Category Archives: YumYum

Minette’s Feast: The Delicious Story of Julia Child and Her Cat

Good news! I found a book that finally pulled me out of the ‘meh’ feeling I’ve been stuck with the past few weeks. It’s Minette’s Feast, by Susanna Reich, illustrated by Amy Bates, and it’s a beauty. Guess what? It’s about food and Paris and cats! So of course it’s my idea of divine. I wouldn’t change a single thing about it. I haven’t been able to say that about many books lately.

Minette’s Feast is the story of Minette Mimosa McWilliams Child, Julia Child’s cat. She was a tortoiseshell who got her middle name because she once nibbled a mimosa branch that Julia brought home. Of course Minette was one lucky cat, getting to smell delicious smells and taste delicious tidbits made by one of the most legendary cooks. But we learn that no matter the delights Julia prepared for her, there really was nothing so good as mouse.

I love that Minette comes across as a real character, as discerning and headstrong and full-of-life as her famous owner. The dialogue in the book is all taken directly from My Life in France and from Julia and Paul’s letters. There are just enough French words and expressions to give the text that Parisian je ne sais quoi, and the watercolour illustrations suit the old fashioned feeling of the narrative perfectly. The muted softness and the free style and warmth in the pictures make the story come across as all the more cozy and cheerful. This book has ambiance. If I’d read it as a cooking-crazed, cat-loving kid, I know it would have immediately become one of my very favourites.

This one is worth savoring and sharing. I’m sure Julia would approve.

Minette’s Feast is published by Abrams.

Apple Pie ABC (plus real pie)

Those who know me well know that I if I’m not reading, chances are I’m likely baking (or eating… or planning to eat… or looking at pictures of things to eat). Last week, Alison Murray’s ABC book, Apple Pie ABC, arrived at my library and it got me thinking about pie. A book that has: illustrations with old-fashioned charm, a dog who is naughty-yet-lovable, and pie, is a book that I had to read.

I am partial to ABC books in general. In fact, I think I just might begin collecting them. I think there’s real scope for creativity in an ABC book and Murray has certainly capitalized on this in hers. Any dog owner will appreciate (and likely recognize) the age-old tale captured on these pages. Dog smells cooking. Dog goes to kitchen for some. Dog is denied. Dog pouts. Dog plots. Dog finds a way. Bye-bye dessert. (I could tell you the tale of my tenth birthday cupcakes, but I’ll save that for another time).

Murray has created a sweet, gently humorous, and gorgeous book. The paper itself has a lovely matte finish, which gives a rustic effect, just right for a book about such a humble treat. The colours on each page remain the same through the whole book and the linocut designs are retro and simple but perfect. There’s a clean feeling to all of it that still manages to be warm and the little dog’s character shines. You will root for him, even though you know you shouldn’t.

This is a book for kids and their foodie parents. You could give it as a gift along with one of these:

Apple Pie ABC is published by Hyperion. Rustic Apple Pie is published by me.

The Teashop Girls

teashopWhen it comes to books, do you think “sweet and cozy” is just a nicer way of saying “fluffy and predictable”? It’s rare to find a novel for tweens and teens that you can recommend as completely delightful and a little bit innocent, something truly sweet, but with substance and careful, confident writing. The Teashop Girls, by Laura Schaefer is exactly that book. From beginning to end, this novel is a treat, just right for middle school readers who enjoy titles like The Wedding Planner’s Daughter (Coleen Murtagh Paratore), The Mother-Daughter Book Club (Heather Vogel Frederick) or 3 Willows (Ann Brashares). Oh, and just right for tea lovers.

Annie Green is just about finished eighth grade, and she feels like everything is changing. Her best friends, Genna and Zoe, are busy with theater and tennis and they just seem to be moving towards high school a whole lot faster than Annie. They don’t hang out as much as they used to, and Annie misses their weekly meetings for tea and talk at The Steeping Leaf, her grandmother’s teashop. When Annie convinces her grandmother Louisa to give her a job as a barista at the store she feels happier than she has in a long time, full of ideas and energy. Annie loves the Leaf more than anything, and it helps that the job gets her a little closer to this cute guy who works for her grandmother too. The good times don’t last long, however, because not long after starting her job, Annie discovers that the Steeping Leaf is in trouble. Louisa can’t make ends meet, and it is finally catching up. Soon an eviction notice arrives. Annie decides to do all she can to save the Leaf, and with a little help from Genna and Zoe, she gets started straight away.

Each chapter begins with a quote about tea, and lovely little drawings by Sujean Rim. Recipes and vintage tea advertisements are scattered throughout the book, along with plenty of tea history, tea-inspired beauty tips, a few Zen tales and Annie’s various “To Do Lists,” adding to the whimsical tone of the narrative. In fact, you learn a lot about tea by reading this book, and I imagine it may inspire a new generation of tea sippers. You know my feeling about any story with recipes. Automatic bonus points. The scrapbook elements of the text add to Annie’s characterization too, helping us to appreciate her true passion for tea and for The Steeping Leaf. I would have liked to see the secondary characters come through a bit more convincingly, but the friendship is believable and Annie’s voice is consistent and charming.

