Butter: A Rich History by Elaine Khosrova
Publisher/Year: Algonquin Books, 2016
What it is: Khosrova takes readers around the world to examine the cultural and religious significance of butter. She also looks at the history of butter making and its subsequent commercialization, then turns her focus to contemporary butter artisans. Only about half the book deals with butter’s history; the other half consists of butter-filled recipes.
Why I read it: Because butter is awesome.
What I thought: I’m glad to be alive now and not back in the day when butter sold on the market was filthy and sometimes loaded with rocks to make the butter seem heavier. But in all seriousness, the science behind butter making is really interesting, and Khosrova packs a lot of information into a few chapters without making it too dense. As someone who travels a few times a year, I kind of want to start hitting up butter artisans from now on to see what I’ve been missing out on!
Lincoln in the Bardo by George Saunders
Publisher/Year: Random House Audio, 2013
Narrators: Nick Offerman, David Sedaris, and 164 others
Length: 7 hours, 25 minutes
What it is: Willie Lincoln died of typhoid fever in 1862. A grief-stricken Abraham Lincoln was said to have entered his son’s crypt in the middle of the night to be alone with him. On the other side, in the Bardo — a Tibetan term that refers to a sort of in-between place between the living and the dead — Willie Lincoln doesn’t understand what’s going on and why his father won’t take him home. Several other people, who are buried in the cemetery and are stuck in the Bardo alongside Willie, are touched. A plan takes shape as to what should happen next.
Why I listened to it: I preordered the audiobook partly because of the hype, but mostly because Nick Offerman and Carrie Brownstein are narrators. I was also curious about how an audiobook with 166 narrators would sound.
What I thought: I know this is an unpopular opinion because everyone raves about George Saunders, but I don’t get the hype. That’s not to say that the book doesn’t have its moments; there were parts that genuinely made me laugh, and there were several parts where the grief is palpable. It’s a unique spin on historical fiction, and I could appreciate what he was trying to do, but I just couldn’t get 100% on board with it. As for the 166 narrators thing, it’s…a lot. I do think that Offerman and Sedaris, whose roles are bigger than everyone else’s, were perfectly cast, though.
In case you haven’t noticed, I love doughnuts (except I spell it “donut” because it’s kind of like grey/gray, and that’s how I roll). When I went vegetarian back in the day, that was actually one of the things that I was stressed out about losing, because of lard usage. But up until recent years, there was a dearth of doughnut cookbooks. It is precisely because of this fact that so many people had their eye on Lara Ferroni’s Doughnuts: Simple and Delicious Recipes to Make at Home when it came out. After keeping the book for an eternity on my wishlist, I finally just went ahead and bought it.
Doughnuts is a slim paperback that is filled with more doughnut variations than you can imagine. All of the standards are in here: old-fashioned, cake, crullers, jelly-filled…you name it, Ferroni has it covered. Feeling fancy? There are recipes for crème brûlée doughnuts and strawberry shortcake doughnuts. Experimental? Try the margarita or s’mores doughnuts. She even includes some gluten-free and vegan options. It’s great.
The book begins with the ins and outs of doughnut-making, like basic ingredients and leavening information. The book then goes into the doughs and glazes; there are nineteen different dough recipes and nine glaze options. The last part of the book is where the real fun is: the flavors section, which takes the dough and glaze recipes and fancies them up into mouthwatering concoctions. A lot of the recipes are accompanied by full-page color photographs.
I love my crock pot. It’s great to wake up to a fresh pot full of beans or come home from work to one of my favorite comfort foods of all time, chili. But until a couple of years ago, most slow cooker cookbooks were geared towards the meat-eating crowd. As a vegetarian, my go-to slow cooker cookbook was Robin Robertson’s book, Fresh from the Vegetarian Slow Cooker (2003). I love that cookbook, but I’m always on the lookout for more meat-free cookbooks to expand my slow cooker repertoire. Since I also love vegan cooking, I was thrilled to be able to add Kathy Hester’s recent release, The Vegan Slow Cooker, into the mix. Among the book’s 150 recipes are the usual veg*n slow cooker staples — do-it-yourself seitan, soups, and chilis — but it’s also filled with tons of items that are de rigeur at the moment (namely Asian fusion and Indian foods).
Unlike a lot of cookbooks that only have a handful of pictures printed on glossy paper, this one takes a more cost-effective route by printing its pictures on the same matte paper as the rest of the cookbook. I love this because they were able to include a lot more photos of the recipes — always a plus where food is concerned!
The intro is short and sweet: a few FAQs to point you in the right direction, some substitutions you can use if you’re out of something or have certain dietary restrictions, and that’s pretty much it. Some of the staples are also very no-frills, sometimes to a fault. The recipe for dry beans (meant as a staple to be incorporated into other recipes, not as a stand-alone dish), for example, basically amounts to “put beans in water and cook for 6 to 8 hours.” I’ll admit, that had me worried at first.
Snoop around my bookshelves long enough, and you’ll find my little stash of vegan cookbooks. Some of the best meat-free cookbooks in existence are the ones co-authored by the vegan dyamic duo, Isa Chandra Moskowitz and Terry Hope Romero. One book that I’ve had for a while and have used many times is their 2009 cookie bible, Vegan Cookies Invade Your Cookie Jar. When I busted it out this past Thanksgiving, I realized that I have never shown it the proper book blogger love it deserves. So here it goes…
Like most of their cookbooks, Vegan Cookies begins with a primer on ingredients. They run from the basic (all-purpose flour) to the slightly more exotic (barley malt), but the majority of the recipes in the book call for ingredients that are available in most grocery stores. If you come across a recipe with hard-to-find-locally ingredients, fear not! There’s a list of websites at the end of this section to point you in the right direction.
The next section is “Tools for Success,” in which Moskowitz and Romero give a run down useful supplies you should have, suggestions for ingredient substitutions, plus a list of troubleshooting tips for a variety of problems like fixing problematic dough.
Now on to the fun part–the cookies!
I actually made two different cookies from this book last week. One recipe was an unfortunate disaster, but it was all my doing–I had a massive brain fart and added about a cup more flour than called for! Though those “cookies” tasted good fresh out of the oven, they quickly turned into sugar-coated rocks. I was very sad. And mad at myself for not reading the troubleshooting section.
I got my act together on the second recipe, and in the spirit of Thanksgiving-ish flavors, attempted the Sell Your Soul Pumpkin Cookies. Now, I don’t even like pumpkin. Pumpkin pie? NASTY! But these cookies? FREAKING. AWESOME.