Tuesday, December 19, 2006

'The Essence of Chocolate' by John Scharffenberger and Robert Steinberg

ISBN: 1401302386
Format: Hardcover, 384pp
Publisher: Hyperion
Price: $35.00

Susie Heller, producer of cookbooks and cooking shows including The French Laundry Cookbook, says in the introduction that when she began working on The Essence of Chocolate she wasn’t so sure it was the dream job that most people would think it would be. She worried that all the chocolate around her home would mean weight gain until she met Robert Steinberg and John Scharffenberger, "two very lean men," and she wondered what their secret could be. She soon learned that it wasn't about quantity but quality:

'Working with great chocolate has changed how I bake and eat chocolate. There is such a satisfying feeling when you taste a true artisanal chocolate. The question then became, how do we translate this experience into the recipes chosen for this book? We began by choosing recipes that focused on the flavor of the chocolate. This book doesn‘t call for a lot of fancy embellishments or difficult methods; it's about the ‘essence' of chocolate.'

Susie Heller states it beautifully. It’s all about the essence of the chocolate.

Susie Heller also says that when baking you need to trust your instincts. Use the baking times in the book as a guideline; don’t just follow it blindly because there are so many variables, which include altitude, humidity, type of chocolate, flour, butter, and the temperature of your oven. I liked that they didn’t believe that the recipes were set in stone.

Before you can dig into the decadent, delicious, deliriously delightful recipes they equip you with some of the basic techniques and tools that you will need to create them. Also Robert Steinberg talks about his journey to chocolate in "Before We Made Chocolate: From Medicine to Chocolate" and in John Scharffenberger's "From Winemaking to Chocolate" you learn how the partnership of America’s premier chocolate makers came about.

The recipes in the book are separated into Intensely Chocolate, Essentially Chocolate and A Hint of Chocolate and, depending on your mood, you can pick the perfect fit.

In chapter two, "Intensely Chocolate," the second recipe is the one off the cover, Chocolate Almond Cake. I have to say that this is the best chocolate cake I have ever eaten. I bought some really nice expensive chocolate — believe me, you don’t want to use the cheap stuff here — and attempted it in my tiny apartment kitchen. It got a little messy but the end result was beautiful as well as scrumptious.

Chapter four, "Essentially Chocolate," is filled with such wonders as Cocoa Chiffon Cake, Chocolate Pecan Tart, Black and White Crème Brulee, as well as Chocolate and Peanut Butter Panini. This last one is as easy as making a peanut butter and jelly sandwich and, if you ask me, has definitely replaced the old standby.

Chapter six, "A Hint of Chocolate," has such delicate flavors as Banana Carmel Cake, Cacoa Nib Macaroons, and Mint-Basil Chocolate Chunk Ice Cream. Never again will you buy ice cream from the grocery store once you make this one. It is well worth the time and effort, not the mention the wait, before you can dip your spoon into this frozen heaven.

There are also recipes that use chocolate in more savory ways, such as the BBQ sauce and the Tortilla Soup recipes. There is no end in sight when using a good quality chocolate with the right recipes to guide you.

Full of legends, lore, and facts about the plant, as well as the delicious product, The Essence of Chocolate is perfect for a beginner or a pro working with chocolate.

Sunday, December 17, 2006

'Jamie's Italy' by Jamie Oliver

ISBN: 1401301959
Format: Hardcover, 320pp
Publisher: Hyperion
Price: $34.95

When you open Jamie’s Italy you are greeted by a picture of Jamie Oliver standing in front of an open door way with a messenger bag slung over his shoulder, a book in his hand, and a look of happiness on his face. A picture is worth 1,000 words and this picture is the perfect introduction to a fantastic cookbook.

But not just any old cookbook. Jamie’s Italy is full of his personal stories from his travels as he collected these delicious recipes. 'In writing this book, I didn’t just want to give you a collection of Italian recipes,' Oliver says. 'I wanted to share some great experiences with you at the same time. So I wrote it while I traveled around the county, working and eating and meeting people off the beaten track.'

So we go with Jamie as he travels all over Italy. With brilliant photographs by David Loftus and Chris Terry, the food along Jamie’s travels is brought to life and the candid photos of Jamie talking with locals are truly wonderful. You get glimpses of things you might never have the chance to see, of lives that you might never lead.

One of the things I enjoyed, besides the great recipes, was the honesty in which Jamie spoke of Italy. In his section titled ‘Street Food & Pizza’ he says that about 50 percent of street food that he came across was not the best stuff. As the author relates:

'One old chap in an alleyway in the Palermo was surrounded by about ten people all eating and talking. He had a big cauldron in his stall, with a double-lined tablecloth tied on top like a steamed pudding at Xmas. There was nothing similar about the contents, though… this chain smoking, dirty-looking bloke would put his hand into the cauldron though a small hole in the cover and draw out a handful of greasy gizzards, spleen, and lung which he would slap onto a break roll, or just serve on a bit of paper.'

