ALA 2013

This year’s annual American Library Association conference was held in Chicago, so I took myself down to McCormick Place for three days to wander the exhibit halls, scope out all the new books, meet some authors and get some books signed.  I don’t know how anybody can find time to actually attend meetings and workshops because the exhibit hall itself is a full-time undertaking with over 800 exhibitors and over 300 authors on hand to sign their books.  Sourcebooks gave away a T-shirt that I sadly didn’t get that said “Authors are My Rock Stars.”  And this really sums up how all the librarians, teachers and other book lovers who crowded the exhibit hall and stood in long lines for photos and autographs felt.  It was so much fun going from booth to booth, talking to people who feel the same excitement you do about books.  As Anne Shirley of L.M. Montgomery’s Anne of Green Gables series might have said, they were all “kindred spirits.”

The biggest highlight for me was getting to meet the authors and get my books signed.  I met Katherine Patterson, Kirby Larson, Brian Selznick, Blue Balliett, Jerry Pinkney, Brandon Mull (for my son) and Ally Carter (for my niece) and more.

Some of the authors I met at ALA 2013

Some of the authors I met at ALA 2013

Another exciting perk is the abundance of free books; some people seemed to indiscriminately take anything that was offered, but I tried to control myself and only take what I knew I or others in my family would read.  There seemed to be quite a few YA books on offer compared with books for other age levels.   And what do you do with all these free books once you have them?  You put them in the free tote bags offered by the publishers and other vendors.  The most coveted bags seemed to be the Ingram bags (because of its size) and the bags from Baker & Taylor, National Geographic, Kids Can Press and Capstone because of the cool designs.  If you didn’t make it to the booth first thing in the morning when the exhibits opened, you were out of luck.

Other highlights: the Cooking Stage where authors prepared recipes from their cookbooks–and then gave away signed copies of the books.  I got Indian Cooking Unfolded and Put ’em Up: A Preserving Guide & Cookbook.   Another session at the Cooking Stage had Amy Alessio, a local librarian (and vintage cookbook collector) talking about food fiction–exactly the kind of book I like to read.  She mentioned many of the the series I have read and introduced me to several more.  Luckily, she works at the public library one town over from me so when I run out of things to read I can go pick her brain.

Finally, I came home with three books that fit the parameters of this blog that I will be talking about in a future post.

I leave you with a vintage recipe shared by Amy Alessio:

Maple Apple Doughnuts
1 Gala apple cut in small pieces
2 C flour
3/4 C brown sugar
2 tsp. baking powder
pinch salt
1 tbsp. unsalted butter, melted
2 beaten eggs
3/4 C milk
1 tsp. vanilla
1/4 tsp. nutmeg
1/2 tsp. cinnamon

Bake at 325F in baked doughnut pan for 10 minutes or until tops spring back to touch.

Happy reading and happy eating!

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Happy Easter!

This Little Bunny Can Bake

Today we celebrated Easter with the family and had a lovely day.  Even the weather cooperated!  And although the oldest grandchildren are nearly 21 years old they protested quite loudly when Grandma suggested ending the annual Easter Egg Hunt.  Since Grandma still enjoys preparing the hunt and the kids love searching, the tradition continues, but with a slight twist this year: instead of a treat, one of the eggs had a chore that needed to be done.  After a great deal of laughter, most of the kids were good sports and did their part by setting the table or helping with the dishes.  A few snuck out without following through, but Grandma knows who they are!

In honor of chocolate bunnies I thought I’d share This Little Bunny Can Bake by Janet Stein.  Little Bunny is not an Easter Bunny and he doesn’t deliver eggs, but he sure can bake!  And a lot of what he bakes involves chocolate, which is an Easter favorite.  Recipes adorn the endpapers.  Check it out if you are interested in making any of the following:

Frozen Banana Pops
Milk Chocolate Truffles
Petit Cream Cheese Tarts
Chocolate Salami
Crunchy Rice Pistachio Bricks
Crazy Coconut Lime Macaroons
Incredible Crepes


Happy reading and happy eating!

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The Winter That Wasn’t

So far this winter has really been the winter that wasn’t.  The Chicago area did not get its first one inch snowfall until this past Friday.  We went an incredible 335 days between one inch snowfalls.  And today it’s 60 degrees!

I’m not ready to say winter is over; I’ve witnessed flurries in May.  However, I won’t be sad if we don’t get any big accumulations.  I am OK with rain; I know the farmers need the precipitation, but I don’t have to shovel rain.

