Saturday, February 20, 2010

The Best Casserole Cookbook Ever

by Beatrice Ojakangas

Thumbs Up.

The subtitle of this book says it all "With More Than 500 Recipes." This book is truly an amazing collection of recipes. I heard an interview with Duluth, MN, author, Beatrice Ojakangas on Tony Nasello's The Lost Italian radio show out of Fargo. I was immediately on my library page to request it.

Ms. Ojakangas begins with extensive introductory pages which include basic definitions, cooking techniques, utensils and cookware, and food prep and storage suggestions.

I appreciate that her main recipe section starts with a chapter on preparing basic casserole ingredients such as homemade sauces and broths, hard cooked eggs, caramelized onions, etc. Ms. Ojakangas advises preparing one's own sauces and broths in order to avoid the additives in store-bought, processed foods.

The ensuing chapters are organized by casserole purpose and type, such as appetizer or breakfast casseroles; poultry, beef or shellfish casseroles; vegetarian casseroles, and many other categories. She includes chapters on cooking for large groups and for two people and for kids. She includes many interesting ethnically based dishes. Indeed the idea of a "Minnesota hotdish" has expanded.

The recipes are designed with an eye to healthful eating. Ms. Ojakangas recommends throwing out the fat that congeals on the top of one's homemade broth. If you want to include more meat fats in your diet, you'll have to ignore some of the instructions. With a quick perusal, I don't find any vegetable oils called for, except olive. Most of her cooking fat is butter. Many of her recipes include dairy products such as cream and sour cream. Many of the casserole breads are sweetened with honey instead of sugar. In her grain and legume chapters Ms. Ojakangas includes recipes for a wide variety of whole grains such as barley, millet, and quinoa; and of course, being from Minnesota, she included several wild rice recipes.

I have to cook with a gluten free diet, so I tend to avoid accumulating cookbooks, most of whose recipes I wouldn't be able to use. But I think with a few minor adaptions, I could use many of these. I will definitely be putting this book on my Christmas wish list.

Friday, February 19, 2010

1001 Children's Books You Must Read Before You Grow Up

Edited by Julia Eccleshare. Preface and frontispiece artwork by Quentin Blake.

Thumbs Up.

This is such a great book. Many thanks to my librarian for recommending it. I generally would not read a book with a title such as this. I know there are any number of books out there with reading recommendations for families. But personally, I just don't need the guilt that might come with perusing such lists. "Oh, no, I haven't gotten to this one. Or this one. Look here's another..."

But this book is a pleasure from beginning to end. There is way too much material to enjoy in a mere three week library loan time. But an indulgent pleasure none the less.

The book is arranged by age range. F0r each title, it lists title, author, illustrator and other publisher information and a brief review of the book. Reviewers also note any awards the books have received and might include a note on any special significance the book had, such as it's literary, artistic, or social import. Often a well known quote is included. For many titles is also included a little box with further books in the series, other books by the author, or titles of similar style and genre.

I especially like that most books are portrayed with their original cover, many of whose titles therefore appear in the original in foreign language. On the picture, then, Little Brown Bear shows Petit Ours Brun est grognon. Not really earth shattering, but fun to see.

My kids of all ages have enjoyed paging through it. They sit two or three together and point out all the ones they know and talk about the ones they don't. For the several who don't read independently, this is based solely on the cover images.

I would say one drawback might be that the book is heavy and although hard covered, the spine is very flexible. I am not sure how well it would hold up to constant use by little hands. It just feels like it might not hold up to the wear and tear.

I had no idea there were so many wonderful children's books in the world and will certainly be requesting some of them. I will also eventually try to purchase my own copy of this, because I would like to mark off the books we've read and have a resource to consult when I want to request another title or two. But until then, the book is available at my library. I know where to find it. I just have to share.

Thursday, February 18, 2010


by Dagfinn Gronoset

Thumbs Up.

Anna grows up in south-central Norway and then runs off with Big Karl to wander in the wilderness. Big Karl turns out to be not really a very nice guy. After facing neglect and poverty at his hands, he finally sells her to a Jo, wilderness farmer for 300 kroner. Jo's homestead was along the shores of Lake Ister, along the Swedish border, a very remote area.

