Monday, September 27, 2010

Book Nook - French Week continues!

I've decided to extend my "French Week" another week because I just didn't get a chance to share everything I wanted to last week & didn't get to do some fun French stuff I had planned.  Plus, thinking about France & reminiscing about our trip 9 years ago is just too fun, so here we are again.  Toujours la France!

I've been thinking about more French-related books that I've read & there are a couple that I wanted to share, in addition to the ones from last week.  By the way, if you have any that you'd like to recommend, I'm all ears.  I love books about France & French life & I'm always on the lookout for this kind of book!

My Life in France by Julia Child is a wonderful book that I read earlier this year.  In it, Julia Child discusses living in Paris with her husband Paul.  I loved reading about their social life & all the people they knew and events they attended.  I enjoyed the little details about their apartment.  But what really struck me about this book is how tenacious Julia Child was!  She worked for years (years!) on her book, with only the solid belief that it was a good idea & people would want it to guide her along.  She is frank about her relationship with her co-author, Simone Beck, letting us know when she was frustrated with the collaboration.  I can't help but admire her persistence to the book (Mastering the Art of French Cooking) through all the ups & downs of the process, which took years (years!).

Child writes all about the research & testing of the recipes & process of getting the book published, while at the same time painting a nice background about France & what it was like to live there in the late 40's/early 50s.  The book keeps going after Mastering is published, and Child writes about her television career, writing the second cookbook (and others), moving back to the United really touches a lot of the events in her life & career.

I originally listened to the book on CD, but I'd also recommend checking out the hardback book, as there are lots of pictures taken by Paul Child.  If you do read this book, be prepared to do lots of French cooking, because Julia Child is an inspiration indeed!

I actually read Left Bank by Kate Muir a few years ago & have not read it since, so my memory is a little fuzzy!  But, despite those years, I do remember a lot about this story & can recall a lot of the scenes & character traits of the main characters, so bravo to Kate Muir!  Isn't that one thing authors set out to do: create memorable scenes/characters?

Anyway, this book is set in Paris & opens with Olivier & Madison Malin at an amusement park with their precocious daughter, Sabine.  Sabine gets lost (or so they think) at the park & a search ensues.  The rest of the book is the unfolding of their lives (along with some flashbacks, like when they visit his family at their country home), & relationships, entwined with the nanny, Anna.

Of course, I really enjoyed the setting of the novel.  I loved the details of their apartment & the country home, & the setting that the author portrays.  What's it like to be a well-to-do Parisian?  This novel shows us.  I think the characters are well written too - Muir is not afraid to show us the good & the bad things about the main characters & they're more well-rounded for it.  I also liked the bat-like neighbor!

I borrowed this book from the library & my mother-in-law, who was staying with us for a few days, picked it up & started reading it.  Fortunately for me, she didn't like it & I don't think she got very far.  This is fortunate because there are a couple of scenes in the book that are R-rated and I cringe to think about my mother-in-law reading them!  It's much better that she just didn't like it from the start!

Next posting, I'll have more pics from our trip....probably in the next day or so!


Wednesday, September 22, 2010

French Week continues

Listen to all the sites we saw on our first full day in Paris, 9 years ago:  we took a bus tour of Paris, went to Notre-Dame cathedral, went to Sainte-Chapelle, went to the Samaritaine department store to check out the view of the city I had read about & went to Musee d-Orsay.  That makes me tired just reading that long list!  If (not if...when!) we go back to Paris someday, I will not cram our schedules so full.  We really didn't enjoy the Musee d'Orsay at all because we were both so tired.  My memory of that museum is resting on the bench, rubbing my poor aching feet.  Not all the beautiful works of art, memory is of my dogs barking!

But really, despite that, it was wonderful!  Notre Dame is beautiful & we got to really explore it.  We climbed to the top for the view of the city, which was worth the 400+ winding steps (no wonder we were so tired)!  Sainte-Chapelle was gorgeous & tiny.  I'd probably skip the Samaritaine - there are more authentic, historical sites to get those great views.  Then perhaps we wouldn't have been so exhausted once we reached the Musee d'Orsay.  Well, at least now we have a good excuse to go back & do that museum justice!

Here are a couple of our pics from that day:

So, I've been cooking & baking French fare like crazy the last couple of days.  The first thing I made was French toast - French toast for French week!  Actually, let's call it Pain Perdu - more authentic!

