Library Loot (12 April 2012)

Library Loot is a weekly event co-hosted by Claire from The Captive Reader and Marg from The Adventures of an Intrepid Reader that encourages bloggers to share the books they’ve checked out from the library.

The library has just started a new programme for those under 2 – it’s a bilingual Mandarin-English singalong/story session. Hopefully it will expose wee reader to more Mandarin, since we don’t speak it at home (his grandparents don’t really speak Mandarin either, as technically their backgrounds are Hokkien/ Teochew/Hainanese/Peranakan). He seems to be enjoying it so far!

Predators and Prey (Buffy the Vampire Slayer Season Eight, Vol. 5) – Joss Whedon et al

It was about time I get going with this series!

Buffy’s world goes awry when former-classmate-turned-vampire Harmony Kendall lands her own reality TV show, Harmony Bites, bolstering bloodsucking fiends in the mainstream. Humans line up to have their blood consumed, and Slayers, through a series of missteps, misfortunes, and anti-Slayer propaganda driven by the mysterious Twilight, are forced into hiding. In Germany, Faith and Giles discover a town where Slayers retreat from a world that has turned against them, only to find themselves in the arms of something far worse. A rogue-Slayer faction displaces an entire Italian village, living up to their tarnished reputation as power-hungry thieves. And finally, with the help of a would-be demon lover, Dawn addresses her unfaltering insecurities.

Buffy The Vampire Slayer Season Eight Volume 6: Retreat (Buffy the Vampire Slayer (Dark Horse)) – Joss Whedon et al

Buffy Season Eight Volume 6 showcases the first failure of the Slayer legion. Vampires have solid footing at the top of the totem and Slayers have been crushed to the bottom – in short, no one likes Buffy anymore… least of all this season’s mysterious Big Bad, Twilight, who is hot on her magical trail! Now that it’s the world against Slayers, Buffy must find a way to return the status quo to… status quo – and keep her girls alive long enough to do it! Enter Oz, the only person/werewolf Buffy knows who is down with the suppression of magic, and can take the Slayer army off of Twilight’s magic-specific radar. With Oz’s assistance the Slayers and Wiccans try to become “normal” through meditation and hard labor – although, not everyone sees the advantage of being magicless, namely, Willow, Giles, and Andrew. And they could be right; after all, is a peaceful life for a Slayer even possible?

The Broken Kingdoms (The Inheritance Trilogy) – N.K. Jemisin

Yay! I got the second book in the Inheritance trilogy (I loved the first). I couldn’t find the third though… it seems that someone else in the area is reading Jemisin too. For Once Upon a Time VI.

In the city of Shadow, beneath the World Tree, alleyways shimmer with magic and godlings live hidden among mortalkind. Oree Shoth, a blind artist, takes in a strange homeless man on an impulse. This act of kindness engulfs Oree in a nightmarish conspiracy. Someone, somehow, is murdering godlings, leaving their desecrated bodies all over the city. And Oree’s guest is at the heart of it…

Life Is Meals: A Food Lover’s Book of Days – James and Kay Salter
I can’t remember where I first heard of this book, but I’ve been wanting to read this for quite a while. This is for the Foodies Read challenge.

From the PEN/Faulkner Award–winning author James Salter and his wife, Kay—amateur chefs and terrific hosts—here is a charming, beautifully illustrated food lover’s companion that, with an entry for each day of the year, takes us from a Twelfth Night cake in January to a champagne dinner on New Year’s Eve. Life Is Meals is rich with culinary wisdom, history, recipes, literary pleasures, and the authors’ own stories of their triumphs—and catastrophes—in the kitchen.
For instance:
The menu on the Titanic on the fatal night
Reflections on dining from Queen Victoria, JFK, Winnie the Pooh, Garrison Keillor, and many others
The seductiveness of a velvety Brie or the perfect martini
How to decide whom to invite to a dinner party—and whom not to
John Irving’s family recipe for meatballs; Balzac’s love of coffee
The greatest dinner ever given at the White House
Where in Paris Samuel Beckett and Harold Pinter had French onion soup at 4:00 a.m.

Sophisticated as well as practical, opinionated, and indispensable, Life Is Meals is a tribute to the glory of food and drink, and the joy of sharing them with others. “The meal is the emblem of civilization,” the Salters observe. “What would one know of life as it should be lived, or nights as they should be spent, apart from meals?”

Far Flung and Well Fed: The Food Writing of R.W. Apple, Jr. – R.W. Apple Jr

And on the same shelf there was this one! Also for the Foodies challenge

Celebrated journalist R. W. (“Johnny”) Apple was a veteran political reporter, a New York Times bureau chief and an incisive and prolific writer. But the role he was most passionate about was food anthropologist. Known both for his restless wideopen mind and an appetite to match, Apple was also a culinary scholar: witty, wide-ranging and intensely knowledgeable about his subjects. Far Flung and Well Fed is the best of legendary Times reporter Apple’s food writing from America, England, Europe, Asia and Australia. Each of the more than fifty essays recount extraordinary meals and little-known facts, of some of the world’s most excellent foods —from the origin of an ingredient in a dish, to its history, to the vivid personalities—including Apple’s wife, Betsey—who cook, serve and eat those dishes.
Far Flung and Well Fed is a classic collection of food writing— lively, warm and rich with a sense of place and taste—and deserves to join the works of A.J. Liebling, Elizabeth David, M.F.K. Fisher and Calvin Trillin on the bookshelf.

