Books in the Park

suggestions from the Barbara S. Ponce Public Library at Pinellas Park


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The Omnivore’s Dilemma, by Michael Pollan

omnivores-dilemma-pollanHumans have evolved to eat a wide variety of food. From roots and grains to fruits and vegetables to meat and nuts, it seems like no other animal on Earth can eat like we can, especially since we learned how to cook. This adaptable eating ability allowed our ancestors to survive whenever regular food supplies ran low. But that was then, and now our omnivore nature turns a simple question like “What should we have for dinner?” into a serious conundrum. Beyond health, taste, and convenience, there are also ethical and environmental effects to consider, as many modern food production practices can be cruel to animals and unsustainable for farmable land. Further, most fruits, vegetables, and meat have become available year-round thanks to advances in production, refrigeration, and transportation—a fact that only complicates the omnivore’s dilemma and takes an additional toll on the environment.

Author Michael Pollan dissects all the different ways we eat by putting food into categories based on how it’s made: industrial, organic, or hunter-gatherer. He then goes to great lengths to track the food in these categories from production to plate. In the industrial category, he visits standard agricultural and animal farms, focusing the production of corn and how it infiltrates virtually every processed food on the market in surprising ways. In the organic category, he looks at a few different types of organic farming, from the barely-not-industrial to a family-owned farm that takes “working with the land” to the next level. In the hunter-gatherer category, Pollan recruits an acquaintance to show him how to hunt, kill, skin, and prepare his own dinner.

I came away from this book with a much better understanding of today’s very long food chain and the problems that come with it. Thankfully, it was not all doom and gloom. Conquering the omnivore’s dilemma all boils down to striking a balance between convenience and sustainability. Just as it’s unreasonable to ask everyone to hunt and grow their own food, it’s equally unreasonable to ask less than 1% of the U.S. population to produce all our food. Somewhere between these two extremes lies the answer. According to Pollan, if you curb your appetite, eat with the seasons, and commit to finding and paying a little extra for local, sustainably grown food, you’ll never again dread the question, “What’s for dinner?” And that’s food for thought.

Check the PPLC Catalog for The Omnivore’s Dilemma.


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National Cookie Day: Cookbook Recs

sweet-cookie-zabar-1Today is National Cookie Day, and we’re prepared with a few yummy cookbook recommendations.

1. Voracious by Cara Nicoletti: A cookbook for book lovers. There are a lot of different recipes here, but today we’re focusing on the brown butter chocolate chip cookies inspired by the children’s book If You Give a Mouse a Cookie.

2. One Sweet Cookie by Tracey Zabar: With titles like Todd’s favorite triple chocolate and walnut cookies, coconut-nutella-almond macaroons, and ginger citrus cookies, you know every recipe in here is a winner. The author has collected these recipes from a variety of experienced bakers.

3. Chewy Gooey Crispy Crunchy Melt-in-Your-Mouth Cookies by Alice Medrich: Don’t you love it when the title of a book tells you exactly what’s inside? This huge cookie compendium is separated into sections based on the dessert’s texture: crispy, crunchy, chunky, chewy, gooey, flaky, and melt-in-your-mouth. No matter what kind of cookie you’re craving, this cookbook will help narrow your search. And it has plenty of helpful baking tips besides.

Bonus: The Cookie Dough Lover’s Cookbook by Lindsay Landis: Skip the oven and enjoy egg-free cookie batter in its raw state with these clever recipes. This librarian recommends immediately turning to the section entitled Indulgent Breakfasts for cookie dough pancakes, french toast, and waffles.

Bon appétit!


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Ăn: to Eat, by Helene An and Jacqueline An

an eatThis lovely Vietnamese-French fusion cookbook is also a family history of sorts, with 100 recipes that range from medium difficulty to hard. Rest assured that these meals are worth making, however; Helene An is an award-winning chef who lives in California and caters the most exclusive Hollywood events. Her main restaurant, Crustacean, is a high-end dining destination in Beverly Hills.