Last night for dinner, I made this yummy asparagus & leek quiche.  I love making this dish just for the wonderful aromas from these veggies cooking.  Here is where you can find the recipe - thanks Martha!  There is a typo on the site, though - it's only 1/4 tsp. pepper, not 1 tsp!  And this morning, I made oeufs en cocotte.  This is a new way to eat eggs around here - creamy, baked eggs.  It's comfort food, French style.  I got the recipe from Mastering the Art of French Cooking, Vol. 1, but I first heard about it from Julie and Julia: 365 Days, 524 Recipes, 1 Tiny Apartment Kitchen, as Julie Powell talks a lot about this recipe in the book.  Here's my oeufs:

And, finalement, I made French Almond Macaroons!  DH & I unfortunately didn't have any macaroons while we were in Paris.....another excuse to go back, I say!  Here is the recipe....merci Martha, once again!  Mine don't look as lovely & perfect as Martha's, but they taste wonderful!

And now, after all that cooking & baking & cleaning up, I'm tired & need a good rest - awww, it's just like Paris!

Bonne nuit!

Monday, September 20, 2010

Book Nook - French Week edition

So, I've decided to have French Week here at the cherylbach blog, as well as the Bach Haus, to celebrate the 9th anniversary of DH's & my trip to France.  Our trip was amazing & I want to share some of my photos & memories with you!

The first photo I have in our France album is of me at the Louvre:

Yes, that's me (well, my 9-years-younger-self), pockets full of tourist maps & Rick Steves guide to Paris!  Our first day there, we went to the Louvre.  And it was amazing!  So many fantastic works of art - I think if you had the time, it would be best to tackle it in small chunks, that way you can really appreciate what you are looking at.  There were many times we rushed by rooms to get to an area that we really wanted to see - but those rooms had gorgeous, priceless art in them!  I especially loved the Winged Nike of Samothrace, the Venus de Milo (I wasn't expecting a sculpture to be so absolutely perfect & gorgeous & moving - well, it didn't move literally) & the Napoleon III apartments.  The Mona Lisa was interesting - no security around it, no notices about flash photography.....we figured the real one must be stored in the basement!

That first evening in Paris, we didn't quite have our bearings down yet.  I managed to ask the hotel clerk in very limited high-school French if he could recommend any nearby restaurants.  He very kindly replied (in English, god love him) that if we just walked a block down that way, we could pick any restaurant we fancied......on the Champs-Elysees!  We were that close to it & didn't even realize it!  Our hotel was on Avenue Victor Hugo, by the way, & it was lovely!

As this is Monday, it's Book Nook day & since it's also French Week, I think it would be fitting to discuss books about France, don't you?   

Marie Antoinette: The Journey by Antonia Fraser is thoroughly researched & very readable.  And haunting.  I say haunting because after you read this book, you will have a new opinion on this figure in history & can't help that the world has done her wrong.  I felt so bad for Marie Antoinette that I cried at the end. 

What amazes me when I read any biography, but especially this one, is the detail that has stood the test of time, and conversations that are recorded for us to read, sometimes hundreds of years later.  We learn about how Marie Antoinette disliked being watched by the court when she ate her meals, how the king had a little sexual problem (I feel embarrassed for them both that this was public knowledge then, and now) & how much she loved her children. 

This book takes us from Marie Anoinette's birth to execution, and gives us an inside look at her life at Versailles, her relationships and the horrors of being royalty during the Revolution.  We read how much she grows & matures as she becomes a mother & how she faces death with grace.  Throughout the book, the author gives us example after example of the good things the Queen said & did & how the public - and history- have distorted those things to make her fit a certain image.  Indeed, she was the first-ever celebrity!

A lighter read is found in Joie de Vivre by Robert Arbor.  I have always loved this book!  The author talks about his life growing up in France, how the French do certain things (like breakfast, for instance), he talks about walking into town from his country house - basically, it's a rose-colored view of life in France.  But France is so ideal to me, so I love an idealized version!  It's been a while since I've read this one, but I remember the author's story about how he recalls playing as a child while his mother tended the pot of stew for supper & his father read the paper.  If looking through pictures of France in guidebooks has you dreaming of going there, this book will too!

There are also many recipes scattered throughout, but I admit I haven't tried any of them.  Please let me know if you try any!

More vacation stories & pics & celebrations of all things French to come later this week!

Au revoir!

Monday, September 13, 2010

Book Nook - Made From Scratch

Hi readers,

This week's Book Nook selection is Made From Scratch by Jenna Woginrich.  The author writes about her experiences living on a farm & trying her hand at homesteading.  She goes into detail about things like raising chickens, raising angora rabbits, how to use your dog as a working dog, making things by hand (clothes, food).  It seems like more people are interested in this sort of thing these days, which is great.  I know DH & I would love to try some of these things someday (although I'm still not sure about the beekeeping)!  And really, we have no excuse not to be doing it now, as Woginrich points out: no matter how much or how little space you have, you can always do something.

