Fresh Made Simple: A Naturally Delicious Way to Eat: Look, Cook, and Savor

Despite making a weekly meal plan, we eat at least one dinner a week out of the freezer and often ditch another well-planned meal for something quick and easy. Lauren K. Stine’s recipes in Fresh Made Simple are not only great for fast, fresh, mid-week eats, but also for quick, clean snacks and spreads to whip up when unexpected guests come knocking. This book is so inviting and easy to use. All it takes is a quick look at Stine’s simple list of staples for stocking a “fresh kitchen” and a scan of one of Katie Eberts’ illustrated spreads before heading to the grocery store or farmer’s market. Much of the actual meal-making takes 10 minutes or less of prep.

Unlike a traditional cookbook, Fresh Made Simple's recipes don’t include a list of ingredients or even precise measurements. All of the ingredients and most of the kitchen action is illustrated rather than written out. Amounts appear as written-in labels. In the Ginger Lemon Honey Butter recipe, for example, lines connect a bright yellow lemon to the word “zest” and a tipped bottle of honey to “just a squeeze.” Eberts draws most of the meals in-the-making: salad components cascading down into a bowl, pesto ingredients sprinkled, squeezed, and grated into a food processor. The whole thing is designed perfectly to convince the crunched-for-time cook that a fresh meal really can be simple. As an added bonus, my preschooler was thrilled to “read” her first recipe (a fruit and veggie smoothie) and tell me how to make it. Read the rest

A handbook, a cookbook, an eggbook: this quasi-encyclopedic ovarian overview is the only tome you need to own

There is something irresistibly gross about Lucky Peach food photography. The bizarre lightening and color correction, the styling that fluctuates between offbeat and grotesque. It’s so weird, it’s amazing. Aside from it’s unique visual appeal, Lucky Peach is consistently packed with culinary expertise and damn good journalism. Though the magazine will soon be gone, the brand’s fourth (and presumably final) book, All About Eggs, embodies everything that was great about the publication compiled in a kelly green hard cover.

All About Eggs really is all about eggs. It examines the egg from every angle. There are essays on the evolution of the egg tart in Asia, an egg-fueled murder in a San Francisco diner, and the egg throughout time. There are guides on deciphering egg carton labels, egg varieties, and egg substitutes. The bright yellow yolk at the center of the book houses strangely photographed finished recipes ranging from deep fried Filipino Kwek Kwek to classic, crisp French Meringues. The egg white pages on either side of the recipe section are generously peppered with egg photo illustration—egg art objects, repurposed egg shells and cartons, egg ephemera, and many, many altered photos of eggs (anthropomorphized, animalized, and otherwise reimagined). If you are at all interested in eggs, you need this book!

All About Eggs: Everything We Know About the World's Most Important Food by Rachel Khong, the editors of Lucky Peach Clarkson Potter 2017, 256 pages, 6.8 x 1 x 8.8 inches, Hardcover $16 Buy on Amazon

See sample pages from this book at Wink. Read the rest

Learn how to eat a lobster and answers to other etiquette questions with this beautifully illustrated guide

Say you’ve ditched your frozen dinners, gotten swept up in foodie culture, and, with new found enthusiasm, eat out and order seafood. You wax poetic about the merits of sustainable fish farming, but your smile suddenly wanes when your server brings the fish — whole. Or maybe you’re a college student embarking on your very first unpaid internship company lunch meeting. You arrive at the office looking sharp in that smart new number you scored off the clearance rack, only to discover that the boss has a hankering for barbecue. Or maybe you simply love food and self-improvement and are dying to find a new book to meet your niche! Whatever the case may be, How to Eat a Lobster has you covered.

The book’s guidance is served up in three courses, each packed with easily digestible bites of how-tos. Tricky Techniques covers dissecting and devouring everything from escargot to pig’s head. Etiquette Enigmas finesses table manners like sipping soup and dividing up a bill. Foodie Fixes goes inside after the bite with tips for handling spicy food and bad breath. It’s even small enough to fit neatly in your bag in case any unanticipated food adventures pop up and leave you scratching your head over which fork to use. If you plan to sneak away to reference check your etiquette in a bathroom stall, just be sure to read the How to Excuse Yourself section before you take your seat at the table.

