Entries from October 2012

Keeping Watch

October 29th, 2012 · 9 Comments · Uncategorized

It’s hard to believe that less than 48 hours ago I was in Santa Monica wondering if I’d ever be able to recognize a cloud again. I’ll report on that trip later in the week, but for now, we’re hunkering down, queuing up the first season of Homeland (finally!) loading up on our peanut butter and bread (I wasn’t as smart as some of you guys from facebook who loaded up on Short Ribs), and prepping for Hurricane Sandy with this song on repeat in my brain. Stay safe Mid-Atlantic friends — back atcha in a few days.

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A DALS Honeymoon

October 26th, 2012 · 4 Comments · Baking and Sweets, Dinner: A Love Story, the Book

From the Mailbox:

Hi Jenny,
I just wanted to let you know that I loved your book so much that I brought it with us on our honeymoon. (I put the DALS cookbook on my registry, hoping that someone would have the good sense to buy it for me, but when I didn’t get it at my shower, I decided I couldn’t wait any longer and ordered it myself.) We rented a little house in Bar Harbor, so we had a kitchen and cooked from the book several times. The recipes that we’ve tried have all been amazing (cinnamon in the chili = life changing), but what I’ve loved the most is reading about how your family has grown and changed, and how its made me think about what my own family might look like down the road. Thanks so much for the inspiration and the good food.

Love,
Jen

PS. This photo taken on our first morning in Maine, just as we were about to sit down and enjoy our (snickerdoodle) wedding cake for breakfast. (Seriously, who wants to wait a year to eat cake that good? Not me.) You can see the DALS book hanging out on the table.

Thanks, Jen!  And lucky lucky us: Jen has been nice enough to post the Snickerdoodle wedding cake recipe on her website.

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Birthday Pie

October 24th, 2012 · 58 Comments · Baking and Sweets, Birthdays, Holidays, Celebrations

How a girl like me — a girl whose idea of the perfect food is a chocolate buttercream layered sponge cake, a girl whose childhood dinners were considered incomplete without a slice of fudge-frosted Entenman’s tacked on to the end of them, a girl who could eat this morning, noon, and night — ended up being the mother of a cake-hater like my 9-year-old? I’ll never know. What I do know is that on the big day, birthday pie works fine, too.

Cranberry-Apple Birthday Pie

2 9-inch frozen pie crusts, such as Pillsbury or Trader Joe’s (or if you have Martha Stewart’s pâte brisée in the freezer, lucky you!)
5 to 6 apples, peeled and sliced (about 5 cups)
1/4 cup fresh cranberries (or to taste)
1⁄3 cup sugar
1⁄2 teaspoon cinnamon
Dash of nutmeg
Juice from 1⁄2 lemon
6 to 8 dots of butter
1 egg, beaten

Preheat the oven to 400°F.

Lay the first piece of dough inside a pie dish. Toss the apples and cranberries in a large mixing bowl. Sprinkle with sugar, cinnamon, nutmeg, and lemon juice. Toss, then dump into prepared pie dish. Dot the fruit with butter, cover with second pie dough, using your fingers to seal it around the edges. Using a knife, cut a few ventilation slits in the top. Brush the crust with egg wash.

Bake for 40 minutes. If the crust is looking too brown before the fruit is bubbling out the side, cover with foil. Once the pie is cool, add candles. Serve with vanilla ice cream.

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Dinner: A Love Story Events (First Stop: L.A.)

October 23rd, 2012 · 18 Comments · Dinner: A Love Story, the Book

 

OK so I am going rogue with this book of mine. I’m determined to get it in the hands of as many new cooks, new parents, new home-owners, newly on-their-own types as possible as we amp up for the holidays. When I asked you guys (via my newsletter) a few weeks ago for help arranging appearances I got some of the nicest invitations, and I wanted to be sure to update you on where I’ll be signing, reading, selling, chatting in the next few months.

First stop this week in Los Angeles!

