Monthly Archives: July 2011

Weekend Cooking – Pizza baguette

For a change of pace, I decided to discuss a recipe I used this week for an impromptu dinner.
I had originally stumbled across a pizza baguette in Barcelona during my honeymoon. My husband and I were completely infatuated with the pizza baguette. Something so simple, and so deliciously yummy.  I can’t tell you why I waited so long to recreate this dish. 
My pizza baguette is quick (5 minutes prep, 10 minutes cooking time).
2 servings:
— 1 baguette sliced in half lengthwise
— Pasta sauce/pizza sauce (I used Safeway Select’s Mushroom & Olive)
— Shredded Cheese
— Sprinkling of Herb du Provence (also with some paprika because I add paprika to almost everything. Try it with mashed potatoes. Its the best side-dish ever)
— Selected toppings. I went with olives, roma tomatoes, sliced mushrooms, chives and bell pepper.  
Bake at 375 for 10 minutes on foil (no baking sheet). 

Enjoy with a fresh Pale Ale, or beverage of your choice. A perfect summer treat!

The Autobiography of Mrs. Tom Thumb (Melanie Benjamin) – Review

The Autobiography of Mrs. Tom Thumb A Novel.The Autobiography of Mrs. Tom Thumb: A Novel by Melanie Benjamin
Age: Adult
Genre: Historical 
Publication date: July 27th, 2011
Publisher Delacorte Press, 2011
ISBN: 9780385344159
448 pages

Back cover synopsis:

A two-foot, eight-inch tall dynamo, Mercy Lavinia Warren Bump lived a remarkable life that reaches out t us more than a century later. Taken under the wing of the immortal impresario P.T. Barnum, married to the tiny superstar General Tom Thumb in the wedding of the century, she charmed riverboat gamblers and bewitched the rich and powerful.

Although I hate using the back cover synopsis for my reviews, I felt I had to in this case. There is so much going on in this book, that its hard to think of a way to sum it all up. To say its about Mercy Lavinia’s life (Vinnie was her preferred nickname), is an understatement. It takes us back to a time forgotten in American history. Vinnie’s life story guides us before, during and after the civil war. I thought the author did an effortless job weaving in moments of history throughout the course of the novel. Vinnie interacts with different dignitaries and notable names throughout the course of her career and life with P.T. Barnum’s traveling show.

I did sob at certain points in the book, and I did feel terrible that Vinnie could never let her guard down, even with her husband. Keeping people at arm’s length was her biggest source of protection. At times it made her a very harsh and cold person. It was hard to see her vulnerabilities because she would never let herself think of them. She was incredibly strong-willed and was not afraid to speak her mind.

Its taken me a month to review this book because the final image of General Tom Thumb, Vinnie’s sister Minnie, and the entire life that she lived left me feeling very…melancholic. Winnie deserved a life filled with love, but she always kept her guard up and strong.

This is a wonderful book of American history, of the unknown and forgotten celebrities of an era only remembered by injustice, violence and war. This book is a  reminder of why America is so unique, and that even if you are less than 3-feet tall, its still possible to have dreams big enough to take you across the ocean onto a world tour.

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Book 33 of 2011

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No and Me (Delphine de Vigan) – Review (Paris in July)

No and meNo and Me by Delphine de Vigan
Age: Teen
Genre: Fiction
Location: Paris
Publisher: Bloomsbury, 2007
ISBN: 9781599904795
244 pages

Lou Bertignac is not like other girls. At thirteen, she is gifted beyond her years, sitting in class with students two years older than her. When put on the spot one day about a presentation topic, quick-thinking Lou agrees to do a report on homeless young women, in the form of an interview. As a result of this project, Lou meets No (Nolwenn) at one of Paris’ subway stations and the two strike an unlikely connection right away. Soon Lou realizes that its her responsibility to help No get off the streets and get back to a regularly life, anyway she can.

This was one book I could not put down. I really fell for Lou. Although I tend to stay away from books featuring gifted children, Lou felt like a normal 13 year old girl. She is an only child, with her mother stuck in a state of deep depression and her dad struggling to keep up appearances and keep everyone happy. In Lou’s words:

I’m thirteen and I can see that I’m not managing to grow up in the right way: I can’t understand the signs, I’m not in control of my vehicle, I keep taking wrong turns, and most of the time I feel like I’m stuck on the side of the road rather than on a racetrack.

Lou instantly bonds with No as a result of their distant relationships with their mothers. In fact, I would call that one of the running themes in the book. Distant mother’s effected Lou, No and Lou’s crush Lucas.

Although No is one of the central characters, I feel as if I never really got to know her. I think it was mostly because the story was told through Lou’s perspective, but I think the author intended to keep No in the dark from the readers.

