Modern Comfort Food by Ina Garten

Cookbook 3.5 stars

I used to watch Ina on cable and she was such a joy to watch.  She had this calmness about her and the way that she moved through the kitchen, putting her recipes together, it all seemed so easy. I’ve tried a few of her recipes and they’ve been great, so I thought I would love this cookbook.  I also love cookbooks.  I have quite a few cookbooks (my husband thinks I have too many) and I also subscribe to some cooking magazines, but I like to read and try different things (within reason). When I saw “Modern Comfort”, I thought who doesn’t love comfort food? You know how some people definitions are different?  I think this is one of them.    

I love many things about this cookbook but the recipes themselves, they just don’t do much for me.  I’ll get to that in a minute but let’s talk about what’s great about this cookbook.  The cookbook is very attractive and pleasing to look at.  It’s definitely a heavy one too, with 256 pages.  I liked the smooth, glossy pages and the page count includes the two recipe indexes yes, I said two!  She has included one A – Z index and one index that breaks the dishes into their specific categories.  These categories include breakfast, lunch, dinner, cocktails, vegetables & sides, and desserts.  The author also made a reference to these categories at the bottom of each page, down by the page number, so you know where you’re at when you’re looking inside the cookbook.  I like these little extra touches.  Each recipe gets a 2-page spread with the recipe on one side and a picture on the other. Detailed, step-by-step directions are easy to follow and each recipe includes a small paragraph about the recipe too. The recipe includes how many it will serve but not the individual serving size. It might say, “Serves 6” but it doesn’t say how big each serving size is.  

The book itself is set up by categories, the ones I mentioned earlier.  The first section is Cocktails. Listed on one page, it has all the recipes for that section. I thought it would have been nice, had she also listed the page number for each cocktail on this page.  I know that the recipes go in sequence according to this list, and I know that I can go back to the indexes but having it here would be helpful. 

I found there were only about 5-6 dishes inside this cookbook that I found comforting.  When I was thinking “comforting”, I was thinking pasta, meat, potatoes, salads, soup and “modern” to me meant, making these foods healthy and/or easier to prepare.  This is where I was confused.  I found inside this cookbook Brussels Sprouts Pizza Carbonara, Roasted Shishito Peppers with Easy Hollandaise, Maine Lobster Stew, English Lemon Posset, and Pomegranate Gimlets. These didn’t sound comforting to me.  These seemed rather fancy to my everyday life. It’s a beauty of a cookbook but it’s just not one that would get much use at my house. 3.5 rounding up to 4 stars   

The Big Book of Experiments by Dr. Kate Biberdorf

4.5 stars Science

This book is a gem!  Packed with 25 different experiments, I was excited to thumb my way through this beauty.  I have to warn you up front, that I am not into science.  I hated science as a child, as I didn’t understand any of it but now as an adult, I love experimenting and learning from it.  This book fits right in with my needs.

If only as I child, I could have experimented with fun and interesting items instead of the beakers, test tubes and chemicals that we had to use, I think that I would have learned more and enjoyed science.  In The Big Book of Experiments, the variety of experiments is great. Some of the experiments can be completed rather quickly and some can take some time while there are some which small children can complete with little assistance while others, you’ll need an adult or mature person watching over the whole experiment. 

I liked that some of these ideas were ones that I had already completed and some were new to me.  There was Dancing Raisins, Elephant’s Toothpaste, Moon Rocks, Unicorn Glue, Lava Lamp, Neon Brains, and Fake Tattoos, just to mention a few.  I do like redoing experiments

Kate provides visual safety cues to each experiment.  Whether that is a sink, goggles, gloves, a garbage can or adults, as these safety cues remind the reader to be safe when conducting the experiments. Along with the cues, each experiment has a small note about the experiment, a list of supplies, a messiness level, step-by-step directions with colorful illustrations, questions to ask yourself after you’re finished (science questions about what happened and what if questions) and then, the author explains to you the WHY, as to why the experiment worked.  Now, that is some important stuff!  This is the educational element of the book and important for you to read, you do want to become smarter, don’t you?

I liked that most of the supplies for these experiments were normal items that aren’t hard to find. Items like rubber bands, knife, dish soap, hydrogen peroxide, shaving cream, balloons, fishing line, etc. There are some that called for some more difficult items, like sodium alginate, calcium chloride, iron oxide powder, dry ice, and copper wire, for which you will have to do some planning to get these before having some fun. I I would have liked an idea where someone could locate some of these items, that would have been a big help.   Some type of indexing at the back would have been great too.  There is a Table of Content but I like indexes in books like these.

It’s a great colorful, fun book and I highly recommend it.  If you’re homeschooling or trying to keep your child engaged, this is a great book to check out.   

