Cooking with Team Voracious | What We’re Reading & Watching

The WWR/W team is gobbling up books, cooking and otherwise, including vegan and Instant Pot cookbooks, debuts, coming-of-age memoirs, Nigerian-based sf, and historical fiction.
When I asked the LJ/School Library Journal and Junior Library Guild people (and all the lovely alums) for new “What We’re Reading/Watching” write-ups, I mentioned cooking magazines and joked that the next column would be “What We’re Cooking.” A couple people wrote back immediately with recipes and suggestions. Our Research/Customer Insight Manager Laura Girmscheid gave the thumbs-up to a shrimp and pasta recipe she discovered online; other colleagues wrote more specifically about cookbooks they’ve been using recently—see below for Liz G.’s Instapot adventures, Stephanie S.’s forays into the world of vegan recipes, and Etta’s steps toward mastering the elements of good cooking. It’s not all about eating and cooking, though. Lee and Della both delved into debuts—Lee devoured two—and Della’s pick was an LJ Mystery Debut of the Month. Mahnaz discovered a Fantasyland while attending SLJ's Leadership Summit in Nashville; I enjoyed two different coming-of-age memoirs; both Tyler and Guy kept their “read more widely” New Year’s resolutions in mind; oh, and Guy got high on Black Panther. It’s a banquet over here in WWR/W land, pull up a chair and join in the feast! Mahnaz Dar, Reference and Professional Reading Editor, LJS We’re living in the posttruth, alternative facts era. But how did we get there? According to Kurt Andersen’s sometimes snarky, always deeply entertaining Fantasyland: How America Went Haywire; A 500-Year History (Random; see the author interview here), it’s no accident; our propensity for creating our own truths is part of our national identity. I picked up Fantasyland a while ago, when I was visiting Nashville’s Parnassus Books (owned by author Ann Patchett) last fall. Though it’s taken me a while, I’m so glad that I finally read it. Andersen presents the most engaging and trenchant U.S. history text I’ve read since Howard Zinn’s A People’s History of the United States. He argues that our nation was founded and developed by those who preferred to make their own reality and cites everyone from Anne Hutchinson to P.T. Barnum. Almost every aspect of our history and present—suburbia, religion, the counterculture of the 1960s, New Age philosophy—comes out of what he calls “the fantasy-industrial complex.” Fantasyland is gripping, frightening, and above all, required reading. Della Farrell, Assistant Editor, SLJ Reviews I zipped right through Kellye Garrett’s Hollywood Homicide (Midnight Ink) last weekend. Désirée Zamorano’s review in the Los Angeles Review of Books grabbed my interest. A “retired” (at age 26) actress-turned–amateur sleuth who wants to prevent the bank from foreclosing on her parents’ house,  Dayna Anderson is sharp-witted, and her observations of Los Angeles, the entertainment industry, and how people spend and make money are spot-on. Most important, Dayna—along with her group of idiosyncratic, lovable friends—is funny. I loved joining her as she followed up on lead after lead and engaged in antic after antic. Ultimately, Dayna solves the case and opens the door for many more. I’ll definitely be preordering the sequel, Hollywood Ending, due this August. Liz French, Senior Editor, LJ Reviews In between reading recipes in Cook’s Illustrated and Milk Street magazines and the New York Times food section (even testing a few), I’ve been vicariously experiencing the growing pains of others. First up is Pamela Druckerman’s There Are No Grown-Ups: A Midlife Coming-of-Age Story (Penguin Pr.), which I’ll be reviewing in a future issue of LJ. Second is painter Duncan Hannah’s Twentieth-Century Boy: Notebooks of the Seventies (Knopf), a lively account of his wild youth in New York City during the last good time to be a bohemian there (okay, *maybe* the Nineties were, but not as much). I wanted to review this one, too, but I didn’t have the time. So I leafed through, read some entries, and then sent it to a reviewer who’ll do it justice. I was impressed by Hannah's candor about having an alcohol problem and dealing with it. After being clean for a bit, he ventured out to see a performance: Saw Tom Waits on stage. He sang, “If I exorcise my devils, well my angels may leave too.” I used to think that too. I don’t anymore. Suffering is not imperative. Being cynical is a cop-out. Hip negativity is just another form of conformity. If I feel the world is horrible, to be horrible myself would just be adding to the problem. The path of least resistance would be to submit to the inevitable course, and just become another fatality of bohemia’s wicked ways. As if I was passively going along with the downward flow. That’s not me, not who I was, not who I want to be. I have a choice in the matter. I can fight back. Wouldn’t the brave option be to try to live a positive life? Wouldn’t that be rebellion? Elizabeth Gavril, Senior Editor, JLG We're in Instapot land at home. After receiving the cooker as a gift, I was skeptical, but we've been using it quite a bit this fall and winter. Right now, steel-cut oatmeal is a mainstay (possibly the most boring food mention ever, but good for a winter doldrums breakfast). We've also been trying lots of recipes—I randomly chose a couple of cookbooks for Christmas, including Urvashi Pitre’s Indian Instant Pot® Cookbook: Traditional Indian Dishes Made Easy and Fast (Callisto Media) as well as Melissa Clark’s Dinner in an Instant: 75 Modern Recipes for Your Pressure Cooker, Multicooker, and Instant Pot (Clarkson Potter: Crown). I’ve made tasty recipes from both (though I have my complaints, too). We're also finally receiving a gift subscription of Cook’s Illustrated and the renewal of a Bon Appétit subscription. Last, I'm dipping into Cook’s Illustrated Kitchen Hacks: How Clever Cooks Get Things Done (America’s Test Kitchen), which I found lying around my brother's house when I visited his family last