I kept several of my childhood books because I loved them and I hoped to share them with my own children. Maybe I was an odd child. I loved the Brothers Grimm and wonder what I did with the collection of their terrifyingly terrific stories. My mother gave me a new copy of Babar several years ago. I loved Leo LIonni's The Greentail Mouse. It's kind of a scary read. Mice meet mouse who tells them about Mardi Gras. The mice get so carried away with their costumes they forget they are mice and fear each other until the mouse comes back and says, hey, you are all mice! Oops.
We've read a number of Lionni's books (Frederick, Fish is Fish, Alexander and the Wind-up Mouse). This week, our favorites are An Extraordinary Egg and Swimmy.
An Extraordinary Egg is silly for lots of reasons including the names of the principal characters: Marilyn,
It feels less a book about lessons than many of Lionni's books except that it asks the question How Do You Know? How do children know learn and know what things are and mean? Is their information accurate? Who is a trusted source (and what do you do when you're wrong, although that doesn't come up in An Extraordinary Egg)?
During last week's snowstorm, we spent the afternoon first looking at toys at a local store, then at the bookstore checking out coloring books and then reading a stack of selections. Carver's all came from the bottom shelf.
We haven't been buying as many things in general, including books, because we don't have a lot of room. Given we check out a dozen or so books at a time from the library, we're not lacking in new reading material. Still, it's nice to cultivate favorites and Swimmy is fitting in nicely, thanks to the snowstorm bookstore visit. Swimmy is the last of his school of fishttp://www.juliakriley.com/wp-content/uploads/2011/09/swimmy.pdfh to survive, the others being slurped up by a giant tuna. (Tuna, when allowed to reach maturity, are massive. They seem so innocuous when slabbed up on a chunk of rice.)
Lionni's artwork is exquisite and interesting in Swimmy.
There are a number of activities for Lionni's books. I thought these about Swimmy could be fun, especially with Juniper. The State Theatre NJ put together this very cool packet of questions for several books as well as fun activities that could be done at home or at school.
Well, what have you been doing for the past few weeks? We've been reading up a storm. Not more than usual, but I finished Anna Karenina (oh yes, I did!) and saw the film adaptation (worth it, go, just go) before starting three more books including Hilary Mantel's brilliant Wolf Hall. Seriously. It's delicious, if that's not to pompous a way to describe a novel. Historical fiction, I'm sure full of liberties, but who cares. It's Cromwell and Henry and the rest. Love it. (I'm rereading Anne Fadiman's Ex Libris -- given to me by Mister on our first date; How to Be Black by Baratunde Thurston; sort of listening to Moby Dick on the Big Read; about to start A Christmas Carol and Germinal for book club; listening to Jane Eyre.
The smalls are also on a tear. We have found some gems at the library, some of which we've purchased because we checked them out frequently or loved them so much it was better to replace them quick! We haven't bought our own copy of K.G. Campbell's quirky Lester's Dreadful Sweaters, but I think it might show up soon. Funny illustrations and a silly-serious story about a boy (who's a bit of a control freak) and the ill-everything sweaters his mysterious aunt knits for him. I love it for the whimsical knitting possibliities and the alliterations. It's not a lesson-teaching book, though he seems to learn to lighten up a bit at the end, but a good read and reread.
There are a number of books by Olivier Dunrea we love. In fact, I haven't come across one we don't like, yet. But Gossie, who wears her red rain boots, everyday, is a favorite. Her boots disappear one day. She searches over, under, in, around until she spies them walking on someone else's feet.
Dunrea's illustrations are charming, with the goslings romping around a barn inhabited by bugs, turtles, cows, chickens of varying sizes, all drawn with a certain warmth and sweetness. We checked out as many as we could as often as we could when Bama was small. I finally wised up and ordered a set for Rabbit for Christmas.
I can't say enough good things about Liz Garton Scanlon's All the World (and Marla Frazee's incredible illustrations). Her wordplay is fantastic, bright with imagery, alliteration and assonance, and sequences (Nest, bird, feather, fly). Bama sees something new or understands something on a deeper level every time we read it.
Frazee's sweet illustrations are wonderful in what they subtly, but clearly, depict. Families . Biracial families, grandparents as caretakers, lesbians, all are present and full of love for their families and their community. (You can find a useful curriculum guide here. You don't have to be a teacher to use it.)
We were part of Dolly Partons' Imagination Library, which is awesome if it serves your area. Every month your child gets a new book, and we received some very good books that always include a few reading tips for before/during/after (before, into, beyond) reading.
Rabbit is hooked on The Little Engine That Could. He's gleeful when the little blue engine (pictured above) chugs, I think I can, I think I can as she climbs the mountain.