At what point is it too late? From what moment? The first time I met her? Six months ago, two years ago, five years? Can you get out of a fix like that? How do you find yourself at the age of eighteen out on the streets with nothing and no one?

No is a girl with very serious problems and despite Lou’s help, No keeps falling back into her old, bad habits.

The book is written beautifully. It is very thoughtful and introspective and concise. It’s sad, but not depressing, and I’m very satisfied with the ending. It wasn’t your typical happy ending. Teens with definitely connect with either Lou, No or Lucas. Misunderstood, gifted, yet unchallenged teens trying to figure out life in very real circumstances. The book also encourages readers to look outside of their lives and see the world around them for what it really is.

Book 32 of 2011

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Reading with the Stars (Leonard Kniffel) – Review

Reading with the stars : why they love librariesReading with the Stars: A Celebration of Books and Libraries by Leonard Kniffel
Age: Kids +
Genre: Nonfiction/Reading & Libraries
Source: SkyHorse Publishing
ISBN: 9781616082772
158 pages

Leonard Kniffel, former editor in chief of American Libraries, the national publication of the American Library Association, brings us a collection of interviews, essays, and speech transcripts from celebrated figures of American pop culture, politics, sports and media. Each chapter is devoted a different celebrity: Cokie Roberts, Garrison Keilor, Ken Burns, Laura Bush, Ralph Nader, Ron Reagan, Jamie Lee Curtis, David Mamet, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Julie Andrews, Bill Gates, Al Gore, Oprah Winfrey, and Barack Obama.

This book arrives at an opportune time as libraries are facing some of the worst and severe budget cuts across the nation. This collection, heralding the value of literacy, books and libraries as an integral part of everyday life. Each chapter offers a list of books read by the celebrity, a list of books written by that celebrity, and a quote highlighting the theme of that chapter. This book is a great for libraries, and will be a great inspiration for kids who look up to these celebrities and want to emulate them. It is a quick read, great for bibliophiles. Although each chapter has a different story for how literacy helped change a life, the book is  probably better read in portions since the I Love Books/Libraries theme can get repetitive after a few chapters.

Book 31 of 2011

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French Impressions (John Littell) – Review (Paris in July)

French impressions : the adventures of an American familyFrench Impressions: The Adventures of an American Family by John Littell
Age: Adult
Genre: Memoir
Location: Paris
Publisher: Penguin Books, 2002
ISBN: 9780451205346
368 pages

Written in a narrive based on the publishing writing and diaries of Mary Littell, her son John uses her voice to tell us the story of a year in their life, from July 1950 to July 1951, when his family moved from the United States to Montpellier in Southern France. Full of wacky antedotes about bumbling Americans in a foreign land, the novel is not only a story about France, but a post-war family trying something new in their life.

For the most part, I found this book to be really amusing. Other times, I felt it was very self-indulgent and flat. Mary Littell is a 1950s housewife, following her husband on his lifelong dream to live in France. Takng their two children with them, four year old John and 15 month of Stephen, the family, despite their best attempts, never fully manage to blend in with the French way of life.

What I loved most about this book is that it is a look into a life of a typical family in the 1950, an era I have an unhealthy obsession with at times. In a time before TV, before technology entered people’s lives, the family had only themselves and their imagination to rely on for entertainment. John’s father, Frank, always had a witty song ready for any moment of the day. Both Frank and Mary were well read and full of literary references made in sly and clever remarks. John is a sponge for the French language, and Stephen seems to only cry and cry all day and all night long. Written by John, I can’t help but wonder if he perhaps embellished his brother’s crying episodes at times. He was only 4 when the family lived in France, I wonder how much he actually remembers.

I think its wonderful he had access to his mother’s diaries of their time in France as well as her published articles about their exploits. I like this book because it is opposite of every other American in France book I have read. It is an honest account that just sometimes, France is not the country for the masses, no matter how hard they try to learn the customs and language to fit it. I felt sorry for Mary’s inability to grasp the language, relying on her son to translate. I felt bad for Frank, who spoke fluet French and would perhaps have had a grander time san la famile. I liked that French words were sprinkled throughout the book, and I think its amazing that they were able to see so much of the country during their time there.

This book may not be the France-won-my-heart type of memoir, but it is a special remembrance of a more simple time long gone.

