Monthly Archives: March 2013

Jump into Spring with a Book Giveaway!

From my previous reviews, we know I have an affection for books about food, primarily books about bake shops. Well, since I haven’t held one of these contests in years, I thought “what better way to start off Spring than with something as sweet as a book about family, baking and sweets?


Just fill out this form by April 14th for your chance to win a copy of Mary Ellen Taylor’s Union Street Bakery. This giveaway is open to US and Canadian residents only. Only 1 entry per person, and please spread the word!

To entice you further…here are a few of the goodies from the book:

Mary Ellen Taylor Carrot Cake.jpg Carrot Cake

Mary Ellen Taylor Expresso Tort.jpg Espresso Tort (Yum!)

Book Synopsis
Mary Ellen Taylor’s passions include writing, baking and family, all of which intertwine in THE UNION STREET BAKERY, a Berkley Trade Paperback Original on sale February 5th, 2013. In it, Taylor introduces Daisy McCrae, who’s returned to Alexandria’s Old Town after losing her boyfriend, her job and most of her money, and is once again living above her family’s bakery and ignoring the whispers of an amiable spirit who shares the attic rooms.

With her parents no longer able to run the bakery, Daisy’s doing her best to keep the 160-year-old family business afloat and to manage her less than perfect relationships with her sisters. Rachel, widowed thirteen months ago, lives in the shop’s second floor apartment with her five-year-old twin girls. She’s been shouldering the load since their father’s heart attack and reluctant retirement. An extraordinary baker, she has no head for business. Their sister Margaret and her almost-Ph.D. in archaeology have returned to the store as well, though with a definite lack of punctuality and enthusiasm.

In THE UNION STREET BAKERY Mary Ellen Taylor brings together history, contemporary concerns and the stuff of legends as she explores how family relationships, loyalties, and love shape the present, and the role the past plays in determining the future.

French Twist – Catherine Crawford

French twist : an American mom's experiment in Parisian parentingFrench Twist: An American Mom’s Experiment In Parisian Parenting
Age: Adult
Genre: Memoir, French parenting, Non-Fiction
Source: LibraryThing Early Reviews (via Random House)
Publisher: Random House, 2013
ISBN: 9780345533265, 240 pages

Find this book at your local library

Catherine Crawford had an epiphany one night when her French friends came over for dinner along with their two, very well-behaved children. Catherine then realized that French children are overall more obedient, patient and mature than American children with hovering parents. She set out to find out the secrets of French parenting and apply them to her own family’s life in New York.

As an new mom and a person obsessed with all things French, I figured this book would be right up my alley. Unlike Bringing Up Bebe byPamela Druckerman and French Kids Eat Everything by Karen le Billon, French Twist is a take on French parenting in the US, with US rules and customs. Unfortunately, this book didn’t really provide me with any insights on how to incorporate French parenting techniques.

For all the potential this book had, it really, really fell short. I think the biggest obstacle for me was Crawford’s pose. It felt like the book was written by a very energetic 5-year-old who wants to tell you everything they learned in school that day in less than 5 minutes. I think the book could have benefited from more editing. Her style was filled with a number of asides, very few details and massive amounts of generalizations. After having completed the book, all I took away from it is that she “got French” and her life is more serene when dealing with her children.

Some may like Crawford’s chatty style and will connect with her very New York personality, but for me, the gap was too wide. Of the three books, French Kids Eat Everything provides the most balanced analysis between US and French parenting, but Bringing Up Bebe, particularly Bebe Day by Day, provide the most succinct and repeatable advice on French parenting.

French Kids Eat Everything – Karen Le Billon

French kids eat everything : how our family moved to France, cured picky eating, banished snacking, and discovered 10 simple rules for raising healthy, happy eatersFrench Kids Eat Everything by Karen Le Billon
Age: Adult
Genre: Memoir, Food, French Parenting, Non-Fiction
Source: My Copy
Publisher: William Morrow, 2012
ISBN: 9780062103291. 305 pages

Find this book at your local library

After having moved from Canada to France with her husband and two young daughters, Karen encounters a sort of food revelation/revolution that forces her to change the family’s eating habits, adapting 10 rules she devised based on her observations of the French.

In this intimate memoir, Karen takes us through the ups and downs of slowly changing her family’s eating habits, and the particular toll it took on her daughters. Apparently, Canadians eat just as poorly as US Americans, and were faced with a myriad of difficulties adapting to French life, where food is an honored national passion.

What I most enjoyed about this memoir is Le Billon’s frankness with her own shortcomings, although she is a victim of her North American consumerist culture. The stark differences between France and the US are quite obvious when it comes to food. They have multiple bakeries with freshly baked bread on every street. Here, in San Jose, I struggle to find one bakery that actually sells bread and not just pastries. In France, the schools have food appreciation as part of their daily curriculum. Children as young as five are served five course meals, seated with real plates and cutlery at school each day. Some schools even go so far as to send dinner suggestions home so that parents don’t accidentally replicate a lunch meal for the month.

Part of Le Billon’s struggle with getting her kids to eat healthy and eat a variety of foods was overcoming her own aversion to cooking more intricate meals. It’s easy to just through some noodles in the pot after a long day of work, but is it the best decision? No, not really. Loaded with an array of cookbooks from her French husband’s side of the family, Le Billon was able to craft some recipes that were simple, yet met her criteria for introducing new foods to her daughters. One idea I particularly liked was cooking the taboo food in a number of different ways, (as a soup, steams, in another dish), etc.