To End All Wars: A Story of Loyalty and Rebellion, 1914-1918 – Adam Hochschild
For the War Through the Generations challenge

World War I was supposed to be the “war to end all wars.” Over four long years, nations around the globe were sucked into the tempest, and millions of men died on the battlefields. To this day, the war stands as one of history’s most senseless spasms of carnage, defying rational explanation.

To End All Wars focuses on the long-ignored moral drama of the war’s critics, alongside its generals and heroes. Many of these dissenters were thrown in jail for their opposition to the war, from a future Nobel Prize winner to an editor behind bars who distributed a clandestine newspaper on toilet paper. These critics were sometimes intimately connected to their enemy hawks: one of Britain’s most prominent women pacifist campaigners had a brother who was commander in chief on the Western Front. Two well-known sisters split so bitterly over the war that they ended up publishing newspapers that attacked each other.

As Adam Hochschild brings the Great War to life as never before, he forces us to confront the big questions: Why did so many nations get so swept up in the violence? Why couldn’t cooler heads prevail? And can we ever avoid repeating history?

An Overdrive e-book
Beauty – Sherri S. Tepper
Also for Once Upon a Time

With the critically acclaimed novels The Gate To Women’s Country, Raising The Stones, and the Hugo-nominated Grass, Sheri Tepper has established herself as one of the major science fiction writers of out Time. In Beauty, she broadens her territory even further, with a novel that evokes all the richness of fairy tale and fable. Drawing on the wellspring of tales such as “Sleeping Beauty,” Beauty is a moving novel of love and loss, hope and despair, magic and nature. Set against a backdrop both enchanted and frightening, the story begins with a wicked aunt’s curse that will afflict a young woman named Beauty on her sixteenth birthday. Though Beauty is able to sidestep tragedy, she soon finds herself embarked on an adventure of vast consequences. For it becomes clear that the enchanted places of this fantastic world–a place not unlike our own–are in danger and must be saved before it is too late.

Wee reader’s loot:

The Baby Hustle: An Interactive Book with Wiggles and Giggles! – Jane Schoenberg, illustrated by Liz Conrad

What’s Wrong, Little Pookie? – Sandra Boynton

Have you read any of these? What did you think of them?
What did you get at your library this week?

The Fourth Star: Dispatches from Inside Daniel Boulud’s Celebrated New York Restaurant

This look inside a well-known restaurant is a fun read, albeit repetitive, as writer Leslie Brenner observes, no holds barred, what goes on at Daniel, Daniel Boulud’s well-known French restaurant in New York City. Front of the house, back of the house, managers meetings, lunch service, dinner service, banquet service (with then-President Clinton, to boot).

“The seviche tonight involves sea scallops, oysters, and sea urchins, with osetra caviar, pink raddish, and celery leaves in a horseradish-lime oyster water. It’s Daniel all over: clear, pure flavours that sound as though they’ll make sense, though they’re  unusual in combination. Synergistic, the flavours vibrate  together, creating a dish in which the whole is a thousand times greater than the sum of its parts.”

I read this on the iPhone while walking wee reader in the mornings after breakfast and I read this before bedtime, that is, after dinner. Because this book should only be read on a full stomach, although the food it describes is not food that you can stomach every day. Visions of food – the fancy type, with truffles and foie gras – dance before your eyes in every chapter. There’s also the less fancy ‘family dinner’ or what the staff themselves eat, simpler fare like tacos carnitas or pasta and salad. While the front of house strives to create a serene and a pleasant environment for the diner (really, for the super rich or famous diner, since a meal for two runs in the hundreds), it is a tense, stressful environment in the kitchen. And how can it not be, with several hundred covers at dinners,  special requests, tastings, daily specials, a la carte orders, demanding VIPs (celebrities, press – even a regular who disdains all of the amazing desserts and gets a special off-menu order of tarte tatin everytime) who get all sorts of complimentary things, everyday. And that elusive ‘fourth star’, that is, the New York Times food critic’s rating of the restaurant (not long after Daniel first opened in January 1999, the New York Times gave it 3 stars. Daniel gets its four-star rating in 2001).

The Fourth Star is an entertaining read. Especially for anyone who’s interested in  what goes on behind the scenes of a restaurant.

This is my fifth read for the Foodies challenge

Don’t Kill the Birthday Girl: Tales from an Allergic Life

“For those with allergies like mine, each day requires vigilance in terms of what we do, the company we keep, and where we sit in relation to that bowl of mixed nuts. One person’s comfort food is another person’s enemy. One person’s lifesaver is another’s poison.”

Just a couple of weeks ago, wee reader and I met yet another doctor, an allergist. She had a whole list of questions, a large stack of printed information to take home, prescribed a new ointment, set up a new bath routine, and a whole lot of other things that left my head spinning. Essentially, we have been battling eczema for quite a few months now (considering that he is only 10 months, a few months is a lifetime!), and his paediatrician suggested a blood test for allergies. Turns out he is allergic to egg whites, wheat and peanuts. That surprised us all, as both my husband and I aren’t allergic to any food, neither are our immediate families.

