Monday, November 28, 2016

Review: Soframiz: Vibrant Middle Eastern Recipes from Sofra Bakery and Cafe

Soframiz: Vibrant Middle Eastern Recipes from Sofra Bakery and Cafe
by Ana Sofrun and Maura Kilpatrick

  • Hardcover: 264 pages
  • Publisher: Ten Speed Press (October 11, 2016)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1607749181
  • ISBN-13: 978-1607749189
Wow! What a great tempting book! Generally, I don't like cookbooks created by chefs who are giving readers their formerly secret recipes. For one, cookbooks made by chefs tend to be a bit pretentious and oriented toward the foodie types. For two, I generally hate food fusion...which a lot of these chefs do for upscale customers. For three, the books are often created to advertise the chef and his/her restaurant.

Well, imagine my surprise! This book has none of those drawbacks! Well, some of the dishes definitely look westernized but not to the smug foodie fusion extreme. I'm wondering if I should keep it -- because I may just try making (or looking for) everything in this book-- and I can't do that because I'm not really supposed to eat gluten.  

The recipes are of foods that are found in the Middle East. Think, Yemen, Greece, Israel, Iran, Morocco, and Turkey.

The chapters and categories are:
Savory Pies
Cookies and Confections
Specialty Pastries, cakes, and desserts,
Pantry (which includes recipes for several basic Middle Eastern spices)
Essential ingredients
Friends and Resources
About the Authors

The book is primarily about pastries, so there aren't a lot of meat recipes. But those that are present look so good! Meat, veggies, chocolate, dairy, nuts, seeds, fruits, flowers, squashes, and beans joined with different kinds of doughs to form breakfast, snacks/appetizers (or mezes) desserts, and larger meals. Then there are the beverages --namely three teas, one lemonade, and one hot chocolate!

Most of the ingredients are available in grocery stores but a few might only be found in your local middle eastern stores or via Amazon. Generally, the authors don't tell the cookbook user how nd what to substitute for the missing ingredient.

 The recipes are clearly stated and the pictures are temptingly beautiful. Most of these recipes are unknown to me. So don't expect to find recipes for stuffed grape leaves or tabbouleh. Yeah, I kinda wish they had included some of the foods we know...but you know...the real versions of them. But its a great book, nevertheless. If you're a baker, and you want to experiment with new kinds of pastry --the sweets and desserts in this book reminded me of Turkish candies-- definitely buy this book.  Or make it a present for the cook you know.

This book was sent to me free in exchange for a fair and honest review.


Tuesday, November 15, 2016

Review: 365 Devotions for Finding Rest by Christina Vinson

Review: 365 Devotions for Finding Rest by Christina Vinson

  • Hardcover: 400 pages
  • Publisher: Zondervan (November 8, 2016)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0310083532
  • ISBN-13: 978-0310083535
I'm seriously amazed. I like this book. I generally avoid Christian non-fiction/self-help/spiritual books because hey, if you've been around for as long as I have...well, you already know a lot of this stuff and you're pretty impatient with newbie Christians straining themselves to tell you some new spin on Christian discipline, teaching, fellowship, living or whatever.

But honestly, this is a good book! I was trying to learn how to rest -- something we Christian women re very bad at because we re brainwashed into being active no matter what. (Although we are supposed to enter into Christ's rest.)

Anyway, I generally find Christian devotionals to be a bit shallow but this time I was pleasantly surprised. The writer assumes her reader is equal to her. She's not teaching down to you or being patronizing or uber-spiritual. And while the devotionals have insight and depth, they are neither pretentiously pseudo-deep nor watered down. The vocabulary is accessible.  The themes that are tackled re surprising. Whoever thought of having a rest from procrastination? I highly recommend this book for anyone --male or female-- who needs to understand the importance of resting.

I received this book free of charge in exchange for a fair and honest review.

Monday, October 31, 2016

Review: NKJV Study Bible

This Bible was formerly titled The Nelson Study Bible New King James Version. Copyright 1982, 1997, 2007.

I have a love-hate relationship with study Bibles. On the one hand, a new student of the Bible can get insights (philosophical, anthroplogoical, theological, spiritual, historical) into the verses and passages by reading the commentary. On the other hand, the human mind is a tricky thing. Bible students have been known to accept/merge the insights (wrong or right ones) into the passages and verses. Basically, if it's written on the page --even if it's not gospel-- it's taken as gospel. Depending on the denomination of the editor and publishing house, one can find some strange commentary. So yeah, we have to be careful about which study Bible one reads.