With Mr. Gronoset, Anna, an elderly lady at the time of the writing, tells her story of survival. although her situation was often wretched by today's American standards, Anna finds hope and meaning in helping those who need her. It's inspiring to me to read about these kind of living conditions, but never hear the complaint in Anna's retelling. She seems at peace with her lot in life and considers it a success.

Sunday, February 14, 2010

The Surrender Tree

The Surrender Tree

By Margarita Engle

Thumbs UP!

This book was given to my daughter, Maren, by the local librarian in whom she has found a kindred spirit, and who is always pulling her aside to share some new book that she thinks Maren would "really appreciate". Well, Maren devoured this book in the first night and, since she is routinely devouring books, I thought nothing of it. When returning the book to the library, I pulled the librarian aside and thanked her, telling her how much Maren enjoyed it. "Well....did you read it???" was the lady's next question. So back to our home it came and I have to confess that I too devoured it!

It is a young adult book that is written in the form of short poems describing Cuba's many struggles for its freedom. It recounts the true stories of the author's ancestor who was a "witch nurse" whose knowledge of traditional herbal medicines made her invaluable to the runaway slaves and refugees of Cuba's many wars. The book is a fast read and one that opened my eyes to the struggles of this little country that I had never known.

Many of the lines are beautiful and thoughtful and went right from the pages of the book to the pages of the literary journal I keep. I enjoyed it and would recommend it.

Saturday, February 13, 2010

New England White

By Stephen L. Carter

Thumbs up.

In Carter's second fiction offering, we again find a post mortum mystery. Keller Zant has dies and left a series of clues that only Julie Lemaster can unravel.

The setting is, as in The Emperor of Ocean Park, the university in Elm Harbor and its surrounds. Although some of the characters have followed along from Carter's first book, the focus here is on different people and so the tone is different.

Again, Carter has written a somewhat philosophical and academic mystery that still manages to draw the reader along to the end. Themes include race relations, economics, ethics, and politics.

Friday, February 5, 2010

Bats at the Library

by Brian Lies

Thumbs Up.

This is an excellent picture book.

After word goes out that the librarian has left a window ajar, the bats all flock to the library. They wait all year for these rare opportunities. The bats do all kinds of library things, photo copy themselves, go on the computers, and, best of all, read books.

The artwork is a definite high point. The illustrations are beautiful and so creative. The bats group together to make Human Shadows. They look at books abouts moths and the Fibonacci sequence. They hang upside down from the tables and the reader bat props the picture books upside down while he reads. Each time I look at the book I see more witty things.

The best part of the story is the visual allusions to many works of classic children's lit. I'm not going to tell you more; you'll have to check it out yourselves. But I will add that this is the kind of book that makes a person curious about any of the alluded to stories he or she may not have read yet. (Just yesterday I picked up Drummer Hoff from the library.)

It would make an excellent gift for a child.

Perish and Publish

by Sally Wright

Thumbs Up.

This is the first of the Ben Reese mysteries. I reviewed the second, Pride and Predator, previously.

I like this author. She develops lovable characters who are not flawless, but yet are noble. Noble as in people of virtue. Although not "Christian lit", Ms Wright places these stories among people who have a Christian world view. This is refreshing. They think and act and discuss life within this context.

In Publish and Perish, Professor and college Archivist Ben Reese is pulled into investigating the death of fellow professor and good friend, Richard West. The setting and some of the conversations were very realistic to me, having been a part of a college faculty community previously.

I will definitely try to find more of the Ben Reese mysteries.

Anna in the Tropics

by Nilo Cruz

I guess one thumb each way.

In this play, Mr. Cruz uses as the setting of his book a cigar factory in Florida during the early decades of the 1900s. Apparently, it was common in those days for immigrant factory workers to hire a reader to educate and entertain them while they worked. (I also found this phenomenon mentioned in A Tree Grows in Brooklyn. Interesting idea). The reader would schedule various kinds of readings throughout the day: newspapers, novels, poetry, etc.

The setting is interesting, the characters are colorful and true to their natures, the plot is kind of depressing.

The action of the play is an interweaving of the lives of the factory workers with the plot of the book the reader was reading, Tolstoy's Anna Karenina. It is a creative idea. I wish he had chosen a different novel.

I've always wanted to read Anna Karenina, because it is such a pretty sounding name. Now I think I'll pass. I know it's a "great work" and all, but apparently just a big huge adulterous affair.

