two out of it, but it just was lacking in pizzazz.

Now, mind you, some of these recipes are really fun and I will try them: Carrot and Parsnip Fries, Broken Lasagna with Zucchini and Tomatoes, Artichoke and Pea Gratin. But, I don't think this is going to be my go-to book for fun ideas and recipes to make. The magazine - absolutely. I have so many ideas and thoughts and things I want to make from those, there is never a short supply. But, this book seems to be lacking the same great explosion of creativity. I know they have a lot of healthy and light fare throughout the magazines, many of them I have marked to make. But, the book feels rather boring when I read through it, somehow missing the same amount of sparkle the magazine carries (and no, I don't mean the higher calories).

I will probably hang onto this one for a short time, just to give it another good try. But, more than likely, I will stick to the magazine for future inspiration and daily dishes.

*This book was given to me by Blogging for Books in exchange for an honest review. 

Saturday, December 5, 2015

Book Review: Trim Healthy Mama Cookbook by Pearl Barrett & Serene Allison

Trim Healthy Mama is apparently a phenomenon. These two lovely ladies created a website filled with inspiration, health, and wellness recipes for lovely mamas (and anyone interested in eating this way). I have to say, before getting this book, I had never heard of them. Maybe vaguely. And, when I got the book, my intention was to give it to my sister who is trying to lose weight.

But, now, I'm hooked. 

I had no idea this book was filled with beautiful lifestyle examples - things of which I have been an avid follower for years: protein-filled, blood-sugar regulating meals with plenty of healthy carbs and fats. Many of the recipes are grain-free (they tend to favor coconut flour, almond flour, and ground flaxseed) and they are big promoters of natural sugar-free options like erythritol and stevia, as well as aluminum-free baking powder and high-content mineral salts like Himalayan sea salt. Grass-fed gelatin makes an appearance, as does coconut oil and MCT oil. And veggies - lots and lots of veggies. Their recipes and lifestyle is all about packing the most punch with the greatest amount of flavor, all while trimming down. Pretty fascinating read.

A lot of the recipes have THM (Trim Healthy Mama...for the newbies) manufactured suggestions such as baking blends, sweeteners, integral collagen, and other goodies that are easily sold on their website (I'm always a little leery about marketing plans), but they are great about giving you direction about how to find it elsewhere, even at a local store, or make it yourself. In this case, the marketed product manufacturing is about making the plan easy to follow, not just making the authors money (although, I am sure it does that in great abundance).

They have quite a few funny little measurements like a doonk (1/32 of a teaspoon) and lots of acronyms like NSI (No Special Ingredients). But, with a plethora of all sorts of delicious-looking recipes, who cares about some of the nuisances. There are also some fun nuggets on select recipes called "Serene Chats" and "Pearl Chats" - informative messages from the authors about the recipes, life, and sometimes, hilarity. I love that they include single serving recipes, as well as family-size - enough to accommodate everyone.

With healthy recipes (tried and they are true!) like Frosted Cinnamon Muffin - delish! - and Bring on da Buttah Pancakes, this book has endless recipes. I must say, I tried both of these and felt great afterwards, not heavy, depleted, or tired. Instead, I was satiated and energized. Good stuff. And lots more to try like: Avo Bacon Noodle Toss, Egg Roll in a Bowl, Ridiculous Meatballs and Spaghetti, Waffleized Brekky Sandwich, Chocolate Waffles with Strawberries, Mini White Cake with Butter Cream Frosting, Wigglemallow Pies, Zapple Crumble, and more.

My sister probably won't get this book. At least, not this particular one. Thank goodness for bookstores and online ordering.

Here's to a healthy, new you! Thanks, Trim Mamas!

*This book was given to me by Blogging for Books in exchange for an honest review. I loved it. 

Sunday, November 15, 2015

Book Review: Michael Symon's 5 in 5 For Every Season

I'm a big fan of Food Network shows (and cookbooks...but, I think that's obvious by my growing cookbook collection). I have learned quite a bit just by paying attention to some of these incredibly creative chefs. Putting many of the reality-type cooking shows aside, I have learned so much about basic knife skills, how to put certain flavors together, and simply create an elegant dish for any occasion.

However, one chef I haven't seemed to have followed quite as much is Michael Symon. I've seen him on Iron Chef America and known him as the guy with this crazy, infectious laugh who can turn deadly serious in an instant (particularly, when it comes to tasting and presenting food). But, other than that, I haven't had a chance to really experience his style - on TV or via a cookbook.

Until now.