I was reminded of another book I enjoyed this year about an enterprising, positive-thinking girl who digs in to save her family’s business: My Life in Pink and Green by Lisa Greenwald. Teashop Girls touches on similar themes, like the importance of independent business, problem-solving, taking action, and seeing possibility in change. I’m not sure if Schaefer’s book will be a series, but I think readers would happily go along for the ride with more stories about Annie, tea-lover, list-maker, and all around good girl. It’s refreshing to read a novel for this age group that is entirely issue-free. As happy-making as a sip of perfectly brewed, slightly sweetened tea with a side of cookies.

The Teashop Girls is published by Simon & Schuster.

Hot, Sour, Salty, Sweet

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If a novel involves food, it automatically jumps up a few notches on my reading-enjoyment scale. So naturally, I’ve been interested to read Sherri L. Smith’s book, Hot, Sour, Salty, Sweet since I first heard about it a few months ago.

As the title suggests, Smith’s novel centres around yummy things, specifically how different tastes play around together to make complex dishes and interesting cuisines. Ana Shen, the central character, is herself a blend of cultures and histories, as her mother is African American and her father is Chinese American. Her Social Studies teacher calls Ana’s family, “marvelously biracial” and “multicultural.” Ana’s just Ana, and she doesn’t think too much about how interesting she might be to anyone else, but she does sometimes think about how complicated it is to have grandparents who just don’t seem to “get” each other, and who barely disguise their judgments of one another whenever they’re together.

Hot, Sour, Salty, Sweet takes place in a single day, the day of Ana’s eighth grade graduation. Her Grandma and Grandpa and her Nai Nai and Ye Ye are in town to mark the occasion, which means Ana is just a little nervous about the possibility of impending arguments or at the very least, some serious tension. At the same time, she’s anticipating the grad dance, and in particular, dancing with her crush, Jamie Tabata. After a minor disaster during the graduation ceremony leads to the cancellation of the dance, Ana ends up planning her own party at the last minute, including a dinner that will be prepared by various members of her family. She’s not sure how everyone is going to work together to make this happen, but in only four hours, Jamie Tabata and his parents will be joining them for a home-cooked feast, Shen-style.

What’s great about Sherri Smith’s book is that it feels like you’re taking a look inside a typical family’s home, watching them cooking and arguing and trying to say what they mean but not always getting it right. There is a very natural tone throughout that makes you feel like you completely get the relationships between Ana and her parents and her grandparents. She loves them. They love her. They drive her crazy. She’s tired of being the mediator, always trying to smooth things over between her sets of grandparents. In some ways, it seems like she wishes she could change them. I liked how these relationships were portrayed as messy and complicated but in the end, essentially strong and supportive.

In case you’re wondering, the book is not a hit-you-over-the-head exploration of identity and what it’s like to be caught between cultures. These themes are there, but really the book looks at Ana’s uncertainty at a time of change in her life, as she moves towards a new school and new experiences. She wonders about her future, and she wonders about where she comes from, but she also wonders if she’s going to get her first kiss anytime soon and whether or not she should dye her hair. That’s real life. The small questions and the bigger ones. You’ll find both in Sherri Smith’s book. You’ll also probably find yourself wanting some fried chicken and gumbo and pork dumplings too. Be warned.

Visit Sherri L. Smith’s website for more about her and her books, and you’ll find a Reading Guide for this title there too.

Raising a Foodie Through Reading: My A to Z Recipe Box

When I was a kid, I was fascinated by my Granny’s recipe folder. Her beautiful, spidery handwriting and strangely perfect printing led me through such 1950s treasures as: 7-layer bars, Six-in-a-pan and Orange-glazed sponge cake. There were clippings from magazines and recipes from friends written on scraps and notecards, and every so often, a strangely cryptic note that said something like,”1 can tomato soup, ground beef, lettuce.” During one summer when I was 13 or so, after my Granny had passed away, I spent days writing all of the recipes in her collection into one recipe book in my girlish script. It is one of my mom’s most precious possessions.

I would have gone crazy for this fantastic little box of recipes when I was starting off as a cook: My A to Z Recipe Box by Hilary Karmilowicz. Just check it out:

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Karmilowicz is a former chef from Manhattan and now she teaches cooking to kids and adults, so she knows what works in the kitchen with little guys. First of all, what kid doesn’t love things organized in alphabetical order? I would have whipped these cards out of that box in a heartbeat and then put them all back in again, one by one. (Ah, the obsessive organization begins early, doesn’t it?) Second, I like how each card is set up in 3 stages: Stop, Look, and Cook. This helps the kids to practice the planning and reading involved in cooking. Finally, did you notice who illustrates? MELISSA SWEET! Melissa Sweet rocks! She is the most beautiful illustrator – whimsical and homey and wonderful. Forget the recipes, you want this little box of delights for all of the illustrations. Of course, I love that the box comes with blank cards so that the kids/cheflets can build and add their own recipes. Guess I know what my niece is getting for her 4th birthday!