As you know, I am a reader. So one thing I knew I had to do was check out some reading material on food allergies. In a bid to learn more, but in a more personal way, as understood by someone who has lived with allergies all her life. And this one by Sandra Beasley looked ideal.

Because Beasley is allergic to: dairy (including goat’s milk), egg, soy, beef, shrimp, pine nuts, cucumbers, cantaloupe, honeydew, mango, macadamias, pistachios, cashews, swordfish, and mustard. Also: mold, dust, grass and tree pollen, cigarette smoke, dogs, rabbits, horses, and wool. Her allergies are so bad that she couldn’t use the phone after her college roommate talked on it while eating a slice of pizza. As an infant, she couldn’t keep any kind of milk down – formula, goat’s milk, soy milk. Her parents raised her on juice and water! And at that time, there was far less awareness of allergies. Even her grandfather, a doctor, didn’t believe her dairy allergy, until she grabbed some cream cheese and swiped it onto her cheek and hives formed shortly after.

Beasley discusses the history of allergies, which is a longer history than I imagined. The term was coined by Austrian doctor Clemens von Pirquet in 1906. The RAST (radioallergosorbent test), which wee reader had to do in December, was trademarked in 1974. The skin prick test (which we have scheduled for later this month) has been around for decades as well. Interestingly – at least for this allergies-ignorant parent – the RAST generates a lot of  false positives. For Beasley, it claimed she was allergic to both rice and pineapple, both foods she has safely consumed before.

One thing that really surprised me about this book was the various aspects of food allergies that are discussed, such as peanut bans on flights (Beasley is not allergic to peanuts), even some information on vegetarianism and veganism (her sister becomes vegetarian). I guess I was expecting something like a blog-turned-book. And I haven’t really got a very good opinion on those.

Beasley is an award-winning poet who used to feel that prose was the “dark side”. In an interview with She Writes, Beasley says: “The key to writing the book, I realized, was to admit that I didn’t have all the answers going in, and to make the act of questioning part of the book’s conscious narrative.” And that is what makes this story interesting. She discusses using (or in their case, the lack of use) of the EpiPen (a lot of Benadryl is consumed instead), even talks about wedding traditions and how weddings for her are hazardous (people having consumed cake and all that kissing and hugging), and dining out is a leap of faith.

 “Getting ready to go out on a dinner date, I always line and shadow my eyelids knowing that by the end of the night they could be swollen and heavy with fluid. I coat my lips in Chapstick, not knowing if I’ll end up with a kiss or mouth-to-mouth from a fifty-three-year-old paramedic with halitosis.”

We’ve been so careful about what we feed wee reader, especially since he’s still exploring different tastes and textures. I would so love to be able to let him try foods off my plate when we are out, but when we do dine out, it’s usually at Asian restaurants and with their use of peanuts and eggs and wheat (which is in most soy sauces) and the risk of cross-contamination as well as the difficulty of explaining what we need, it’s easier to just bring our own baby food along. I just hope that he will outgrow these allergies, or perhaps that the blood test threw up some false positives (but we’ll never know for sure until we do some supervised food challenges when he’s older). I know a lot of people out there live with food allergies (and Beasley has so many more allergies than wee reader), but, as I mentioned earlier, to me and my family, it’s a new thing. The only relative with food allergies is my cousin who was born and lives in Perth, Australia!

If not for finding about wee reader’s allergies, I would not have picked up this book. But it is such a great non-fiction read – well-written, personal, informative, that I would recommend it to everyone, whether you have food allergies or not.

Oh I also love this post she wrote about public libraries on Poems Out Loud, especially this part:

 In libraries we recognize the judgment of touch; the best books are usually in the shabbiest shape. Every dog-eared corner marks a moment worth returning to. Every splotch of soy sauce is a medal of honor. Every creased binding proves hours spent using one hand to Xerox, or iron, or whatever the day required, while clutching in the other hand a story that could not be put down. When I first began browsing my way through the science fiction stacks, I didn’t choose books that looked like pristine runway models. I chose the grizzled field veterans. That’s how I came to Ray Bradbury, Harlan Ellison, and Arthur C. Clarke.

This is my fourth read for the Foodies Read 2 Challenge

The Table Comes First

This wasn’t what I was expecting.

What was I expecting?, you might ask. A sort of history, evaluation of the current state of the culinary world, the progress it  has made, from home-cooked to fine dining. It was, and it wasn’t.

It took me three weeks to read this book. And that involved a LOT of skimming. Because while Gopnik is full of passion about food and eating (mostly French/French-styled food), he enjoys a too long philosophical  ramble, one which leaves more questions than answers, and sometimes it’s all a bit too preachy like he’s glaring at us from his high culinary pulpit especially when he’s going on about the meat-vs-veg debate (nevertheless to say, I skimmed that chapter).