When Stars Are Scattered by Victoria Jamieson

5 stars Graphic Novel

I loved this graphic novel.  I could feel the dedication and love throughout this book.  I still get teary-eyed thinking about this graphic novel and the situations that these young boys went through.  It is such a fantastic book; I cannot say enough about it but I highly recommend that you read it.  Read it yourself, read it to your children, buy a copy for your classroom and even buy a copy and donate it to someone as this story needs to be told.

They used to live in Somalia.  Now, they live in Kenya, in a refugee camp called Dadaab.  Individuals who want to live come here from Sudan, Ethiopia, and other African area, this is home.  Dadaab is a huge camp, so large that they divided it into 3 separate camps.  Omar came here with his little brother, Hassan.  They’ve been there for seven years.  Yes, I said seven years!

Where’s their parents? Good question and one the boys want to know.  Who is taking care of them? Omar is taking care of Hassan as best as he can for a young brother.  He’s been missing out on school to take care of his brother. They’ve also been assigned a woman (like a foster mother) Fatuma, to help them. This woman was amazing too, she truly cared for these boys like they were her own.  Inside the camp, the boys have their own tent across the way from Fatuma.  Many days, the boys were hungry.  Hassan only says one word yet the brothers communicate. 

When Omar finally gets the chance to go to school, he is torn.  Leaving his brother behind, Omar worries for his brother yet he knows this opportunity for him will open doors for their future.  The boys still question their parent’s whereabouts and their village.  They wonder about returning home yet Omar knows the danger that lies outside the camp.

With bright, colorful illustrations and easy-to-read font, I was emerged into the brother’s story.  It was captivating, interesting, and powerful.  Omar fought for a better life, there were wonderful successes and moments of frustration and struggles yet he continued on. 

Fantastic graphic novel.  Definitely read the afterword that is located at the back of the book. I went through many emotions reading this book and I highly recommend it.    

The Cook’s Herb Garden by Jeff Cox

5 stars Reference

What more can I say than then, I checked this book out from the library and after looking through it and reading a lot of it, I ended up buying a copy of it today. As I was reading it, I was amazed at how much I was enjoying it and then, I flipped the book over and saw DK on the back cover, and no wonder I loved it so much. DK Books are fantastic!

This book is a great reference book if you like to work with herbs. I like to plant a variety of herbs in pots outside in the summer and try to keep them alive in the winter, inside my home. Living in the Midwest, this is tricky and sometimes, I am successful and sometimes I fail. I love the smell and taste of fresh herbs and I’m hoping this book will help me be more successful.

What I love about this book is that it lists a variety of different fresh herbs, the varieties of them (if there are any), how to grow them successfully, how to use them, and there are some nice colorful, realistic pictures of the herbs. An example is Basil: there is a two page spread on basil. The author mentions how to grow basil, how to harvest and cook it. It also states that his herb prefers sun and is a hardy herb (frost wise). On the two pages, there are eight different varieties of basil mentioned with 8 different pictures and details describing theses varieties. I usually plant the Sweet Basil which is strongly scented with large, bright,green leaves. The description lists how the plant usually grows including size (in. and cm) and also how you can cook with the herb. I grew Greek Basil last year as it looked different and I have seen Lemon Basil being sold but the cinnamon basil looks interesting., now if I can find that.

The herbs are listed from A to Z and not all herbs have varieties with them. There is also a small section that I am going to try this year which is about planting a herb pot/basket. It’s a “culinary-themed window box” that produces a “whole store cupboard of flavors in one pot.” They have a few examples of herbs placed together in a pot and they labeled these pots based on what they contain: Everyday Essentials, Salad Herbs, Mediterranean, Middle Eastern, Hardy Herbs, and Herbal Teas. They explain with each pot why each herb was selected, how to water and harvest instructions. Now, how fun is that!

There is also information in this book about growing herbs from seeds vs. plants, controlling weeds, getting the best harvest and what to do with your herbs, as they grow. We have in the past frozen the herbs in bags but I have now purchased plastic trays so I can try freezing some in liquid. The book continues with information on preparing your herbs for cooking and actual recipes. There is a ton of great information in here! I can’t wait to get my copy to start adding some post-its to the pages.

Hill Women by Cassie Chambers

4 stars Nonfiction

Just outside Owsley County, you’ll discover this narrow, gravel road that’ll lead you straight down into a holler, that’s surrounded by trees. That’s Cow Creek. It’s almost hidden, this small community in Kentucky.  This is why Cassie Chambers wanted to get the word out about the women in this area before they are forgotten and also, to make this area more visible to the public.  This area was home to Cassie before she headed off to college to become a lawyer.  I really enjoyed this book as Cassie told us about her family, herself, and this small community.  

