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Posts Tagged ‘book reviews’

Put on your aprons, lab coats and best bibs!

Ann McCallum and Leeza Hernandez, who tessellated our taste buds and dispelled our fear of polygons, fractions and tangrams with their delightful Eat Your Math Homework: Recipes for Hungry Minds (Charlesbridge, 2011), have just published a wonderful companion cookbook featuring six edible science projects.

In Eat Your Science Homework: Recipes for Inquiring Minds (Charlesbridge 2014), they serve up a bit of geology, chemistry, astrophysics and forensics, successfully turning “toil into tasty and drudgery into delicious.”

EYSH 6-7

When you think about it, the kitchen is the best laboratory around — a fun place to experiment with various ingredients and methods with delectable and sometimes surprising results. Ann’s recipes give upper elementary kids a chance to learn about The Scientific Method, Atoms and Molecules, Properties of Matter, Inherited Traits, Rocks and Minerals, and Our Solar System with hands-on activities in a familiar setting.

Author and Recipe Maven Ann McCallum shows off Atomic Popcorn Balls (photo by Tom Fedor/The Gazette)

A little puzzled about atoms, elements and molecules? Munch on a batch of Atomic Popcorn Balls. Ever wonder why oil and vinegar don’t like to mix? Dip some veggies into a honey barbecue sauce dressing while contemplating density. And what are black holes, anyway? See how gravity swallows up sausage bits right in your muffin tin. And I can’t think of a more appetizing way to understand sedimentary layers than by making a pan of pizza lasagna.  :)

Atomic Popcorn Balls photo by Ann McCallum

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Remember when I shared Diane DeCillis’s exquisite poem, “Opera Buffa”?

I’m still sighing over “gnocchi lifted itself off the fork” and that lovely Panna Cotta — “silky, quivering cream adorned with fresh berries.” Remember silly Antonio, who wasn’t interested in ordering dessert? You simply cannot trust a man who doesn’t like sweets!

After reading “Opera Buffa,” I yearned for more of Diane’s poetry, which is why I was ecstatic when her debut collection, Strings Attached (Wayne State University Press, 2014), was released in May.

What a beautiful, lush, finely crafted feast of brilliance!

Her 60+ poems tease the intellect, warm the heart, please the ear, whet the physical and spiritual appetites, and nourish artistic sensibilities with their worldly elegance, lyricism, surprising turns-of-phrase, and evocative narratives.

I love how Diane’s passions for art, music, literature, food and family inform structure, theme, cadence, image, and metaphor. As in “Opera Buffa,” the food-related poems are infused with tantalizing sensory detail, whether she muses about her Lebanese grandmother’s stuffed grape leaves or leban (yogurt), “ethereal profiteroles filled with crème de la moo,” or terrapin soup à la Babette’s Feast.

Pop culture and high art happily co-exist in the layers of Diane’s imagination as she riffs on the likes of Van Gogh, Cezanne, Picasso, Magritte, Duncan Hines Pineapple Cake Mix, Tab Hunter/ Sandra Dee in a fleabag motel, Chopin, Debussy, Rilke, Gertrude Stein, “Like Water for Chocolate,” “Punch Drunk Love.”

Stuffed Grape Leaves via Jean Rivot

Diane brings her own brand of self-deprecating humor to these poems (“What Would Hitchcock Do?”), but there are also poignant notes of longing for an absent father (“Finding Fathers”), the push-pull dynamics of generational clashes (“Milk”), the vagaries of love, the liberation of dreams, the richness of cultural heritage.

Today I’m happy to share one of several prose poems from Strings Attached, perhaps the “foodiest” in the collection. I love how Diane has composed this sensorial symphony of sounds, colors, flavors, aromas and textures, lovingly capturing a cherished moment in time. A masterful culinary canvas!

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Toronto-based author Monica Kulling is here today to talk about Spic-and-Span!: Lillian Gilbreth’s Wonder Kitchen (Tundra Books, 2014), the sixth title in her award winning Great Idea series which features marvelous inventors.

I must admit my prior knowledge of Lillian’s life was limited to Myrna Loy’s portrayal of her in the 1950 movie, “Cheaper by the Dozen.” Though I assumed she must have been an extraordinarily energetic and supportive person to be married to fellow efficiency expert Frank Gilbreth and co-parent a rambunctious passel of kids, I did not know the extent of her brilliant accomplishments as an industrial engineer, psychologist, professor, inventor and author in her own right, especially following Frank’s death from a heart attack at the age of 55.

The Gilbreth Family

In Spic-and-Span!, we first see how Frank and Lillian worked together in the early 1900’s to “show factory workers how to get the most done in the least amount of time.” Using a motion picture camera to film tasks, they were able to spot unnecessary movements, helping workers find the “one best way to do every job.” Of course they also implemented the Gilbreth system in their own household, streamlining everyday activities like brushing teeth, making beds, etc.

Art © 2014 David Parkins (click to enlarge)

But once Frank died in 1924, Lillian was faced with the monumental challenge of raising 11 children on her own and finding work at a time when factories wouldn’t hire a female industrial engineer, even one with over 20 years of experience. Eventually she was hired by Macy’s to improve its cash room operations, and later by the Brooklyn Borough Gas Company to improve kitchen design.

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Mr. Cornelius Cucumber

While looking for more children’s books illustrated by Lena Anderson, I was happy to discover Anna’s Garden Songs – a whimsical, light-hearted collection of 14 fruit and veggie poems written by Mary Q. Steele.

Garden favorites like peas, potatoes, tomatoes, lettuce, cabbage, beets and onions take their place in the sun with playful rhyming verse and Lena’s fanciful pictures. I may as well confess right now that I’ve always had a thing for giant vegetables, so when I saw how Lena fiddled with scale in this book I squealed with delight. :)

Blond, mostly barefoot, bespectacled Anna is just adorable as she plants, harvests and shares the garden’s bounty with her friends, grandfather, and large pet rabbit, who happily scampers through the pages and almost steals the show (he’s especially good at nibbling and napping).

 

From the moment I opened the book and saw Anna hiding in that big pea pod, I knew I was in for a real treat. I can’t decide which I like most — Anna sitting atop a giant beet, relaxing amongst the tomato plants, or wearing a dress made from lettuce leaves.

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If 19th century French chef Alexis Soyer were alive today, he’d likely have his own cooking show. His name brand sauces, cookbooks and kitchen utensils would fill store shelves, velvet berets would be all the rage, and lines of fans would snake around the block at all his public appearances.

Though he was deliciously famous during Victorian times and has been called the first celebrity chef, today Soyer is curiously the man history forgot.

I’ve been fascinated by his life and work ever since reading Ann Arnold’s beautifully written and illustrated picture book biography. You may know Ann as the illustrator of Alice Waters’s now classic Fanny at Chez Panisse, which is ‘the book’ that got me hooked on illustrated cookbooks.

In The Adventurous Chef: Alexis Soyer (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2002), Ann outlines Soyer’s life from his humble beginnings in the tiny French town of Meaux-en-Brie (1809), till his death from Crimean fever in London at the age of 48. He was quite a colorful and flamboyant character who enjoyed amusing people — not only a celebrated chef with a social conscience, but also an inventor, entrepreneur, and prolific cookbook author.

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