I hesitate to recommend The Table Comes First to anyone, even if you are a foodie. I mean, I love to eat and read about food and all that, but how I struggled with this book. It was not a fun read, it wasn’t all that insightful either. It was too Franco-centric, largely ignoring most of the non-western world. It is obvious that his target audience are those who have already eaten at Momofuku and El Bulli and all those ‘top’ restaurants.

However, if I hadn’t read it, I would not have come across to Elizabeth Pennell, whose 1900 book The Feasts of Autolycus, the Diary of a Greedy Woman (available as an ebook here) begins:

“Gluttony is ranked among the deadly sins; it should be honoured among the cardinal virtues.”

Gopnik decides to start ’emailing’ Elizabeth Pennell, which is a little silly, but at other times, entertaining as he details his attempts in the kitchen.

And even more so for that great bibliography at the end because with the exception of the Steinberger book, I have not heard of any of them. And these definitely sound more up my alley. And here they are:

Rebecca Spang – The Innovation of the Restaurant: Paris and Modern Gastronomic Culture
Amy B. Trubek – Haute Cuisine: How the French Invented the Culinary Profession
Priscilla P. Ferguson – Accounting for Taste: The Triumph of French Cuisine
W. Scott Haine – The World of the Paris Cafe: Sociability among the French Working Class, 1789-1914
Andrew P. Haley – Turning the Tables: Restaurants and the Rise of the Middle Class
Giles MacDonogh – Brillat-Savarin: The Judge and his Stomach
– A Palate in Revolution: Grimod de La Reyniere and the Alamanach des Gourmands
Ian Kelly – Cooking for Kings: The Life of Antonin Careme, the first Celebrity Chef
The Recipe Reader: Narratives, Contexts, Traditions – edited by Janet Floyd and Laurel Foster
Sandra Sherman – The Invention of the Modern Cookbook
Michael Steinberger – Au Revoir to All that: Food, Wine and the end of France
Patric Kuh – The Last Days of Haute Cuisine
Rachel Herz – The Scent of Desire
Lawrence Osborne – The Accidental Connoisseur
Richard Wrangham – Catching Fire: How Cooking Made Us Human
Tom Standage – An Edible History of Humanity
Margaret Visser – The Rituals of Dinner


This is my third read for the Foodies challenge

Read in January 2012

So it seems that I have been a bit of a reading maniac this month. Alright, alright, so some of these books were those I had started reading last month, so that helped boost the numbers a bit (confession: it took me 9 months to read the Jules Verne!). I see the urgent need to read more non-fiction…. But first, to February and my attempt at reading mostly books in translation (the exceptions are the books from my previous library loot).


Fiction (15)
Uncle Montague’s Tales of Terror – Chris Priestley, David Roberts (illustrator)
I am Half-Sick of Shadows – Alan Bradley
Heat Wave – Richard Castle
Starman – Sara Douglass
So long, see you tomorrow – William Maxwell
The Thing Around Your Neck – Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
The Magicians -Lev Grossman
Night and Day – Virginia Woolf
A Monstrous Regiment of Women – Laurie R King
Sinner (Wayfarer Redemption #4) – Sara Douglass
Pilgrim (Wayfarer Redemption #5) – Sara Douglass
Crusader (Wayfarer Redemption #6) – Sara Douglass
Twenty thousand leagues under the sea – Jules Verne
Beggars in Spain (Sleepless Trilogy #1) – Nancy Kress
The Lake – Banana Yoshimoto

Graphic novels (3)

Hereville: How Mirka Got Her Sword – Barry Deutsch
The Walking Dead vol 2 – Robert Kirkman et al
Serenity: the Shepherd’s Tale – Joss Whedon et al

Non-fiction (2)
A Tiger in the Kitchen: A Memoir of Food and Family – Cheryl Lu-lien Tan
Blood, Bones and Butter: the Inadvertent Education of a Restaurant Chef- Gabrielle Hamilton

Blood, Bones and Butter

As best as we could, using the butter-yellow melamine plates, we artfully arranged soppressata, Alphonse olives, hard cheeses, and bread that had crust and body – that could actually hurt the roof of your mouth if you were accustomed. We fried fatty, bony duck wings and coated them in toasted sesame seeds. We untangled mounds of curly bitter endive and tamed it with pear and walnuts and vinegar with bacon fat.

As I made my way through this book, I kept thinking: man, this book and her life are imbued, suffused, just completely infused with food. And my other thought: good god, what a life she had led. Being left on her own (accidentally?) as a kid and taking on a job at a restaurant (and hijacking cars in workshops to get to said job) to make money, essentially her first and very young foray into the culinary universe. Working as an underaged waitress at a bar. Doing coke and other drugs. Backpacking through Europe in winter with not very much money. Saying yes to owning a restaurant when she’s had no experience managing one (she’s had plenty of experience working as a catering chef but that’s a different ball game). Cooking for summer campers, including a young gourmand who’s father is a rather famous someone and some idiotic counselors who feel for the lobsters they’re going to consume anyway. Taking up an MFA in Michigan. Working the egg station at her restaurant while heavily pregnant and scheduling her childbirth when some members of her kitchen staff quit on her! This is a life boldly (perhaps sometimes a little foolishly?), led. And she puts all of it into her New York restaurant, Prune.

