Friday, October 30, 2009

How to become a kitchen pimp

My immediate response when I first heard about Cookin' With Coolio: 5 Star Meals at a 1 Star Price, due out next month, was to cringe in horror. Seriously, Coolio? Rollin' with my homies Coolio? Writing a cookbook? What can he possibly have to teach anyone about cooking? According to the synopsis, Coolio has been cooking since he was 10 years old and has developed a style of cooking that is built around solid comfort foods with a healthy twist that don't break the bank, which he calls Ghetto Gourmet. At this point, I'm actually groaning out load. But then I remind myself that "ghetto fiction" or "street lit" is a very popular genre, so perhaps there is an audience for ghetto gourmet. So I took a look at the sneak peek. I gotta say, it's pretty entertaining. Here's what Coolio has to say about setting up your mise en place:

"Pimpin' ain't easy, but it's necessary, especially if you wanna fully utilize the power of your kitchen....Having the right utensils is a good start, but then you gotta show them who's the boss up in this bitch....To begin your culinary battle, make sure you have these handy: A set of sharp-ass knives...An aluminum roasting pan big enough to fit my nephew in."

And his terminology:
"Peench: This is when you put a little bit of a spice between your fingers and throw it on your food. It's a lot like a pinch, except for the motherf[ing] fact that gangstas don't pinch. They peench.
Dime Bag: This is a little bag that some people put some things into. I just use them to hold onto my spices."

Mastering the Art of French Cooking it is not, but I think it would be fun to read.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

My Special Powers now extend to book awards.

Apparently the finalists for the National Book Award were announced last week. I could have sworn they were announced weeks ago. When I saw the list posted on a website recently, I thought, "This person is really behind. This is old news." I guess I'm the one that's behind. But I distinctly remember seeing Let the Great World Spin and Lark & Termite on what I thought was the list of the National Book Award finalists. So, either I'm remembering another award list, or my Special Powers were at work and I "saw" these two books on the list beforehand. It's true, I have Special Powers. The problem is, they are inconsistent and unreliable, so they are pretty much useless and just freak me out. If only I could channel these powers more effectively so I could predict the winners. Do bookies take bets on book awards?

Let's Talk About Books

I know, I know. I've been totally slacking on my posts, so here's a quick rundown of what I've been reading lately.

Horse Soldiers: The Extraordinary Story of a Band of U.S. Soldiers Who Rode to Victory in Afghanistan by Doug Stanton. Unfortunately I didn't have time to finish this book. I renewed it twice and it was overdue, and I was just too busy to get through it, so I thought I'd better let someone else have a chance at it. Anyway, from what I read, I thought this was a very interesting book. The book recounts the team of Special Forces soldiers who went into Afghanistan after 9/11. You get an intimate look at the soldiers, great descriptions of Afghanistan, and a side of the war you may not have heard about. One detail really floored me: before the U.S. invaded Afghanistan, we were not at all prepared to go to war. Soldiers didn't have the necessary equipment needed for their missions, so many of them were buying out supplies in camping stores and REIs! A must for fans of Black Hawk Down and other exciting military adventures.

Super in the City by Daphne Uviller. A single, twenty-something who can't make up her mind about what to do with her life, is thrust into the position of super of her parent's NYC apartment building. A secret staircase erected by the previous super drives Zephyr Zuckerman's already overactive imagination into overdrive. Meanwhile, a fledgling affair with the exterminator and an obnoxious, demanding tenant keep her busy. Humorous chick lit.

The Art of Racing in the Rain by Garth Stein. I put off reading this book for quite some time, because after the sob fests I endured when I read Marley & Me and Merle's Door, I could not bear another story of doggy death. But so many people had been raving about it, I decided to give it a shot. I was pleasantly surprised. Don't get me wrong-there is a doggy death. Enzo, the dog, tells us up front that he is aging and getting close to death. But his death is not too dramatic and I got through it with a minimal amount of tears. You've probably heard about this book, so you probably know that the story is told from the dog's point of view. I thought this would be cheesy, but it's not. Enzo is an interesting character, humorous, intelligent, and has a lot to say. A great read.

I just did The 19th Wife by David Ebershof for a book discussion, and I now know more about the Mormon Church and its history than I ever thought I would. There are 2 story lines going in this novel. The first story is of Ann Eliza Young, the 19th-ish wife of Brigham Young, who divorced him and went on a crusade to end polygamy. The second story is a present day murder mystery about the murder of a polygamous man living in a fundamentalist LDS community. I loved the historical aspect of the story, since I knew very little about the LDS Church. But I also enjoyed the shocking story of the present day fundamentalist Mormons, and what it means to live in that kind of a community. This is one you won't want to put down.

Thursday, October 8, 2009

And the winner is...

Two major literary awards were announced today. The Nobel Prize in Literature was awarded to Herta Muller, a Romanian-born, German novelist, poet and essayist noted for her works depicting the harsh conditions of life in Communist Romania.

The Booker Prize was awarded to Hilary Mantel for her novel Wolf Hall, an historical fiction novel of the Tudor period told from the perspective of Thomas Cromwell. How on earth did I miss this one?

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Day After Night

There seems to be so much fiction that takes place during WWII. Experiences of war, concentration camps, escape and survival are told again and again. But there isn't a lot of fiction about right after the war. What happened to the Jews after they were liberated from the camps? Where did they go? What did they do? How did they go on with their lives? The extent of my knowledge ends with the death of Hitler, so it was enlightening to read Anita Diamant's new book, Day After Night, which follows four Jewish women who leave Europe after the war and head to Israel. Once they reach Israel, they are considered illegal immigrants and placed in Atlit, which was a detention center for Jewish immigrants seeking refuge in Palestine. Each woman must face the uncertainty of her future while confronting her own scars and memories. Although each woman's experience during the war has been quite different, they form a very close bond that sustains them during their time at Atlit. This was a great read, with well-developed and distinct characters, vivid descriptions of Atlit and Israel, and although their histories are quite horrific, the ending leaves the reader with a sense of hope.

Monday, October 5, 2009

Let's Eat!

As I am always on the lookout for new cookbooks that promise healthy meals in very little time, I was eagerly awaiting Mark Bittman's new cookbook, Kitchen Express: 404 Inspired Seasonal Dishes You Can Make in 20 Minutes or Less. Bittman is the author of the popular How to Cook Everything series, and I've always liked his easy to follow, no frills recipes. Since his last book, Food Matters: A Guide to Conscious Eating, he has been focusing more on healthier recipes with local and seasonal ingredients, which I like. Kitchen Express is great. The recipes are super-simple and laid back. The recipes are about a paragraph long and very few exact measurements are used. He uses phrases like "heat a couple of tablespoons of butter," "add a bunch of chopped spinach," and "beat an egg with a little buttermilk and a couple of handfuls of grated cheddar." I love that. It makes me feel less anxious about getting the exact right amount of an ingredient. And I think it encourages cooks to learn to focus on the food-when it looks done and if it tastes right, rather than trying to rigidly follow a recipe. My only complaint is the lack of photographs. I like pictures in my cookbooks and Bittman's books never have photos. The recipes are divided into seasons: Summer, Fall, Winter, and Spring, each featuring ingredients that are at their freshest at that time. Since I think we can definitely say we are well into fall, I'll try the Gruyere Apple Grilled Cheese, the Apple Cider and White Wine Slushy, and the Pumpkin Creme Brulee. Mmmmm. Doesn't that sound delicious?