Cassie decided to practice law in rural Kentucky to make a difference.  Wanting to represent women who couldn’t afford an attorney, Cassie headed to her hometown where, she knew that her services were needed.

Cassie’s story is personal as she serves her community.  She makes a lot of interesting points in this book but there was one that I remembered reading early, that stayed with me as I read the rest of the book.  This comment was about education in this area.  She mentioned that the men in this area, don’t see education as important for anyone.  Why?  Because for one, the men have all the opportunities that are available in the area so why would they need an education? Two: if a woman should get an education, that would change the opportunities that would be available to her (indicating a bad idea).  For everyone knows that the only job that a woman should have, is their own home.  How interesting is that?

With this way of thinking, the abuse, the seclusion, and the poverty, I felt deeply for these women and grateful that Cassie chose to come home to help them.

This is Cassie’s story, a tribute to the amazing women who raised her.  It was an interesting story and I enjoyed reading about Cassie’s life. 

Maus: a Survivor’s Tale- Part 1 by Art Spiegelman

4 stars Graphic Novel

I’ve been meaning to read this graphic novel as I’ve heard many great things about it so when our bookclub announced it for this month’s read, I was pretty excited.  This book afterall, was a graphic novel and it pertained to WWII, so what could go wrong?

This graphic novel is presented in black-n-white and written by the son of a Jewish Holocaust survivor.  The son, an illustrator, visits his father and inquiries about his life in Poland around the time of WWII.  His father’s memory is quite good as he recalls this tragic event in history. 

I was amazed at how well Vladek recalls the names of places and individuals as he reaches back in time to relive his life. As the story unfolds, his journey was quite extensive.  I have a hard-enough time remembering what I did yesterday and Vladek memories include quite a bit of detail.

This novel provides more than just his father’s flashbacks during this father and son interview, we learn about other individuals who play a role in their lives.  We learn about other relationships, past and current, including the relationship between the father and his son.  I thought the some of these relationships were quite interesting and I was amazed at the connections that Vladek had. 

I do feel that there were times that the language in the book felt stiff and off for me.  I think it was how the book was translated that threw it off for me.  As I read, during Vladek days of trying to survive, I went through many emotions.  A good read will provoke that in a reader. 

I appreciate Vladek for sharing his story and for his service.  I also appreciate that Art wrote this graphic novel about his father.  It’s a momentous piece of history told from one who survived.

Murder at the Roosevelt Hotel in Cedar Rapids, Iowa by Diane Fannon-Langton

3 stars Nonfiction

I’ve only read a few true-crime books but the ones that I have read, I have really enjoyed.  There were quite a few reasons why I wanted to read this one: the book was short, this book was being read for a local bookclub that I wanted to check out, the book’s event occurred in my hometown and I hadn’t heard of this event before seeing this book.  I have to agree with a few of the reviews that I finally read on this book; it is filled with information.

I used to watch Dragnet when I was a kid.  I remember it as being a show that reported the facts, and I also, remembered the announcers voice. This book reminded me a lot of that television show.  This book contained a lot of facts: he did/said and she did/said, stating the facts and reacting the events, without getting to the know the actual characters or the/their backgrounds. 

I liked that I knew exactly where this event occurred and that this was an actual event.  The book had a great flow to it as the author spells everything out, from beginning to end. I also appreciate the research that went into this book. I wished that there was more character development in the book and that the book was more than just a detail account of the facts that occurred in this event.   

Milk Street: The New Rules by Christopher Kimball

3.5 stars Cookbook

I wished I enjoyed this book more because I like the gifted Christopher Kimball.  I have been a follower of Chris’ for a long time and his departure from America’s Test Kitchen left me wondering where our relationship was headed.  I was glad to find this cookbook as it sounded interesting but it just wasn’t one for me.

This is a thick, heavy cookbook containing 304 pages, from Christopher Kimball.  If you don’t know Christopher, you should check him out.  Christopher, is a down-to-earth guy, who is serious about cooking.  What I like about Christopher is that he brings cooking down to my level.  He takes normal, basic ingredients and using easy recipes, he prepares meals while explaining the reasoning behind his cooking.  It’s like each recipe is a cooking class. Christopher used to be on America’s Test Kitchen and Cook’s Country which is where I became acquainted with him and I began to follow him.  In this cookbook, Christopher takes 75 rules of cooking and transforms them.

Some of these rules he transformed I was familiar with, while others were interesting.  Rule #8, Jumpstart Your Potatoes. Kimball says for potatoes that you want tender on the inside and crispy on the outside, you should start cooking them in the microwave first.  Rule #19 Season Your Water.  Add hearty seasoning to the cooking liquid when preparing beans and grains as it gives them bolder flavor.  Along with each rule, Christopher provides a recipe or two proving his point.