(NYC Imagination Library says all boroughs have access, but our books stopped before we moved from SoHo to Brooklyn, and the registration page says our area is not active. Not sure what's going on with New York but this site says 36,000 children are enrolled, 9K in Brooklyn. Don't bother emailing them; you'll never hear back. Despite my disappointment over the program's disappearance for us, it's fantastic if you can do it.)
We're all charmed by Henry in Love. We like to follow the balloons in Goodnight, Gorilla and A Sick Day for Amos McGee. We use the phrase Stella to the Moon! because we love Earth to Stella (and kept Bama's Stellapajamas ... ones we had that look a lot like Stella's ... because of it).
What are you reading?
I love to read. It's part of why I majored in English lit lo those many years ago. It's why I taught English. Books, I would tell my students, have the power to transport you. I loved Menolly from Anne McCaffrey's Dragonriders of Pern series. I started with Dragonsinger, moved on to Dragonsong, and DragonDrums, then as many of the series as I could get a hold of. I wanted to be Menolly living on a planet with dragons and the halls and the danger, but mostly the dragons.
When I was small, I would imagine I was an orphan, or living on an island, or travelling on a boat.
I lost some of my reading mojo when I was pregnant with Bama. I was teaching full-time, exhausted, read less and less although I managed to read Vanity Fair and begin Great Expectations. By the time she was born, I read only at night, in the dark, on my iPhone. I downloaded free domain books like Alice in Wonderland and The Scarlet Pimpernel. Most of the books were silly. Mister and I shared a few, including John Scalzi's brilliant series beginning with Old Man's War.
Fast forward three years later and I'm way behind on my reading. I think I read maybe six books a year including The Troubled Man, the last in the excellent Wallander series from Swedish writer Henning Mankell and all of Canadian Louise Penny's Inspector Gamache mysteries (except the most current, The Beautiful House). I mention Penny and Mankell's nationalities because the series take place in those countries and have specific voices related to them. Great reads, both. (The Masterpiece Theater/BBC miniseries based on Wallander is quite good with Kenneth Branagh as the tormented Wallander.)
Two months before Rabbit was born, I joined a book club. I didn't make many appointments until much later in the year. Then I was invited to a cookbook club. And then I started my own bookclub because there are a lot of books in the so-called canon that are referenced by other texts. I'd read Vanity Fair because it seemed like I should. I finished Great Expectations. I wanted more.
For 2012, the "I should have (re)read that" group started with Pride & Prejudice because it's fantastic and because I realized, in reading it, that I never had. I have read most of Austen, or so I thought. Ha! We followed it up with Kate Chopin's The Awakening, Aldous Huxley's Brave New World (which is very good if you are in high school or college, but at 43, it's easy to see the flaws in Huxley's writing), Elizabeth Gaskell's North and South (the BBC miniseries is terrific), and Ernest Hemingway's A Moveable Feast. I have a long history of despising Hemingway and the world's forgiveness for his misogeny and his crap female characters (seriously, Farewell to Arms? Come on! Whiniest female ever), but I enjoyed A Moveable Feast. I read the "restored" edition -- you still can't ignore his inability to name Alice B. Toklas or even Hadley with any consistency, and please, the argument that it's because he writes sparingly because he doesn't spare Evan Shipman, Ezra Pound, or F. Scott Fitzgerald's names.
This year, the group will finish with Anna Karenina (the Richard Pevear and Larissa Volokhonsky translation that Oprah Winfrey read with her book group) spread out over October and November. @sarahm said she didn't want to see my hardbound version (she's reading it electronically) because she didn't want to see how big it really is. We'll close the year with A Christmas Carol. This year, I will have read books by two authors I try to avoid: Hemingway and Dickens. Bully for me!
One of our favorite books is In the Night Kitchen by Maurice Sendak. It's on the American Library Association's list of frequently challenged or banned books because Mickey is, gasp!, naked through part (most) of the book. In a dream state, our protagonist falls out of his clothes and into the light of the night kitchen where three bakers (who look like chubby Hitlers) are baking cake for the morning. Given that Bama and Rabbit know who has a penis and who has a vagina, what a scrotum is (sort of) and what labia are (sort of) the whole naked Mickey thing isn't what's wild in the book.
What is wild is that Mickey swims to the bottom of a bottle of milk! He's nearly baked in a cake! He makes a plane from bread dough!
We chant lines, "I'm in the milk and the milk's in me! I'm Mickey!" "Milk! Milk for the morning cake!" so I thought we might make a milk cake.