I would like snow better if I didn’t have to shovel it or drive in it.  If I could stay home with a book and a cup of hot cocoa and admire the glistening snowflakes through my window, I’d be fine with it.  But alas, that is not usually the case.

But in the spirit of admiring the snow through the window, I offer two cozy winter stories:

Uncle Phil’s Diner by Helena Clare Pittman tells the story of a cold, snowy Sunday morning when Ruthie and her father undertake the ten block walk to Uncle Phil’s diner.  As they walk they try to keep their mind off the cold by reminiscing about the fun they had over the summer and sing in anticipation of the yummy treats (including blueberry pancakes with blueberries they picked and preserved themselves the previous summer) that await them at the diner.  Includes the recipe for Uncle Phil’s Blueberry Pancakes.

Soup Day by Melissa Iwai tells the story of a little girl and her mother making soup from the visit to the market to buy the vegetables to sprinkling it with parsley at the table as they prepare to eat it.  Includes the recipe for Snowy Day Vegetable Soup.

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Happy New Year! 明けましておめでとうございま!

Today we celebrate the beginning of a new year and our hope for good things to come.  Japan, unlike many other Asian countries, celebrates the new year according to the Western calendar, so today my family and I headed over to the nearby Japanese market to watch mochi-tsuki and listen to taiko drumming.  We concluded our festivities with homemade sushi.

From My Japan by Etsuko Watanabe

From My Japan by Etsuko Watanabe

In honor of the new year, I offer the following stories by Ying Chang Compestine and their accompanying recipes.  Set in China the first two are original stories for the new year.  Boy Dumplings would be perfect to tell around Halloween and the last two offer the author’s imaginings on the history of chopsticks and noodles.

The Runaway Rice Cake     Baked Nián-Gão
                                                        Steamed Nián-Gão
The Runaway Wok                Festive Stir-Fried Rice
Boy Dumplings                        Boy-Free Dumplings (i.e. Potstickers)
The Story of Chopsticks     Sweet Eight Treasures Rice Pudding
The Story of Noodles           Long-Life Noodles
Happy reading and happy eating!
May 2013 bring health, happiness and prosperity.

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Cupcakes and More

I recently read two middle grade books about girls whose parent’s recently divorced.  Eggs Over Evie by Alison Jackson, has Evie adjusting not only to her parent’s divorce, but her father’s new wife, who is expecting twins, her mother’s first date since the divorce and the fact that her father took custody of her dog.  She finds comfort in cooking.  (Her father is a local TV chef and Evie feels closer to her father when she’s cooking.)

I enjoyed the story and drooled over the recipes; I am sure it will appeal to middle grade girls, but I couldn’t help but come at the story with my critical adult brain.  Take Evie’s parent’s for example: they’ve only been divorced a year, but dad’s already remarried and expecting twins (who will be born by the end of the story) with his new young wife.  All I’m thinking while reading is that the creep was having an affair with this homewrecker before he even moved out of the house.  Either that or he works really fast.

As the story progresses, Evie starts to adjust to her new normal with the help of her cranky old neighbor (who is really just lonely) and the cute boy in her cooking class.  Another example of my nit-picky brain at work:  the cooking class must be really short because all they do the first week is boil eggs.  And then they put them in the fridge till the next class a week later when all they do is make egg salad.  Really??  The class can’t be extended another 1/2 hour so they can make some egg salad sandwiches?  Another week they peel apples for pie, but don’t make the pie!

Each chapter begins with a quote from a famous chef and ends with a recipe.  A recipe from Eggs Over Evie can be found on the author’s blog at  (And you have a chance to have your original recipe featured in the sequel.  How cool is that!)

The other book, Save the Cupcake, the first in a new series by Lisa Papademetriou features Haley who after her parent’s divorce has moved, along with her mother and sister, into her grandmother’s apartment above her tea shop.  Although Haley misses her lifelong friends (and neighbors), she is happy to have space in her grandmother’s shop to indulge her hobby of creating new cupcake recipes.

Like Evie, Haley’s dad has already moved on and has a young girlfriend.  In addition, Haley is dealing with the usual middle school drama and changing friendships.

Recipes for most of Haley’s cupcake experiments can be found in the book.  One cupcake that really intrigued me was the Country Breakfast Cupcake, described as “a delicious blend of bacon, egg, and pancake with maple-syrup frosting.”   But, alas, no recipe.  Many of the recipes from the story can be found on the author’s website at  Can’t wait to try the French Toast Cupcakes.

Happy reading and happy eating!