Jacqueline An sets out to chronicle her family’s history and her mother’s recipes, the two of which are so entwined that they’re almost the same thing. You’ll read about Helene and her husband’s harrowing escape from Saigon and their tentative first steps into the American restaurant business. It’s amazing to think that this world-renowned Vietnamese-fusion chef started out with a tiny Italian deli and slowly revitalized it by adding healthier food options. The new food coupled with Helene’s famous hospitality and masterful French cooking techniques quickly gained popularity, and a family business was born.

The book also contains an intriguing history of Vietnam and goes in-depth into the country’s culinary traditions. This alone made the book a worthwhile read for me. There’s a section on selecting and using certain kitchen tools like woks and rice cookers, as well as a section on basic techniques and the favors, uses, and health benefits of select herbs and spices.

I found the recipes to be a bit out of my microwave dinner skill set, but that doesn’t mean I wouldn’t want to try my hand at them some day. I did find at least one recipe to which the instructions were a bit unclear, but most of them seemed straight-forward enough. I especially liked the section on libations.

I don’t think I would buy this book, but it’s still a wonderful read and a great source for inspiration if you’re interested in fusion cooking.

Check the PPLC Catalog for Ăn: to Eat.


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Eating on the Wild Side, by Jo Robinson

In summer of 2016, we asked our patrons for book reviews as part of our adult summer reading raffle. We have chosen the cream of the crop to feature here on our blog.

This review is by Wendy Risk.

eating wild side robinsonOne minute the experts say chocolate is bad for you. The next, it is good. The same goes for eggs, saturated fat, and meat. What’s a person to do?

Investigative journalist and New York Times best-selling writer Jo Robinson spent ten years researching the nutrient value of supermarket produce. She helps us understand which produce varieties are the most nutritious and how to extract the most nutrition from the product we eat.

Without exception, wild has more nutritional value than cultivated. Robinson advises eating plants that are close to wild as possible. Man has been breeding nutrition out of food since farming began 10,000 years ago.

Eating the Wide Side won the 2014 IACP Cookbook award in the Food Matters category. Huff Post says the author “busts conventional wisdom on vegetables.”

For example, did you know that baby carrots are just shaved down whole carrots?  Save your money. Buy them whole. Carrots must be juiced or cooked to unlock their nutrition. We should cook them whole and unpeeled. Add fat to access their fat-soluble vitamins. Today, health food stores offer heritage colors. The author advises that purple carrots have more nutrition than the orange ones we all grew up with.

Most everyone understands that iceberg lettuce has about as much nutrition as a cardboard box. The author explains that with leafy greens, dark and bitter is better. Dandelion greens, full of calcium, are powerhouses compared to spinach. Loose leaves, such as arugula, beat heads such as iceberg and romaine.

To release the fat soluble vitamins in any vegetable, fat is required. The author recommends olive oil, a staple of the Mediterranean diet. She prefers unfiltered olive oil, which lasts longer and is healthier.

During World War II, the cash-strapped Soviet army resorted to garlic to treat infected wounds. Many of us eat cruciferous vegetables such as broccoli, cauliflower and Brussels sprouts for their cancer fighting qualities. However, the author maintains that garlic trumps the cruciferous family as an anti-cancer wonder drug. Garlic is anti-oxidant, anti-bacteria, anti-viral, anti-clogging, and anti-cancer.  To use, mince and rest 10 minutes before cooking. Hardneck garlic is wilder and hence contains more nutrition.

The smallest onions contain the most nutrients. Scallions have 140 times more phytonutrients than common white onions. They are the closest to wild onions in appearance and nutrition. Onionskins, which offer the most nutrients, should be saved for broth. Cooking onions releases the quercetin. Shallots are nutritional superstars.

