Warning: Creating default object from empty value in /home/big/public_html/wordpress/wp-content/themes/StandardTheme_20/admin/functions.php on line 229
Books | Manolo for the Big Girl
Archive - Books RSS Feed

You Asked For It: Twistie’s Baking Library

(Actual illustration of Twistie at actual size… only two hundred and fifty years ago and much smaller)

In response to my harrumph of last week on the response my week’s worth of baking delicious things for the annual block party, several of you (and you know who you are) begged for the recipes.

Darlings, I love you all like Plummy loves her granny pants, but I’m not typing out that many recipes. I made four fabulous treats, three of which required a minimum of two recipes to assemble. In fact, two of them took three each. That’s a lot of typing of other people’s copyrighted materials.

Instead, I’m going to reveal the sources of all the recipes, tell you where to get copies, and leave it to your own ingenuity and budgets to get them or not. I will further recommend that any of you who enjoy baking more than once in a very, very, very blue moon pick up at least one of these three volumes. Every one is brimful of clear recipes for delicious treats for all occasions.

(more…)

What’s In It?

One day, Steve Ettlinger was sitting at a picnic bench with his two children absently reading the ingredient label from his ice cream bar when his daughter asked him “… what’s pol-y-sor-bate six-tee?”

Ettlinger realized in that moment that while he’d been reading content labels for processed foods for years, he didn’t actually know what a lot of the ingredients were or where they came from. He decided to find out.

Thus the book Twinkie, Deconstrcuted was born.

Ettlinger decided to start his journey with a single, ubiquitous processed food that most of us have eaten at some point in our lives, the Twinkie and similar snack cakes, and find out what goes into a typical one, where it comes from, and how it’s processed into popular golden snacks.

The result is a fascinating tour of American foodways blessedly free from moralizing, shaming, cheerleading, or bluster. Ettlinger has opinions and quirky thoughts, but leaves the individual reader to decide what to do with the information he’s passing on. Along the way he shows us the sometimes surprising connections between such varied items as: snack cakes, health foods, industrial solvents, and glues.

There are challenges aplenty to assumptions on all sides of arguments about how food is produced, and what the potential dangers of highly processed foods may or may not be. For instance, as of 2007 when this book was published, nobody could point to the potential health effects – if any – of high fructose corn syrup. Why? Because while it has been added to everything from fruit juice and sodas to snack crackers and Twinkies, no long-term study has been done on it. This means we don’t have any proof one way or another to whether it has anything to do with the much ballyhooed ‘obesity epidemic’ or rising rates of diabetes, both of which can be more than adequately explained by a variety of other reasons… nor do we have any proof that it has nothing to do with any specific health risk. That means that food purists can always point to it as a potential threat, and corn growers and food manufacturers can equally validly point out that it hasn’t been proven to cause anything at all.

On the other hand, it’s interesting to note that vegan meat substitutes might well not exist without the humble Twinkie.

With a refreshingly breezy tone and the even more refreshing assumption that readers are more than capable of choosing how to use facts presented in their lives to their own ends, it’s also a tremendously fun read.

One thing is for sure: if you read this book, you will understand more about the complex ways simple foods are produced and brought to market in America.

And if your six year old ever wants to know what polysorbate sixty is, you will have an answer.

Fun Concept, False Advertising, Good Read All the Same

So. Fannie’s Last Supper by Chris Kimball. Let’s talk about this book, shall we?

The concept was deeply cool. When Kimball moved into a house built in Boston in 1859, he learned that it was right down the street from where America’s most famous home economist and cookbook author, Fannie Merritt Farmer lived. This inspired him to decide to create an historically accurate kitchen and – using Farmer’s recipes and the techniques of the day – cook and serve an historically accurate American Victorian dinner party, circa 1896, the year the Fannie Farmer Cookbook was first published.

The result is a highly readable (albeit occasionally painfully graphic) documentation of his attempts to do just that.

(more…)

Faulkner for Friday

Yesterday I introduced Hot Latin Boy to one of my three favorite Williams: William Faulkner.

He’ll have to wait for the other two: my brother is in Texas and my grandfather is in Heaven –places easily confused, though rarely in summer– but Faulkner was ready and able, sitting nestled between James Thurber and E.B. White in a oddly assembled short story anthology that serves as the only decent volume in an otherwise abysmal collection of forgotten books I found tucked among the spiders in Plumcake Cottage’s ornately carved linen cupboard.

Waiting for my wrist to heal has kept me off sweet lady internet and back to the loving arms of actual printed books. I’ve been crabby at the internet anyway. I understand the shift to new media, but I have a hard time accepting well-written editorials and investigative reporting are essentially being replaced by pictures of kittens and we, as educated, thoughtful citizens of the world are letting it.

The Faulkner in question was the quietly terrifying That Evening Sun. Narrated by 9 year-old Quentin Compson–one of Faulkner’s most frequent characters– it tells the story of Nancy, a black washerwoman in the service of the white Compson family. Nancy, having been accused by her violent common-law husband Jesus of becoming pregnant by a white man, pleads for protection from the Compsons, eventually using Quentin and his two young siblings as a sort of human shield against Jesus, who she was convinced was lying in wait for her, razor in hand.

It was a little dark for a bedtime story –HLB and I alternate reading short stories aloud each night– so I wanted to end on a happier note.

Faulkner’s Nobel Prize acceptance speech, delivered December 10, 1950 has long been a favorite. While my fellow Deeply Misunderstood Youth were building altars to the golden god of all insufferable teenagers, Holden Caulfield, I was holed up reading the news from Yoknapatawpha County. ( it gives me great pleasure to see Google spell check recognizes Yoknapatawpha but puts the red squiggle of doom under Caulfield. Suck it, Salinger. -ed)

If you’ve never read it, do yourself an existential solid and click over to the Nobel Prize website to read five short paragraphs that might inspire, challenge and provoke you. After that, the pictures of kittens are up to you.