And I wanted to bring all of it, every last detail of it – the old goat herder smoking filterless cigarettes coming down the mountain, crushing oregano and wild mint underfoot; Iannis cooking me two fried eggs without even asking me if I cared for something to eat; that sweet creamy milk that the milk wallah in Delhi frothed by pouring in a long sweeping arc between two pots held as far apart as the full span on his arms from his cart decorated with a thousand fresh marigolds – into this tiny thirty-seat restaurant.

This book shines with such a gorgeous, delicious lustre when Hamilton talks about food, about her mom’s teaching them to forage for food in their own backyard, about Andre Soltner of Lutèce making an omelette, about making oriecchette in Italy (she married an Italian who courted her with homemade ravioli), and even about freelancing at catering companies (which makes me so rethink ever eating catered food. Here’s a hint: you know those canapes on toasts? Those toasts probably have been sitting around in the kitchens for days and days.)

We’d tromp around in the mud and taunt the geese in the meadow who’d lower their necks and come at us hissing mad, try to spear fish in the stream, and pick the big black berries off the mulberry bushes near our mailbox while inside our mother would whistle along with the classical music station, stir pots of fragrant stews, and repose in her chair, howling out loud, a New Yorker open on her lap and a particular cartoon cutting her in half.

But the bits about her family, especially her mother, are a little hard to swallow. There is so much angst and tension between the two of them that it very nearly pushes the reader away. But like that car wreck you pass on the highway, you just can’t tear your eyes from.

Blood, Bones and Butter is full of life, full of passion. Her dedication to her work, to her restaurant, to her children, is unceasing. Her story, a little bittersweet, the narrative a bit confusing at times, but a very hearty, satisfying read.

This is my second read for the Foodies Read 2 Challenge 

Library Loot (10 January 2012)

Library Loot is a weekly event co-hosted by Claire from The Captive Reader and Marg from The Adventures of an Intrepid Reader that encourages bloggers to share the books they’ve checked out from the library.

Wee reader had his usual awesome time at the library’s baby lapsit programme. Songs, storytime, playtime! And of course, picking up plenty of books for the both of us!

Sinner (Wayfarer Redemption, Book 4) – Sara Douglass
Yup more Sara Douglass!

The land of Tencendor has been united for more than forty years, thanks to Axis, who is the legendary Starman. He defeated Gorgrael and brought peace to the three races–and upon fulfilling his destiny, Axis and his consort Azhure retired to the ethereal sphere in the heavens, and ceded his authority to their son Caelum.

But the path of the son is not necessarily that of the father. Caelum is untried and has known nothing but peace during his lifetime. And while the three races seem to be at peace, there are undercurrents of jealousy and bitter memories buried just beneath the surface.

So when strange powers begin to manifest in their world, and threaten the destruction of all he holds dear, Caelum will have to find the strength to fight this threat–and to fight his mortal brother Drago, who is not as powerless as he appears to be. Something killed their sister, and Caelum knows Drago is the culprit–but the Supreme Ruler of the land must have proof, and Caelum has none.

Caelum desperately tries to juggle saving the world with proving his brother killed their sister, but time grows short and the demons are drawing near…

Pilgrim: Book Five of the Wayfarer Redemption – Sara Douglass

The Star Gate is destroyed and the Star Dance is dead. Icarii Enchanters, gods, and humans alike are helpless as the TimeKeeper Demons lay waste to Tencendor.

There must be hope left, but no one knows where to find it. Death lurks in every twist of the Maze, but only those who have the courage to endure death can learn the secrets of the ancient enemy.

Caelum SunSoar and his parents know that the only way is to discover the ancient secrets that lay trapped in the mountain Star Finger, and Faraday, martyred heroine, grows ever fearful — and ever bitter. Must she lose everything to the land?

Beggars in Spain – Nancy Kress

In a world where the slightest edge can mean the difference between success and failure, Leisha Camden is beautiful, extraordinarily intelligent … and one of an ever-growing number of human beings who have been genetically modified to never require sleep.

Once considered interesting anomalies, now Leisha and the other “Sleepless” are outcasts — victims of blind hatred, political repression, and shocking mob violence meant to drive them from human society … and, ultimately, from Earth itself.

But Leisha Camden has chosen to remain behind in a world that envies and fears her “gift” — a world marked for destruction in a devastating conspiracy of freedom … and revenge.

Hereville: How Mirka Got Her Sword – Barry Deutsch

Recommended by Buried in Print

Spunky, strong-willed eleven-year-old Mirka Herschberg isn’t interested in knitting lessons from her stepmother, or how-to-find-a-husband advice from her sister, or you-better-not warnings from her brother. There’s only one thing she does want: to fight dragons!

Granted, no dragons have been breathing fire around Hereville, the Orthodox Jewish community where Mirka lives, but that doesn’t stop the plucky girl from honing her skills. She fearlessly stands up to local bullies. She battles a very large, very menacing pig. And she boldly accepts a challenge from a mysterious witch, a challenge that could bring Mirka her heart’s desire: a dragon-slaying sword! All she has to do is find—and outwit—the giant troll who’s got it!

