[tasty review + giveaway] Things We Eat by Sylvia Vardell and Janet Wong

#61 in an ongoing series of posts celebrating the alphabet

Hmmm, looks like there’s only one chocolate chip cookie left. Go ahead and take it – I won’t tell. 

While you’re busy nibbling, I’ll tell you all about the brand new ABC food anthology edited by our favorite poetry goddesses, Sylvia Vardell and Janet Wong. 🙂

For Things We Eat (Pomelo Books, 2022), Sylvia and Janet donned their perky chef hats to cook up a tempting smorgasbord of 27 delectable poems just right for eager munchkins ages 3-7. 

They invited 25 hungry poets –  both new and established – to write ekphrastic poems based on appetizing color photos of kids preparing, growing, shopping for, eating and sharing a variety of diverse foods. Janet herself penned two yummy poems for the collection: “Kimchi” and “Alphabet Menu.” 

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[now serving] Born Hungry: Julia Child Becomes “the French Chef” by Alex Prud’homme and Sarah Green (+ a giveaway!)

“Those early years in France were among the best of my life. They marked a crucial period of transformation in which I found my true calling, experienced an awakening of the senses, and had such fun that I hardly stopped moving long enough to catch my breath.” ~Julia Child (My Life in France, 2006).

When it comes to big appetites, Julia Child is hard to beat. 

Beyond food, Julia craved knowledge, adventure, and travel, and she thrived on excellence. Large in stature with an outsized personality to match, Julia took a big, juicy bite out of life and wholeheartedly shared her largesse. 

In this delectable new picture book biography, Julia’s grandnephew Alex Prud’homme highlights Julia’s early years in France, a time when she found love, discovered her true calling, and worked hard to achieve her goals of becoming a good cook and beloved teacher.

We’re first introduced to Julia McWilliams as a physically active, 6’2”, voraciously curious force of nature. Because her parents had a cook, she never saw the point of spending any time in the kitchen.

I was born hungry, not a cook.

She’d “always dreamed of having adventures and becoming a famous writer.” During WWII she volunteered as a clerk typist for the Office of Strategic Services (OSS) in Ceylon. It was there that she met her future husband, Paul Child, a painter, photographer, and bon vivant who had lived in Paris and could speak fluent French.

They got on very well despite their differences: he was ten years older, shorter, and “much quieter.” But they bonded over a mutual love of “food, books, and travel.”

Paul encouraged Julia to try foods from around the world; she encouraged him to take an elephant ride. She still couldn’t cook, but she did create her first recipe – for shark repellent!

After the war, Julia and Paul moved back to America and got married. Determined to be a good wife, she took cooking lessons to impress Paul. Her first meal, cow brains simmered in red wine, was a disaster because she’d rushed through the recipe. This only made her more determined than ever to become a better cook.

A couple of years later, they traveled to France for Paul’s new job at the U.S. Embassy. En route to Paris, they stopped at La Couronne in Rouen for lunch. Not just any lunch, of course, but the famous sole meunière meal that would prove life changing.

Julia inhaled the wonderful aroma of fish cooked in butter. Then she took a bite of the sole, experienced ‘a magnificent burst of flavor,’ and closed her eyes. She had never tasted anything so fresh and delicious. She tried to chew slowly, to savor every morsel, but the lunch was so good that she gobbled it down.

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[scrumptious review] Dumpling Day by Meera Sriram and Inés de Antuñano

Dumplings? Did someone say dumplings?

Count me in!

In this mouthwatering story-counting book, ten ethnically diverse families make ten different kinds of dumplings for a neighborhood potluck. What could be more fun or delicious?

Dumpling party today in town!
Let's all cook and hurry down.

Meera Sriram and Inés de Antuñano invite us to step into ten busy, bustling kitchens to see samosas, apple dumplings, wu-gok, fufu balls, gyoza, bourekas, tamales, shish barak, pelmeni, and ravioli being prepared by enthusiastic and hungry adults and children. Drooling yet?

Spicy samosas point to the sky.
Didi is bringing chutney to try.

1 little dumpling on our plate now!
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[mouthwatering review + recipe] The Fabulous Tale of Fish & Chips by Helaine Becker and Omer Hoffmann

“Fish ‘n’ chips!
Chips ‘n’ fish!
Such a crispy, tasty dish!”

It wasn’t until I moved to London in the late 70s that I tasted authentic fish ‘n’ chips for the first time.

Whether cod and chips from a neighborhood chippy, or a plate of divine lemon sole at Geale’s in Notting Hill, it was all so good. Nothing could compare to those golden brown fillets, fried up light and crispy in a beer batter, each crunchy bite yielding to tender, flaky fish inside. Is there any meal more quintessentially British?

Naturally, I assumed fish ‘n’ chips was invented by an Englishman. But after reading The Fabulous Tale of Fish & Chips by Helaine Becker and Omer Hoffmann (Green Bean Books, 2021), I surprisingly learned it was a Jewish immigrant named Joseph Malin who opened the very first fish ‘n’ chips shop in the UK. Established in 1860, Malin’s of Bow in London’s East End remained in operation for over a century. Now that’s a lot of fish and taters!

In her flavorful fishtory, Becker surmises how fish met chips to become “one of the greatest and most popular dishes of all time.”

Young Joseph Malin loves everything about fish — catching, selling, and especially, eating it. Though his entire family works from dawn to dusk in their fish shop, they struggle to make ends meet. 

One day Joseph has a brilliant idea — what if they try to sell cooked instead of raw fish? After all, he loves his grandmother’s delicious fried fish — a special family recipe handed down through several generations. Her secret is coating the fish in flour, dipping it in beaten egg, then coating it with matzoh meal before frying it in hot oil. 

Because of its crispy crust, the fried fish is just as tasty the next day when families like Joseph’s, who are forbidden to cook on the Sabbath, can eat it cold.

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[tasty review + giveaway] Niki Nakayama: A Chef’s Tale in 13 Bites by Jamie Michalak, Debbi Michiko Florence and Yuko Jones

Even before I took my first bite of this delectable new picture book, I was in love. Just look at that cover! Yuko Jones’s appealing depiction of young Niki had me grinning and giddy with anticipation. I immediately wanted to know more about her. So much joy, spunk, and pride in that adorable face — I could just eat her up!

I was not familiar with Chef Niki before reading Niki Nakayama: A Chef’s Tale in 13 Bites by Jamie Michalak and Debbi Michiko Florence (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2021). A pioneer of modern Japanese kaiseki cuisine, she founded the upscale Michelin two star restaurant n/naka in Los Angeles. In the decade since its opening in 2011, n/naka has risen to national prominence as the most celebrated kaiseki restaurant outside Japan.

Master Kaiseki Chef Niki Nakayama

This beautifully written, inspiring book shows how Nakayama defied expectations throughout her life, never giving up on her dream to chart her own destiny in a profession still dominated by men.

via n-naka.com

What is kaiseki? Considered the pinnacle of Japanese haute cuisine, it’s a traditional culinary art form consisting of an exquisitely presented multicourse meal prepared with locally sourced, seasonal ingredients. Courses follow a specific sequence balancing the taste, texture, appearance, and colors of food, thereby creating a singular story embodying the chef’s essence.

via n-naka.com
via n-naka.com

What makes the cuisine at n/naka unique is how Chef Niki has integrated her Japanese and American heritage and upbringing in Southern California within the template of traditional kaiseki. Just as her meals consist of 13 courses, Jamie and Debbi chose to tell her story in 13 scrumptious bites.

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