Book Review: Baking with Dorie by Dorie Greenspan

You had me at rye-chocolate shortbread! 

I love to read and I love to cook, so it is only natural that I read cookbooks like some people read novels: devouring them and savoring every last headnote, ingredient list, recipe, footnote, and photograph. Baking with Dorie by Dorie Greenspan is no exception. I can't wait to purchase a copy of this glorious compendium for my very own, and bake my way through it. 

I enjoy apple pie and chocolate chip cookies like the rest of us, but I really love cookbooks that have great recipes for the all-American standards combined with favorites from other parts of the world. This brings me to the rye and chocolate shortbread. In a recipe named "Tenderest Shortbread Four Ways," Greenspan pushes us way out of our comfort zone (and what could be more comforting than a piece of buttery sandy shortbread with a steaming hot cup of tea) into a recipe for "The Rye-Chocolate Shortbread." I love rye bread, and during the pandemic have spent some time trying to copy the Harvest Loaf from my favorite farmers' market. I know it's part rye and has lots of other seeds and grains in it but I'm not there yet. Now I know just what to do with one cup of the rye flour I ordered for those experimental loaves. I can almost taste that Rye-Chocolate Shortbread now!

Since the pandemic has all but frozen us in place, I loved being able to dream about all the places I'd love to travel to, where I could eat all of the goodies from those places that are detailed in Greenspan's book, like the "Biscuits Rose" sold all over the Champagne region of France, the "Glenorchy Flapjacks" straight from New Zealand, or the "Szarlotka" apple dessert from Poland. 

This is a beautiful cookbook, with gorgeous photos of almost every recipe in it, but what I really appreciate is what Greenspan includes at the end of each recipe: Playing Around. Here she details how to add/delete ingredients to make the recipe your own, or to bring it back to what it was originally, like the updated World Peace Cookies 2.0 recipe on page 160. In the Playing Around section at the end of the recipe, she gives instructions on how to go back and make the original World Peace Cookies. But, hey, since the 2.0 version calls for 1/2 cup of rye flour and a pinch of cayenne pepper, I'm going to start with the updated one!

The publication date for this beauty is October 19, 2021. Being a Libra, I think this would make a wonderful birthday present that I will gift to myself!

Thank you to NetGalley for providing me with an advanced copy of this in exchange for an honest review.

Book Review: The Sweet Taste of Muscadines by Pamela Terry

This debut novel by Pamela Terry represents authentic Southern storytelling. It unfolds slowly and the reader gets to know the characters and plot as it is peeled back layer by layer like a Vidalia onion. So much of the story resonated with me as a Louisiana native whose mother was first generation Scottish-American. Lila’s descriptions of Scotland are so on point and very similar to my exact feelings when I visited my mother’s homeland for the first time. While I have never tried my hand at weaving, I have visited a sheep farm in the Highlands and purchased wool that I later knitted, so I feel as though Lila and I share that connection. Terry’s descriptions of the Highlands and of the rocky coast of Maine drew me in as much as her pitch-perfect portrayal of Southern customs.

When I first started reading The Sweet Taste of Muscadines, I was struck by how Terry’s writing reminded of the style of writing and quirky characters of Beth Henley, whose Pulitzer Prize-winning Crimes of the Heart dealt with family secrets, loss of parents, and siblings/cousins trying to deal with it all. I wouldn’t be a bit surprised to learn that Terry was a fan of Henley’s work. The opening line of the prologue to Terry’s book, “The first time Mama died…” is so very intriguing and so very Southern.

I loved this book, and I look forward to future works by Pamela Terry, especially if she continues with her unique blend of Southern and Scottish themes. My only criticism, and it is slight at that, is I would have preferred that there be some unsolved business at the end, or at least one end of the ribbon not completely tied in a neat bow. Otherwise, a very enjoyable read indeed.

Thank you to NetGalley for an advanced copy of this novel (Ballantine Books-March 16, 2021) in exchange for this review.

Tween and Teen Book Recommendations

March 12, 2021, marks the one year anniversary of the last day I was teaching in my classroom last school year. It seems like eons ago, doesn’t it? This pandemic and quarantine business has been very difficult and challenging for all of us. With the third quarter of the 2020-2021 school year almost over, we will soon be starting our summer break!

Here are some interesting pieces of literature that would make for perfect summer reading for tweens and teens. Some of these titles are for more mature teens, and some may be considered middle grade reading level, but the stories were compelling enough for me to want them on my list. These are things I’ve taught, read and enjoyed, or highly recommended and/or award-winning titles. Newbery winners are always a good choice! I will continue to add to this list, so check back often! If you have titles you’d like to suggest to me for adding to the list, please let me know!