Friday, October 26
Thyme Cafe & Market
Santa Monica, CA
“Ten Recipes, Ten Strategies: A Coffee Talk” @10AM

Friday, October 26
Chevalier’s Books
Los Angeles, CA @3PM (signing only)

Saturday, November 3
Hastings Farmer’s Market
Hastings-on-Hudson, NY @10AM

Thursday, December 6
Stamford Jewish Community Center
Stamford, CT @7:30 (online registration requested)

Sunday, December 9
Barnes & Noble City Center
White Plains, NY @4PM

Thursday, December 13
6:30 reception, 7:00 program.
Katonah Museum of Art
Katonah, NY

If you have an event in your neighborhood that might benefit from a dinner talk, please feel free to get in touch. I’ll bet we could figure out a way to make it work. (See: Rogue) Jenny AT dinneralovestory DOT com.

Left, me preparing for my reading in Boston; Right, Abby’s introductory remarks at the Darien Public Library. My favorite part of the speech is how she started writing “happy” then edited herself and changed it to “thrilled.”

 

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Two-for-Ones

October 22nd, 2012 · 16 Comments · Sides, Salads, Soup, Uncategorized

I was talking to another mom on the soccer sidelines last week, and when she got wind of my book and blog, she asked what everyone asks: What’s for dinner tonight? I wasn’t going to walk in the door that night until almost 7:00 so I had planned my come-together-fast Fettucini with Pre-Shredded Brussels Sprouts. I told her that, and then she told me she was going vegetarian also with “a big fresh salad.” She then added, “Remember how our mothers used to think about dinner? A protein, a vegetable, and a starch?” Ha ha ha ha ha! I can’t remember exactly what she said next but it was something like this “Remember how charming and silly that was?”

If I’m making her out to be an ogre, I’m sorry, that is absolutely not the case — the woman is a saint — it’s only that I was kind of embarrassed. Apparently, the person who’s supposedly in love with dinner (me) is still thinking about dinner the way our mothers do. I mean, we’re big on Meatless Mondays in my house, and for a while there during the Atkins craze we made a big effort to replace the starch with a second vegetable. But for the most part, I have to say, the meat-starch-veg template is my default mode. When I’m thinking up dinner ideas, the plate is still a puzzle with three fill-in-the-blank pieces.

I will say, however, that I’ve updated that three-piece model a tiny bit with what I call my Two-for-One strategy. This means I try whenever possible to make a single dish that combines two food groups so I don’t feel like I’m making three separate dishes. For whatever self-delusional reason, it feels like less work and it makes dinner come together faster. Here are some of my favorites:

White Beans with Onions and Spinach (Protein + Veg, shown above)
Saute a halved garlic clove in a few glugs of olive oil to a skillet. Let it infuse the oil for a minute, then remove. Add 2 tablespoons chopped onions (or shallots or scallions), a shake of red pepper flakes, and cook until soft, about 2 minutes. Add one can of rinsed and drained white beans (such as Great Northerns or Cannellini), stir. Add a handful of frozen spinach (it’s best if it’s thaws, but works fine if it’s not). Add salt and pepper, and stir. Serve with grated Parm. (more…)

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10 Things I’d Love to Do for Halloween (But Probably Won’t)

October 18th, 2012 · 30 Comments · Baking and Sweets, Birthdays, Holidays, Celebrations

I tend to be very ambitious for Halloween — thinking about Halloween that is…two months before it’s an actual reality. But because the holiday falls so close to Abby’s birthday, I end up having very little energy left in the inspiration bank once its time to dig out the hanging ghost for the front door. To look at my facebook feed and Pinterest page, however, this does not seem to be a problem for the rest of the world — or at least the virtual world that I travel in. So in order to not leave you completely in the (creepy, scary) dark, I thought I’d present a quick Halloween inspiration hit list (what to read, bake, dress up as, play on the iPod) based mostly on other people’s ambitious ideas.

1) One thing I know for sure I won’t have to do this year is scramble to find treat bags, because the personalized ones you see above, which I ordered for each of the girls on their first Halloweens, are still going strong. Crushing to think that they’ve been around for nine and ten years respectively.