This Bible has the following features:
New King James Version of the Bible, Cross References with sub-headings and center column reference notes, Prophetic cross-references, Annotations (very accessible language), Introductions and Outlines to each Bible book, Time Lines, Articles on Christian doctrine, Bible time and Culture Notes, Charts, Word Studies, Maps throughout the book and Full-color maps at the back. an article on how to understand what the Bible means, Tools for Bible study, Teachings and Illustrations of Christ, Prophecies of the Messiah, Parables of Jesus, Miracles of Jesus, Prayers of the Bible, Subject Index to Annotations, and a Concordance. And, of course, a table of Contents, a list of Editors and Contributors, and Special Abbreviations..

The commentary on the thorn in the flesh ( 2 Corinthians 12) and the commentary on the gifts of the spirit (1 Corinthians 14) made me smile. I sometimes feel amazement, sometimes wonder, sometimes disgust, sometimes commiseration when I see how the commentators try to show their own viewpoints and interpretations. Thomas Nelson is pretty standard Baptist and although the editors and writers try to give as many opinions as possible, they often use the well-worn line "most interpreters agree,"( which is pretty loaded...after all we don't know which school of interpretations they are using) to direct the reader to their opinions and doctrines.  On the whole, though, it's a solid book. I did, however, find myself wondering how much they had updated the book. After all there have been so many new linguistic, historical, and archaeological discoveries since 1982. It doesn't seem to have been updated too much.

The type font is good. The Bible is solid, big and somewhat heavy but not unbearably so. The cover is aqua and dark blue pleather (I think) and there is one ribbon bookmark.
I got this book free in exchange for a fair and honest review.

Sunday, October 23, 2016

Review: The Fir Tree by Hans Christian Andersen illustrated by Sanna Annukka

  • Age Range: 4 - 8 years
  • Grade Level: Preschool - 3
  • Hardcover: 48 pages
  • Publisher: Ten Speed Press (October 4, 2016)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 039957848X
  • ISBN-13: 978-0399578489

I had totally forgotten why I disliked Hans Christian Andersen. After reading The Fir Tree, I remembered: Andersen is seriously melancholy. I don't think I have a problem with sad fairytales, per se. But I'm not sure about sad fairytales being told about young kids.

Ah well, I read the book. So I should  just suck up and accept the story.

First: story -- sad, melancholy, humanistic but vaguely nihilistic. It's a story about enjoying the good times while you're young because you'll end up getting old and being burnt.
Second: font and typestyle -- I found the font  bit small. Too tiny for tiny kids' eyes or for squinty grandparent's eyes.
Third: illustration -- beautiful, creative, ethnic tribal natural style, but somewhat cold. The illustrations don't really illustrate the story, they decorate it. Most kids would prefer seeing depictions of the various scenes and pictures of the characters mentioned.
Fourth: vocabulary -- an elementary school kid should be able to read this.

Upshot: I think this is a book for older people who like fairytales. Not for young kids.

I received this book free in exchange for a fair and honest review.


Monday, September 26, 2016

Review: The Dim Sum Field Guide

There's a Dim Sum place down the road from me. I've never gone because I get all panicky about how to do the whole Dim Sum thing. This book will definitely help me understand what I'm ordering. Plus, because it describes the foods so well, I'm thinking I could use it to make my own little tidbits.

Imagine you're out in the wilds of a Chinese restaurant, Asian Market, or Street Vendor and you spot the elusive "Deep Fried Shrimp Pouch." Wouldn't you want to know how to identify it, its basic fillings, its nestng habits, origins and various species and genera -- not to mention its typical dipping sauce? of course you would!

The book is divided in the following sections: Introduction, How to use this guide, Key, Savory Dim Sum (which contains the sub-headings Steamed Wrappers, Unwrapped Proteins, Baked Dim Su, Pan and Deep-Fried Dim Sum, Delicious Extras) and Sweet Dim Sum (which are further broken down into Hot and Warm Sweets, Sweet Buns, Chilled Sweets, Cakes and Tarts.), Acknowledgments, About the Author, Index.

The Introduction explains the various teas and etiquette one should know in a Dim Sum restaurant.

Each variety of food is introduced with a hand-drawn illustration on the left page and brief descriptions on the right.

If you ever had one of those field guide books -- for birds, butterflies, mushrooms, whatnot-- you'll get the hang of this book. It's a cute, fun, and handy idea because the book is easily-carried and can fit into a bag easily.

I like this book a lot. I highly recommend it. I'm sure some folks would prefer photographs to the illustrations but I'm cool with the illustrations. They're nicely old-fashioned and they are part of the marketing gimmick. If I were giving a dim sum guide to a friend, though, I would probably give them one of the many guides which have photographs.