A delightful mix of fantasy, adventure, cultural traditions, and preteen commotion, Hereville will captivate middle-school readers with its exciting visuals and entertaining new heroine.

The Table Comes First: Family, France, and the Meaning of Food – Adam Gopnik
For the Foodies Challenge

Never before have we cared so much about food. It preoccupies our popular culture, our fantasies, and even our moralizing—“You still eat meat?” With our top chefs as deities and finest restaurants as places of pilgrimage, we have made food the stuff of secular seeking and transcendence, finding heaven in a mouthful. But have we come any closer to discovering the true meaning of food in our lives?

With inimitable charm and learning, Adam Gopnik takes us on a beguiling journey in search of that meaning as he charts America’s recent and rapid evolution from commendably aware eaters to manic, compulsive gastronomes. It is a journey that begins in eighteenth-century France—the birthplace of our modern tastes (and, by no coincidence, of the restaurant)—and carries us to the kitchens of the White House, the molecular meccas of Barcelona, and beyond. To understand why so many of us apparently live to eat, Gopnik delves into the most burning questions of our time, including: Should a Manhattanite bother to find chicken killed in the Bronx? Is a great vintage really any better than a good bottle of wine? And: Why does dessert matter so much?

Throughout, he reminds us of a time-honored truth often lost amid our newfound gastronomic pieties and certitudes: What goes on the table has never mattered as much to our lives as what goes on around the table—the scene of families, friends, lovers coming together, or breaking apart; conversation across the simplest or grandest board. This, ultimately, is who we are.

Following in the footsteps of Jean Anthelme Brillat-Savarin, Adam Gopnik gently satirizes the entire human comedy of the comestible as he surveys the wide world of taste that we have lately made our home. The Table Comes First is the delightful beginning of a new conversation about the way we eat now.

And for wee reader:

My Friend Rabbit – Eric Rohmann

All Fall Down – Helen Oxenbury

Have you read any of these books? What did you think of them? What would you suggest I read next?

See more Library Loot here.


A Tiger in the Kitchen

A bowl of porridge – a hallmark of traditional Teochew cuisine – appeared. The water was just slightly milky, the grains of rice soft, yet still separate and not so soft that they were mushed together, as they often can be in lesser versions. The porridge was simple and clean – a lovely canvas for the subtle dishes that would follow. A giant steamed fish came prepared with silvers of ginger and swimming in a slightly sweet broth with tinges of the tomatoes and sour plums that had been steeped in it. A crunchy beggar’s purse erupted in an avalanche of diced chicken when sliced open. Perfectly fried prawn balls were crunchy outside and hot and juicy inside. Goose legs and wings were braised in sweet soy sauce to such softness that the meat was like cotton puffs on our tongues.

Being part Teochew myself, I salivated over the many Teochew and Singaporean dishes that Tan, who lives and works in the US (and blogs here), consumes and learns to make from her family in Singapore. I longed for more, much more. I got some, with my fill with her tales of making pineapple tarts, rice dumplings, duck soup. But to be honest, in the end I was a little disappointed.

With a myriad of food-related memoirs out there, it’s a tough market. This book’s hook – Singapore food. A rojak of Singapore food. There’s Chinese New Year pineapple tarts, duck soup, a Malay dish, and plenty of bread baking. Reading A Tiger in the Kitchen made me think of home, it made me think of my late grandmother, whom I would find sitting in the kitchen when we visited for Sunday dinners. ‘Mama’ I would greet her and nose around the dining table to check out what we were having for dinner (of course the kids ate at the plastic table on the front porch, not with the adults at the rosewood table). I would request for her kong bah (stewed pork belly with steamed buns) and prawn fritters for my birthdays. But what I miss most are her rice dumplings, orh nee and braised duck, the recipes of which have been lost forever.

Reading this book made me think of the wonderful times spent with my mum in  kitchen, helping her chop and wash and cook, helping her whack out the snowskin mooncakes from their wooden moulds. It’s been so long since I’ve had her mooncakes, her simple yet delicious quiche, her sayur lodeh (a vegetable curry). I can’t wait till August when she and my dad come to visit! Hopefully she won’t mind doing some cooking when she’s here! So in that respect, all good. A book that brings up such fond memories, that stirs up the appetite – what could be better?

But there was this sense of disconnect in A Tiger in the Kitchen. Tan’s from Singapore, but lives in the US. First a fashion writer, then a food writer. She starts out quite clueless but thanks to help from her family in Singapore, and her friends and ‘uncles’ in the US, she begins to learn to cook and bake. The book isn’t just about Singapore food, as Tan is fond of baking and breadmaking. And sometimes it’s a bit too back and forth. In Singapore, in the US, cooking Singapore food, baking bread. I mean I understand it’s not all about making mee siam and nasi padang, life in Singapore is very ‘rojak’, but it left me feeling like tighter editing might have come in handy. This book is also a story about her family. However I felt that while bits of her family are revealed, there is much more left unsaid. I can understand, Singapore is a small country, somehow it always seems like there are less than six degrees connecting each other, and I wouldn’t really want people to read about my life! So I kept having this impression that I was always just skimming the fat off the surface of the soup (yeah those food metaphors were just prepped and ready to be used). I wanted to plunge my spoon in deeper, to dig to the bottom of the soup bowl for all the good stuff, to learn more about her family, her passion for food.