The author lists her super veggies and says that blueberries show promise in fighting the modern diseases of civilization.  They prevent tumors, lower blood pressure, reduce plaque, reverse brain aging, and soothe inflammation. Cooked berries are best. Dried berries are worst. Organic citrus is worth the cost; the peel is edible. The pith contains the most nutrients.

If you are a foodie, or simply interested in food as a medicine, this book is a must read. I give it five stars.

Check the PPLC Catalog for Eating on the Wild Side.


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Voracious by Cara Nicoletti

voracious nicolettiI can’t imagine a better title for this book. On Cara Nicoletti’s blog, Yummy Books, the butcher and former pastry chef writes: “There is nothing as engrossing as the eating of a truly great meal and nothing that nourishes my spirit quite like the reading of a good book.” Voracious proves that good food and good books have more in common than you might think.

In Voracious, you’ll find a smorgasbord of recipes inspired by Nicoletti’s favorite books, from the innocent brown butter chocolate chip cookies inspired by If You Give a Mouse a Cookie to the fiendish fava bean and chicken liver mousse inspired by The Silence of the Lambs. The recipes are creative and undoubtedly delicious, but it’s the literary commentary that makes Voracious a great read instead of just a cookbook. Nicoletti makes the chapters personal by poignantly describing how her chosen books not only inspired recipes but also how they impacted her life. I can’t remember ever reading a cookbook cover to cover like this, which makes Voracious something special.

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Last Call: The Rise and Fall of Prohibition by Daniel Okrent

Last Call CoverAgainst the backdrop of America’s worst economic slide since the Great Depression, only a few industries have managed to buck the trend of declining profits. One of those industries, the liquor trade, could hardly be described as a household necessity, and yet alcohol continues to turn a profit despite tough economic times. It’s a testament to the enduring place that drinking and drinking culture inhabits at the heart of the American experience, but also highlights the anomaly that is the U.S. attempt at Prohibition. Daniel Okrent explores this odd national experiment in the excellent Last Call: The Rise and Fall of Prohibition.

Last Call manages to avoid the fixation on organized crime that many other Prohibition accounts seem to be hung up on. Certainly, Okrent doesn’t ignore the influence of organized crime, but simply folds the information into his narrative to provide a thorough documentation of one of the most fascinating political movements in American history.

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The Hundred-Foot Journey by Richard C. Morais

the-hundred-foot-journey-book-coverHow does a young boy from Mumbai, India become a world-renown French chef? That is the story of The Hundred-Foot Journey by Richard C. Morais. Hassan Haji was born into a family of restaurateurs.  His grandfather started a small roadside café in Mumbai, which became very popular with the Allied servicemen of World War II.  By the time Hassan was born, Abbas, his father, had taken over the restaurant and it had become quite successful.  While Hassan was still in his teens, tragedy strikes the family and Abbas sells everything and moves the family to Europe.

They live in England for a couple of years before fate steps in and lands them in the small French town of Lumiere.  It is here that Abbas decides to put down roots and open an authentic Indian restaurant.  That would have been all well and good, but the location he chose was right across the street from the elegant restaurant of the famed Madame Mallory, French gourmet chef extraordinaire!  That is when all hell breaks loose.

Reading this book stirred two desires in my heart.  The first was to go and visit the places mentioned in this book.  Lumiere is a town in the French Jura, which is a mountainous region on the border of Switzerland.  Morais paints a picture of lush valleys, stunning vistas, meadows of wildflowers, and clear streams running through a pine forest.  Wow, I wish I was there right now!

The second desire is to create amazing food. Morais so beautifully describes the various dishes created by all the chefs in the book that I also want to be able to prepare cuisine that is delicious and unique.  I don’t think I want to go as far as the snails and octopus, but to make something besides hamburgers would be pretty cool!

So give the The Hundred-Foot Journey a read.  The book is sometimes comical, sometimes dramatic, but ultimately inspiring.  Who knows, maybe it will inspire you to visit France and/or become the next great chef. Or it might just make you really hungry.

Check the PPLC Catalog for The One-Hundred Foot Journey.