Well that’s one thing I won’t try when I go to Italy. But the pizza is another story. Jamie’s recipes for pizza are mouth-watering. Although I don’t have a brick oven like he recommends I did try his pizza with potatoes, mozzarella, rosemary, thyme, and tomatoes and his best garlic bread. Jamie also includes a recipe for a fried pizza which I haven’t tried yet but will soon.

But my favorite recipes was the one for Caponata, which he describes as an ’incredible Sicilian eggplant stew’ When I saw the picture for it I knew I just had to try it. It was simple and tasted wonderful. I’m not sure if it was anything like how it is done in Sicily but it wasn’t bad for Oklahoma.

Jamie’s Italy is full of recipes that you will want to try and that you will grow to love. Jamie stresses the use of local as well as seasonal produce as the keys to an authentic dish. He also includes some great basic recipes for making pasta and cooked vegetables. Jamie’s Italy is a wonderful place to be, I hope one day to travel off the beaten path and eat all those wonderful things from the source.

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

'Glass Houses' by Rachel Caine

ISBN: 0451219945
Format: Mass Market Paperback, 256pp
Publisher: Penguin Group (USA)
Price: $5.99

Claire Danvers is a 16-year-old college freshman in the small town of Morganville, Texas. She hates being stuck at a tiny party college when she could have gone to MIT, Yale, or Caltech. Claire is only in Morganville because it’s close to home; having led a very sheltered life her parents didn’t want her going to college far from home. Too bad they didn’t take a closer look at Morganville before Claire arrived.

Claire is having a hard time at school, not with her classes but with some of the other girls. The leading beauty Monica has made it her personal mission to ruin Claire’s existence. When Monica pushes Claire down a flight of stairs with a promise that Claire will get what’s coming to her, she realizes that the dorms on campus are not a safe place for her to stay.

Claire immediately begins looking for a new place, and in the want ads she finds an advert for a place called The Glass House. It is shared by three roommates who seem to be very close. At first that intimidates Claire but she’s so desperate that she overcomes her shyness and goes out to the house to see if the room that is offered is still available.

Only two of the three roommates are around when Claire arrives: Eve, a very stylish Goth who works in the local coffee shop, and Shane who’s just plain good-looking. Both are over 18 and do not want someone underage living in the house. But when they see the bruises that Claire has from her run-in with Monica they can’t turn her away. Later Claire meets Michael, the mysterious owner of the house who is only around during the night.

Claire learns from the trio that Monica is not an enemy to have and that Morganville is not a place you want to walk around in after dark. Eve explains that most of the town is under the protection of different vampires, the people that are protected wear bracelets with a certain symbol on them.

It’s only a matter of time before the vampires of Morganville notice Claire. Unfortunately being Monica’s enemy has already brought her under their scrutiny. But Claire isn’t alone, and with the help of Eve, Shane, and Michael she can face what is coming.

This is a quick read, full of suspense and even a touch of romance, a page-turning introduction to the Morganville Vampire series. The second book, Dead Girl’s Dance will be released in April of 2007 and I can’t wait to pick up the continuation of Claire’s story. Especially since this one leaves you with a cliffhanger ending.

Sunday, December 10, 2006

'Flora Segunda' by Ysabeau S. Wilce

ISBN: 0152054332
Format: Hardcover, 448pp
Publisher: Harcourt
Price: $17.00

Flora Segunda Nemain Fyrdraaca ov Fyrdraaca is last on the family list, and the second Flora. She has a huge name to fill but Flora has spirit - and if anyone could live up to such a heavy name she can.

In a strange, sometimes confusing, mix of slang and old-fashioned language, Flora Segunda is an original adventure about a Girl with Spirit. On the verge of turning 14, the legal adult age in Califa, Flora is getting ready for her Catorcena, the event that celebrates her move into adulthood.

There is to be a huge party which Flora is not looking forward to. There is a family tradition that each member of the Fyrdraaca family joins the Califa military and goes to the Barracks. Flora does not want to go to the Barracks; instead she wants to be a Ranger like her hero, the famous Coyote Queen. Nini Mo along with her sidekick Boy Hansgen were the greatest Rangers in the country’s history and more than anything Flora would like to be one of them.

Flora lives in the ancestral home of the Fyrdraaca’s, Crackpot Hall, which has 11,000 rooms that shift and change at random. The elevator is unreliable and Flora has been warned against using it but she is running late for school and has forgotten her library book in her room. Flora takes the chance and ends up in a part of Crackpot Hall that she has never been before.

she comes across the great library of Crackpot Hall and its banished butler Valefor. Flora’s Mamma banished Valefor long ago and now there is no one to clean but Flora. When Valefor offers to help Flora if she gives him just a little bit of her Will she agrees.

Valefor explains to Flora that because he has been banished he is beginning to fade into Elsewhere. But Valefor says that Flora can stop him from disappearing if she finds his fetish and restores him. But before Flora can save him she finds out the Dainty Pirate who is famous up and down the coast has been captured. The Dainty Pirate is Udo’s hero, her glass-gazing best friend. Together they decide that they must save him.