I know photos can be a little overdone when it comes to memoirs/food-related books, but just to have a hint of the food in the recipes would be better, especially for those who are unfamiliar with Singapore food. And then there’s the cover. I really hate this whole ‘oriental’ rubbish. This is a book about food, so why the red cheongsam? It’s as if they searched ‘Asia’ or ‘Oriental’ and used the first image they found. Then added the chopsticks to signal that this book is not just ‘Oriental’, it is food-related. So why not a picture of food? While I don’t have pictures of duck soup and pineapple tarts and rice dumplings (oh actually I do have pictures of rice dumplings! see below) for you, here is some of the food I had in Singapore.

Chicken wings, fried vegetarian bee hoon, satay

Kaya (coconut jam) toast (with slabs of butter) and kopi (Singapore-style coffee – sweetened with condensed milk)

Orh nee (yam paste with pumpkin and gingko nuts)

(from bottom left) Nasi lemak, chwee kueh, soya bean milk, rice dumplings (bah zhang)

A Tiger in the Kitchen may have its flaws (which book doesn’t) but it did something that few books have. It made me long for home, for my family, for my food.

This is my first read for Foodies Read 2.

Library Loot (15 December 2011)

Library Loot is a weekly event co-hosted by Claire from The Captive Reader and Marg from The Adventures of an Intrepid Reader that encourages bloggers to share the books they’ve checked out from the library.

The Thing Around Your Neck – Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie burst onto the literary scene with her remarkable debut novel, Purple Hibiscus, which critics hailed as “one of the best novels to come out of Africa in years” (Baltimore Sun), with “prose as lush as the Nigerian landscape that it powerfully evokes” (The Boston Globe); The Washington Post called her “the twenty-first-century daughter of Chinua Achebe.” Her award-winning Half of a Yellow Sun became an instant classic upon its publication three years later, once again putting her tremendous gifts—graceful storytelling, knowing compassion, and fierce insight into her characters’ hearts—on display. Now, in her most intimate and seamlessly crafted work to date, Adichie turns her penetrating eye on not only Nigeria but America, in twelve dazzling stories that explore the ties that bind men and women, parents and children, Africa and the United States.

In “A Private Experience,” a medical student hides from a violent riot with a poor Muslim woman whose dignity and faith force her to confront the realities and fears she’s been pushing away. In “Tomorrow is Too Far,” a woman unlocks the devastating secret that surrounds her brother’s death. The young mother at the center of “Imitation” finds her comfortable life in Philadelphia threatened when she learns that her husband has moved his mistress into their Lagos home. And the title story depicts the choking loneliness of a Nigerian girl who moves to an America that turns out to be nothing like the country she expected; though falling in love brings her desires nearly within reach, a death in her homeland forces her to reexamine them.

Searing and profound, suffused with beauty, sorrow, and longing, these stories map, with Adichie’s signature emotional wisdom, the collision of two cultures and the deeply human struggle to reconcile them. The Thing Around Your Neck is a resounding confirmation of the prodigious literary powers of one of our most essential writers.

A Tiger in the Kitchen– Cheryl Lu-lien Tan

Ok I was probably too quick on the mark for this one, since it’s not 2012 yet. But this will be my first read for the Foodies Challenge.

After growing up in the most food-obsessed city in the world, Cheryl Lu-Lien Tan left home and family at eighteen for America–proof of the rebelliousness of daughters born in the Year of the Tiger. But as a thirtysomething fashion writer in New York, she felt the Singaporean dishes that defined her childhood beginning to call her back. Was it too late to learn the secrets of her grandmothers’ and aunties’ kitchens, as well as the tumultuous family history that had kept them hidden before? In her quest to recreate the dishes of her native Singapore by cooking with her family, Tan learned not only cherished recipes but long-buried stories of past generations.

A Tiger in the Kitchen, which includes ten authentic recipes for Singaporean classics such as pineapple tarts and Teochew braised duck, is the charming, beautifully written story of a Chinese-Singaporean ex-pat who learns to infuse her New York lifestyle with the rich lessons of the Singaporean kitchen, ultimately reconnecting with her family and herself.

The Neekeeper’s Apprentice– Laurie R. King
I first borrowed an e-book version of this in October, but forgotto keep track of the due date, and one day, when I was about 2/3 of the way through, I opened the Overdrive app on my iPad only to have this horrendous notice that popped up admonishing my tardiness and warning me that slow readers will not be tolerated on Overdrive – or something to that extent. And the next thing I knew, the e-book had disappeared! Poof! Or Zap! Zap sounds more tech-y. So Zap!

So I had to go request it again, only to find that suddenly 8 other people were desperate to read this very book! I could however request a physical copy which was checked out – and had just one other hold! So yay! It finally came in, and I can finally read it.

And finally, an Overdrive e-book:
Please Look After Mom– Kyung-Sook Shin, Chi-Young Kim (Translator)

Huh, I’m not so sure about that last sentence in the book description!