Fiction – Classics:

  • Things Fall Apart by Chinua Achebe 
  • The Pearl by John Steinbeck
  • Old Man and the Sea by Ernest Hemingway
  • Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen
  • Sense and Sensibility by Jane Austen
  • The Complete Works of O. Henry (short stories) by O. Henry
  • Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury
  • To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee
  • The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald
  • Jane Eyre by Charlotte Brontë
  • And Then There Were None by Agatha Christie
  • Murder on the Orient Express by Agatha Christie
  • D’Aulaires’ Book of Greek Mythology by Ingri and Edgar d’Aulaire
  • The Hound of the Baskervilles by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle
  • The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes (short stories) by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle
  • Little Women by Louisa Mae Alcott
  • Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier
  • Metamorphosis by Franz Kafka

Fiction – Contemporary:

  • House on Mango Street by Sandra Cisneros
  • Rebound by Kwame Alexander
  • The Crossover by Kwame Alexander
  • Anything (many series to choose from) by Rick Riordan
  • The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins
  • Esperanza Rising by Pam Munoz Ryan
  • The Wednesday Wars by Gary Schmidt
  • Countdown by Deborah Wiles
  • The Outsiders by S. E. Hinton
  • Wake Up Missing by Kate Messner
  • Eye of the Storm by Kate Messner
  • Silver Jaguar Society mystery trilogy by Kate Messner
  • Wonder by R. J. Palacio
  • Number the Stars by Lois Lowry
  • A Single Shard by Linda Sue Park
  • Red Kayak by Priscilla Cummings
  • The One and Only Ivan by Katherine Applegate
  • Jeremy Fink and the Meaning of Life by Wendy Mass
  • Catherine, Called Birdy by Karen Cushman

Drama:

  • The Crucible by Arthur Miller
  • Hamlet by William Shakespeare
  • Romeo and Juliet by William Shakespeare
  • The Importance of Being Earnest by Oscar Wilde
  • Antigone by Sophocles
  • Our Town by Thornton Wilder
  • Fences by August Wilson
  • A Raisin in the Sun by Lorraine Hansberry
  • Pygmalion by George Bernard Shaw
  • The Monsters are Due on Maple Street by Rod Serling (screenplay)

Non-Fiction:

  • Pilgrim at Tinker Creek by Annie Dillard
  • Tuesdays with Morrie by Mitch Albom
  • I Am Malala by Malala Yousafzai
  • Into Thin Air by Jon Krakauer
  • The Kingdom: Arabia and the House of Sa’ud by Robert Lacey
  • Apollo 13 by James Lovell
  • A Short History of Nearly Everything by Bill Bryson
  • Facing the Mountain: A True Story of Japanese American Heroes in World War II by Daniel James Brown
  • Shipwreck at the Bottom of the World by Jennifer Armstrong
  • Bomb: The Race to Build—and Steal—the World’s Most Dangerous Weapon by Steve Sheinkin
  • Hidden Figures by Margot Lee Shetterly
  • Boys in the Boat: Young Readers Adaptation by Gregory Mone (or the adult version by Daniel James Brown)
  • All Thirteen: The Incredible Cave Rescue of the Thai Boys’ Soccer Team  by Christina Soontornvat
  • Home Cooking by Laurie Colwin (or sequel More Home Cooking by Laurie Colwin)
  • A Year in Provence by Peter Mayle
  • Travels with Charley: In Search of America by John Steinbeck
  • A Moveable Feast by Ernest Hemingway

Book Review: The Missing Treasures of Amy Ashton by Eleanor Ray (Gallery Books, June 2021)

I’m glad I persevered with this book. When I was at 27%, I wasn’t sure I wanted to finish it. But, I hate leaving books unfinished out of respect for the author and the hard work involved in bringing a book project to fruition.

The beginning of the book focuses a lot on Amy’s hidden life behind the firmly closed door of her home. Once someone who collected pretty things, she has slipped past that into collecting everything. She can’t let go of anything because she can’t grab onto the one thing she sorely wants and needs to move on in her life: closure.

The writing in this book is fine, but I felt the exposition dragged on a bit for my liking. It seemed to take forever for us to find out about her backstory and why she is so damaged. Once that story starts unfolding, my interest in this book really took off, especially as her relationship with her new neighbors develops.

I requested this book because of the description: “For fans of The Keeper of Lost Things and Evvie Drake Starts Over comes a funny and tender debut about a reclusive artist whose collection has gotten out of control—but whose unexpected friendship with a pair of new neighbors might be just what she needs to start over.” Since I loved both of those books, I was hoping to feel the same way about this one. In the end, I loved this book. I think there is a bit of Amy in most of us, and letting go is a difficult thing to do, whether it is a material item or a loved one. The lesson to be learned in The Missing Treasures of Amy Ashton is that in letting go, we make room for something new and wonderful to enter our lives.

Thank you to NetGalley for giving me the opportunity to read an early e-book edition of this book.

February 26, 2021

Grammar for Grownups

Just for fun: How many of these can you check off?