Symon is co-host of a popular chef-driven foodie talk show, The Chew. Alongside, Mario Batali, Carla Hall, Daphne Oz, and Clinton Kelly, Symon cooks up all sorts of madcap food and fun in this popular daytime series. It sounds like a hoot!

But, I'll be honest.

I've never even seen the show.

It's not that I haven't wanted to, but really, how much time is there in a day? But, I know one thing for sure: Michael Symon can cook.

Grilled Chicken Thighs with Blueberry Salad
That's why I chose this new cookbook to check out. It's full of fun, easy, fast dishes based off a segment on The Chew - 5 in 5. Five ingredients, five minutes. Done!

However, let's be honest: no one has a line of prep cooks and kitchen staff waiting with all your ingredients in the wings to get your dish done in five minutes flat. Or do you?

My kitchen staff runs around on four legs with a furry tail who refuses to even do the dishes. So, prep, cook, clean - I get to do it all!

Having said that, Symon is the first to agree - this book is meant to make mealtime fun, easy, and affordably healthy in the shortest amount of time possible. Cooking for the seasons and eating what's ripe at its top peak of freshness. From farm to table. So, prep staff or not, these meals may not be done in five minutes flat, but they can be prepped, cooked, and assembled in less than 20 minutes. From what I perused, most in less than that.

Lots of delicious, simple, and easy recipes, categorized by season, including a holiday category! This book gives you 165 ideas to make fast, easy, healthy foods that require very little effort. Sounds good to me!

Kielbasa with Apples and Onions

*This book was given to me by Blogging for Books in exchange for an honest review. 

Saturday, November 7, 2015

Book Review: The Time Garden by Daria Song

I have fallen for this adult coloring book craze. One of my last book choices was Daria Song's second coloring masterpiece. This is her first.

What a beautiful book.

The exquisite drawing, the sweet storyline, the amazing creation of things that make you want to color them. Or not.

The beauty of Daria's drawings and charming storylines is that they are equally beautiful in black and white, as they would be filled in with the colors of my choice.

The beauty of this book charms me. And while the storyline is sweet and equally charming, it isn't really necessary and falls a little short (where is the red-haired fairy that starts the whole fall-into-the-clock thing?). But, above all, the artistry supersedes everything else.

However, I am still slightly befuddled by one thing: in the back of Song's books there are visual indexes. I am not sure the purpose of these. I have looked on the publisher's website, the artist's website, and various other places - there doesn't seem to be an explanation. I like the idea - I'm just not sure what it is for. Visual reference? Maybe. Either way, it's a great way to enjoy more of the art that comes from the brilliant mind of Daria Song.

*This book was given to me by Blogging for Books in exchange for an honest review. 

Thursday, October 29, 2015

Book Review: Happy Cooking by Giada De Laurentiis

I have a heart-felt space in my life for cookbooks. Cookbooks of any kind. Old, new, used, gifted. I love them all. I think I love looking at how people get creative in their cooking, even the fundraiser cookbooks. It's amazing what people come up with or re-invent.

I am so happy I got this book. I wasn't sure because I passed up the last few of Giada's books - not because they weren't great with amazing recipes, but because I wasn't sure I would actually make any of them. I look at all the pretty pages and I think, "I would eat that." But, will I make it? Meh. Not always.


I think when it comes to cooking, we have to feel inspired. At least, I do. I have to feel that I can play with it, get a great deal of joy out of it and plenty of leftovers. Particularly, if I am going to be in the kitchen for hours. I love the experience and the outcome - not one over the other. And, sometimes, I feel lackluster about recipes.

But, Happy Cooking, Giada's new cookbook, inspires me. At first, I was leafing through and I just wasn't so sure. I thought, "Beautiful. Delicious. Yum." But, I couldn't find the inspiration. And then, some recipes stood out.

Superfood Fudge Torte

Giada has been the queen of Italian cooking since her first cookbook and her first show on Food Network, Everyday Italian. Pasta, sauces, culinary comfort that meets California fresh. She's done it all and we've watched her transformation.

Her new book is more than that. Giada lives in California, the land of makeovers, make-betters, and make-mores. And, while her background will always lie in traditional Italian cuisine with California flare, her newest book is starting to transcend some of the California kitsch.

Happy Cooking includes many of her most popular things like pastas, sauces, and Aunt Raffy recipes, but there is an element of searching and creating true health that is inspiring to me. Giada is surpassing the typical "We have to eat this way to be healthy and perceived popular" California attitude and going straight to "Here are some great ideas for things that taste great, are easy to make, and some ideas about feeling great."

Yep. I said great three times in that last sentence.

