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Sassy Peach Goes to Kindergarten: Happy 5th Birthday!

Wow! We made it! Half a decade! That's crazy talk. I said to a friend the other day how much I couldn't believe how far I've ...

Thursday, March 15, 2018

The Power: A Novel

I opted to do my review on Naomi Alderman's show-stopping The Power the same week as The Handmaid's Tale because I feel that these two books are lovers. I'll get more into this in a minute, but these two books feel so intricately connected to me, separated across three decades, and it's absolutely astounding.

It starts slowly, with a few girls here and there. A young girl isn't supposed to be home with her mother, but fends off intruders using it. A teenager in the foster system fights off her abuser with it. A woman is given it by her daughter and uses it to rise to power. A young man is fascinated by it and follows it to the ends of the earth to chronicle it. What is this power, exactly, and where has it come from? It is most likely a leftover from chemical tests during World War II, but it came at a time when women weren't the powerhouses running the world like they are now. I mean, could you imagine? A world with men in charge? That must have been barbaric and unlivable.

Unsurprisingly, this book had been on my radar for a while. Surprisingly, it took me a while to jump on board. I can't say why; I think I have just been bogged down with books and dissertating and working and parenting. I'm glad I picked it up when I did though, because it was a full-scale dive in to a book that hooked me after the first few chapters. These stories are all related, and they are the focus characters in this story that takes a look at a long-ranging (albeit fictional) phenomenon that shakes the world to its core. The brilliance under-girding the story is astounding, really, and Alderman is truly a tour-de-force in regards to the detailed world she has created. It's a world I wouldn't mind living in, frankly, and the whole idea of The Power and what it does to upend gender power is incredible. In the thick of the story, when horrible things are happening to men that we just currently accept as happening to women -- think mass pillaging, torture, sexual assault -- it was hard to read. I had hoped that there would be some level of revenge happiness on my end, seeing men reap what they sow, but it was heartbreaking to know that this was a representation of what we as a gender deal with on a regular basis. The acceptance of these events became stark and clear when reading about them happening to a group that doesn't typically experience them.

Additionally, Alderman's characterization is flabbergasting. She has created a set of characters that are so human that they come alive on the page and I knew them. Really, really knew them. From a middle-aged mother to a young man on the verge of the biggest story of his life to a power-hungry young women, these characters were clearly painted with an expert brush, and the character arc from start to finish was long and languid, leaving me feeling as though I just survived the events with them. I felt I was being let into one long intimate moment that changed the world as we know it.

As I mentioned in the first paragraph, as I read this book it felt eerily like a companion piece to Margaret Atwood's The Handmaid's Tale. I don't think it's just because Alderman has worked with Atwood. It's deeper than that. It's a dystopian tale that is what happens on the other side of the Gilead coin. What could have been in an alternate, Sliding Doors-esque universe is the story of The Power. It was really moving reading these both so close together and seeing the portrait of the women at their core and how they are related to one another, if only they could have existed side by side. I would highly recommend to anyone reading Handmaid for the first time to read this right after and sit with the meaning of the worlds these women have created. It's astounding. On a final note, the last sentence of this book is striking, and it is worth the hundreds of pages you read to get there. The story as a whole is, but the last line. The. Last. Line. 

Tuesday, March 13, 2018

The Handmaid's Tale

After thoroughly enjoying the first season of the Hulu adaptation, I decided that I wanted to Margaret Atwood's The Handmaid's Tale for myself to see the differences in book vs. cinematic adaptation. My thoughts are below, but long story short, it's a good one.

Offred can bear children, this much we know. It's why she's still alive, rather than having been sent to the Colonies. She once had a child, in the time before Gilead. She had a husband then, too. But she cannot even speak of those earlier times. Her only responsibility now is as a handmaid, and she must bear her mistress a child, or it's off to worse pastures she goes. She is Of-Fred, the handmaid of Fred, who rapes her once a month in hopes of her conceiving. In the world of Gilead, it a theocracy where men are king and women are only to serve in various capacities, be it as wife, handmaid, cook, or Jezebel. Once upon a time, they were human. Now...

The first thing that comes to mind when I write about my experience reading this book is how well it paired with the television adaptation. I found them to be complementary, companion pieces, and much less so a show adapting a book. They felt that they went together, both the same and different. I'm glad I finally read this book, as it was recommended to me several years ago and honestly, dystopian fiction is rarely my thing. This one, though, with the addition of the television show, felt very close to home. The theocracy, where men have taken over the lives of women in every respect, may have, at one time even in the recent past, felt far removed from the possibility of occurring, now feels disturbingly omniscient. Women as birth slaves is hard to deal with from a human rights perspective, but it has happened, and it is happening. Look at Boko Haram, as just one example. Atwood's point, I feel, is that this kind of reality is not as far removed as we would like it to be.