2) I found these Owl Cupcakes via Pinterest, traced it back to a site called Kara’s Party Ideas, but couldn’t find the specific post itself. No matter, the reason I love it so much is because looks like the baking-challenged among us (me) would figure it out without written instructions. Looks like all you need is your favorite cupcake mix, chocolate icing, M&Ms and Oreos.

3) How funny is this Awkward School Photo costume? (Via Cup of Jo.) My kids are going as Medusa (any leads on a snake headdress that doesn’t cost $35 are welcome) and a Detective (badge, hat, magnifying glass, my old trench coat, done). I really love seeing creative kids’ costumes, so please send them my way or share them on the DALS facebook page. You never know, I might be in my random-prize-awarding mood when I see something I go crazy for.

4) Costume ideas for Siblings (photo credit: imgur) I can’t imagine my two hyper individualistic little monsters agreeing on a theme costume idea (they each eat different salsas, for crying out loud), but you might have better luck. (more…)

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Korean Short Ribs: How DALSian is That?

October 16th, 2012 · 46 Comments · Pork and Beef

I’d like to introduce you to a new word: DALSian. It is defined as follows:

[DAHLS'-ee-uhn] adj – used to describe a recipe displaying hallmarks of blog Dinner: A Love Story; simple, fresh, un-intimidating, frequently strategy-driven and generally requiring key ingredients found in non-fetishy food person’s pantry.

Naturally, I’d like to think every recipe on DALS is DALSian, but there are many that seem to deserve the title more obviously than most. (And a few who deserve it less: we ‘d get bored superfast if it weren’t for edible flowers on pizza, Maya Kaimal’s chicken curry, and Bugiali’s high-maintenance, high-happiness Minestrone every now and then.)

A few DALSian champs that come to my mind immediately: Pretzel Chicken, Pomegranate-Juice-Braised Pork with Cabbage, Tony’s SteakSalmon Salad. Some of these, like the pork, I discover by accident; others, like the salmon salad, are tweaked over years and years through tantrums and tantrums. But often, like the Pretzel Chicken, the recipes are sent to me by readers.

Which brings me to the latest dish to be crowned with the title: Korean Short Ribs.

Can you please take a look at the photo up there? That’s pretty much all I needed to make a big pot of them for a showstopping potluck centerpiece this past weekend. The recipe came from reader Anna with the following note:

i just read the tumultuous tuesdays post and felt compelled to email you my top ten crockpot meals.  i send it to all our family and friends when they have a baby.  if they live in town, i print it off and include it with some freezer meals for their family.  if they don’t and i know they don’t own a crockpot, i email the file and send a crockpot from target.  it’s getting the be the season where we all think about using the crockpot. so, enjoy!

xo, anna

Now, first of all, how jealous are you of her friends? And of me — who gets delicious dinner ideas regularly sent to my inbox from nice people in Nebraska! Anna is not just a reader, of course. Besides being the woman behind Clementines Produce & Provisions, she won the Weeknight Recipe Contest a few year’s back — her Kale, White Bean, and Sausage Stew was so DALSian, it made it into my book. I don’t own a crockpot, but I opened up the file and immediately lasered in on the third recipe listed, those aforementioned ribs. You wanna talk DALSian? This recipe listed five ingredients — one of which was water — and one line of instruction. I decided then and there to translate it to my Dutch Oven to see what would happen. This is what happened:

This photo was taken while daylight was still good – the ribs would cook down another hour or so until the beef was rich and melty and the salty-sweet sauce dark and thick. The only problem was that I had somehow neglected to realize that the younger diners attending the potluck might be inclined to eat it too. In my head, like a dummy, I had earmarked it for the adults only (how have I not learned this lesson?) and watched as kid after kid decimated their portion, leaving a scant single rib for each adult diner.

But I guess of all the criteria that define a DALSian dinner, “kid-friendly” should probably be right at the top of the list.