Banana Tea that promotes restful sleep and calms the nerves
There are quite a few collaborative recipes in this book, including Alex Guarnaschelli, her daughter Jade, sleep experts, and other chefs and physicians. As most of us do, we spend our lives running, creating, doing, and being - when we have time - and, eventually, it catches up to us. I think this book is Giada's newest offering to help counteract that in her own life, as well as her readers' lives. There are recipes for detox soup, green smoothies, banana tea (helps promote sleep - who knew?), and more veggie-inspired recipes than I have ever seen her put in one book. Of course, there is no lack of meat, fish, and holiday meals, including a fabulous-looking Persimmon-Pumpkin Pie. But, as she says in many of her tips and suggestions dotted throughout the book, there's an overall theme: Be Good To Yourself.

I'm excited to start making and baking from this new delight. Beautiful imagery, pictures galore (a must for me), well-written recipes that always turn out, and choices upon choices upon choices. Giada is showing the world that it is not about sacrifice, it's about choices. And she's giving them.

A delectable sampling of some of the delicious divinity included in Happy Cooking (and things I plan to make): 

  • Spring Pasta Timbale
  • Superfood Fudge Torte
  • Banana Tea
  • Smoky Candied Carrots
  • Citrus-Chile Acorn Squash
  • Lemon-Roasted Fennel
  • Bacon Bourbon Brussels Sprouts Skewers
  • Peas, Pancetta, and Prosecco
  • Smashed Root Vegetables
  • Polenta Plank with Frank's Bolognese
  • Raffy's Polpettone Two Ways (braised in milk and marinara)
  • Persimmon-Pumpkin Pie
  • Old-Fashioned Buttercrunch

Smoky Candied Carrots

*This book was given to me by Blogging for Books in exchange for an honest review. I loved it. 

Tuesday, October 20, 2015

Book Review: The Time Chamber by Daria Song

The coloring book craze.

What an amazing thing this has become.

I love to color. Who doesn't?

Like most four-year-olds, I find the greatest pleasure in just applying whatever color I choose to a host of black and white characters begging to be filled in. I can use crayons, colored pencils, markers, watercolor pencils or markers, or even plain old acrylic paint, if I so choose. It's a bevy of choices.

But, adults are returning to their childhood fancies, not to make choices, but to escape from them. Our lives are inundated with choice after choice after choice. And there is something so simplistically wonderful about just picking up a green pencil and filling in some lines.

Meditative, they call it.

I call it splendor.

My newest selection from Blogging for Books is The Time Chamber by Daria Song. This beautifully illustrated coloring book comes with a short, albeit full, magical story - a sweet fairy trapped inside a clock is freed when the clock's keeper, a sweet little girl, goes to bed.

Fanciful, artistic, colorful - and yet, the pages are only black and white. It's amazing how art can transform. There is a small part of me that really doesn't want to color any of the images. But, the louder four-year-old beckons otherwise.

The book tells a sweet story with plenty of places to add your own sweet tune (by way of whatever color you choose and the many places to apply it), including a colorable coverlet. Ingenious. This coloring book has taken the craze one step further - you become the author, illustrator, and reader - all in one, even though the story has been told. Again, ingenious.

And, lastly, the author and editors have included a visual key at the end of the book, presumably for reference and detail in miniature. Ingenious. A whole new perspective.

Absolutely a fun find. Highly recommended for soothing nights, cups of tea, and four-year-old fancies.

*This book was given to me by Blogging for Books in exchange for an honest review. 

Thursday, October 8, 2015

Book Review: Martha Stewart's Appetizers

Apps. Mmm...

Not the kind that you download to your phone and use to stare at all the gorgeous foods that you can make, like Pinterest.

No. Straight-up appetizers. Or appeteasers, as some might call them. Something to whet the appetite and get you going, wanting more.
Pan Tomate

We all know Martha Stewart as the queen of TV, home entertaining, and pretty much everything else crafty and delicious. She's a mega-queen. Some of her most ingenious ideas are simplistic and beautiful. Now, she has a team of experts helping her dream up the impossible. And this time, that team headed by the big Gouda herself, created a new book - all about appetizers.

From Snacks like broiled feta to Stylish Bites like mini quiches, Martha and her team have created more than 200 mouth-watering recipes that catch your eye and your desire to entertain. From family affairs to tailgating parties, this book has tips, techniques, simple instructions, and beautiful photos - all with recipes just waiting to be concocted. Simple, elegant, fast to prepare - this book has it all and will please even the most picky eater.