This proved more complicated, or Internet-complicated, than it should have been. Recipes warned of the extreme difficulty of this cake owing to the addition of the milk which is heated before adding in at the end (and only just mixing). Some recipes called the cake light and moist, others said dense. Whatever. It's delicious and half-gone. Try it with berries. Some people like to put a chocolate frosting on. I dusted ours with powdered sugar.
All bakers should wear underwear, an apron, and wash their hands. This baker also needed her hair pulled back so she wouldn't fiddle with it.
Eggs and sugar, beaten for about five minutes. Five minutes.
Hello, my beauty. What will you be?
All good bakers clean up after themselves and leave a tidy kitchen.
Some serious gorgeous inside.
And, in case you don't know the story, a lovely and Sendak-weird animated version:
Here's what got me passed my stubborn irritation with the tone of An Everlasting Meal. Beans.
Historically, my beans have come out one of two ways: crunchy or flat. Never creamy. Never savory. Never just right. Always, just. not. quite. right. darn.
Until Tamar Adler's engaging chapter on beans, "How to Live Well." I loved it. All my persnickety feelings about Adler fell away in a woosh because she wrote to me, to my failure and gave me hope.
How's that for crazy praise? I'm serious, though. Sure, boil water. Sure, roast your vegetables. But beans?
I've tried the fast soak, the overnight soak (the biggest failure because I wouldn't make them in the morning), and now. I do both. Whatever is convenient. Why? The end result is turning into a damn good bean that extends into soups and tortillas and salads and whatever. Not that I'm not making too large a batch -- our freezer is a NY freezer -- but the taste and the doneness. Thank you, Tamar, for giving me the gift of beans.
You can't tell that she likes it, but she said, "Oh, Mama. This is delicious!" And ate the whole bowl.
The mix is Good Mother Stoddard beans from Rancho Gordo that I cooked with a half a rib of celery and a bit of shallot in the mix. The trick, according to Adler, is to rinse the beans between the soak (or fast boil/soak) and cooking AND to add salt and some aromatics. Brilliant. Rancho Gordo suggests being unfussy with these beans and that they shouldn't be wasted on smashing or soup. Agreed. They are plump beauties, meant to be viewed before savoring.
The other genius tip is in checking for doneness. She tests five beans. I've upped my bean testing and it's made a difference. But she also noted a method in which you blow on the bean to see if the skin pulls up and curls away. If it does, you're done. It also works. My beans have been creamy and flavorful and useful.
These beans, for example, I made last night using the fast soak method (boil, then let them sit covered, off heat for two hours then simmer until done.) I heated some olive oil and did a quick softening of the rest of the shallot, a couple of carrots, and a bit of celery. Added the beans and leftover pasta with zucchini. The broth with the pasta and beans was terrific. Almost a soup, but not quite. Happy foursome were we at lunch today.
I have fallen off the orderly cooking wagon in a major way. My shopping list is nutso -- either too long or too short and always with gaps; my menu planning is ... what's that?; my staples have been run to the ground several times this summer (go back and look at problem number one).
There are several mitigating factors. Rabbit, through no fault of his own, has bummer of a late nap cycle which means he gets up and we are running until we are eating. Summer. Ah, summer. So many lovely bloggers showing the bounty of their garden. I LOVE that. But, we have the bounty of the bodegas and the Saturday market, and still ... we hit the park for our last yayas and then home and often, too often, we are eating 30-60 minutes later than we should be. Smalls explode all over the living room. Pyrotechnics, hystrionics. You name the chaos, we've got it.
Tonight was one of those nights. So, I went to an old favorite, tucked away during the early spring and altered with what we had in the refrigerator. We all love lentil soup, especially this version from 101Cookbooks. Heidi Swanson's version calls for a leafy green; I'd used up the chard but had some bell pepper on hand. She also calls for yogurt infused with saffron. It's quite nice, but the yogurt was gone with breakfast so I poached eggs, instead.
Enter Tamar Adler's an everlasting meal, a very readable collection of essays you've probably read about elsewhere (here?). The caveat: Adler's a bit precious, a little smug. I have a love-hate with Adler's writing; we read the book for my cookbook club and I found it an amazing resource but struggled with her voice.
Regardless my criticism of style, Adler is extraordinarily helpful, interesting, and clearly engaged with her topic. Her chapters are specific and full of tricks and non-tricks that feel magical.
Today's useful tip: getting beautiful poached eggs out of a pot of boiling water.
Don't fall for the cyclone in the pot trick. You end up with a lot of swirly white bits. White vinegar helps, and I used it today, but what is the best trick: ladle in your egg, gently spoon the loose ends back to center, and cuddle it into place. It didn't change my cooking time or effort and all the eggs emerged globe-smooth and beautiful. (Tomorrow, I'll wax prosaic about beans.)