A million-plus-copy best seller in Korea—a magnificent English-language debut poised to become an international sensation—this is the stunning, deeply moving story of a family’s search for their mother, who goes missing one afternoon amid the crowds of the Seoul Station subway.

Told through the piercing voices and urgent perspectives of a daughter, son, husband, and mother, Please Look After Mom is at once an authentic picture of contemporary life in Korea and a universal story of family love.

You will never think of your mother the same way again after you read this book.

Have you read any of these books? What did you think of them?
See more Library Loot here.

Challenges for 2012 – aka the overly ambitious post (updated)

I’ve been salivating at various bloggers’ list of reading challenges for 2012 so here I am, jumping into the fray.

Foodies Read 2 Challenge for 2012

I’m going for Pastry Chef, which means I have to read 4 to 8 food books in 2012. DONE!

My pool (mostly taken from Serious Reads – and depending on my library’s catalogue):

The table comes first : family, France, and the meaning of food – Adam Gopnik
The kitchen counter cooking school : how a few simple lessons transformed nine culinary novices into fearless home cooks – Kathleen Flinn
Don’t kill the birthday girl : tales from an allergic life – Sandra Beasley
How to eat a small country : a family’s pursuit of happiness, one meal at a time – Amy Finley
Beaten, seared, and sauced : on becoming a chef at the Culinary Institute of America – Jonathan Dixon
A tiger in the kitchen : a memoir of food and family – Cheryl Lu-lien Tan
Fannie’s last supper : re-creating one amazing meal from Fannie Farmer’s 1896 cookbook – Christopher Kimball
Blood, bones, and butter – Gabrielle Hamilton
The dirty life : on farming, food, and love – Kristin Kimball
Memories of a lost Egypt : a memoir with recipes – Colette Rossant
97 Orchard : an edible history of five immigrant families in one New York tenement – Jane Ziegelman (via Buried in Print)

Musings of a Bookshop Girl’s Mixing it Up challenge sounds fun. Here are the categories (and some possible reads):

1. Classics

Read: Night and Day – Virginia Woolf
All Quiet on the Western Front – Erich Maria Remarque

2. Biography

Read: Too close to the sun: The Audacious life and Times of Denys Finch Hatton – Sara Wheeler

3. Cookery, food and wine

Read: A Tiger in the Kitchen – Cheryl Lu-Lien Tan
Blood, bones, and butter – Gabrielle Hamilton
The Table Comes First: Family, France, and the meaning of food – Adam Gopnik
Don’t Kill the Birthday Girl: Tales from an Allergic Life – Sandra Beasley
The Fourth Star: Dispatches from Inside Daniel Boulud’s Celebrated New York Restaurant – Leslie Brenner
Far Flung and Well Fed – R.W. Apple Jr
Life is Meals – James and Kay Salter

4. History

Yellow Wind – David Grossman

5. Modern fiction
The Lake – Banana Yoshimoto
The Confessions of Noa Weber – Gail Hareven
Brothers – Yu Hua
The Last Brother – Nathacha Appanah

6. Graphic novels and manga

Read: Hereville: how Mirka got her sword – Barry Deutsch
Castle Waiting 2 – Linda Medley
Empire State – Jason Shiga

7.  Crime and mystery

Read: Out by Natsuo Kirino

The Devotion of Suspect X – Keigo Higashino
The Winter Queen – Boris Akunin

8. Horror

Read: Locke and Key – Joe Hill and Gabriel Rodriguez
The Last Werewolf – Glen Duncan

9. Romance
Read: Dating Mr December – Phillipa Ashley

10. Science fiction and fantasy
Beggars in Spain – Nancy Kress
The Wayfarer Redemption – Sara Douglass
The Forgotten Beasts of Eld – Patricia McKillip
The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms – N.K. Jemisin
The Broken Kingdoms – N.K. Jemisin

11. Travel

Read: Among Flowers: a walk in the Himalaya – Jamaica Kincaid

12. Poetry and drama
Dark Emperor and other poems of the night – Joyce Sidman, illustrated by Rick Allen

13. Journalism and humour

Read:  Hark! A vagrant – Kate Beaton (does it count if I didn’t review this book?)

14. Science and natural history

Read: The Sound of a Wild Snail Eating – Elisabeth Tova Bailey

15. Children’s and Young adult

Read: Round Trip by Ann Jonas
A Book of Sleep – Il Sung Na
The Wolves of Willoughby Chase – Joan Aiken

Eep! – Joke van Leeuwen

16. Social sciences and philosophy

Read: Is that a Fish in your Ear? – David Bellos


I’m gunning for: ALL THE TRIMMINGS AND A CHERRY ON TOP: Going for gold with the full 16! Erm yeah, the post is titled ‘overly ambitious’ after all!

War Through the Generations

Dip: Read 1-3 books in any genre with WWI as a primary or secondary theme.

Regeneration; The Eye in the Door; The Ghost Road – Pat Barker
Back to the front : an accidental historian walks the trenches of World War I – Stephen O’Shea

Read: All Quiet on the Western Front – Erich Maria Remarque

Are you taking part in any of these? What other challenges have sparked your interest?