month. Lots of snippets of food reading at the moment. I haven't had much time to read anything outside of my constant work reading. We've been watching and enjoying Season 2 of Victoria, so my boyfriend sweetly got me Julia Baird’s bio, Victoria: The Queen; An Intimate Biography of the Woman Who Ruled an Empire (Random) from the library. Will I have time to read it before it's due? Alas, probably not. We're also making our way through Babylon Berlin, which I'm liking quite a bit. I’ll be sad when we finish the last couple of episodes. Guy LeCharles Gonzalez, WWR/W emeritus I'm still riding the high from seeing Black Panther (and enjoying the variety of different and insightful takes it's generated), and following through on my New Year's resolution, I updated my to-be-read list and pulled a few books to the top, starting with Nnedi Okorafor's Who Fears Death (DAW). I read Okorafor's The Shadow Speaker (Hyperion) back in 2011, about a year after hearing her on the Geek's Guide to the Galaxy podcast.  I loved her impressive worldbuilding and nuanced characters but never got around to reading her other books until now. I'm only 50 pages in, but what a 50 pages it's been, as she slowly unveils an intriguing near-future setting from the perspective of the simultaneously tragic and heroic lead, Onyesonwu, who may (or may not) have magical powers, and may (or may not) be heading toward some tragic or heroic destiny. It's too early to tell where it's going, but I'm fully enjoying the beginning of the journey! Tyler Hixson, WWR/W emeritus I just finished Robert McCammon’s Speaks the Nightbird (Gallery: S. & S.) in an attempt to broaden my reading horizons beyond horror, fantasy, and YA. Nightbird takes place in the Carolinas in 1699 in a struggling seaport named Fount Royal. The denizens of Fount Royal, led by their zealous, wealthy founder/mayor, believe their town is plagued by a witch and have arrested a young Portuguese woman named Rachel Howarth after the brutal murder of two respected residents—one of whom was Rachel's husband. Enter Isaac Woodward, traveling magistrate, and his young inquisitive clerk, Matthew Corbett, brought in from the neighboring city of Charles Town to preside over the trial of the witch. Woodward has a reputation for being thorough and fair; he insists on doing things by the book, but faces increasing pressure from the townspeople to bring down the swift sword of justice. When Woodward falls ill with some sort of "swamp fever," the cry for blood rings ever louder. Everyone believes that Howarth has cursed Woodward for trying to burn her at the stake—everyone except Matthew. In order to save both the woman he has come to love and the man whom he thinks of as a father, Matthew must race against time and a lethal murderer bent on destroying Fount Royal. I was riveted from beginning to end. Matthew is one likable protagonist, and a large part of enjoying this book came from his—for that time period—liberal and forward-thinking theories about what was really happening. It is one of those reads that you didn't know you needed until you finish. Lee Prout, Associate Managing Editor, JLG I recently read two debut novels that left a big impression. Both feature young women protagonists who are finding their footing while also dealing with shifting family relationships. In each book, a parental health crisis brings the women back to their childhood homes. Rachel Khong’s Goodbye, Vitamin (Holt) takes place in a Los Angeles suburb, where narrator Ruth returns when her father shows signs of dementia. Naima Coster's Halsey Street (Little A: Amazon) is primarily set in a Brooklyn neighborhood that has changed dramatically in the five years main character Penelope has been away. Penelope’s father’s health problems began shortly after losing his cherished Bed-Stuy record store to an organic grocery store called Sprout. For various reasons, I found myself identifying with both Ruth and Penelope, and to a degree, I felt offended when I came across a New York Times review that referred to Ruth as a “screw-up.” These are very different books with distinct and complex characters, but one fun similarity is that both Ruth and Penelope are runners. (I love running and am always pleased to see it pop up in fiction.) In a scene in Goodbye, Vitamin, Ruth runs laps around her old high school track and evades an interaction with her former gym teacher by jogging away as the teacher calls after her. In Halsey Street, Penelope hollers at a quartet of Williamsburg hipsters blocking the sidewalk while she’s running to the East River. I cheered them both on. Stephanie Sendaula, Associate Editor, LJ Reviews As one who believes it is impossible to own too many cookbooks, I’m always drawn to authors who offer flexibility or substitutions for dietary restrictions. My newest go-to is Gena Hamshaw’s Power Plates: 100 Nutritionally Balanced, One-Dish Vegan Meals (Ten Speed: Crown). This is already my favorite meat-free cookbook, alongside Kathryne Taylor’s Love Real Food. I’ve recently prepared three recipes from Power Plates as make-ahead lunches: Tuscan kale salad with white beans; winter salad with bulgar, radicchio, and toasted almonds; and butternut squash salad with red quinoa and pumpkin seeds. That last dish is a household favorite. I keep returning to recipes in Power Plates because they’re customizable, filling, and most important, delicious. What else do you need? Henrietta Verma, WWR/W emerita I just started a new job—hello from Credo Reference!—and am reading a lot about information literacy, which is the focus of the position. For example, on my screen now is Danielle Salomon et al.'s "Embedded Peer Specialists: One Institution’s Successful Strategy To Scale Information Literacy Services." On a more traditional WWR note, I recently picked up from the library Samin Nosrat's Salt Fat Acid Heat (S. & S.), which I've been wanting to read for ages. The subtitle is "Mastering the Elements of Good Cooking." We shall see.  

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