Book 30 of 2011

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Lunch in Paris (Elizabeth Bard) – Review

Lunch in Paris : a love story, with recipesLunch in Paris: A Love Story with Recipes by Elizabeth Bard
Age: Adult
Genre: Memoir
Location: Paris
Source: Public Library
Publisher: Little, Brown & Company,2010
ISBN: 9780316042796
324 Pages

Lunch in Paris is not your typical love story. Lunch in Paris is about the ups and downs, the trials and tribulations of being an American living in France. We follow Elizabeth’s life from when she first meets Gwendal to their dates, the proposal, the wedding, and life afterward. Their romance is not the center of the story. Elizabeth butts heads with France, she has a love affair with the food, carefully honing in cooking skills from her daily trips to the market. Carefully and thoughtfully woven throughout the chapters are Elizabeth’s insecurities, hesitations, successes and problems with assimilating into the French culture.

I connected with Elizabeth from the very moment she described herself as a “bit of an old-fashioned girl. I feel good in old places.” (page 6). As well as someone who was “born in the wrong century.” (page 19). I can’t say I’ve never felt the same based on my tastes in music, hobbies, movies and art. I felt she was very honest with her struggles in Paris. It seems to be every girl’s dream to fall in love with a charming, dashing Frenchman who just happens to be a good cook to boot. To get married and live in a little bohemian love bungalow with the Eiffel Tower in view from across the distance. Elizabeth fills us in on what happens after that happily ever after moment. The truth about the struggles of living in another continent from your family and friends and trying to start a brand new life.

I could readily identify with Elizabeth’s torn self between American and Parisienne. Although she sheds  a certain amount of American traits (talking loudly everywhere, buying less than quality foods, rushing through meals, etc.) there are some habits and rights of Americans that are not available in other countries. The right to a second, third or fourth medical opinion, the ability to get married and work in the country without any restrictions, optimism and a can-do attitude, the ability to rethink and reuse objects for something other than their intended use. Although France is highly cultured, part of that is the strict adherence to the mentality of stasis.

At the end of each chapter, Elizabeth pens a couple of recipes that she had discussed during the chapter. Food and cooking very important to her, as they were the stepping stones of her entrance into the French life. From her first introduction to her then boyfriend’s closest family and friends, to her ability to improve her French and order meat like a pro at the butcher’s. What I like about the recipes is that I already own most of the ingredients in my pantry. They are regular pantry herbs and spices and only the proteins used would require any extra effort to locate, even that effort is limited. The recipes are a mix of traditional French, recipes of Elizabeth’s Jewish heritage, and sometimes a cross between the two styles, with a little American classic comfort foods thrown into the mix. She begins each recipe with a little paragraph explaining its origin as well as how to change certain ingredients to get a more personal and unique flavor from the dish.

Book 29 of 2011

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Little Brother (Cory Doctorow) – Review

Little brotherLittle Brother by Cory Doctorow
Age: Teen
Genre: Dystopia/Technology
Source: Public Library
Publisher: Tor, 2008
ISBN 9780765319852
382 pages
While cutting school one day, Marcus Yallow and his friends witness the terrorist bombing of San Francisco’s Bay Bridge. In the hustle to find a safe place to hide, one of Marcus’ friends, Darryl is stabbed and badly injured. When Marcus reaches out to a federal law enforcement unit for help, he and his friends are swiftly arrested and held as potential terrorists in the eyes of homeland security, interrogated for a number of days. After his release, Marcus decides to take the law into his own hands to try to win back San Francisco as a free city with his teenage hacker skills and intricate knowledge of technology.


I think this is a book that many teens will definitely enjoy.  It speaks to the disaffected youth that are frustrated with authority figures, frustrated with the way the government is headed and frustrated with being forced into following rules that they have no way of contesting. I found the story to be captivating, although I am a bit biased because the book does take place in San Francisco. I have to say, it was quite eerie walking under the Bay Bridge in San Francisco only two days after having finished this book. I could really picture Doctorow’s narrative come to life walking along the Embarcadero.

Marcus is a curious character. He stumbles, he’s selfish, he’s selfless and his determination to bring down Homeland Security is something of a marvel. He is a typical teen, full of knowledge of technology and how to hack systems that most adults don’t even know about. Doctorow does a wonderful job of blurring the lines between technology in use now, and technology that hasn’t been created yet.

Doctorow knows his technology and he doesn’t mind sharing his knowledge with you. There are quite a few moments of detailed hows, why’s and what’s on various technological jargon that slowed the story considerably. Although it is interesting to a point, I did feel like some of it was just filler. I was also bothered by the severe gap between good and evil. There was no middle ground really. It was teens versus adults. The bad guys were really horrible and the good guys were just a touch smarter and much younger.

This book should definitely be read in conjunction with Brave New World, 1984, Animal Farm, etc. Doctorow weaves in references to these books as well as to current events in the US since 9/11.