How to Eat a Lobster: And Other Edible Enigmas Explained by Ashley Blom, Lucy Engelman (Illustrator) Quirk Books 2017, 160 pages, 5.0 x 0.7 x 6.6 inches, Hardcover $9 Buy on Amazon

See sample pages from this book at Wink. Read the rest

A beautifully illustrated edition of Hans Christian Andersen's The Snow Queen

The Hans Christian Andersen classic, The Snow Queen, is a quick and enjoyable read, made all the more so with printmaker Sanna Annukka’s gorgeous illustrations. You’ll likely recognize the textile designer’s aesthetic from Marimekko and, not surprisingly, many of her illustrations make full use of her bold, geometric patterns through the characters’ dress. Her landscapes look like fabrics, too. A panel that shows a wintry countryside looks like it could be a weaving and I wish I could buy another, a garden in full bloom, by the bolt.

The story itself is not what I had expected. In many ways, the titular character is a minor player. The heroine is a young girl, Gerda, who journeys bravely and earnestly, escaping numerous villains by virtue of her devotion to her young friend and playmate, Kay, who has been lured away by the Snow Queen. Kay first fell victim to the heart-numbing trickery of the devil himself, who had accidentally broken an evil mirror crafted to reflect and amplify only the most wicked and ugly things in the world. When the mirror breaks, pieces “smaller than a grain of sand” are sent flying around the word, one of which sticks in Kay’s eye, and another which pierces and chills his heart. As the Snow Queen further freezes Kay’s heart with a kiss, Gerda braves witches, haunts, thieves, and icy winds to save her friend.

Maybe it’s because I’m a mom who is worn out on Frozen, the Disney smash hit (which refuses to die, despite every parent’s best efforts) that was loosely based on the fairy tale, but I wish that the movie more closely echoed the actual story. Read the rest

Triangle — a new book about some very sneaky shapes

Triangle is a rascally shape with a trick up his sleeve. Well, it would be, if he had any arms. Mac Barnett’s wily story and Jon Klassen’s eyes-tell-all illustrations make Triangle a really fun read-aloud for preschoolers, early elementary kids, and their adults.

Both the grown-ups and the kid in my house were eagerly awaiting this book — the latest collaboration between Barnett and Klassen. Both are crazy talented picture book makers who have consistently put out silly, thoughtful, beautiful books over the past few years, together and apart. This is the third book they’ve done as a duo (the previous two are Sam and Dave Dig a Hole, 2014, and Extra Yarn, 2012) and it feels a little different.

Aesthetically, in the tone of the text and the images, Triangle is much more reminiscent of Klassen’s Hat books than of Extra Yarn and Sam and Dave Dig a Hole. The main characters are shapes (keeping with Klassen’s typical non-human subjects) and the setting ranges from sparse snapshots to a simple yet stunning landscape of “shapes with no names.” (The brief traipse and chase through this land that lies between the neat, pointed places made of triangles and squares adds something magical to the book. That feeling is made even nicer when realizing that the magical place is the one most like our own.)

Amidst Klassen’s illustrations, Barnett’s voice is still quite present, especially in the dialogue. The reader can’t help but deliver Triangle's lines with a mischievous sneer and Square’s with a tight-throated hand wringing, and that despite the characters’ lack of mouths or hands. Read the rest

An intimate and poignant graphic novel portraying one family’s journey from war-torn Vietnam

Once I started reading this book, I couldn’t put it down. Thi Bui’s debut illustrated memoir, The Best We Could Do , is an exploration of family and identity, past and present. In the preface, Bui explains that the evolution of the work, from an oral history project turned handmade book 15 years ago to its current form as a graphic novel, meant she needed to learn to draw comics, an undertaking she describes as having a “steep learning curve.” Based on her stunningly narrative art which breathes and runs and wonders and mourns and serves as the perfect medium for the story of survival it tells, I’d say she made it over that learning curve just fine.

Though her own understanding of self — as a parent and a child — is inextricably tied to, and informed by, her specific experience as a Vietnamese American whose family fled to the US in the 1970s after the collapse of South Vietnam, the pressure, guilt, and confusion she feels as a mother and daughter are easily recognizable. Bui begins with her own labor and delivery, long and complicated. It yields, of course, the birth of her son but also a deeper empathy for her own mother. With the new found perspective of a parent trying to understand her role and relationships within her family of origin and that which she has now created, Bui takes readers back through her own childhood and her parents’. Through Cambodia, Vietnam, and the US, through the First Indochina War, to the Vietnam War, to the aftermath, in boats and bunkers and shared beds, through two generations of both unknowing and surety, of flight and fight, we come to know the Buis, Thi, Má, and Bố especially, as individuals within a family. Read the rest

Breathtaking botanical illustrations and photographs in a guide to the world of spices

I pretty much sprinkle the same thing on every meal. I am admittedly heavy-handed with the cayenne on my own plate and rarely stray from the variety of basils I grow in the summer or bundles of dried rosemary in winter when cooking for my family. I am much more apt to get creative with spices while baking, to savory up my sweets. Lior Lev Sercarz’s The Spice Companion has got me pretty excited to change things up.