This book was given to me free in exchange for a fair and honest review.

Here's an Excerpt:

Welcome to the delicious world of dim sum. This is an exquisitely leisurely way to brunch, a meal that, when done right, can easily stretch out for a couple of hours into the afternoon. Each one- or two-bite morsel of dim sum is essentially a small packet of unique flavors—just enough to grab your attention and whet the appetite—but small enough that you can move on to the next tantalizing dish before your palate becomes bored.

This book explores the Cantonese form of dim sum, which was born in the teahouses of Southern China—specifically, the capital city of Guangzhou that straddles the great Pearl River—about two centuries ago. Of course, the history of dim sum stretches back much farther than that ( jiaozi-like dumplings, for example, were discovered in a Tang dynasty tomb dating from thirteen hundred years ago), and many other parts of the country boast of wonderful arrays of teatime snacks and petite sweets. However, I would have to agree with those who claim that the culinary art form known as dim sum reached its absolute pinnacle in Guangzhou.

Perhaps the secret lies in the land. Located on the lush, fertile plains of southern Guangdong, this area has an almost endless selection of vegetables, starches, fruits, animals, crustaceans, and seafood. Or maybe it’s the people, for Guangdong has been the destination for immigrants from all over the country who longed for more peaceful lives and who made Guangzhou synonymous with gracious living. Or maybe it’s the tropical weather, the type of climate that encourages a person to laze in the shade with a hot pot of tea and some savory snacks, a trickle of water and the rattle of bamboo leaves in the warm wind coming together to form a natural lullaby. Or maybe it is because Guangzhou was a nexus between East and West, as well as North and South, a place where foreign culinary inspiration gave birth to marvelous ideas in the kitchen, while imperial and Muslim tastes added their own rich notes to this culinary symphony. Or maybe it is because all of these great food traditions eventually made their way down the Pearl River to Hong Kong, where ancient history crashed into the modern world, and many dim sum dishes evolved into their delicious, present-day incarnations.

Whatever the reasons, dim sum remains one of the most delightful ways ever invented for whiling away a few hours in the middle of the day. And despite what some think, dim sum is a whole lot more than “dumplings,” a sort of catchall English term for anything vaguely starchy and small in the dim sum brigade. There’s nothing inherently wrong, of course, with calling these dumplings, but it’s sort of like labeling scarlet, chartreuse, and bronze simply “colors,” when they are so much more thrilling than that. The fact is that dim sum covers an intense spectrum of flavors, aromas, textures, and ingredients, and they are very much worth getting to know on a personal basis.

Which is where The Dim Sum Field Guide fits in. My hope is that this book will inspire you to explore the many offerings in dim sum teahouses, whether you carry it with you on your next field excursion, or simply flip through it at home. If dim sum ends up giving you even half the pleasure it has handed to me, I know you will be a dedicated fan for the rest of your life.

Another Excerpt:


GENUS 滷雞 lǔ jī lou5 gai1 
IDENTIFICATION A whole chicken is slowly cooked in broth seasoned with ginger, green onion, sand ginger, black pepper, and traditional Chinese herbs. The sauce may be slightly sweet or deeply savory. The bird is generally poached over very low heat to keep the meat tender and to prevent the skin from tearing. Unlike Roast Chicken, the fat and skin remain attached to the meat. It is often hung up to dry a bit and then chopped before serving. Exterior is slightly sticky and glossy; interior is juicy and contains bones.

Savory meat juices for the dark varieties; lighter birds are often accompanied by bowls of shredded ginger and green onions bathed in hot oil and salt.


A quarter, half, or whole bird is chopped into chunks and served on a plate; deeper-hued varieties will often be perched on a scattering of braised soybeans.


Most probably traveled to Guangdong from Eastern China, where red-cooked and poached chickens are still enjoyed to this day.

Poached Chicken 白切雞
báiqiē jī baak6 cit3 gai1 
A bird cooked in a pale broth, this subgenus includes Consort’s Chicken
貴妃雞 guìfēi jī gwai3 fei1 gai1.

Master Sauce Chicken
chĭyóu jī si6 jau4 gai1 
The bright, dark skin and juicy flesh are courtesy of a rich, seasoned soy sauce broth.

Crispy-Skinned Chicken
cuìpí jī ceoi3 pei4 gai1 
Pale poached chicken is coated with a maltose mixture and then fried until reddish and crunchy; usually served with fried shrimp chips.