This book is a very enjoyable (and super-quick) read.  If you don't have backyard hens (for instance), but are curious what it's like to have them, then you'll enjoy reading it.  The author's tone is honest & light-hearted.  And since she touches on many different areas of self-sufficiency, it's hard not to be inspired to get out there and do something yourself.  I, for example, am now adding "make your own skirt with vintage fabric" to my to-do list, although I don't have a sewing machine & don't know anything about sewing!  I also liked that in addition to being inspired to do-it-yourself action, you will probably finish the book feeling that this sort of lifestyle, or even just dabbling in an area or two of homesteading, is a great thing for the environment.  This is certainly a theme throughout the book & the author does a great job weaving that theme in without hitting the reader over the head with it.

There is a section in the back of the book with some basic "homey" kind of recipes that sound very simple & yummy.  "Simple homemade pasta," "three hen quiche" & such.  I also liked the "Research, Son" section, where you can find recommendations on websites to visit, groups to check out & helpful books.  There are a few there that sparked my interest.

My only complaint is that the book is too short, if anything!  Seriously, you could read this in a day, no problem.  I couldn't help but wonder about her rented farm - how did she find it, how many acres is it, what's it like?  She doesn't really tell us much about that (maybe to retain some privacy) but I couldn't help but be curious about it.  I didn't know people could rent farms!  I think the book might have benefited by adding in more personal relationships as well.  The author talks a lot about her animals & her work at the farm.....what does her family think about it?  Do they come & visit?  Does she feel removed from her co-workers or friends because of her lifestyle?  Also, stories about local characters or neighbors would have enriched the book.  There is a little bit of all the above in the book, but I couldn't help but want more!

Made From Scratch accomplishes what it sets out to do - the author shares her experiences at "discovering the pleasures of a handmade life" & gives the reader lots of ideas and inspiration on how they can do the same.  Even if you can only do something very small, say baking homemade bread instead of buying store bought, you are doing something good for the environment & something very self-satisfying at the same time. 

Good luck with your homesteading endeavors!

Thursday, September 9, 2010

2nd Place in the Fairfield SWCD Photo Contest

Hi readers,

I have good news - I won 2nd place in the Fairfield SWCD (Soil & Water Conservation District) photo contest!  This evening, I was invited to attend their annual meeting, where they had all 22 entries on display.  Here's my pic among some of the other entries:

Sorry about all the glare - it was hard to get a good shot of all the photos, as they were set up right by the windows.  Anyway, the theme of the contest was wind or water energy.  As I was thinking about ideas for the shoot, I thought it would be fun to capture the girls with their hair blowing in the wind.  Little Guy was supposed to be included, but he decided that he didn't want to be part of it, so his job was just to stay out of the way of the lens!  The girls, however, were very good sports and the evening we did the photoshoot they were both so happy & giddy.....and that really came across in the photos.  I think if you can capture an emotion, you've got a good shot.  The final shot was very close to what I had originally envisioned.  Here's the picture:

I actually had to photoshop out one of our fans - you could just see it between their arms.  I was pleased with how that technical piece came out.  I think I had 2 or 3 fans set up - of course, it wasn't windy that evening at all - no wind when you really need it!

At the meeting tonight, I sat at the same table as the 1st place winner, who was a very delightful person.  Hers is the photo with the red mat (sorry again for that glare) & the subject was clothes hanging out to dry.  The photo had really nice colors & her choice of framing & the mat served the photo well.

I just had to share my good news with you!  I'm very inspired by photography contests, for some reason.  They just get the creative part of my brain thinking.  And it's nice to be recognized for something I love to do.  Hopefully, I'll have more good news to share about contests in the coming months, as there are a couple more that I'm planning to enter this year.  Wish me luck!

(By the way, all the photos from the contest will be on display at the Fairfield (Ohio) County Fair in October.  So, if you happen to go, head over to the SWCD booth and check them out.)


Monday, September 6, 2010

Book Nook - The Kind Diet

Hi readers,

Generally speaking, I avoid all books written by a celebrity.  I'm sure there are some really nice ones out there, but it kind of irks me that celebrities seem to have so much, yet they "invade" a profession that anybody can get into, maybe taking away an opportunity from someone.  I know that's a very narrow-minded way of looking at things, but I can't help it.  Children's books written by a celebrity are my ultimate pet-peeve!