Korean Short Ribs (the no-slow-cooker version)
The only change I made to Anna’s was replacing jalapenos with Sriracha (I didn’t have jalapenos; and yes I realize that Sriracha is Thai) and next time I might add a few slices of fresh ginger in the braising liquid because…well, why not? As Andy would say, it’s not like it’s going to be bad.

1 T. canola or vegetable oil
3-4 pounds beef short ribs, salted and peppered (I used a combination of bone-in and boneless — don’t ask — but I prefer all boneless)
1 c. of brown sugar
1 c. soy sauce, low sodium
½ c. water
2 teaspoons Sriracha
scallions for garnish

Heat oven to 325°F. In a Dutch Oven set over medium-high heat, add oil, then brown short ribs in batches. Whisk together remaining ingredients and add to the pot with all the beef. (The meat should be almost fully immersed when you begin, and then cook down as you go. But keep an eye on liquid — it should be at least a third of the way up the pot. If it’s not, add a mix of 1 part water to 1 part soy, a little at a time.) Bring to a boil, then reduce to a simmer. Cover, leaving lid slightly ajar, and place inside oven. Cook 3 to 4 hours, flipping ribs every 30 minutes or so, until liquid has thickened and meat is falling off the bone. Serve topped with chopped scallions.

PS: How’s this for awesome? Anna has posted not only the slow-cooker version of this for you crockpot owners, but her entire Top Ten Slow-Cooker File. Head over to her site to download. You rock, Anna!

 

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The New Ketchup

October 15th, 2012 · 20 Comments · Grilling, Picky Eating, Posts by Andy, Quick, Uncategorized

Universal law of childhood eating, #217: Kids like to dip stuff in stuff. At least, our kids do. They dip roasted potatoes in ketchup. They dip baby carrots in ginger dressing. They dip sausages in yellow mustard, cookies in milk, and breaded chicken in ketchup. They dip salmon in Soyaki, grape tomatoes in ketchup (not sh*tting you!), burritos in salsa, apples in Nutella, bacon strips in maple syrup, Hershey’s kisses in peanut butter, ketchup in ketchup in ketchup in ketchup. I’m not sure what evolutionary quirk is playing out here re: the dipping impulse, but as long as the food goes down, it is all good in the hood, right? A couple of weeks ago, I added another one to the rotation. It was Sunday night and we had grilled a couple of tuna steaks and I was standing in the kitchen, trying to think of something to help seal the deal with the kids. Tuna is not always easy. What goes well with it? Spicy mayo! So I made one, using Hellmann’s and Sriracha. (About 1 teaspoon Sriracha to every 3 tablespoons mayo.) It had a beautiful, peachy color. It had some serious umami action, without being too spicy. It went over huge. Not only that, I’ve since discovered it’s a pretty versatile tool. It’s not just for dipping, in other words. You can use this on turkey sandwiches, in canned tuna salad, in potato salad, in slaws, and, maybe best of all, with – yeah, you heard me Henry John Heinz – Tater Tots. – Andy

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Chicken Parm Meatballs

October 10th, 2012 · 88 Comments · Chicken and Turkey, Favorites

Unless I’m out to dinner, or unless there’s a birthday to celebrate, there’s not much room in my life right now for high-concept food. I love the idea of mashed potato ghosts for Halloween, and the artisanal Mallomars that came with the check at last weekend’s anniversary dinner was definitely good for a giggle. Even if it hadn’t been recorded in my dinner diary, the “ice cream cone” starter I had at the French Laundry in 1998 — a masterfully tiny homemade wafer cone filled with creme fraiche and topped with salmon tartare “sprinkles” — will stay with me for a long time. But you guys know us by now. You know that, for the most part, our default mode is simple, un-fussy meals that are fresh, can be put together fast, and don’t require any winking when served. (Any one getting flashbacks here of Charles Grodin and his “honest” dinner in The Heartbreak Kid?) But every now and then, an idea presents itself that I’d be crazy not to try. Last week Phoebe reminded me that I had been promising meatballs on the family dinner table and had somehow failed to deliver. At the same time, in the same breath, Abby reminded me that I had been promising Chicken Parm (page 148 in my book) on the family dinner table and had somehow failed to deliver. In an attempt to remedy my staggeringly deprived children as well as cut off any sibling tussling at the pass, I decided to please them both with a single high-concept, low-maintenance meatball meal. “It’s like Chicken Parm married Meatballs and had a baby,” I told them, before wondering why on earth I would ever open up such a weird concept with an 8- and 10-year-old. Well, either way, King Solomon would’ve been proud.

