Wednesday, November 25, 2009

"There’s no turkey in it."

This was my four-year-old’s assessment after sitting down with the first Thanksgiving book in our stack - Nickommoh! - and flipping through the pictures. Then as soon as I began reading the first page (“Kautantawwitt, the Creator…”), my listener exclaimed, “English please!” After stumbling through the pronunciation of “Taqountikeeswush” and “Qunnekamuck” I too was thinking, “English please!” Unfamiliar language aside, Jackie French Koller weaves together an intriguing story of a Narragansett harvest celebration. We watch as they build the lodge, prepare the nasaump pudding, swim in the river, and dress in paints for the singing and dancing in the Sacred Circle. The illustrations by Marcia Sewall are a pleasure to look at – from bold black lines outlining photorealistic features on one page to the rough figures sketched around a bonfire on another.

The other book we were able to procure from the library two days before Thanksgiving was Word Bird’s Thanksgiving Words by Jane Belk Moncure and illustrated by Chris McEwan. Despite the inclusion of a turkey, my (picky) listener decided this one is “not really cool because that turkey’s not cool.” Cool?

We decided to stick with this week’s Pre-K issue of the Weekly Reader for our Thanksgiving reading. Gobble up some fun Thanksgiving Facts here.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Thanks a Lot

What will it be this year? Sunflower Rice Patties? Not-Too-Dirty-Rice? Cocoa Avocado Mousse?

I found these potential Thanksgiving (ahem) delicacies in the following new (to me) vegetarian cookbooks.

Get It Ripe by Jae Steele
I don’t mind the occasional “chik” on my plate, but the spellings in this vegan cookbook (Creemy Rice Pudding, Chewy Peanut Buttah Cookies) take the cutesy a bit far. I did like Steele’s section on menu ideas which divides the book’s recipes into meal and holiday plans. Although for my next “living foods feast,” I’m thinking I’ll skip dessert (Avocado Mousse). For Thanksgiving, either the Spiced Squash Muffins or The Good Shepherd’s Pie seem like safe bets.

Vegan Soul Kitchen by Bryant Terry
Each recipe in Terry’s book is accompanied by a personal comment or suggestion for improving your cooking game AND ideas for music to dice to. A palatable symphony. I’m not sure how well his “Sweet Thang” recipe for Maple Yam-Ginger Pie would go over at our table, but the Boppin’ John might be worth a try…for New Year’s.

Enemy of the Steak by Nikki and David Goldbeck
The Goldbecks’ latest book introduces the vegetarian recipes with a section called Basic Training. With detailed instructions and cooking times for stewing beans, soaking grains, and grilling vegetables, you can finally use those speckled beans that have been eyeing you from the pantry. I’ll take pity on the carnivores and opt out of the Orange Arame Salad and Rare Root Stew, but perhaps the Maple Pecan Tempeh won’t feel too neglected next to the green bean casserole and that last turkey leg.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Mrs. Somebody Somebody: Stories by Tracy Winn

Lowell, Massachusetts has been popping up in any printed material I’ve picked up lately. Most recently it’s appeared as the thread binding the stories in a first collection by Tracy Winn. With characters as varied as the town’s economy, Winn will keep you reading long into third shift.

Read the title story here and see for yourself that Winn is (a Mrs.) somebody to watch.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Soup's Off?

One normally doesn’t associate the kitchen of a posh hotel with human trafficking, sex workers, and blackmail but maybe I’ve just been watching too much Top Chef and not enough CSI.

Monica Ali’s In the Kitchen serves up a cast of multinational night porters, sleazy managers, and working-class siblings. One of these siblings, Gabriel Lightfoot, is the executive chef at the Imperial Hotel. Gabe is biding his time at the hotel while he tries to pull the financing together to open his own place. He is also debating proposing to his nightclub-singer-girlfriend even while sheltering one of the above-mentioned sex workers in his apartment. As if that weren’t enough of a full plate, Gabe learns his father has cancer.

You may remember Ali from her previous book Brick Lane (or seen the film). Perhaps she’s bit off too much in her latest endeavor. Not only does Kitchen tackle Gabe’s present menu of troubles, but it doesn’t blanch at including numerous flashbacks to Gabe’s childhood as well as throwing in the back story of almost all of the immigrants who work in his kitchen. We read of Gabe’s visits to his father’s mill and his delights in the antics of his madcap mother. Well, the madcap turns out to be simply mad, as Gabe learns near the end of the book, just in time for his own mental tray of dishes to come crashing down.

Like the diners who clap at the sound of shattered plates, you may applaud Ali’s efforts. Will you be praising her examination of the breadth of human folly or simply pleased the last page is imminent? It all depends on your taste. This book has a little (or should I say a little too much) for everyone. Immigrant struggle, illicit sex, sibling rivalry, and fledgling entrepreneurship - you will be sated. Bon App├ętit.