Magistrate’s Chicken
tàiyé jī taai3 je4 gai1 
Smoked master sauce chicken.
Excerpted from The Dim Sum Field Guide by Carolyn Phillips. Copyright © 2016 by Carolyn Phillips. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.

About the Author

CAROLYN PHILLIPS is a scholar, author, and artist whose work has appeared in Lucky Peach, Huffington Post, Alimentum, and Gastronomica. She is the author of All Under Heaven, the first comprehensive cookbook on the 35 cuisines of China (with more than 300 recipes), which will be co-published by Ten Speed Press and McSweeney’s in April 2015. Visit her at

Wednesday, September 14, 2016

Review -- Wee Alphas: 26 A to Z Postcards, from Angelfish to Zebra Cards

Wee Alphas: 26 A to Z Postcards, from Angelfish to Zebra Cards
Published by Wee Society

  • Age Range: 2 - 5 years
  • Grade Level: Preschool - Kindergarten
  • Cards: 26 pages
  • Publisher: Clarkson Potter; Pos edition (August 23, 2016)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0553459783
  • ISBN-13: 978-0553459784
Ah gee! I feel seriously out of the loop. I've never heard of the Wee Society. I must've seen their artwork before though because apparently they are a thing.

Wee Society aims to bring the concept of design art to kids.  They also must have been thinking of easy ways for older folks to communicate with their grandkids, young nieces, and nephews. Or vice versa.

The package contains 26 postcards. All the postcards are useful and official and can be used as regular postcards. One side of each postcard shows an animal illustrated on glossy paper in such a way as to depict one of the letters of the alphabet. For instance the K is a koala. The drawing is made up of easy to see (and even easier to draw) lines, curves, circles, rectangles, and arcs.  The other side of the postcard contains a place to put a USPS stamp, lines for the recipient's address, and a section with copy where one can fill-in-the-blanks, or write a small note,  

I like these postcards. They aren't as useful as they could be. Or maybe they are useful for building up friendships by encouraging people to send a friendly card to a good friend. Because of the copy on the back of these cards, they definitely cannot be sent to just anyone.  They are postcards, after all. Some of the postcards have room for a message or a short note. Some postcards, however, have words that take up the space. The S card, for instance, which features a squirrel, has the addressee section on the right but the left side has the following copy:

You are:
Sassy                 Smart
Special               Stunning
Sweet               Sorta Silly

Secret Handshake,


PS Can you spot the hidden letter in Sidney the Squirrel?

There are boxes beside the descriptions for the sender to check. But you see what I mean. Unless you're close with a friend or family member, the cards are limited. I think this collection of postcards would be perfect for grandparents who would like to send these postcards to their grandkids... or for older relatives to send to younger relatives. The alphabet inspired pictures are just perfect for kids to puzzle out and the back copy would be fun for kids who like wordplay.

I was given this set of postcards free in exchange for a fair and honest review.


Saturday, September 03, 2016

Review: Tox-Sick - From Toxic To Not Sick by Suzanne Somers

  • Hardcover: 384 pages
  • Publisher: Harmony; 1 edition (April 14, 2015)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0385347723
  • ISBN-13: 978-0385347723
I really like this book. But dang, it's scary. It's scary for me and I've already had my eyes opened to the scary facts of the American diet and environment. I can imagine how formidable it must be for those who know little or nothing about the toxic stuff we eat, drink, breathe, and live in.

Everyone, sick or otherwise, should read this book. Young or old. Because one is never too young to learn how to truly take charge of one's health. Nothing worse than closing the barn (to mold, to GMO's, to plastics, to outgassing furniture, EMF's, and an assorted number of health-destroyers) after the horse (of health) has run off.

Confession: I generally do not like books written by Celebrities. Even when they are self-help or written for the public's own good, I often find myself rolling my eyes. Because the Celeb often sounds so glib, superior, and patronizing. But there are a few -- like this book-- that are perfectly written and after a while one actually begins liking having a celebrity preaching to you.

The book consists of facts, research, interviews, all told in a very accessible conversational manner. Okay, okay, sometimes a couple of the inserts and comments by some of the doctors need to be read once or twice for the reader to get some complicated point. But that's not often. This is a good book...and I suggest everyone get it and give it to family members and friends who are sick, tired, or sick and tired. But only give it to those who are sick and tired of being sick and tired because being healthy in the USA requires a heavy commitment to changing one's lifestyle.

It's best to start working on one's health when one is healthy. But the book also helps one get better. Some of the therapy might be expensive and most require commitment to a whole new way of life but this book will help everyone who doesn't know (or is not yet convinced) that the American way of life is really the American way of death.

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