Puff Pastry Cheese Straws
Some ideas to just get you started:

  • Pigs in Blankets - simple gourmet-style: puff pastry and sausages cut at an angle with mustard dipping sauces
  • Hot Artichoke Dip - artichoke hearts, cheese, herbs, and more cheese
  • Antipasto - a simple, yet elegant spread of all things Italian
  • Chicken Wings - four different flavors complete with dipping sauces
  • Mezze - a Mediterranean smattering of delicious spreads, whole grain salads, and dolmades
  • and Deviled Eggs - the all-American ubiquitous version of finger different flavors. 

And the list goes on...

            ...even cocktails.

A beautiful book with a delectable array of dishes, small plates, and tiny tastes. Fun for everyone!

Fried Macaroni-and-Cheese Bites. Yum.

**This book was given to me by Blogging for Books in exchange for an honest review. I chose to be honest because they can't really make me. 

Sunday, September 20, 2015

Book Review: The Little Paris Bookshop by Nina George

It's always fun to do book reviews. The fun is in the reading, not necessarily the review. Although, I do enjoy writing as much, if not more, than reading. So, either way - it's an immense pleasure for me.

I typically pick cookbooks from Blogging for Books, but this time, a new novel caught my eye. The Little Paris Bookshop by Nina George is a quaint story about a book seller who owns a book barge, his pride and joy. Jean Perdu has been selling books for most of his life and has learned to prescribe whatever book might be the cure for the reader's ails.

Sweet, romantic, and full of lyrical lines, The Little Paris Bookshop is a lot of fun. The book has been translated from French without so much as a hitch, but, for me, the storyline falls far from the title and the premise.

The book promises the story of Jean Perdu, a loner who finds solace in books and gives out a dole of prescribed wisdom to customers who think they want one thing and really need another.

This enchanted me.

Kind of like Chocolat for book lovers.

I love the idea of a man who has found wisdom in books and as people fall into his life, they walk away with the assistance of literary wisdom, not always knowing what they need, but getting it all the same.

However, The Little Paris Bookshop is about 10% bookseller-wisdom-saves-unsuspecting-throngs-of-people and about 90% interesting European love-lost-until-you-find-yourself story.

The book begins with Perdu prescribing books to customers and neighbors and a mysterious letter from a long-ago lover. Once Perdu is finally willing to look at the past and his unmended heart, it takes him on an adventure to seek the love he once lost. By his side, a quirky novelist and a random host of international characters, Perdu sets sail on his book barge to find the truth about what he gave up years ago.

The writing is lovely, the premise is great, my only problem with it is the title and jacket cover description that really don't cover what the true story tells. The bookshop is simply a side character, as is Perdu's gift at prescribing books that heal. The primary story is of a love that is lost, complicated relationships, and a journey to figure out why we do what we do.

I think the marketing team is doing a great dis-service to Nina George. Her writing and the compelling storyline speak for themselves - there was no need to romanticize the idea of a sweet, little bookshop in Paris. Sure, that will draw people in. But, the story is what will keep them there. And Nina George has no problem doing that.

Favorite lines from The Little Paris Bookshop

"With all due respect, what you read is more important in the long term than the man you marry, ma ch`ere Madame."


"Books aren't eggs, you know. Simply because a book has aged a bit doesn't mean it's gone bad." There was now an edge to Monsieur Perdu's voice too. "What is wrong with old? Age isn't a disease. We all grow old, even books. But are you, is anyone, worth less, or less important, because they've been around for longer?"


Personal questions, but not too personal. He had to ask these questions and then remain absolutely silent. Listening in silence was essential to making a comprehensive scan of a person's soul.


"...Any request for forgiveness. Maybe you've got used to feeling guilty for everything you are. Often it's not we who shape words, but the words we use that shape us."


Monsieur Perdu observed how the words she was reading gave shape to her from within. He saw that Anna was discovering inside herself a sounding board that reacted to words. She was a violin learning to play itself.

This book was given to me by Blogging for Books in exchange for an honest review. I have been honest. Honestly. :) 

Tuesday, July 21, 2015

Recipe: Huli Huli Burger Wraps

A friend of mine is in love with Hawai'i. She and her husband head there nearly every year, sometimes twice. They take their kids, their grandkids, their friends, and pretty much anyone they meet because they both love it so much. If they had it their way, they'd retire right on the beach of some lagoon in the Hawaiian islands.

Beyond the beauty of the Pacific, one of her favorite things about Hawai'i is the food.

Hawaiian food has lots of specialties and their own unique cuisine. From spam musubi to Kalua pork, Lau Lau to chicken katsu, and of course, their infamous Hawaiian BBQ.