Book 28 of 2011

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Happy Bastille Day! (Paris in July)

What is Bastille Day? Bastille Day is the annual French celebration of the storming of the Bastille during the French Revolution in 1789. It is formally known as La Fête Nationale. In Paris, there will be the annual parade down the Rue Champs-Elysees today. Other cities around the world will be hosting their own French celebrations and weekend gatherings. I was supposed to go the French Festival in Santa Barbara this weekend, but it was canceled. That still won’t stop me from learning about and participating in Bastille Day in the Bay Area!

Books of Interest – Bastille Day Reads

Citizens: A Chronicle of the French Revolution – Simon Schama (Paperback, 976 pages, Vintage, list price: $29.95)

Madame Tussaud: A Novel of the French Revolution Michelle Moran, (Hardcover, 464 pages, Crown, list price: $25.00)

A Place of Greater Safety Hilary Mantel, (Paperback, 768 pages, Picador, list price: $18)

Online Resources

Bastille Day

Bastille Day Pomp and Pageantry (Washington Post)

French Revolution – Bastille Day (History

Entre Nous (Debra Ollivier) – Review (Paris in July)

Entre nous : a woman's guide to finding her inner French girl ; [illustrations by Michael Storrings]Entre Nous: A Woman’s Guide to Finding Her Inner French Girl by Debra Ollivier
Age: Adult
Genre: Self-Help
Location: France
Source: Public Library
Publisher: St. Martin’s Griffin, 2003
ISBN: 0312308779
242 pages

This may be more of a how-to book than a self-help book, but it all boils down to what makes a French woman so unique and chic compared to her American counterparts, and how Americans can incorporate some of those ideals into our everyday lives. The book is broken down into seven chapters, discussing the following topics: Life, Love, Food, Parties, The House, Work and Leisure and Conversation.

I wavered back and forth on this book a lot. I’m not exactly sure who this book is written for. The title of “French Girl” seems that its aimed to someone in their teens or early 20s. All the examples are based around older women in their mid 30s.  I had learned just as much, if not more, about the French woman from Mireille Guiliano’s French Women Don’t Get Fat.

To sum up the book, the French girl is: simple, introspective, cautious, mindful, guarded, serious and sensual. She thinks before speaking, thinks before acting. Puts great care into enjoying life and time focusing on one task at a time. Everything is carefully planned, event lazy days in bed reading a book.

One thing that really bugged me with this book is the format. Nearly each page has an aside box (sometimes an entire page is an aside box) that deters from the main topic, or offers extra insight. There are aside boxes for: movies, notable French women, musicians. Other aside boxes focus in on more detail of aspects of French life: table manners, grocery shopping, weddings. I skipped these aside boxes entirely as I read the book (making it a quick and easy read) and went back to look through them afterwards. I would have preferred to have the asides of notable movies and French women listed at the end as an appendix. The book seemed cluttered and often the boxes simply repeated what the author had written only 1 page earlier making the book seem highly repetitive. I also didn’t really like the portrayal of American’s as clunky and clumsy people with rude and gossipy table manners, even if its true to an extent.

I think there are probably better books out there on the subject, for someone who wants an insight into French life, this book is a decent start.

Book 27 of 2011

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Read for Paris in July

Fire in Blood (Irène Némirovsky) – Review

Fire in the bloodFire in Blood by Irène Némirovsky
Age: Adult
Genre: Fiction
Location: France
Publisher: Random House Audio; Unabridged edition
ISBN: 978-0739357767
3 CDs
Format: Audio Book

Set in the indiscreet countryside of France, Nemirovsky weaves a tale of infidelity and the bonds of family. The story is narrated by Silvio, an elderly uncle watching the events unfold as tragedy and betrayal engulfs his niece Collette and surrounding neighbors.

The story is very subtle, and parts of it reminded me strongly of Anna Karenina and her dissatisfaction with her life. The story is very slowly paced, so I’m lucky I had the audio book to keep my attention. I don’t think I would have been so lucky or attentive with the print. The characters are very nuanced and Nemirovsky has a great eye for detailing the simple things in life.

The short novel is about a number of things; age v. youth, solitude v. society, passion v. complacency. As the narrator, Silvio is old and jaded. He wasted his youth and now tries to live below the radar of society, minding his own business. His family, is not so lucky. Younger and with more to learn, they experience the pain of love and betrayal in front of Silvio’s eyes. This often lead to many introspective thoughts by Silivio. Those internal monologues I enjoyed the most. I didn’t particularly care for any of the characters other than Silvio. I found then somewhat vapid.

This is my first introduction to Nemirovsky, but will not be the last. Her short life ended tragically in a concentration camp during World World II. As a result, her only other novel Suite Francaise was found in two parts and was carefully pieced together and highly edited. I can only image what great works she would have continued to pen had she lived.

Book 26 of 2011

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