Cover Her Face

by P.D. James

One thumb each way.

I was told awhile back that P.D. James was the premier murder mystery writer. Upon doing a little bit of research, I realized that, in fact, I had read some of her stuff, since I remember Dalgleish from some of my high school reading. I probably was on a Dalgleish bender at some point.

But on to this book. Yeah, I guess it was OK. It was a typical murder mystery that kept me on my toes as I went back and forth predicting first one then another character as the murderer. But it was really nothing spectacular. It was OK. I'd read another when I need some lazy reading.

My one disappointment was, again, the sentence or two stuck in there that alluded to illicit s**. Even described a bit. Grr. I have a twelve year old daughter who loves murder mysteries. But it's so hard to find books that I can recommend to her in good conscience. I really was hoping this would work.

I'll probably try a few more, just to see whether this is a regular occurrence with P.D. James or an isolated incident. Anyone know anything more about her books?

Thursday, February 4, 2010

The Haymeadow

Gary Paulsen

Thumbs Up.

At his best, Paulsen is a genius storyteller. And he's at his best with this book. It's similar to the well-known Hatchet, in that it tells the story of a young man learning to use his mind and skills to survive.

In The Haymeadow, set on a Wyoming sheep ranch, John's father has to stay in town with Tink, who is battling cancer. It's always been Tink who spends the summer with the sheep in the mountain rangeland. But this year, John has to do it. By himself for three months. With no one but the sheep for company.

When John's dad brings the restock supplies near the end of the summer, John gets a further gift. Because of John's success with the sheep, and his increased subsequent increased maturity, his father decides confides in him the family stories John has always yearned to hear.

Paulsen hits the perfect balance between teen survival tale and coming of age sentimentality. I think the story would appeal to both boys and girls equally, but probably is targeted toward young males.

Sofia and the Heartmenders

by Marie Olofsdotter

Thumbs Down

This book first appealed to me because of the artwork. It's done in Mexican folkart style with bright colors and stylized perspective.

But the appeal ended soon after I began reading the story. Sofia is scared of the dark. There are "shadow monsters" in the corners of her bedroom. When the parents insist upon turning the light off, they become uncaring idiots.

The next day, Sofia, with her heart already half broken by her parents cruelty, cannot eat her breakfast. She goes to school and in art class instead of drawing the assigned subject matter, Sofia draws the shadow monsters a bit on each of many pieces of paper. The teacher is also a heartless idiot for not realizing and praising her artistic expression.

Sofia runs away and finds this somewhat voodoo-ish heartmender with the help of a wolfish looking dog. Finally someone who understands. Sophia using wisdom given her by the dog, gets past the shadow monsters who appear at the door of the heartmender. The heartmender shows Sophia how to heal her heart by the light of the moon.

All is well. Sofia can now return and deal effectively with all the idots in her life.

But the artwork is great!


by Holly Hobbie

Thumbs Up

I like this book on so many levels. Fanny wants a Connie doll for her birthday. Connie dolls somewhat resemble the Brats dolls. Although all her friends have them, Fanny's mom says no. "They are just too much."

After Fanny's mom explains this, Fanny sets out to make her own Connie doll. Although the finished product does not really resemble the sleek (slutty-my word) looking Connie dolls, Fanny kind of falls in love with her homemade Annabelle.

And what does Fanny get for her birthday instead of the ached for Connie? A box of fabrics and various sewing supplies. Very uncool.

By the end of the book, Fanny has come to peace with her gift and even uses it to make Annabelle a doll of her own.

I like the portrayal of a mom standing on principles. I like Fanny's imagination and the fortitude she shows in fixing her dilemma. And I love that she comes to a peace with her gift and shows further creativity by putting the contents to use.

I also like the example Fanny shows in dealing gracefully with her friends and their cool dolls and oh-so-cool opinions.

The Cow Who Wouldn't Come Down

by Paul Brett Johnson

Thumbs Up

In this humorous picture book, Miss Rosemary has a somewhat irksome cow. This time Gertrude has learned to fly and won't come down to get milked. Follow the very spry Miss Gertrude as she attempts some ineffectual ways attract Gertrude, and then finally concocts just the right trick to get Gertrude down. A sweet book with neat acrylic painted illustrations.