Spam Musubi and Kalua Pork
What is Hawaiian BBQ, you ask? It's a fabulous blend of Asian and American flavors, a bit more on the sweet side (as most Hawaiian food tends to be), but marvelous. Traditional Hawaiian plates come with two perfectly rounded scoops of rice, a heaping side of macaroni salad, and whatever entree is being served. It's not a lunch or dinner for the weak - most of the time, there's plenty for the next meal or two. Or maybe three.

For those of us who live on the mainland, a family-run chain of restaurants has brought all those flavors to shore. L&L Hawaiian BBQ has brought us fresh varieties of some of the most famous Hawaiian dishes. It's a great way to experience some of the food right where you live until you can catch that cruise or plane ride to your vacation getaway.

My friend and I were talking about Hawai'i, as we often do while we are busy making cookies. She raved and raved about one of her favorite sauces - Huli Huli sauce. Huli Huli Sauce was the invention of an islander, Ernest Morgado, who needed to marinate and baste his chicken in a teriyaki sauce while he was grilling for a farmer's meeting. He used his mother's teriyaki sauce recipe and the chicken became an instant hit. After nearly 30 years of competitions and fund-raisers, he began bottling his special sauce. You can buy it in most stores, but homemade is the way to go, especially if you can't eat soy or gluten. It can be used as a marinade, a basting sauce, a dipping sauce, or pretty much any way you can think of. Burgers, chicken, kabobs - you name it. Delish.
Huli Huli Chicken

This sweet, tangy, slightly spicy sauce, is a perfect family pleaser.

A week after my friend gave me her recipe, she asked excitedly, "Have you tried it yet?"

I hadn't.

And part of the reason I hadn't was the addition of soy sauce to the recipe. I don't eat much soy sauce due to the wheat content, as well as the soy. Neither does well in my body, so I had to find an alternative. So, I headed to the kitchen and decided to try it with my No Soy Soy Sauce.

And it is as wonderful as she claims. Sweet, tangy, slightly spicy from the ginger. All the sugars caramelize into the most amazing crusty sauce. It's fantastic, as well as versatile.

I think Ernest would be proud.

Happy eating!

Huli Huli Burger Wraps

Recipe collaboration: Sauce by L. Dolan (with my adaptation); the rest of the deliciousness by Michelle L. Hankes
Serves 4 hungry people (can be easily doubled, tripled, quadrupled, or quintupled)

For the Huli Huli Sauce:
(makes about 2 - 2 1/2 cups of sauce)

1 cup packed brown sugar or vegan cane sugar
3/4 cup ketchup (organic preferred)
3/4 cup soy sauce or No Soy Soy Sauce (just triple the recipe)
1/3 cup chicken broth, veggie broth, or warm water with two large pinches of sea salt
2 1/2 tsp fresh minced ginger root
1 1/2 tsp fresh minced garlic

Pour all ingredients into a medium bowl, then whisk to combine. Reserve 1 cup for the burgers. Place remainder in an airtight container in the fridge for up to 5 days or freeze for later use, up to 2 months.

For the burgers: 

1 1/2 lbs. good-quality ground beef
sea salt, to taste
8 lettuce leaves, rinsed and patted dry
1 cup Huli Huli Sauce, divided

1. Place ground beef in a medium bowl, add a bit of sea salt (to taste), then mix with fingers just until combined. Divide the beef into 8 equal portions. Form each portion into a flat log-shape so they will fit easily into the lettuce leaves. (Don't put them in the lettuce leaves, yet!) Set aside.

2. Heat a cast-iron skillet on medium (or grill, if you prefer).

3. While the pan is heating, place 1/4 cup of the Huli Huli sauce in a small bowl and set aside.

4. When the pan is hot, place the "burgers" on the skillet (or grill) and allow to fully cook on one side about 2-3 minutes to get a good sear. Flip; then using the remaining 3/4 cup of Huli Huli sauce, baste the burgers either using a basting brush or a small spoon. Let cook for a minute or two, then repeat allowing to cook for another minute. This should create a lovely caramelized sauce on the burgers. Yum. (For safety, discard the rest of the basting sauce.)

5. Remove from pan when cooked to your liking and place in the lettuce leaves. Using the Huli Huli sauce that was first set aside (in step 3), drizzle a small amount over the burgers. If there's any left, save for a further use or use for dipping (it also makes an awesome Huli Huli mayo).

6. Serve with two scoops of rice, macaroni salad, and/or a green salad! Enjoy!