Chicken Parm Meatballs

This makes 12 large-ish meatballs. My best self would’ve let the meatballs freeze at this point you see above (after initial 15-minute bake) then frozen them for future Tumultuous Tuesday use, on which day, my best self would’ve transferred the frozen meatballs to the fridge in the morning, then heated them up in a 350°F oven for 15 minutes (before proceeding with broiling) upon her return later that night. While she was at it, my best self would’ve also ordered all the Halloween costumes and thrown away the sad, dried-out mums in the backyard that have been there since last fall and that perennially remind her of her worst self.

1 1/4 pounds ground chicken
1/2 cup breadcrumbs
2 tablespoons chopped onion
1 tablespoon chopped parsley
1/2 cup Pecorino (or Parm)
salt to taste
pepper to taste
1 clove garlic, minced
1 teaspoon fennel seeds
1 egg, whisked
zest of half a lemon
3 tablespoons olive oil
1 14-ounce can storebought pizza sauce (such as Don Pepino’s)
about 4 ounces fresh mozzarella (a dozen thin slices; to pile on the cheese would be to cancel out the fact that you were virtuous enough to replace fatty beef with lean chicken)

Preheat oven to 400°F, setting rack to upper third part of oven. In a large bowl, using your hands, gently mix together first 11 ingredients. Shape into lacrosse-ball size balls (that would be somewhere between golf and tennis) and place a few inches from each other on a foil-lined baking sheet. In a small bowl, mix one spoonful of your pizza sauce with olive oil. Brush this mixture on top of each meatball. Bake for 15 minutes.

Remove meatballs from oven, spoon some sauce on top of each meatball, and cover each with a slice of cheese. Broil another 3 to 5 minutes until cheese is bubbly and golden.  Heat remaining sauce in a small saucepan. Serve meatballs with a dollop of sauce and a raw Tuscan kale salad that has been shredded and tossed with shallots, Pecornio, olive oil, salt, and pepper.

Meanwhile, how much do I love this review of Dinner: A Love Story from Food52? My favorite quote: “Rosenstrach’s book and blog are something very rare in the genre of family dinner: they inspire neither homicidal nor suicidal impulses.”

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I Want to Marry Marinating

October 9th, 2012 · 43 Comments · Organizing, Strategizing, Planning, Pork and Beef

I’m just going to ask you point blank: Do you know about marinating? Do you know how marinating has the power to change your dinnertime? (Which is to say, of course, your life?) Do you know that marinating can be a working parent’s best friend?…That I, Jenny Rosenstrach, take thee marinating to be my lawful wedded….

Yes, I’m sure there’s a science to it, and yes if I were a real food writer I would give you exact measurements for each of the following three-minute marinades that you can assemble in the morning in order to be that much more ahead of the game when you walk in the door at night. But to get all scientific is to lose the beauty of it. Marinating is like braising — it’s very very difficult to screw it up and even someone with the tiniest bit of culinary courage could wind up having fun with different combinations of flavors. Just remember that you need to whisk some acid in there (lemon, lime, vinegar, buttermilk — to help with the tenderizing) and getting creative with a fresh torn herb or two is never going to be a bad idea, but otherwise, it’s up to you.