Raising a Foodie Through Reading: How to Make an Apple Pie and See the World

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If I were to make a list of 13 things every kid should experience before they turn 13, making an apple pie would likely be on it. Was there ever a better way to turn a kid into a foodie than by way of apple pie? First of all, all kids deserve to fiddle about with their own tiny pieces of pie crust scraps and sprinkle cinnamon-sugar over the leftover bits. Of course it is most desirable that the kids visit an orchard and pick the fruit themselves, if at all possible. I made a few apple pies with my Granny when I was young, and what I remember most is how long it seemed to take – the peeling, the slicing, the measuring, the crust-making and chilling and rolling and filling. And then, the waiting. That took forever.

Marjorie Priceman’s lovely book, How to Make an Apple Pie and See the World, would be the ideal way to pass the time after everything is washed up and the pie is crisping and bubbling and wafting its buttery, sugary, apple scent about the kitchen. It’s a bit whimsical and old-fashioned in appearance – a friendly-looking book in which a young baker describes the journey she might take to various countries around the world to procure ingredients for her apple pie. The book serves not only to entice potential baby bakers, but teaches a bit about geography and the global marketplace at the same time. It may be an easy and engaging way to get youngsters to think about how far our food often travels before it makes its way into our ovens and fridges and bellies. After that, they can read The 100 Mile Diet (ha ha).

Perhaps instead you might start off with one or two of the food-ish titles recommended just the other day by the ever-fantastic Esme of Planet Esme Book-a-Day fame.

Hungry yet?

Raising a Foodie through Reading: Salad People

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Mollie Katzen’s Moosewood Cookbook was one of the first cookbooks I owned. I think it was given to me as a gift when I started to become interested in cooking at about 12 or 13. I was immediately charmed by its homeyness. I loved Mollie’s whimsical little doodles on every page and the hand-written appearance of the recipes. This book led me into my vegetarian phase in my late teenage years. I’m hardly a carrot-stick-crunching, tempeh-loving healthy person these days, what with my passion for all things sausagey and creamy, but I still have a fondness for Mollie’s books, as they were the first place I became excited about the process of cooking and the beauty of fresh ingredients.

And so, to offer another addition to my Raising a Foodie through Reading Project (which you will find in a list on my sidebar), I present Mollie’s fun and fantastic book, Salad People and More Real Recipes. This book is meant to be a kind of follow up to her hugely popular, classic kids’ cookbook, Pretend Soup. Both of these books are outstanding first cookbooks for children. Katzen says they are for pre-school and up, and that seems just right to me. There is so much to love about these books:

1. Mollie’s emphasis on more veg, more whole foods, less sugar and no processed junk.

2. Fun, simple recipes that let the kids be the cooks with as much independence as possible. In fact, each recipe in Salad People is four pages long. The first two pages offers conventional explanations for the supervising/assisting adult, and the next two pages give step-by-step process to the child, complete with illustrations and simple text. Katzen emphasizes that the more prepared the adult is for the cooking process, the more the child will be able to function as the leader. To get a sense of the instructions for the kids, take a look at a recipe on Mollie’s Website. Great, yes?

3. The recipes. How about some Miso-Almond Dipping Sauce with Cool-Cucumber Soup and a Mango-Honey Lassi? This is real food made with honest, healthy ingredients. I bet the little guys might be more willing to try unusual foods if they’ve made it themselves. 

When I was working at The Flying Dragon, the cookbook section was a place in the store where little battles of will would often take place between parents and their children. These tiffs often went something like this:

Child: Please, please, please, puhleeeeeeeease can I have this cookbook?

Mom: (distracted because she’s looking at the delicious display of new fiction by the front cash) Whatever happened to that other cookbook we bought? You never use that one. It looked so great. We need to find that book.

Child: But I really, really, really want this one! (insert much book waving and arm-flapping) Please can I have it? Please!

Mom: (picking up the new Alice Sebold) Let’s find that other one we bought and maybe you can put this on your birthday list?

Child: (insert not-so-silent harumphing and stomping about)

I do think that quite a number of children’s cookbooks get bought on a whim and are rarely (if ever) used together by parent and child. This is unfortunate, and sadly, not that surprising, when grown ups themselves often don’t take the time in their “busy lives” to cook regularly, and when the little guys are so busy doing myriad activities after school and on weekends. My two cents? Cooking is for life. These skills will grow with your child, and be with them through adulthood. So buy a great cookbook and set aside one Saturday or Sunday a month to play around with it together, to the benefit of everyone’s tummies and your kid’s culinary future. Need more convincing? Check out the list of benefits that children gain through cooking in Mollie’s introduction to Salad People: food literacy, language skills, science awareness, endurance, patience, sense of community…

I’m off to make myself a Salad Person. Crunch!