Her 10 rules don’t seem very groundbreaking to me, but its their simplicity that does the trick. Don’t make two different meals, don’t be a short-order cook. If the child doesn’t like something, they don’t have to eat it, but they don’t get a replacement item. Dinner should be a social family affair, not something scarfed down in front of the TV, while one parent hastily washes the dishes. There is the no snacking rule, but that one I have a tough time following. Although my general rule of thumb is to snack, but snack on fruits and veggies.

Le Billon also includes a bevy of recipes at the very end of the book, which I am thankful for. Thankful that it’s all at the end of the book. I hate foodie books with recipes at the end of each chapter. It makes it that much more difficult to go back and look for a recipe I want to make. I made the cauliflower casserole in Le Billon’s book, but I tossed in carrots to add some color, and next time I’ll add some spinach too. The recipe was delicious, really, really easy to make and one of my husband’s favorite dishes that I’ve whipped up.

My only complaint about this book is that even though Le Billon is talking about Canada, she constantly refers to them as “Americans” which I think short-changes US Americans. Not that people in this country can really argue against the nation’s dismal eating habits, but still. It felt like the blame was being passed onto us.

For new parents who want to start their kids off on the right foodie path, this is a good introduction on what to do to ensure that your child appreciate quality food, not just quantity. For parents of picky-eaters, it’ll be an uphill battle, but one that you can win following Le Billon’s advice.

When Everything Changed by Gail Collins

When Everything Changed: The Amazing Journey…When Everything Changed: The Amazing Journey of American Women from 1960 to the Present by Gail Collins
Age: Adult
Genre: Non-Fiction, History, Women’s History
Source: My Copy
Publisher: Back Bay Books, 2009
ISBN: 9780316014045, 413 pages
Find this book at your local library

From the 1960’s up to present day, women’s rights and opportunities in the United States have been undergoing a massive evolution. Author Gail Collins tracks these changes in her book, When Everything Changed. The book begins in 1960, before the women’s lib movement had even started. Back then, women couldn’t get credit cards under their own names, or buy a car or house without their husband’s permission. Flight attendants were weighed on a weekly basis and catered to the first class men’s only flights while women were relegated to coach.

Collin’s book is in-depth, but not verbose. She mixes history, politics and oral testimonies to shed light on the development of women’s opportunities in the US during the past 4 decades. Collin’s writing is lively, and sometimes chatty. The book is well paced, I never felt any section drag on for longer than necessary. She gets to the point, provides ample examples and then moves on. I learned a lot about the struggle women endured reading this book. I also learned that in 1971, Congress was all set to pass a Child Care Act that would make it easier for mother’s to go to work and find decent, affordable child care for their children. That failed. I also learned that initially, Republicans were more likely to support the women’s movement than Democrats. How those tables have changed.

As an almost 30-year-old, I grew up in the US without any stigma’s of being a women. Being a girl didn’t mean I couldn’t play sports, or aspire to go to an Ivy League School. Getting married and having kids was not pushed as my end-goal in life. I take for granted what women of older generations had to push against in order to feel like I can be and do anything I set my mind to.

I think women who lived through this era will appreciate this book for its frankness about the series of events from 1960. Women my age will appreciate what previous generations did to ensure that we have the freedoms we have now. My only regret is that mass media hasn’t really caught on to the smart, accomplished women in the workforce element of society. TV is filled with spam like the Real Housewives series, and all those reality TV shows that make women out to be petty, vindictive and superficial. It’s a shame that for all the opportunities that have been attained, the US is still somehow backsliding into relegating women as a second-class citizen, a spectacle rather than an honorable role-model.

Bebe Day by Day – Pamela Druckerman

Bébé day by day : 100 keys to French parenting

Bebe Day by Day: 100 Keys of French Parenting by Pamela Druckerman
Source: Mine
Format: Book, Non-fiction, Parenting
Publisher: Penguin, 2013
ISBN: 9781594205538, 144 pages
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Fans of Pamela Druckerman’s Bringing Up Bebe might feel inclined to pick up this follow-up book. To that inclination, I say, DON’T! The 100 tips in this book are basically the same exact topics and points she brought up in Bringing Up Bebe. The only difference is that this smaller and shorter book doesn’t have any of the biting criticism of American parenting, nor does it really discuss Druckerman’s life and experiences in Paris as an ex-pat parent. If those two elements appeal to you, then be sure to pick up Bringing Up Bebe. Otherwise, this short little guide through Parisienne parenting is all you need to feel like a Francophil parental unit. This book also includes a menu in the back of meals served at the French daycare centers, the creches.

Don’t get me wrong, I think the tips are helpful, and now that I have my little one, I plan on implementing whatever French tips I can. They just seem logical to me. I don’t know if its my French bias, or just because it’s very similar to how I was raised. On the whole, they are very minimalist in nature. A lot of it is about raising a self-sufficient child, and many of the concepts remind me of the Montessori education method of child-rearing, with which I heartily agree.

Some of the tips that stood out to me are the following (my commentary is in purple font):

#14 – Don’t stimulate her all the time
#17 – Make vegetables a child’s first food
#19  – Baby’s are noisy sleepers (ie – don’t run to the crib/bassinet every time you hear a noise, gurgle, or squawk).
#28 – Don’t solve a crisis with a cookie
#32 – Everyone eats the same food 
#53 – Give kids lots of chances to practice waiting
#96 – You’re not disciplining, you’re educating