Book Review – Nadiya’s British Food Adventure

I love watching British cooking shows and reading cookbooks from the UK. This particular book, Nadiya’s British Food Adventure, combines my love of all things British with a desire to learn more about other cultures.

Nadiya Hussain is a breath of fresh air. No pretentiousness, no putting on airs. Just family style cooking elevated with a bright smile and a touch of style. You may recognize her as the winner of the Season 6 series of The Great British Bake Show. You could just tell she was a star from the start.

Her recipes are things that are easy to pull together, often with ingredients you already have at home. Her television series brings all of her recipes to life, as you watch her effortlessly turn classics into modern versions of dishes her family loves, such as the tea cakes with date butter. I could really gobble one up right now with a nice cup of tea!

An excellent cookbook by a welcome new face on the food scene.

Book Review: Enola Holmes and the Black Barouche by Nancy Springer

Enola Holmes and the Black Barouche by Nancy Springer is the seventh book in a pastiche series of MG/YA novels. Set in Victorian England, Springer creates a new character all her own: Enola (which is the word “alone” spelled backwards), the much younger sister of Mycroft and Sherlock Holmes. And, alone she is, as her mother has abandoned her, her father is deceased, and her two older brothers are off living their own lives. She describes her brother Sherlock as the one and only professional private detective in all of England, while she is the one and only professional perditorian, one who finds things that are lost.

Full disclosure: I was introduced to this series via the Netflix film based upon the first in the series, Enola Holmes and the Missing Marquess. After watching the film in September of 2020, I quickly downloaded the corresponding novel and flew through it. Having read quite a bit of the Sherlock Holmes canon, I was immediately drawn into his world once again, this time with a female protagonist who shares many of Sherlock’s quirks and characteristics.

And, now, thanks to NetGalley and this advance ebook of the seventh installment, I return to Victorian England and meet up once again with Sherlock and Enola. I actually enjoyed this one more than the first; perhaps the first fell victim to my breaking one of my hard and fast rules: never see the movie before reading the book. I will now finish up the series, reading those in between the two bookends in order.

One thing is certain, however, I am glad to be reading Springer’s work on my Kindle as my finger is perpetually loitering over words unfamiliar to me. As a veteran English teacher and a lifelong avid reader, my vocabulary is pretty solid, but Springer has sprung quite a few new words on me. For example, a barouche is a four-wheeled horse-drawn carriage with the passenger seats hidden from view by a folding top.

Springer has created a unique literary character, a young female in Victorian England who walks into pubs unescorted, drives a horse-drawn carriage—albeit badly, carries a dagger in the bosom of her dress, and more. I found the most recent installment to move at a faster clip than the first, but this is perhaps a result of having seen what Hollywood did prior to reading. A very enjoyable series, which I hope continues past this most recent one. Another movie or two would be fine with me as well, as long as I’ve read the books first!

Book Review: Sing Freedom! by Vanita Oelschlager and illustrated by Mike DeSantis

What a beautiful book! The illustrations are really well done and fit the text so very well.

Sing Freedom by Vanita Oelschlager and illustrated by Mike DeSantis is a perfect book to explain how freedom, once lost, is so very difficult to regain. This book covers a major political event very well, with just enough information to teach, but not too much to overwhelm. A glossary in the back gives more details on new people and places. Another page in the back shows the steps the illustrator takes to create the art, which is a fascinating peek into the artistry behind picture books. I can easily see this being a favorite page for those students who love to sketch. A bare-bones map of Europe shows all of the countries in relationship to each other, helpful in a time when geography is not taught any longer in many elementary schools.

Full disclosure: I knew practically nothing about Estonia, so I found this book very informative, even as an adult!

As a veteran middle school language arts teacher, one of the things I loved to do was to pair a picture book with a grade-level novel. For example, before reading Esperanza Rising, the story of a once wealthy Mexican girl who loses everything and must be secretly smuggled across the border with her mother and their trusted servants. Once in California she must learn things like sweeping and cooking as her mother works alongside their former servants picking and packing fruits and vegetables in the fields. Before reading, I would have the students read picture books of immigration and the difficulties people from war-torn countries faced both at home and here in their new home. Sing Freedom! would be a great picture book to pair with a YA novel about the Cold War and the Iron Curtain.

Interesting side note: the back jacket of the book tells of a film about the “Singing Revolution”. This would be a great cross-curriculum, multi-media experience to watch the film, read the book, and study the map of Europe, learn more about the break-up of the Soviet Union, and finish with learning the national song of Estonia, “Land of My Fathers.”

Thank you to NetGalley for allowing me read an e-book version of this book.

By Your Passion

By your cross
We were redeemed

By your childhood
We were raised

By your hands
We were led

By your feet
We were brought

By your words
We were taught

By your miracles
We were awed

By your parables
We were molded

By your psalms
We were enriched

By your side
We remain

By your mother
We were soothed

By your apostles
We were converted

By your martyrs
We were inspired

By your saints
We were emboldened

By your father
We were created

By your son
We were taught

By your spirit
We were confirmed

By your water
We were baptized

By your love
We are nurtured

By your courage
We were spared

By your grace
We were sanctified

By your pain
We were crippled

By your taunting
We were provoked

By your crucifixion
We were saved

By your death
We were delivered

By your body
We were fed

By your blood
We were bathed

By your cross
We were redeemed

Grammar for Grown-Ups

Here’s a cute little graphic to help you with two words that are often confused! Now, Dessert Island is a place I’d really like to visit! Enjoy!

