[review + recipe] Chef Edna: Queen of Southern Cooking, Edna Lewis by Melvina Noel and Cozbi A. Cabrera

“One of the greatest pleasures of my life has been that I have never stopped learning about good cooking and good food.” ~ Edna Lewis

Picture this:

A group of African American family members and friends gathered outdoors around a long, white-clothed table covered with “warm fried chicken, thin slices of boiled Virginia ham, green beans cooked in pork stock, turnip greens picked that morning, potato salad with a boiled dressing, pickles, preserves, and yeast bread.” 

For dessert? Mincemeat, lemon meringue and fried apple pies, along with coconut and black walnut cakes. Don’t forget the watermelon and cantaloupe, the freshly ground coffee to be drunk out of bowls.

Miss Lewis, Culinary Ambassador and Grande Doyen of Southern Cooking.

This is the kind of homemade, homegrown food beloved chef and cookbook author Edna Lewis grew up with. Her advocacy of this simple style of cooking using only the freshest in-season ingredients anticipated the natural foods, slow food, and farm-to-table movements, essentially changing the way average Americans viewed Southern cuisine.

Beautiful painting of young Edna under the dust jacket!

In Chef Edna: Queen of Southern Cooking, Edna Lewis (Cameron Kids, 2032), Melvina Noel and Cozbi A. Cabrera trace Edna’s life from her childhood on a Virginia farm, to her early days as a working single, then finally to her prominence as a restaurant co-owner and chef-de-cuisine in NYC.

Essentially, what Edna first learned about cooking and everything associated with it – family, friends, love, community, cultural heritage – established her identity and defined her life’s work, as she remained committed to preserving traditional Southern foodways while showcasing the seminal role African Americans played in the origins of this regional cuisine.

It all began on a farm in Freetown, Virginia, an African American community founded by Edna’s grandfather and two other freed slaves. From an early age, Edna participated in all aspects of farm life: milking cows, chasing chickens, picking wild greens and gathering berries. Edna especially loved cooking with her mother, Mama Daisy.

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[author chat + giveaway] Patricia Toht on Pick a Perfect Egg

We can’t think of a better way to celebrate the season of blossoms, bunnies, chicks and eggs than by talking to Patricia Toht about her brand new picture book, Pick a Perfect Egg (Candlewick, 2023).

This third title in the wonderful series that includes Pick a Pine Tree and Pick a Pumpkin is once again beautifully illustrated by British artist Jarvis, and is, in many ways, a perfect book. 

Pitch perfect rhyming text? Check. Lively, inventive, never predictable rhymes frolic and sing as the narrative hums along. An absolute joy to read aloud. 

Illustrations that perfectly detail each story beat while capturing all the joys of the season? Check. Gorgeous colors and textures showcase spring loveliness, while an endearing main character positively sparkles as she picks, dyes, decorates, and hunts for eggs with neighborhood friends. And her adorable dog is always smiling. So much fun!

Pick a perfect egg
with care --
choose a white one
nestled there.

From farm fresh egg to Easter egg, this story is eggsactly what the Easter Bunny ordered. Sure to be a perennial favorite, it’s proof positive that when it comes to authors and illustrators, Toht and Jarvis are perfectly paired. 🙂

Welcome back, Patricia!!


Author Patricia Toht

Please share a fond Easter egg memory from your childhood. How did you like to decorate your eggs? 

I grew up in a big family, so we had lots of coloring going on! My parents would spread a big drop cloth on our long table, and line it with mugs. I loved the fizzing tablets that dissolved in water to reveal their colors, and the smell of vinegar that was added to set the color. 

The “Easter Bunny” hid the colored eggs around the house, along with plastic eggs…until the year the dog ate all of the hard-boiled eggs, and we woke up Easter morning to find a very vomit-y dog! 

Childhood pic of Patricia (left front) with her family.
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[review + recipe + giveaway] Abuelita and I Make Flan by Adriana Hernández Bergstrom

As soon as I saw “flan” in the title, my mouth began to water and I smiled at the little girl’s joyous face as she peeked into the oven with her grandmother.

What could be nicer than spending the day with a loved one making a family recipe? What  could possibly go wrong? Well . . .

Most of us know that without some sort of conflict there really wouldn’t be a story worth telling, and in Abuelita and I Make Flan, author-illustrator Adriana Hernández Bergstrom cooked up a truly engaging, suspenseful, heartwarming tale that will likely resonate with everyone – unless you happen to be absolutely perfect and have never made a mistake. 😇

Young Anita is excited that her abuela is going to teach her how to make flan for Abuelo’s birthday. Not just any flan, mind you, but the best flan!

Before they even get started, Anita accidentally breaks Abuelita’s crystal flan serving plate – it’s from Cuba and she’s had it forever, before Anita was born.


 Anita has already ruined Abuelo’s birthday. 😦

“Maybe no one will notice?”

Anita knows she should tell Abuelita, but worries about angering or disappointing her, so she decides she will instead strive to be the best helper. After all, she’s usually good at helping Abuelita with things she has difficulty doing because of her arthritis (threading needles, opening jars, undoing knots).

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[soupy review + recipe] Brand-New Bubbe by Sarah Aronson and Ariel Landy

What is the secret ingredient that makes for a good soup and a happy family?

Just take a big slurp of Brand-New Bubbe, a brand new picture book by Sarah Aronson and Ariel Landy (Charlesbridge, 2022) to find out.

In this savory story, Jillian is happy to get a nice stepdad when her mom marries Michael. But who ever said anything about a new grandmother?

Jillian already has two: Noni and Gram. Nope, she definitely doesn’t need another one.

Yet here is this frizzy red-haired person asking to be called “Bubbe,” who just doesn’t get the hint. She smothers Jillian with “bright red kissy-lips,” makes plans for holidays Jillian’s never heard of, and is always “kvelling” (or is it “kvetching?”). 

This Bubbe even has the nerve to declare her matzo ball soup the best in the universe! Jillian can’t believe her ears! Nothing can beat Noni’s meatball soup – “except maybe Gram’s spicy gazpacho.”

This definitely calls for a protest!

No matter what Bubbe does, Jillian resists:  she ignores the teddy bear Bubbe gives her, refuses to shoot hoops with her, won’t eat the dinner Bubbe makes with all of Jillian’s favorite foods. 

Not surprisingly, Jillian’s petulance upsets her mother, who urges her – in no uncertain terms – to give Bubbe a chance. When Jillian asserts that she’s not technically related to Bubbe, Mom reminds her that “family is more than blood.” 

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[sippable review + giveaway] The Chocolate King by Michael Leventhal and Laura Catalán

What could be more comforting on a cold winter’s day than rich, velvety hot chocolate? Sip the steamy, frothy goodness from your favorite cup and all’s right with the world.

No matter how you get your daily chocolate fix – bar, bonbon, chip or cocoa – a good way to enhance your enjoyment is to learn more about chocolate’s fascinating history.

Like me, some of you fellow chocoholics are familiar with chocolate’s origins in Mesoamerica and how Don Hernán Cortés brought cacao to Spain after conquering the Aztecs in the early 16th century. But did you know Jewish traders played a critical role in popularizing chocolate around the world?

In his debut picture book, The Chocolate King (Apples & Honey Press, 2022), Michael Leventhal highlights chocolate’s little known Jewish connection. When Spanish Jews were forced to flee the country during the Inquisition, they took their chocolate making skills with them.

This tasty bit of historical fiction is set in early 17th century Bayonne, where we meet young chocolate lover Benjamin. Not only does he love to eat chocolate, he knows more about it “than most people in the whole of France.” 

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