 

 

 

 

Five Things That Never Fail to Make Twistie Happy

Every now and again it’s good to sit down and think about the good things in life. The following is a list of things that delight me consistently.

Lenny Henry’s comedy. It should come as no surprise that I’m a huge fan of the series Chef. After all, it’s a combination of spectacular food porn and blistering sarcasm, two things I love deeply. But this is not all he’s done that makes me happy. He also used to have a variety show, The Lenny Henry Show, which featured sketch comedy and his wickedly spot on impressions. Check out this clip of his Prince parody. Pity about the quality of the transfer, but it’s still funny.

(more…)

Food Friendly May: What to Cook? What to Buy?

I think everyone who reads this blog on a semi-regular basis knows my feelings in general about homemade, handmade, and getting your hands into things being a big part of my personal philosophy of being superfantastic. I’m in favor, full stop.

But that doesn’t mean I’m a fanatic or that I don’t recognize that there are a lot of lives out there that don’t work the way mine does.

And so it is that I was glad to see a book like Make the Bread, Buy the Butter suddenly become not only a best seller, but a tiny sliver of a cultural phenomenon. There are things that are really, seriously better and usually less expensive when made by hand… and there are things where the hassle hugely outweighs any benefit to the average human being. Having someone come along and quantify which is which is kind of a cool idea.

In general, I think Jennifer Reese does a pretty good job of doing just that.

Note that I said ‘in general.’ After all, Jennifer Reese is one person with amusingly phrased opinions. Your mileage – like mine – may vary. In some cases wildly so.

It’s hard to argue with her assertion that buying eggs is cheaper, easier, and a lot less hassle with neighbors and local urban authorities than raising chickens in a backyard in the city. In fact, I think that could have gone without saying, though I certainly would have missed her colorful descriptions of her experiments in the matter.

On the other hand, her conclusion about chutney is that there’s no point in making or buying it because nobody in the world actually likes chutney. Again, her prose is highly entertaining, but I’ve got a brother with a two-jar a month chutney habit. He’s got a tamarind on his back, and I think he might well enjoy making his own. Reese describes making the Cordon Rose Banana Cake from Rose Levy Beranbaum’s Cake Bible as a frustratingly picky process that resulted in a mediocre cake that nobody could possibly enjoy. That’s the cake I throw together on a dull afternoon when overripe bananas go on desperation sale at my neighborhood grocery because it’s fast, easy, and extremely popular in my crowd. Also, her scones are wildly over-fussy (though I do understand she was trying to replicate an over-fussy scone from Starbucks), and she definitely over-complicates making vanilla extract.

Reese’s method for vanilla? Split the vanilla bean, scrape out the seeds, put bean pod and seeds in small glass bottle, carefully measure the vodka, pour it over the bean and seeds, shake, let sit to do its magic. My father’s method for vanilla? Split the bean not quite in two, put it in the bottle of vodka, allow to ripen.

My other complaint with this book? Endless tiny, wry jabs at weight. Over and over again she talks about how making something too often would result in her becoming hugely fat, which is – it goes without saying, but gets said anyway – a fate worse than the death it will result in with undue rapidity. I have a feeling if I went through the book with a highlighter and marked every anti-fat comment in it, it would begin to look like those scripts back in the day when I got the lead in the school play.

Still, those quibbles aside, this is a highly entertaining book with a lot of great, pithy advice in it. It’s brimful of instructions for making things that most people would never imagine it possible to make at home. Sure, we all know that we can buy pasta makers and that home baked bread is a possibility, even if we never try doing those things for ourselves. But how many of us seriously contemplate that it’s even possible to make our own Worscestershire sauce, let alone whether or not it’s worth the effort? When was the last time you considered making your own yogurt? Curing your own Canadian bacon?

Also, the book is refreshingly free from pseudo-spirituality of the kitchen and humorless political screeds. It’s about the practical, the fun of trying out new things, and the balancing act we all have to pull off everyday between the ideal and the reality of life.

I think Reese’s attitude is best summed up by this quote from the afterword:

“Almost everything is better when homemade. While this may have started off as an opinion (though I’m not sure it did), I would now state it confidently as fact. Almost everything. But not everything. Which makes me inordinately happy. Because I think it’s reassuring that you can walk into a supermarket and buy a bag of potato chips and a tub of rice pudding that are better than you can make at home.”

While I might personally put my rice pudding up against anything found in a tub at a grocery store, there are certainly other things that I find better – and even sometimes more satisfying – to buy than to make. If you’re looking to figure out which is which in your world, I highly recommend taking a good, long look at this book… and then deciding for yourself.

What Miss Plumcake is…

Ah Tuesday, or as I like to call it “Oh-No-Is-That-the-Garbage-Truck-Quick-Where-Are-My-Pants-Is-This-a-Bad-Lemon-or-a-Good-Kiwi-Never-Mind-Let’s-GO!”

Yesterday I spent much of the day at the American Consulate waiting for Hot Latin Boy to renew his tourist visa.

As such, I spent four hours people watching and wondering what sort of decision-making process would start out “What should I wear to my very important potentially life-changing government interview” and arrive at “shredded thigh jeans, shooties ordered from the back of Modern Streetwalker and a hickey the size of Gorbachev’s port wine stain.”

Baffling.

Anyway, it’s been a while, but since it’s time to resurrect the featurette and see What Miss Plumcake is…


(more…)

Page 1 of 1812345»10...Last »