My tip: if you get lazy about measuring your salad dressing ingredients, take the time to reacquaint yourself with portions. You'll be happier because your salad will be balanced. I tend to use Canal House's simple French vinaigrette the way French women do it -- in the bowl, unfussy, and it's always great, but I started making too much as my splashes and dashes became comfortably sloppy. (Maybe it's living in Brooklyn.)
Lucky us, it was Sunday and Mister and Bama baked some biscuits* for breakfast. The remainders were a good addition to the soup and salad dinner.
*Touch of Grace biscuits from Shirley Corriher's CookWise. It's the only biscuit he makes. He always uses White Lily self-rising flour. It's typically southern -- low protein and low glutein to yield a less dense biscuit.
For a good flour primer, look here.
Bama reads a lot of books. A lot. She picks up a half dozen every trip to the library, and wants to read many of them at that moment. A more competent parent might screen all those books before getting them home. Me, I'm happy I've got all three of us, haven't inadvertently dropped extra (not checked out) books in the bag, and haven't fallen down the treacherous stairs from the children's room.
My wilding, or irresponsible, approach to reading has brought us Zathura (lots of brotherly fighting), Cosmo and the Robot (name calling), Earth to Clunk (more name calling), among others. Sometimes, as with Cosmo and the Robot, I edit out the name and carry on because there's more in the book that I like. Zathura, I put aside for when she is older.
We've also brought home The Widow's Broom (loved the dark brilliance of it), Gossie (and all the gosling books), the beautiful friendship of Toot & Puddle, the humanist All the World, When Carmen Learned English, and the list goes on. Many are way above her comprehension level (Two of a Kind, Sojourner Truth's Step-Stomp Stride), but she's curious and asks good questions and uses the pictures to sort out some of what she doesn't understand. A friend said, Oh, you didn't read the books ahead of time? Not always, no. I wish I did, but I don't. Sometimes, we sit and read and there you have it. Me, editing out "stupid" on the fly.
Today, after a night interrupted by wet beds, teething, sheet changes, and sobs we had a play-date and whirling trip to the library. I almost never say yes to television, but today I offered it. Something new, and sweet. I flipped through netflix screens hoping she wouldn't spot an image like Dora and ask to watch it. Babar! Yes!
Babar, King of Elephants. How bad could it be? We already knew about Babar's mother murder and that the king dies from eating a poisonous mushroom. Yeah. Except in this drawn out version, Babar's mother is shot while he's on her back.
As she falls dead, he's hurtled from her shoulders to go bouncing through a jungle clearing. He goes back to her, calling to her, finds her dead. Birds chirp louder, the monkey screams, and the hunter returns with his double-barrel shotgun. Babar, in a panic, runs, as he does in the book. But in the book, he runs for a page and finds himself in the ciyt with the kindly old lady. In this movie, he runs across a desert, through mountains, in the night, into a cave (to be chased out be a leopard), into another cave (to be frightened off by a cobra), swept away by a flash flood. Each element sent Bama into new panic -- he's never going to stop running! What's going on with the water? Why can't he run? What's happening?
Later, I explain that some snakes are poisonous and will bite things to hurt them -- this after the kindly old woman is bit by a cobra. Bama thinks snakes are nice. I do not, in fact, want to dispel her of this idea. Ditto spiders. I'd like her to be interested in creatures that generally freak me out in part because I think my own oogies are lame, in part because she's a girl and I'd like her to be of hte 1% that doesn't get creeped out by bugs and snakes.
Then comes the rhino battle. Doesn't bother her, we move ahead. Cornelius' house burns down, the old lady is bit, and Alexander --- one of Babar's children -- nearly drowns. Mired by worries, Babar has a nightmare.
The second the video showed a glowing door I told Bama to close her eyes. Too late.
See the scary thing on the far left, the white thing with the nose on the back of something? She saw that before I got it together and turned off the television. She's been asking about the ghost on the alligator all night. Would it come to our house, would it live here, why did it go to Babar. She didn't see the sequence, when the elephants chase the demons away, but I tried to tell her Babar chased it away.
Then she read Sylvester and the Magic Pebble. A book I chose, but wasn't 100 percent about and had set aside. She found it and gave it to Mister, who hadn't read it but thought it must be okay if I'd brought it home from the library and it was sitting around.
(Image from Sam and Boo Book Reviews as well as a good write-up and discussion on this as a banned book.)