With that said, this week's Book Nook is The Kind Diet, written by Alicia Silverstone.  That makes a lot of sense, huh!  Well, I stumbled upon this book at my local big-chain bookstore & I had heard that Alicia Silverstone was into raw foods, so I picked it up.  And read the preface by Paul McCartney.  And flipped through & saw lots of great-sounding recipes & saw lots of great photos of said recipes.  So I made an exception to my no-celebrity-books-rule, and I'm glad I did.  This one is really good!

The first half of this book is really a discussion of the foods we eat on the standard American diet & why so many of them are harmful to our health & our environment.  Then, the author breaks down her approach to what is essentially going vegan by breaking down the level of commitment into 3 categories: flirting (which is basically just trying some of the vegan-convenience foods out there & trying some of the recipes); vegan (which, as you know, is giving up all meat & dairy products); and superhero (which sounds like the macrobiotic diet).

There are lots of great recipes in the 2nd half of the book.  I've tried 2 of them so far: the quick date-apple-cinnamon oatmeal (page 196) and the quinoa with basil and pine nuts (page 224).  Both are great!  Everyone here at the our house loves the oatmeal, and it's really fast & healthy.  The quinoa was really yummy, too - I added grape tomatoes straight from our garden, which was a nice addition.  I have about 100 post-it-notes on all the other recipes I want to try too!  I love the idea of reducing our dependence on milk & eggs in cooking/baking & eating fresh whole foods.  There are so many great options here!

I really enjoyed the author's tone of writing, too.  She comes across as very friendly & down-to-earth.  She gives lots of factual information about meat & the meat industry, dairy, sugar, etc. & all the studies & books she cites are listed in the endnotes.  So sceptics can just quiet down, because the proof is there that food we take for granted as being good for us is actually detrimental to our health.  I also like her references to other cookbooks, other books on the topic & just the chit-chat about her life & eating healthy in general.

I only have a couple of very small complaints: first, towards the end of the first half of the book, after we've read about how bad the meat & dairy industries are & how healthy it is to go vegan, she has a section called "temptation" in which she admits to sometimes eating fish at sushi restaurants.  I'm sure an editor somewhere suggested she put this in, but it doesn't fit with anything we've read in the last 120 pages - and for some reason, it just bugs me that it's there.  I think the point is to let the reader know it's ok if you slip up & not beat yourself up about it, but I wish she would have just written those words instead of telling us that she eats fish sometimes, after trying to convince us to do otherwise.  Same idea for the "superhero items for the road" section, which says that some maple-syrup sweetened instant oatmeals are ok.  I really beg to differ with this, and again, it sort of contradicts everything the author has written up to that point in the book: are you really recommending we eat that processed, sugar-laden, preservative-full stuff?  And under the "superhero" diet, no less?  It just doesn't make sense & I wish that one little bit were just omitted from the book all together. OK, rant complete!

Other than those 2 little gripes of mine, the book is really great.  It has inspired me to read more about the macrobiotic diet & I'm currently reading one of the books she mentions.  No matter what you eat, whether it be the standard American diet, vegan, macrobiotic, etc., I think if you get more whole foods into your body & cut down on processed foods & sweets, your health will be all the greater.  And reading books like this & incorporating some of the great recipes into your life will make that step much easier - because the more knowledge you have about food, the easier it is to make the right choices.


Friday, September 3, 2010

New yarn!

Hi readers,

Today, I went to Yarnmarket & purchased some yarn for yet another project!  This one's for my oldest daughter - her birthday is coming up & she has requested a very special knitted toy.  After a great deal of back & forth, I ended up buying 4 balls of Berroco's Comfort DK.  I was considering a wool, but I knit her an owl a while back in a wool blend and she said she doesn't like to snuggle with it because it's too scratchy.  I know there is some debate among toy knitters what is the best type of yarn to knit with.  I have made many knitted toys since I've been knitting for (almost) 7 years and I don't know the answer.  But if she says wool is scratchy, then it won't be wool for this one!

The other yarn in the basket is Katia's Sevilla.   I didn't even know about this yarn until I went to Yarnmarket & saw a sample.  I was looking for a super shiny, metallic yarn & this one fits the bill nicely.  These are all for the same toy.....any guesses what it might be?

I have a couple of knitting projects that are "due" at the end of the month, plus that really big project that I've been working on forever & I'm just ready to be done with it!  So hopefully, I'll get lots of knitting time in this weekend!  Fingers crossed!

Have a great weekend everyone!