This book is an absolute must read for anyone who likes to cook. In it, Lev Sercarz, celebrated culinary expert and master of spices, walks readers through a collection of spices chosen based on the criteria of: 1) can be found anywhere and 2) are essential in certain parts of the world. He opens with a few short essay-like chapters on his own culinary journey, the history of spices, and overviews on procuring, blending, and storing spices, all written in an inviting tone that makes the reader, no matter how novice in the kitchen or rote in their culinary routine, feel excited and encouraged to experiment with spices. They serve as thoroughly informative, enjoyable appetizers to the main course of the collection: the spices.

“Any dried ingredient that elevates food or drink is a spice,” Lev Sercarz writes. His alphabetically organized curation of spices is gorgeously photographed by Thomas Schauer, who also gives us plenty of food-porn shots spanning the lifecycle of spices (from herbs still growing to well-seasoned meals) throughout the text. Read the rest

The creation story of the atomic bomb told through a powerful and moving picture book

When asked if I was interested in reviewing a picture book about the making of the atomic bomb, I told the publicist that a lot was going to depend on how the book ended. I had seen some of the interior art and text at that point, and I was intrigued by the way the tone of both Jeanette Winter’s illustrations and her son Jonah Winter’s text so thoroughly conveyed the almost frenzied, kinetic energy of the inventors and the eerily quiet secrecy of the The Secret Project. After reading the book, I realized that I had greatly underestimated the importance of the telling in its entirety, which is done so masterfully by the Winters.

The Secret Project is a quiet book. It takes place, of course, in the New Mexico desert. There is almost no dialogue, nor description of sound. And yet, we can hear the echo of the children in the desert, “cleared out” of their school to make way for scientists and workers. In the paintings of the “faraway nearby” outside the laboratory, we see the light and colors of the natural landscape, hear the soft, slow sounds of a coyote howling, of a woman’s paintbrush on canvas, of a Hopi man’s knife carving wood. Life outside the laboratory continues to create and sustain more life, while inside the secret lab, “the shadowy figures” are hurriedly working, crowded together under dim light. The pace of both word and image is markedly different in the closed up world and work of the men inside the lab than in the desert outside. Read the rest

Margarash, the coin boogieman, puts a clever, modern twist on a classic folktale storyline

Deep down beneath the couch cushions, past the crumbs and pocket lint, lying in wait for loose change, lurks...Margarash! Mark Riddle’s titular character is a boogieman turned buddy in this sweet, silly, and just scary-enough picture book that follows Collin, a young coin collector, into the couch crack netherworld where Margarash lives.

Collin is your average coin-loving kid, the kind who collects, counts, and arranges his coins “by size or shape, country or state, even by smell or taste (which is something you should never do).” The monster, like Collin, hoards coins. When Collin, in his continuous quest to expand his collection, starts infringing on Margarash’s territory, the monster takes him prisoner, chanting a post-capture warning to the boy and to readers: “The coins that fall are for Margarash, / Margarash, Margarash, / The coins that fall are for Margarash, / Leave them where they lie.

Margarash puts a clever, modern twist on a classic folktale storyline. Tim Miller’s illustrations take the edge off of the more frightening parts of the book and bring subtle beauty and depth to Margarash’s dark world, lit by beams and points of light that fall, like the coins he craves, through the cracks and tears of couches everywhere.

Margarash by Mark Riddle, Tim Miller (Illustrator) Enchanted Lion Books 2016, 48 pages, 8.8 x 0.5 x 12.1 inches, Hardcover $14 Buy one on Amazon

See sample pages from this book at Wink. Read the rest

An unlikely hero tames a terrible dragon

It’s always fun to read about a rascally creature who does terrible things. In Dragon Was Terrible, Kelly DiPucchio’s frank, conversational telling and Greg Pizzoli’s bright, clear illustrations create an instantly accessible world. The reader is immediately drawn in, commiserating with the narrator and the frustrated villagers and freely judging that terrible Dragon, making it a really fun read aloud.

Dragon really does behave badly. He picks on creatures smaller than himself, he ruins nice things. From throwing sand to tagging the castle wall, he tends to be stereotypical in his terror. Every kid who reads this book will have experienced the act or aftermath (and, at some point or another, will have been at least an occasional perpetrator of) Dragon’s misdeeds. The strongest and loudest and maddest knights and villagers are no match for this jerk, but a clever boy tames the beast without a single blow. Of course, kids love a young hero, but for grown-ups, there is real satisfaction in seeing this battle of wits in which the hero’s weapons are words (he wins by writing a book!) and insight (a book that appeals to Dragon’s powerful self-image).