Anyone read Sylvester? He is an only child, a collector of rocks. He finds a magic pebble that grants wishes. An encounter with a lion, he wishes to be a rock so the lion doesn't eat him. Bam. He's a rock. His parents don't know where he is, the police can't find him, he's vanished. (Sylvester needs to be touching the pebble to work its magic.) In the end, after a long while, the pebble rolls near enough and everything works out.
But when they read it, I was out of the house. It was enough for our girl and sent her over the edge. Dead mother? Scary ghost things? Babar running endlessly and nowhere? A goddamn rock?
There are growth moments here, somewhere. But now I need a new safety trick for her, because I'd relied on magic rocks as her security (under the pillow, in her pocket) and after tonight, I'm not sure she'll be so keen. The big takeaway? It may be as easy as no TV, but could be watch everything first.
Doesn't that idea just make you retch?
I was invited to join the Ladies' Cookbook Club which is exactly what it sounds like. A cookbook club for women. It's quite a group. The founder, which sounds so formal and stuffy, which she isn't, is a food editor. Attendees included my friend @sarahm, one of the founders of a recently defunct freshly prepped meal delivery company, a woman who works once a week for one of the farmers at her local Green Market (genius, I was thinking it would be a smart gig and per her, it is!), a well-networked techie. The women are, for the most part, from an intersection of food and technology. (Oh, and there were plenty of fantastic necklaces to be had!)
The rules: pick a cookbook, pick a recipe. Each person selects one recipe to prepare, enough for 8-10 people. With 20 attendees, that's a lot of food!
The inaugural book was Plenty from U.K. chef-owner Yotam Ottolenghi. He is also the author of the new vegetarian column in the Guardian, despite his not being vegetarian.
Ottolenghi's recipes are ingredient-rich. Laundry lists of herbs, some possibly unfamiliar ingredients such as harissa or preserved lemons. I selected mushrooms with herbed polenta which called for four different fresh herbs and two tablespoons of truffle oil. Despite the lengthy chopping queue, it was easy to assemble and tasted fantastic. My two changes to the recipe would be minimal: more mushrooms (it calls for four cups, I used five and would advocate for six) and less oil (2T per batch of mushrooms was too much; 2T of truffle oil seemed overkill though it smelled delicious and made my cab ride delightful). He's not big on salt which is not a problem in this house, but several people wanted more salt.
If you can get over your worries about the ingredient roster, you'll be fine. I sipped tea and listened to craftlit's Dracula** while prepping. I did, in fact, prepare everything -- mise en place! -- and found it incredibly helpful.
My second dish, the Ultimate Winter Couscous, was less successful with the smalls. It came out too spicy; the rcipe calls for two tablespoons of harissa stirred in at the end. I might use only one or omit it altogether. The vegetables weren't soft enough; my own fault, in the rush to dinner I didn't check carefully enough.
On the other hand, it was the best couscous I've had and I don't like couscous. But, I used the vegetable broth I'd make on Sunday per Mark Bittman's directions in How to Cook Everythign Vegetarian. I browned my vegetables, included mushrooms, and tossed in soy sauce at the end. Vegetable stock is about as intersting as white bread to me, but this was rich and wonderful and showed well in both the polenta and the couscous. I'll do my stock this way always.
Despite the imperfections in execution, I'd make this again because it is easy, forgiving, and flexible as many of the recipes in the book seem to be.
Others on our list (Bama helped me choose):
I'll stop there, but you get the picture. The recipes are not perfect. There have been several criticisms of portions in the ingredient list (the spicy Moroccan carrot salad calls for 2.5 cups of cilantro leaves which seemed overkill to the woman who made it. I thought it would be okay if they were chopped a bit more, but I'm a cilantro nut as it seems Ottolenghi is, as well); not enough salt; odd combinations. But with the nearly 20 dishes on the table representing about a third of the book (okay, I didn't count so maybe 1/4?) there wasn't one that I didn't enjoy. Even the fried limas.
**craftlit is a fabulous podcast. a chapter a week of a book, with readers for the characters. part play, part audiobook, all swell.
Mister found Hungry? for me a few months ago. I've cooked many recipes from it, including this chicken, bacon, and leek pie. I haven't had one failure.
Make adjustments for US measurements (we have a scale that weighs kg or oz), and Anglophile away.
It's chock full of vegetables, and in the ingredients, the authors note whether it counts towards or for your five a day.
Recipes we've tried:
The book includes a section of down and dirty recipes for one vegetable sides. Like carrots, beans, peas. It's been handy as a way to expand beyond the blanche, the sautè.
It is not an easy book to get hold of, but I think it's worth the search if you're looking for another handy standard of recipes that are pleasers to tastebuds, time, and budgets.