I really enjoyed Atwood's writing style, and the first person narrative that provided such strong characterization. I knew Offred, I understood her, and I felt her pain. She was such a strong, vivid character, and I often felt as though I was in the room with her when she told me her story. A part of this characterization is more clear after you read the ending (see AFTER the spoiler alert below if you dare), and it makes me put this book under the banner of "brilliant" more than just plain old "good." Even though I might not be listing it as one of my favorite books of all time, I can't deny that this book is just absolutely brilliant, if not also prescient and horrifying. It's what makes it so incredible. Atwood is a hell of a writer, and even with my aversion to dystopia and fantasy, I think it will be worth my while to pick up more of her work. The first season of the television series ends when the book ends -- Offred being taken off by hopefully friendly forces, but we really don't know that for sure -- so I have mixed feelings about a second season of that. But those thoughts are for another blog. Here, my friends, we do books.


I was really taken by the ending, in terms of finding out that this whole story was written and later discovered once Gilead fell and a new world order was established. I actually read this epilogue a few chapters into the book, and it gave me a good grounding for understanding Atwood's masterpiece. If I had come upon it when I was supposed to -- as an actual epilogue, that is -- it would have been all sixth sense-y, but I liked my way of doing it, as well. It not only provided me with a sense of relief, that at least these women were not held as birth slaves for all of eternity, but rather for the time that Gilead existed. It doesn't take away the horror, but it provided a bit of a salve. 

Thursday, March 8, 2018

Guest Blogger Charlotte - You are a Badass: How to Stop Doubting Your Greatness and Start Living an Awesome Life

At the end of winter, we tend to find ourselves in a rut. Because of its eye-catching title, I immediately picked up You are a Badass. I had never been able to read self-help book all the way through, simply because they seemed too cheesy, forced, or impossible for me to keep up with. But, for some reason, I still gave You are a Badass by Jen Sincero I try, and I actually really enjoyed it!

The book is quite different from other self-help book I have read because you could truly hear the author’s voice and personality come through. Talking through different concepts relatable to all humans, she shared universal ideas from a personal perspective. I felt that the advice, tips, and topics covered were more personal than self-help books and blogs usually seem. Sincero’s sense of humor when it came to facing the facts, titles, and how she approached situations she encountered made this book easier to read because I didn’t feel she was taking herself too seriously. The way the book was written and how the chapters were named made me feel that I was talking to a friend instead of a professional coach, which I loved.

You are a Badass is organized into five sections, which I thought was useful. As the reader, you are slowly introduced to different concepts and ways of thinking. Then as you continue to on reading, the concepts build on each other to speak about overarching topics. Although this led me to sometimes feel that the book was repetitive, it also made sure that I wasn’t forgetting what the author was advising and talking about. You are obliged to improve yourself and your mindset because you are constantly being reminded of improvements to make or change of mindsets.

Within the parts, the book is also organized into different chapters with different styles of writing. Some sections are lists, others are anecdotal stories, and some are the author’s simply talking through concept. I found that this definitely kept the book interesting, as I didn’t feel like I was being lectured or that the information was going right over my head. I also found that this gave the book a personal touch because you could relate to the author as she spoke about moments and experiences of her own life. It allowed me to feel connected to the book as I didn’t feel as though the advice she was giving couldn’t relate to me.

So is You are a Badass the solution to being the best person you can be? Yes and no. I think that it is one of the better self-help books I have read, but you still have to keep up with what Sincero is saying in order for it to work. I think the information provided in the book is extremely helpful and encouraging and the way it is presented and written was beneficial for me. Although it can be repetitive at some points, it’s a nice book to get re-inspired and reset.

Tuesday, March 6, 2018

The Family Next Door: A Novel

I requested a copy of Sally Hepworth's The Family Next Door because I was intrigued by the premise of a series of lies all coming together to a blow up finale. Call me a Liane Moriarity junkie, and I will agree. (Don't fret everyone, for reference, this book was compared to her work in the promo.)

Pleasant Court in Melbourne is a sleepy street where not much happens except the occasional child injury. Except what happens behind closed doors is always more salacious than anyone will let on. Fran and her husband have dealt with their fair share of ups and downs in the recent births of their two children. Ange spends an ungodly amount of time trying to portray the perfect life on social media with her husband and two boys. Essie and her family are trying to forget about her episode of post-partum depression after her first child and secretly guarding against it happening with their second. Thank goodness her mother lives just next door. When Isabelle moves in to a rental on the street, her urban glamour intrigues everyone, not the least of which features Essie. As the heat builds, both literally and figuratively, everyone's lives will come to a head as secrets come to light and families are changed.