☐ Do you ever lose your train of thought when you stumble upon a typo while reading a magazine or newspaper article?

☐ Do you cringe when you see a billboard or signage in a store with an apostrophe being used to show possession when in reality the sign writer wanted to show a plural state?

☐ Do you wonder if anyone–ANYONE–is actually proofreading any article published on a website?

If you have checked off one or more of these, you are experiencing some of the frustration I have on a daily basis. My first career was in the legal field, drafting and negotiating legal documents between landlords of shopping centers and malls and their prospective tenants. Clear and concise language is imperative in a legal contract. Ambiguous language in a legal contract leads to future lawsuits over a tenant’s responsibilities versus a landlord’s obligations In my second career, I spent thirteen years as a middle school language arts teacher using my red pen (Flair Paper Mate, as all teachers know) to grade tests and quizzes, student work, essays, research papers, and reflections on literature. Teaching writing is challenging, and it is further complicated by the fact that technology (laptops, tablets, smartphones) has made us lazy. We are texting and ignoring the basic rules of grammar, and when we want to use a bit more care like for a school or work assignment, we are using spell check and Grammarly to suggest edits for us.

Now, a bit more serious: Which group are you in?

☐ Group A – Readers: If you are an avid reader, your basic grammar rules are ingrained and reinforced by materials that have been heavily edited and proofread. Yes, there may still be minor errors, nothing and no one is perfect, but a published print edition of a book —fiction or nonfiction —will be in much better shape than a magazine or newspaper article with the pressures of periodical publishing. You are probably a better writer because you are an avid reader, and your vocabulary and sentence structure will be stronger. You may not know the rule behind that comma being correct, you may not remember learning the difference between hyphens and dashes, you may not know when to use quotation marks instead of italics for the titles of short stories, poems, novels, songs, or albums, but you know instinctively how to use basic punctuation and capitalization correctly.

☐ Group B – Nonreaders: But, what if you are not a reader? I know people who haven’t read an entire book since they left middle school, where much of it was done in class. High schoolers and college students, left to read large portions of classics and contemporary literature on their own, use a variety of methods to skirt around the assigned reading. The internet once again can be at fault here with online study sources like SparkNotes, which instead of being used to supplement the reading experience and classroom discussions, is being used instead of the reading.

Recently, someone very near and dear to me asked, “What is a participle?” This comes from someone with an excellent high school education, a college degree with a BA and a minor in language based studies, published work, and professional writing credits. This person is a GREAT writer, but still isn’t quite sure what a participle is.

[A participle, by the way, is a verb whose ending has been changed so that it can be used as a different part of speech, usually an adjective or a noun. Example: shoot is a verb, but by adding “ing” to it, it becomes an adjective, as in “Mary saw a shooting star when she was walking her dog.”]

Do you need to brush up on your grammar rules? Do you wish you were a better writer? Do you want to do better in school or at work on assignments that require writing?

I CAN HELP!

Reach out to me for information on how I can help you with your writing, whether you need to know more about participles, or you need to know how to structure an essay. Email me at michardillo@gmail.com. All work will be virtual, and I promise to be kind with my red pen!

And don’t forget: commas are important, otherwise you might see something like this:

I love cooking my children and reading.

Kangaroo and Joey Words (yes, really)

Allow me to blow your 🤯 mind! I recently saw this image on a friend’s post on Facebook. I guess that makes Facebook an educational tool, right (LOL)?

To understand this, just look at the white letters above. The word “masculine” contains within its letters the word “male” which is another word for masculine. So, the word “masculine” is a kangaroo word, and the synonym contained within it is the joey word. You know, like the baby joey is carried inside the mother kangaroo’s pouch.

Since this was brand new to me (an English teacher of fourteen years, avid reader, and freelance writer), I turned to Google to get more info. If you are interested in learning more about kangaroo and joey words, please read this short piece and the list of sources that follow it!

https://www.thoughtco.com/kangaroo-word-word-play-1691210

Nordquist, Richard. “Kangaroo Word Definition and Examples in English.” ThoughtCo, Aug. 27, 2020, thoughtco.com/kangaroo-word-word-play-1691210.

My latest piece – published in a national outlet!

https://www.huffpost.com/entry/classroom-teacher-retired-covid-19-pandemic_n_5ff89e3bc5b63642b6fb71e4

New Article!

November is a busy month for me! Check out my new article in Baltimore’s Child!

http://digital.baltimoreschild.com/issues/November-2020/index.html

New Article!

Please check out my latest article in Washington Family!

http://digital.washingtonfamily.com/issues/November-2020/index.html?utm_source=newsletter&utm_medium=Delivra&utm_campaign=nov20

The Magic of the ABCs

Check out my guest post on the Nerdy Book Club website!

https://nerdybookclub.wordpress.com/2020/10/19/the-magic-of-the-abcs-by-michelle-blanchard-ardillo/