Need Grammar for Grown-ups sessions, via Zoom, one-on-one or in a small group? I’m here to help with all your writing, editing, and grammar needs!

Book Review

You Had Me at Pet-Nat: A Natural Wine-Soaked Memoir by Rachel Signer

When requesting this book to read and review, I thought it was a novel, but I have since learned from Googling the author that it is a memoir. I’ve read a lot of biographies, autobiographies, and memoirs over the years, and this book reads more like a novel to me.

It was great learning the difference between natural wines and wines that were not made using the natural process. I didn’t know any of this before; I drink wine, of course, but I only know that I like all reds and only some white, and that rosé is my favorite. Now, I will look at labels and the names of vineyards in a different way.

I think I would have enjoyed this book more if it was less technical with respect to the world of wines. For me, the abundance of information on certain labels, and some of the terminology unique to the wine-making industry, were a bit overwhelming, and the story of the author’s life took a backseat. However, it is clear that the author knows a great deal about wine in general, and about natural wines specifically. I also felt like at times the author was trying to shock me with some of her decisions, both those planned as well as those spontaneous.

Overall, a novel about a waitress-turned-wine expert and her journey through Europe might be more entertaining to me. Thank you to NetGalley for providing me with an advanced ebook edition of this book to read.

Book Review: Four Seasons in Rome: On Twins, Insomnia, and the Biggest Funeral in the History of the World

By Anthony Doerr (Published June 12, 2007 by Scribner Book Company)

I realize I am late to joining the Anthony Doerr fan club, but I tore through this piece of nonfiction in less than two days. I probably would have finished it in one day had I not stopped so frequently to admire his wide breadth of knowledge in many different subjects as well as his just outright beautiful command of the English language. He may not be fluent in Italian after living there for an entire year, but man, oh man, can he write!

Years ago I discovered the British tv series A Year in Provence based upon a book of the same title written by Peter Mayle, a British advertising executive who retires to an ancient farmhouse in Provence, France, to try his hand at writing a novel. The novel doesn’t happen, and when his deadline for turning in the novel arrives, Mayle submits instead his journals of his four seasons in the French countryside, where he renovates the farmhouse with limited use of the French language. Novels do come later, but his reputation as a writer is secured with his anecdotes of the people in the nearby village, the glorious meals he and his wife share, and his outsider’s view of the beauty of the Provence countryside, earning him an award for best travel book of the year and eventually Knight of the Legion of Honor by the French government.  

Part memoir, part travelogue, part nature journal, Four Seasons in Rome comes about in much the same way as Peter Mayle’s A Year in Provence. It is the story of how Anthony Doerr and his wife Shauna come to live in Rome for one year, after learning a mere twelve hours after his wife gave birth to twin boys of winning an award he had not applied for nor knew existed. Doerr is shocked to learn that he was anonymously nominated based upon his collection of short stories and debut novel. The award he won was none other than the Rome Prize, one of the most prestigious awards from the American Academy of Arts and Letters, that comes with a one-year stipend to live and write in Rome. Along with the stipend comes a furnished apartment next door to the Academy, where he is also given a studio as an office from which to write a novel of historical fiction about occupied France during WWII. 

Much like Mayle, however, he does not actually write the novel, which he later completes back in Idaho, and which subsequently brings him the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction. What he did write was a journal of his time in Rome, his love affair with the city itself, and his journey as the father of bambini gemelli in a foreign land. 

While strolling his twins over nearly every square foot of Rome, he observed nature–especially trees and birds, architecture, and the many fountains of Rome. It is here that his writing really shines. I’ve been to Rome twice, and I might as well have been blind-folded both trips as I didn’t see any of what he so eloquently describes. His descriptions of the birds and trees reminded me of one of my favorite books, Annie Dillard’s Pilgrim at Tinker Creek, which also won Dillard the Pulitzer Prize for nonfiction. 

Doerr doesn’t actually come out and say he is Catholic in this book, but if he isn’t, he is the first non-Catholic I have heard of who was so consumed by the health and ultimate passing of Pope John Paul II. Having myself attended the outdoor Mass on Easter Sunday in St. Peter’s Square in 2004, which was the last time Pope John Paul II celebrated Easter Mass, I could feel what he was experiencing in a poignant way. Standing in the brilliant sunshine, we could see how frail and pale the Pope was, and we feared that he was nearing the end of his earthly journey. I really enjoyed reading Doerr’s memoir of his year in Rome, even the difficult parts surrounding his wife’s hospitalization. And now I’ll do something I should have done much earlier, read Doerr’s All the Light We Cannot See.

Yummy – Sweet and Savory

Yesterday I made the cookie dough for the “Rye – Chocolate Shortbread” from Dorie Greenspan’s forthcoming cookbook. Today I sliced and baked. They say a picture is worth a thousand words, and this one says it all!

They were everything shortbread should be: crumbly, sandy, buttery, melt in your mouth goodness. But, they also have the crunch of the rye flour and the swooning feeling you get from really good quality dark chocolate. Not overly sweet and just perfect with a pinch of sea salt on top. An unusual cookie, but a lovely addition to afternoon tea!

Thank you again to NetGalley for an advanced copy of this book.

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.