This review takes two positions: the first is that the book itself is a little outlandish, and the second is that it was a fun read. I was reminded repeatedly of Big Little Lies, which, as I mentioned earlier in the post, shouldn't surprise anyone since the promotion for this book compared this book to her work. I'll start with the first statement so we can hurry up and get to why this book was a fun read.

I was into this book for a good long while, because Hepworth does a great job of creating interesting characters. Ange was insufferable in that way that you enjoy reading her and hating her all at the same time. We all know people like this in our lives, women who go out of their way to portray a perfect life on social media when you know your kid blows out his diaper just like mine. It's completely insufferable, and you can easily spot an Ange a mile away. Like, really, we aren't stupid. I dropped most of these people on social media during the Great Unfriending of 2016, but I still have a couple on my feed. I really felt for Fran and the difficulties in her marriage, as that was so easy to relate to. Essie fascinated me, and I wanted to get to the bottom of her issues. Isabelle was intriguing. So it's fair to say I was captivated by the characters, and their husbands too.

The story just went a little off the rails when we get to the crux of why Isabelle moved to Pleasant Court. It absolutely was not what I was expecting, I'll give the author that. It was a surprise, because it looks like Hepworth is leaning left and then she spins right. I liked that. However, once the motives are revealed, the story took a turn for the unrealistic in an eye-rolling way. I don't want to give anything away, because I think the book is definitely worth a read for the fun of it, but it's fair to say that the explosiveness of the revelation was downplayed by the melodramatic plot bits.

Back to the good parts of this book. I mentioned the characters earlier, and I think that the strong and intriguing character development is Hepworth's strength. I also loved the suspense that Hepworth was able to bring to the story, as it kept me intrigued enough to grab my Kindle and read that instead of the hard copy books I keep at my bedside. (I use my Kindle for commuting and don't often read it at home, so it's a testament to the intrigue that I wanted to read this book instead of one just an arm's reach away.) The intrigue is what kept me coming back and pushed me through to the end, and that's why I would recommend this book. It was exactly what I needed in the middle of an edit for my (very emotionally heavy) dissertation -- a bit of intrigue, a dash of character love, and a whole lot of page turning. 

Thursday, March 1, 2018

The Gardener and the Carpenter: What the New Science of Child Development Tells Us About the Relationship Between Parents and Children

A longtime friend of mine sent me a text recommending Alison Gopnik's new book, The Gardener and the Carpenter: What the New Science of Child Development Tells Us About the Relationship Between Parents and Children after seeing Gopnik speak about it recently. What she didn't know is that I am one of Gopnik's biggest fans, and I have a huge academic crush on her. I present her work to my students in my early childhood classes, and The Scientist in the Crib is one my all-time favorite books. I'm rereading it right now, actually. 

Gopnik writes this book from the perspective of being a grandmother and an academic researcher. She opens her book by discussing "parenting" as it has become over the last 50 years -- a verb, a job, something that we are required to do if we have a child. The thrust of her book is that we have become a society that parents as carpenters rather than as gardeners. Carpentry is done with a blueprint as a guide, and the result is something that involves specific processes and a specific outcome. Gardening, on the other hand, implies guidance and trimming while giving the contents a time to grow and define themselves. In carpentry, if you get a different outcome than you planned, you have not achieved your goal. In gardening, there is not outcome in mind, only the process and the acceptance of the beauty of the unexpected outcome.

I loved this book for so many reasons, not the least of which is that Gopnik presents developmental research so clearly and plainly that just about anyone can read this book and have a sense of the essence of what developmental psychology can show us. I love what I do, which is mostly teaching teachers about child and adolescent development, and I found that this book was so eloquent about the history and the understanding of where children come from and how they develop as they do. What I hope that people take away from this book is the understanding that how you parent won't make as big of a difference in what your child will become as much as just simply loving your children will. Her thesis that parenting is not a job, but rather an act of love, is profound and so simple that it gets lost in the Mommy Wars. You won't get your kid to Harvard because you use flashcards with him at age two.