Sometimes, the only way to change a big orange beast is to trick him. Though I don’t really believe that all similarly hued and equally terrible creatures (I’m talking about the biggest, orange bully-elect of them all, here) could be so easily lured with good books and friendship, it’s nice, at least, to have a happy ending to read to my kid. Read the rest

A darkly stylized noir Snow White set against the backdrop of Depression-era Manhattan

Snow White: A Graphic Novel reads like a silent movie. Matt Phelan’s cinematic re-telling of the classic fairy tale, film noir style, uses watercolor to soften the edges of the film genre’s brash tropes, and blur the lines between grit and glitz in Depression-era Manhattan.

I am easily overwhelmed by graphic novels and often feel as though I’ve been caught in a bombardment of text or images or both. Phelan employs text in much the same way he does color — sparsely, and to great effect — so that the movement of the story comes from the art.

Color is used like mood lighting. Though the images are reminiscent of the gray scale of black and white movies, the flashbacks to Snow’s childhood after her mother’s death (her father’s subsequent spellbound love affair with the evil Queen, and Snow’s banishment to boarding school) are fittingly sepia-toned.

A blue and white winter, perfect like Snow, shines out of the window at Macy’s. The stepmother’s scenes are often washed in greens and burgundies — the colors of witches and blood. And, though not a thatched cottage in the woods, the home of Snow’s seven street urchin devotees is warmed by an earthy brown glow.

These subtle washes are balanced with startling red stains—flushed cheeks, blood, the infamous apple, and a smudge of green blush that bluntly confirms the femme fatale’s wickedness, and more deeply, and later literally, draws connections between this classic fairy tale and another beloved, cinematically transformed story — The Wizard of Oz. Read the rest

Why it's easy to admire Ruth Bader Ginsburg

I’m going to be upfront here: this book made me cry. As a woman, mother to a daughter, and formerly outspoken little girl in a time and place where “feminism” was was an anachronistic term for bra-burning rather than the badge of pride and call to action it is today, this book made me grateful and proud. I was already an RBG fan – it’s pretty hard not to be – but I Dissent: Ruth Bader Ginsburg Makes Her Mark hammered home all of the reasons why it’s easy to admire the influential Supreme Court Justice through a beautiful, illustrated biography that stresses the importance of standing up for what’s right.

Debbie Levy frames RBG’s story with objections, beginning with her mother, Celia Amster Bader, who sets the tone for the book and for her daughter’s trajectory by encouraging little Ruth to strive for more in life than finding a husband. “Ruth’s mother disagreed,” is the first of many hand-lettered, marquee-like pronouncements that tie together Levy’s text and Elizabeth Baddeley’s visual storytelling. This bold dissention (“Then she protested.” “She resisted. And persisted.” “Ruth really, really disagreed with this!”) in the face of prejudice and sexism allows readers to feel the weight of injustice and the power of speaking up as they straighten their shoulders, square their feet, and shout with Ruth, “I dissent!”

I learned a lot through this book. Who knew that RBG and Antonin Scalia were friends? Or that Justice Ginsburg’s mother was such a driving force in her life? Read the rest

Two turtles, one hat

It’s a classic problem: two turtles, one hat. Well, maybe not classic, but you get the idea. In the just-released and last book of his Hat series, Jon Klassen’s wit shines. Though his previous two Hat stories feature different characters, they both begin with a common problem – a stolen hat. We Found A Hat, however, is all about the moments before the grab.

There is so much brilliance in this book, and to be fully appreciated, it helps to know the series, as the pace and place of each differs subtly but smartly. In I Want My Hat Back, we clod through the forest with a bear, who slowly comes to the realization of who stole his hat at a pace not unlike that of one waking up from a long winter’s rest. In This Is Not My Hat, readers tail an underwater chase that is slow but necessarily suspenseful, with images and ending that, like vision under water, are clear enough, but not quite. We Found A Hat, perhaps fittingly for the last in the series, takes place in the desert. Who better than turtles to force the reader to slow down and savor the moral agony of friendship versus fashion? In this barren landscape, there are sounds in the pictures – the shape of the cacti echoes that of the newly found 10-gallon hat and the rocks echoes the turtles’ shells. The overall design of word and text calls back to each of the previous books. Read the rest