Marinade: A few shots soy sauce + 1/2 cup bourbon + spoonful brown sugar
Add
: A pork tenderloin for Pork with Apples (shown; page 71 Dinner: A Love Story just replace the peaches with apples that hold their shape when cooked, like Cortlands or Jonagolds)

Marinade: Cup or so of buttermilk + dollop of mustard + heavy drizzle olive oil + salt & pepper
Add
: Chicken drumsticks for Oven-fried Chicken

Marinade: Mostly yogurt + juice from one lime + chopped peeled ginger + olive oil + torn cilantro
Add: Chicken thighs or breasts for Yogurt-marinated Chicken

Marinade: Maple syrup + soy sauce + rice vinegar + oil (I’d go same amounts for all but syrup which you only need a heavy drizzle of…)
Add: Pork chops for Rory’s Maple Candy Pork Chops

Marinade: White miso + sake + mirin + sugar
Add: Cod for Nobu’s Famous Miso-glazed Black Cod (OK, fine that one takes three days, but you’ll have to eat on Friday, too, right?)

There. Doesn’t it sorta seem like there’s a little sous chef at home thinking about dinner so you don’t have to? How good does that feel?

Feel free to share your favorite combos as well.

 

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Friday Reading & Eating

October 5th, 2012 · 11 Comments · Uncategorized

What we like this week:

Andy:

We’re getting to be a broken record on this John Jeremiah Sullivan character, but man, there is some really really nice writing in here about Cuba.

Check out Top Graphic Novels Starring Mighty Girls. Reader Susan recommended this site to us and it’s awesome!

Speaking of books, this is deep nerd territory, but I could look at this stuff forever.

Our Provider’s column this month in Bon AppetitWhy the Kids’ Table is a Good Idea. (Includes yet another ode to Marcella’s Milk-braised pork loin, a family staple.)

Time to start thinking about pre-ordering the awesome new cookbook, Thanksgiving: How to Cook it Well, by Sam Sifton, former restaurant critic/current national editor at The New York Times. 50 essential recipes and festive drinks, plus lots of beautiful illustrations and, best of all, great, evocative writing. (Much more on this later, but if you can’t wait that long, here’s Sifton’s kind of amazing food diary on grubstreet. Your LDL will go up just by reading it.)

This is just a crazily entertaining piece by the great Burkhard Bilger, about the world’s strongest man. (Even if you do not spend your free time watching 400-pound dudes pull trucks with their teeth on cable television, trust me on this!).

For no reason at all, other than it is TOTALLY RADICAL, I had to go back and watch this opening sequence from The Limey, featuring the always badass Terence Stamp. When his face comes into focus? So good.

Finally, it is officially Chili Season, and I made my first batch last weekend.

Jenny:

20 Easy Casseroles I’m feeling the Shepherd’s Pie (above, photo by Penny De Los Santos)

A book by Susan Cain that has made me look at everything differently — my children, myself, even the Presidential debate.

Speaking of the Presidential Debate, I sent my 10-year-old here for the pre-game. (And will again — ahem, Claudia!)

An interview with Mindy Kaling which includes 15 things women like to wear that men just don’t care for — sequins,capris, wedge heels.

There are many books coming out from food bloggers in the next few months, but My Berlin Kitchen, by Luisa Weiss (otherwise known as the The Wednesday Chef) is the one you need to tuck into on a fall weekend while the soup simmers.

I will be at Chevalier’s Books in Los Angeles on October 26 at 3PM. Thank you DALS army for mobilizing to make that happen! I have a few other appearances coming up this fall, too. Please head over to my Events page for details.

Orangette had her baby! When I said that out loud in the car with a little too much glee, Andy said “I want you to think about what you just said.” OK, I’ll rephrase that: Molly Wizenberg, one of the originals, is now a mom, and as usual writes about it beautifully.

My mailbox was filled with all kinds of great things this week, including a poem (thanks Erin!) and a corn fritter recipe (thanks Nadja!) But my favorite note came from John just a few hours ago. This is what it said:

Hi Jenny!

Today my wife and I celebrate our 10-year wedding anniversary. This morning we exchanged presents. Yes, unbeknownst to each other, we both purchased your amazing cookbook Of course, we are keeping both books. We will be away the weekend (sans children) and look forward to laying in bed and reading our own copies. Thank you for elevating an already very special weekend.