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Eggs, etc.

Laura Child’s latest series,* Cackleberry Club Mysteries  (Did you know cackleberry is slang for egg?  I didn’t.) has three middle-aged women opening a breakfast/lunch restaurant that morphs into an afternoon tearoom and also sells books and knitting supplies on the side.  I guess this makes sense as I can’t imagine that as stand-alone shops any one of these ventures would succeed in a small Midwestern town.  These three friends have definitely cornered the niche market; all they need to do is do is add a small boutique or jewelry shop to appeal to all the women in town.

So far, I have read the first two books in the series, Eggs in Purgatory and Eggs Benedict Arnold.  As mysteries, they are average.  The stories ramble on with lots of suspects, but then seem to hurriedly come to a conclusion and especially in the second book, the murderer seems to come out of left field, but all the recipes sound delicious.  I haven’t yet made anything from Eggs in Purgatory, but I want to try several including Cherry Pie Muffins, Chicken and Wild Rice Soup, and Easy Sour Cream Biscuits.  I’ve tried two recipes from Eggs Benedict Arnold: Chicken Croquettes and Frozen Lemonade Pie.  I would consider the Chicken Croquettes to be more like crab cakes than croquettes.  Any croquettes I have ever eaten have had either a white sauce or mashed potatoes as a base with meat or vegetables mixed in, then were rolled in bread crumbs and deep fried.  These had no white sauce or mashed potatoes, had the bread crumbs mixed in and were pan fried.  But name quibble aside, they were quite tasty and the family all agreed they were worth making again.  Next time though I’d add more cheese and use a heavier hand with the seasonings.  The Frozen Lemonade Pie was very easy to make with just four ingredients, but was a little too sweet for my taste.  (I don’t like things as sweet as most people.  When I bake, I generally cut the sugar by 1/3.)  If I make it again, I’d probably cut back on the sweetened condensed milk.  The next recipe I want to try from the second book is Blueberry Breakfast Squares, which is a simple cake with a blueberry filling.

The verdict: average mysteries but worth reading, mainly for the recipes.

*Her earlier series are Tea Shop Mysteries and Scrapbook Mysteries.

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2012 Cozy Theme Reading Challenge–Finished!

Well, it took until the very last day, but I finished the Goodreads Cozy Theme Reading Challenge and I was able to complete my personal challenge of reading cozies that contained recipes as well.

Here’s what I read:

#1 British – English – Books that take place in the United Kingdom countries of England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland.

I read Aunt Dimity and the Duke for this, but I also read an Aunt Dimity book for the paranormal category and it felt a little like cheating to read two books from the same series, so I kept looking.  It took until the day before the challenge ended to find another book that was not only set in Britain, but also had a recipe.  Sweet Revenge by Andrea Penrose actually has 25 chocolate recipes—one at the beginning of each chapter. Most of the recipes contain either liquor or coffee, neither of which I drink, so won’t be trying them, but there were a few recipes I might try: Salted Chocolate Caramels, Cacao Shortbread, Chocolate Angel Food Cake and Spiced Hot Chocolate.  Sweet Revenge could also have worked for the historical category as it is set in 1813.  Lady Arianna Hadley sneaks back to London years after her father escaped to the Caribbean. She is determined to revenge her father’s banishment and death.  When reaching her goal gets her tangled up with the poisoning of the Prince Regent, she joins forces with government agent, Lord Saybrook to help solve both their mysteries.  The story had mystery, adventure, romance, history, and humor (some of it on the bawdy side) as well as chocolate history and recipes.

#2 Historical/Period – Any book that takes place prior to 1940.

The Tale of Hill Top Farm by Susan Witting Albert which I talked about in a previous post.

#3 Animals – Any book with an animal as a main character, subject of the book, book takes place in a pet shop, stable, etc.

Actually, I read four books in the Jane Stuart and Winky (Jane’s cat) series by Evan Marshal for this one so I could could count the fourth one, Icing Ivy for the challenge.  Why four?  I wanted a cozy with a recipe and I like to read series in order and it took till number four to get a recipe for Trinidadian Curried Cascadoo (a fish).

Though the series is billed as Jane Stuart and Winky, the cat really was a minor character who would just happen to sit on the one clue Jane needed.  Really?  I should have used this for the professions category as there were a lot of details about Jane’s job as a literary agent.

#4 Culinary/Cooking – Food themed mysteries.