Flora and Udo have adventure after adventure. With such chapters as 'Discernment Sigil. Smoke. Searching A Tea Caddy." and "Sewers. Clowns. Cherry Cherry Slurps. Sad Songs." -- in which the author pays homage to Marie LaCoste’s poem "Somebody’s Darling" -- this is a hard book to put down.

Wednesday, December 6, 2006

'Hunters of the Dark Sea' by Mel Odom

ISBN: 0765304805
Format: Hardcover, 400pp
Publisher: Doherty, Tom Associates, LLC
Price: $

Hunters of the Dark Sea is set the Pacific ocean in 1813, when the ocean is crawling with pirates and privateers. Whaling ships also cross the wide blue expanses hunting the beasts not only for the blubber that is needed for oil lamps but also for the bone that is used for buttons and ladies' hoop skirts. Sometimes the whaling ships and the pirates paths' cross, with dangerous consequences.

Ethan Swain is the first mate on the whaling ship Reliant. A good man with a good heart he keeps the crew's best interests in mind. He is what holds the crew together. The ship is captained by Captain Folger, who has a close eye on the profit margin and cares little about the men under him and even less about Ethan. We learn early on that Ethan is a man with a dark past and that the Captain is always looking for a way to undermine him.

On the Brown-Eyed Sue, in another part of the Pacific Ocean, Professor Bullock and his daughter Katharine are searching for something that the natives of Easter Island call "Death-in-the-Water." The natives claim that it has the mask of a whale, but is not actually a whale. The Professor finds a man washed up on the shore and views first-hand the horrible damage that Death-in-the-Water deals to its prey; right before the Professor’s eyes the man that he tries to save liquefies from the venom that the monster has injected him with.

When an unknown ship pulls into harbor close to the Brown-Eyed Sue, most of her crew welcome the chance to meet the new people, even though they are aware of the danger. Only pirates, privateers, and scientist frequent these waters but the crew welcomes the chance to trade supplies and upgrade their stores.

The Sunfisher is captained by the seemingly well-mannered Captain McAfee, who quickly shows his true colors. Brown-Eyed Sue escapes in the fog only to have the Sunfisher coming up fast behind her.

All three ships are hunting and being hunted. The Reliant and her crew are hunting whales, the Brown-Eyed Sue is hunting the monster, and the Sunfisher is on the look out for a quick way to make a profit. Each ship has deadly encounters with the monster that is hunting them through the ocean.

When Captain Folger of the Reliant lets greed get the better of him, he places his entire crew, as well as his ship, at the mercy of the monster. Ethan battles to save the men as well as the ship, fighting the weather and the monster, determined to make it through alive.

Hunters of the Dark Sea is vividly written and the images drawn by Mel Odom are clear and precise. I was glued to the book as Reliant tossed on an angry sea, the wind and lightning lashing around the sails. Horror gripped my stomach as the monster claims victim after victim and Ethan narrowly escapes. It was a great adventure filled with action and suspense; this a book that once you pick it up you just can't put it down until you have finished.

Friday, December 1, 2006

'Thanks for the Memories: Love, Sex, and World War II' by Jane Mersky Leder

ISBN: 0275988791
Format: Hardcover, 240pp
Publisher: Greenwood Publishing Group, Incorporated
Edition Description: 1ST
Price: $39.95

Many Americans remember that famous 1945 V-J Day photograph in Life magazine of the sailor in blues kissing the nurse as she’s cradled in the crook of his arm. It’s always been a favorite of mine. The emotional moment moves from the photograph in waves, and for years it was my view of World War II: that one beautiful moment after the carnage of war.

Thanks for the Memories goes beyond what you might have learned from textbooks or what your grandparents might have shared around the dinner table. The Greatest Generation is disappearing, and their stories are dying with them. Jane Mersky Leder has now collected some stories you might not know about, along with those you might have heard somewhere along the way.

When the United States was plunged into World War II, the men stood up to be counted and enlisted - many of them only hours after the news was broadcast nationwide. When the men went to war so did the women, to the factories as well as the military in programs like WAVES and WAAC.

Subjects not covered in standard textbooks include prostitution near Army camps, venereal disease, and the man hours it cost the war effort; or the stories of lesbians and gays who enlisted and fought for our country. Ms Leder goes on to discuss female roles during the war and how this change laid the foundation for Women's Liberation in the 1960s.

Then there are the stories of young service wives who accompanied their husbands from base to base. They usually experienced wretched living conditions, and many couples were not allowed to live together. The men had to stay on the base while women were forced to find a place to live in nearby towns. Once the soldiers were shipped overseas, the long separations chipped away at their hasty marriages although for others, when they were reunited, it was as though no time had elapsed at all.

Thanks for the Memories is replete with captivating bits of history, wonderful personal stories, and a peek into a generation slipping away fast. It’s never dull as Ms Leder moves you swiftly through history, confidently and engagingly.