John

I mean, come on! How can it not be a great weekend when you start off on a note like that?

-JR


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L.A. Bound

October 3rd, 2012 · 4 Comments · Uncategorized

Hey, I’m headed out to L.A. for a quick visit. Anybody up for a Dinner: A Love Story reading? The date that is wide open right now is Friday, October 26 and I am happy to talk or read at bookstores, school fairs, cafes, parent groups, PTA meetings, coffee shops, breakfasts, lunches, dinners, anything in between, and all of the above. Please shoot me an email jenny AT dinneralovestory DOT com (subject head “LA Event”) with any thoughts. Thanks all.

Update: I will be at Chevalier’s Books in Larchmont Village on October 26 from 3:00 to 5:00. Come say hi — and check out my Events page for other readings and signings this fall. Thanks everyone.

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The Importance of Being Empathetic

October 2nd, 2012 · 25 Comments · Children's Books, Gifts, Culture, Favorites, Posts by Andy, Rituals, Uncategorized

Part of the joy of working with writers who are smarter and more knowledgable than you is that you learn stuff. They do the research and make sense of the material and then you get to absorb it, process it, and then go to dinner parties and act like you know what you’re talking about. I’ve just finished editing a book about bullying by the amazing journalist and Slate gabfest fixture Emily Bazelon – and, obviously, being the parents of two girls, this is a topic Jenny and I spend time thinking about. Emily’s book – Sticks and Stones, out in February — is about the phenomenon in general, how it works and why it happens and what can be done to alleviate it. One of the words that comes up in the book over and over again is empathy, in that it is a crucial trait for kids to possess – or learn, as the case may be – if we are to make strides in making kids less mean, and more forgiving. Since October is officially “Bullying Prevention Month,” and since our kids, for some reason, have been reading in and around this subject area a lot lately, I thought we’d highilght three books that help instill some empathy and might lead to some fruitful dinner table discussions on the idea of walking a mile in someone else’s shoes — always a good thing to think about. Apart from the subject matter, they also happen to be really excellent books. I now hand the mic to Abby and Phoebe. — Andy

Wonder by R.J. Palacio

What it’s about: ”A boy named August (they call him Auggie) who has a deformity on his face. I know that doesn’t sound nice, but his ears look like tiny fists and his eyes are too low and he has no eyebrows or eyelashes. I don’t know how to explain him. Auggie has been home-schooled until his parents decide that it’s time to send him to a real school, Beecher Prep, and Auggie is resistant at first. He’s afraid. But when his parents tell him that the principal’s name is Mr. Tushman, Auggie laughs and decides to go. The rest of the book is about his year at school and how he manages to survive bullies, ‘the plague’ — which is a mean game, kind of like cooties — and a jerk named Julian.”

The moment that hurts the heart: “When Auggie overhears his friend Jack saying bad things about him. Jack tells Julian that he had pretended to be friends with Auggie, and Auggie didn’t know that. Auggie overhears this and goes on the staircase and just starts crying. He trusted Jack and thought that he didn’t care about how he looked. When you read it, you can feel how sad he must be.”

The lesson it teaches: “Looks can be deceiving.”

Phoebe score: 10. “One of the best books I’ve ever read.”

Out of My Mind by Sharon Draper

What it’s about: “A girl named Melody who has cerebral palsy and is incredibly smart. I think she’s twelve. The thing is, she can’t speak because of the cerebral palsy, and so people misjudge her. A lot. She has one friend, beside her aide, named Rose. Rose believes in her and one day, Melody gets a special computer that allows her to finally communicate. When she types in a word, the computer says it out loud, so it’s like she can talk. This helps her prove that may be different, but she’s not stupid. This book is enough to make people cry.”

The moment that hurts the heart: “Melody’s school has a team of these super smart kids who go to compete against other schools in a trivia game that is on tv. Melody is on this team. One time, the team had to go to Washington to compete and Melody was a little bit late and they left her behind. One student thought that she wasn’t as important as the others. This made her realize again that, no matter what, people would always think of her as different.”