Lost and Fondue by Avery Aames is the second book in the Cheese Shop Mysteries. Besides the expected recipes for fondue and quiche there is one for Porcupine Meatballs.  (Aames’ recipe can be found here:  I haven’t made her version, but I do have fond memories of eating porcupines as a child.  Sadly, when I made them for my own family, they were not impressed.

#5 Paranormal – Anything centered around the occult, witches, vampires, werewolves, Psychics, ghosts, etc.

Aunt Dimity’s Death by Nancy Atherton also mentioned in a previous post.

#6 Vacation Mysteries/Exotic Locations – Any book that takes place outside the United States and/or outside the country in which you live.

This one took me a while.  I knew I could use a book from Nancy Fairbank’s Carolyn Blue series, but I was hoping to find a new series, but when I couldn’t I ran to the library in the next town (My home library does not have very many books in this series which is why I put it to the side in the first place.  I am too impatient to wait for interlibrary loans.) and borrowed Mozzarella Most Murderous.  It meant reading out of order because the next one on the list that I hadn’t read was set in the U.S., but I didn’t have time to read up to it.

In this title, Carolyn accompanies her husband to a conference in Italy and her sightseeing companion of the day before ends up at the bottom of the swimming pool.  On her way to solving the murder, Carolyn eats lots of delicious Italian food including Insalata Caprese, Lemon Torte and Stuffed Peaches with Mascarpone Cheese.  I have already tried Fairbanks’ Campania-Style Hamburger, which is a breaded burger, covered with mozzarella cheese, tomato and pesto and served on garlic toast.  (The recipe said to drizzle garlic olive oil on toast, but I shortcutted by using some frozen Texas Toast that I fried, grilled cheese-style.)  Though it is supposed to be slow food, my husband gobbled it up very fast.  He really liked it; the kids not so much.  He voted to make it again.

#7 Holidays – Any holiday themed mystery.

Christmas was the theme of the holiday cozy, Gingerbread Bump-Off by Livia J. Washburn.  The chairwomen of the town’s holiday house parade is killed with a blow to the head from a ceramic gingerbread man grabbed from Phyllis’s front porch.  The recipes are seasonally appropriate, including one for Chocolate Mint Coffee Spoons (gifts?), Slow-Bake Gingerbread Ornaments (decorating?), Winter Cranberry Cider (entertaining?) and of course, Gingerbread Boys with Cream Cheese Frosting.

#8 Hobbies – Any mystery that centers around a hobby, craft, sport, etc.

Needled to Death by Maggie Sefton is the second book in the Knitting Mystery series that centers around a knitting shop and the knitters who gather there.  Kelly Flynn, who came home to Colorado from Washington, D.C. to deal with her aunt’s death is now telecommuting to her job, settling in and making friends.  She and another knitting shop friend volunteer to take some out-of-town knitters to a local alpaca ranch only to discover the owner dead when they get there.  The book includes two simple knitting patterns and a recipe for blueberry pie.

#9 Professions/Careers/Jobs/Occupations – Any mystery that centers on or highlights a particular job. Doesn’t matter if the job is that of the person murdered, or that of the amateur sleuth.

Joanne Fluke’s Hannah Swensen is a baker. Yum. (So this series could also fit into the food category.)  Cinnamon Roll Murder, the latest addition to this series has Hannah finding another dead body. (How can one small town have so many murders?) But really, it’s the recipes we care about.  Most are for baked goods, but Fluke will offer up an occasional “hot dish” (what Minnesotans call a casserole), salad or side. This time around the reader gets 22 recipes, including Lemon Cake, Peaches and Cream Cookies and something called Piggy Chicken.

#10 Senior Sleuths – Read a mystery where the sleuth is 50 or older.

I could have used another Fresh-Baked mystery by Washburn as her sleuth is a retired school teacher, but like my Aunt Dimity dilemma, I wanted to use a different series.  I found Biggie and the Poisoned Politician by Nancy Bell.  Biggie’s story is told from the point-of-view- of her 12-year-old grandson who nicknamed her Biggie when he was a toddler. Now everybody in the small Texas town calls Fiona Weatherford Biggie.  When the mayor drops dead in his dessert, Biggie starts poking around with the help of her grandson, her voodoo practicing maid, Willie Mae and Willie Mae’s husband, Rosebud.  Included is a recipe for gumbo.

Overall, what did I think?  I enjoyed the challenge, especially with my extra personal challenge as it got me to seek out new series.  I found some tasty recipes, which is always a bonus.  Next time though, I’ll be sure to start at the beginning, not two months late so I have more time to enjoy the reading and the recipes.

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