The recipes are divided into categories: vegetables, eggs, beans & grains, noodles & breads, seafood, chicken, pork, and beef.  At the beginning of each category, he lists all the recipes for that category, plus there’s a nice index in the back.  Each recipe has the start to finish time, how many it will serve, ingredients, and step-by-step instructions.  Christopher also includes other detail information about the recipe, which I find interesting and helpful.  This might include how the recipe tastes, how it came together, where it came from, tips or other information Christopher decided to include. 

Christopher includes other pages in the cookbook that are helpful and are themed, they are like bonus material.   It really is a great cookbook but what I found disappointing is the recipes.  Most of the recipes in this cookbook were things that I wouldn’t cook. I only found a handful of recipes that I would actually make.  Indonesian Stir-Fried Noodles, Shrimp with Kerkennaise Sauce, Thai Stir-Fried Glass Noodles, Lemon- Lime Lacquered Grilled, these were just a few that just don’t look good to me. I’ll be keeping my eye out for Christopher in the future, he still has my vote.  3.5 stars

The Book Rescuer: How a Mensch from Massachusetts Saved Yiddish Literature for Generations to Come by Sue Macy

5 stars Nonfiction Children’s

One man’s mission helps millions.  This nonfiction book speaks volume on so many levels.  Aaron wanted to preserve his grandmother’s books which started a mission that ended up saving over a million books. He united individuals, he helped save a language, he showed what one person can do, he is bringing back a language, and he is helping people connect.

Aaron couldn’t forget how his grandmother’s journey from Eastern Europe to the U.S. ended. The few treasured possessions that she had carried with her, were now gone yet Aaron wondered about her. His college studies would draw him closer to his grandmother’s past as he realized that he needed to learn a new language to read books for one of his classes.  Finding Yiddish books were difficult so Aaron returned to his hometown where he stumbled upon his first stack of Yiddish book which started his collection.  I thought it was interesting that the Rabbi was going to bury the books (which is a sign of respect) before Aaron arrived.

Aaron began graduate school in Canada and soon his apartment was flooded with donations of Yiddish books.  He transported all the books back to Massachusetts and he didn’t give up even after talking to some important people in the Yiddish community.

I like how there are Yiddish words in the text with a glossary in the back of the book to help you figure out the meaning.  The illustrations were well done and compliment the informative and interesting text.

Don’t forget to read the afterword and note from the author, the illustrator’s note which are included at the back of the book also.  He also included (at the back of the book) a few sites if you want more information on this topic.

Aaron’s energy, ambition, and compassionate is felt through this book both in words and in the illustrations.  It’s inspiring to see how one individual can make such a difference in the world. This book is really fantastic and should be read. I highly recommend it! 5 stars

Midwest Made: Big, Bold Baking in the Heartland by Shauna Sever

5 stars Cookbook

I’m buying a copy of this one. I checked it out at the library but now, I have to buy a copy as I really like it. It’s a big, heavy cookbook filled with sweets for very occasion. There is a lot of comments written by Shauna inside this cookbook which is interesting to read and makes the recipes personal. Yet, this also throws off some of the recipes formatting if you like your recipes to be all on one page or if you like your recipes to begin at the top of the page.

I liked all the different recipes inside this book and all the different tips and suggestions that Shauna offered. Of course, some of the recipes are some I have used in the past but some new and some are recipes that I have made in the past but Shauna took and added to. Now, I like an apple pie but I would like to try a Double-Crusted Apple Pie just to say that I tried one, and the Real Deal St. Louis Gooey Butter Cake sounded real tasty, because butter cake is super good. Now, I would love to make the Donut Loaf, the Caramel Apple Apple Cake, the Scotch-a-Roos (yes! I love these) Buckeye Bars, Raspberry Poke Cake, and Pumpkin Meringue Pie just to name a few of the recipes that caught my eye. Do any of these sound delicious, or what?

Not every recipe inside this book has an picture but those that do, look delicious. I do wish that some of the recipes were labeled as that would help decipher one dish from another. Each recipe has some personal information about the recipe from Shauna. The recipe states how many the recipe will serve, the ingredients in cups and in grams and detailed steps on how to prepare the recipe. Some recipes have hints or shortcuts to them. I liked that the recipes contain normal every day ingredients and like flour, brown sugar, unsalted butter, fine sea salt, bittersweet chocolate, cream cheese, and cabbage. You might need to find some nuts, coconut milk, white chocolate, or almond extract but it all depends on the recipe.

With 318 pages, an index, a table of contents, an introduction, and 11 chapters to choose from, there has to be something inside this Midwest cookbook to put you in the kitchen.