The lesson it teaches: After Phoebe read this book, she sent Sharon Draper an email. This is what it said:

Dear Ms.Draper, 

I read Out Of My Mind on Thanksgiving weekend. I think that if everybody had a copy of that book, it would change the world. It completely changed the way I looked at people that have cerebral palsy and autism. Do you know any body with cerebral palsy? Did you write the book to make people look at people with cerebral palsy and autism differently?

That night, Sharon wrote back, and this is what she said:

Dear Phoebe, 

Thanks so much for your kind letter.  I’m so glad you enjoyed Out of my Mind.  That book is very special to me. I tried very hard to capture the essence of what it means to be different. Melody is a song to me that will forever sing. Yes, I know lots of people with disabilities, and I hope the book helps people see them as real people.

Phoebe score: 9. “Soooo close to a 10, but not quite as good as Wonder. Still, a great book for people who want to look inside somebody’s mind.”

The Thing About Georgie by Lisa Graff

What it’s about: ”It’s about a boy named Georgie who has something called dwarfism, and what happens in his life. It’s not a book that has a lot of action, but it still makes you want to read on and read on and read on. A lot of the chapters end on cliffhangers and it makes you really think about how different people are in this world. This book is about friendship, too — and how it’s hard for kids like Georgie to find friends because people make fun of him for his height and the way he looks.”

The moment that hurts the heart: ”When you hear about all the times people stare at Georgie and make fun of him just because of how he looks. One time, he’s knocking on a door and a car drives past and the man in the car stares — like, eyes wide open — and I can imagine how hard it would be to deal with that every single day.”

The lesson it teaches: ”Everyone, no matter how they look or how they act, is always the same as you on the inside.”

Abby score: 10. “Ten. Ten!”

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The Little Things

October 1st, 2012 · 8 Comments · Entertaining, Quick, Seafood

One of the first things I learned about food when I started caring about food was that smaller usually translated to better. As in, a golf-ball-size lime is going to be juicier than a steroided-up one. As in, the meat from a 1 1/4 pound lobster is going be sweeter than meat from his 4-pound older brother. As in, those two-carat-size spring strawberries are going to taste more like strawberries than the strawberries that resemble McIntosh apples. And after writing a story about hors d’oeuvres for the current issue of Bon Appetit I remembered another one: Hors d’oeuvres for dinner are so much more fun than dinner for dinner. (See: Small Bites Phenomenon sweeping New York City Restaurant Scene) Why did it take writing this story to remind me that those shrimp rolls I’ve been making since my 1999 visit to Nova Scotia would be so much more appealing for the kids if I miniaturized them? How had I forgotten Cardinal Rule #2 of Family Sandwiches: Minimizing Size = Maximizing Appeal. (Cardinal Rule #1: Anything Tastes Better in Slider Form.) Well, either way, the little rolls were on the dinner table last week (it’s a good make-ahead if you can swing it) and will likely show up there again very soon.

Perhaps my most favorite magazine opener ever. (“Opener” = Old-school parlance for the image that opens the story.) Alex Grossman, the creative director, actually had this invitation letter-pressed before it was shot.  Credit: Kallemeyn Press.

This Butternut Squash Tart with Fried Sage, developed by the BA test kitchen, was in the star-studded line-up, too. Instead of a assembling a platter of fussy finger food for your party, each puff pastry square requiring it’s own individual piping of spicy mayo, this is just one big tart that you bake and cut up like a pizza before your guests arrive. It’s called Economy of Scale and it is up next on my Hors d’oeuvres-Turned-Dinner menu

Check out this month’s issue of Bon Appetit (The Entertaining Issue) to read the story and the entire issue. They’ve also put together an appetizer slide show which party-throwers would be wise to bookmark as the calendar inches its way towards the holidays. Two words: Queso Fundido.

Photos by Romulo Yanes for Bon Appetit. 

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