Slow down, everyone, and love the process. It's hard, especially with middle class parents, to tell them to slow their roll. I've commented on here in previous posts that I'm a wool blend parent, and a lot of that has to do with the access to research that I have. I understand, for example, that my values matter, but loud obnoxious toys don't. Talking to my son matters, but talking television doesn't. Laughing with my son matters, pushing him to learn his numbers at six months doesn't. My husband and I laugh because my goal is for my son to be average, and I joke that only an educational psychologist says that about her child. I have no desire to be a carpenter with my child, and it has made me a better parent. I was particularly taken with Gopnik's introduction, and I spent a great deal of time after reading it thinking on this idea of parenting as a verb, as a job. How ridiculous it is, really, that we as (mostly) women base our self-worth on how our children turn out. We are actually depending on someone else's autonomous decisions to inform us of whether or not we did our jobs. That is utterly and completely absurd. As Gopnik says in this book, we raise our children to be who they are through our love and our guidance, but they will be who they will be.

Children learn naturally and on their own, and no amount of pushing them to be geniuses at age three will do the trick. I joke around with my friends that my parenting advice book is going to be called "CTFO: A Parenting Guide For The Rest of Us." I loved this book, and not just because I love Gopnik. I loved it because it took this research that is so full of insight and made it available to the masses. The question is, who will listen? I hope more of us, as we seek to find balance in parenting and people. I will say this loud and clear: Parenting is not my job -- it's something I do out of love. It's not my job to see that my child becomes a genius or does anything specific in his life other than, and these are required in my house, that he be kind and respectful of all humans. 

Tuesday, February 27, 2018

Birds + Bees + YOUR Kids: A Guide to Sharing Your Beliefs About Sexuality, Love, and Relationships

Toward the end of my pregnancy I started seeking resources for parenting. One of those was on how to talk to your children about sex, because I am a firm believer that sex education starts young. One of the mistakes parents make is that assuming sex ed is one conversation when your kid is old enough to understand; the commonly cited statistic is that more than 90% of children who are sexually abused know the abuser. Recently, due to the Larry Nassar abuse coming to light, we also have the statistic that is made clear: when children are abused, they have to tell, on average, seven times before they are believed. When children are taught that there is shame in their bodies, or that we don't talk about those things, it closes down the conversation and makes children feel embarrassed about things they should be sharing. 

So I turned to the book of faces, and I found Amy Lang's Birds+Bees+Kids page. It's an outstanding resource for how to talk to your kids about sex and their bodies, and I picked up her book, Birds + Bees + YOUR Kids which happened to be on Kindle Unlimited (yay!) for my husband and I to peruse. I was so impressed with how this book was written and structured that I decided to purchase it. As Amy guides you through the chapters on your own beliefs about sex, love, and intimacy, she asks you and your co-parents/guardians some tough questions that make you dig deep into what you believe about these topics and why. She starts with your values regarding sex, how you learned about sex, and what it means to be ready for sex. She then moves into some hard topics, including pregnancy, masturbation, STD's, and birth control. The third section is about puberty and adolescence, and the last two sections are about outside influences on your kids regarding sex and how to have conversations about all of this. 

This prompted my husband and I to have some talks we might not have otherwise. We are both very open to talking about sex and the topics around it, but these are things that just don't come up in regular conversation. I wanted to start these talks early and have them often so that they wouldn't feel new and that they would just be a part of our lives. I know that for me, the sex talk was quick and already at the end of my high school career. I was told that sex was bad and not what the Lord wanted, but no one ever really talked to me about my body. No one certainly ever spoke to me about how to make good decisions about sex that weren't mired in guilt. This, however, was progressive compared to my husband's upbringing, which in the Evangelical tradition taught a great deal of shame over the body and of sex. Both of these parenting choices affect us and our outlook on sex, and I don't want my children to grow up in a home where we aren't comfortable having real conversations about things that affect our physical and mental well-being. 

These chapters in Amy's book are well-structured and they ask deep and thoughtful questions that seem so simple at the outset but spark good conversation among parenting/guardian partners. It's so important to be on the same page, and this is what Amy gets through to her readers. She encourages you to write down the answers, but Hubby and I just talked about them. We took the book chapter by chapter, and while only time will tell, I do feel more equipped than I did before having this resource handy to deal with what comes. I'm glad I purchased this book to have as a resource for when I need it. 

Thursday, February 22, 2018

George Orwell's Animal Farm

George Orwell's Animal Farm is one of those books you often have hanging around and forget that you do. I needed a short book to add to my purse for my commute that day (you know the drill -- I was thisclose to finishing another book and didn't want to carry two thick books...), and I was reminded why it's a classic.

The animals of Manor Farm are tired of being overworked and under appreciated by the humans, so they revolt. Snowball and Napoleon, a donkey and a pig respectively, co-share leadership following the takeover and renaming of Animal Farm. They have a list of egalitarian rules that someone writes on the barn wall, but unfortunately, most of the animals can't read. No worries, as life goes on and all is well. That is, until Napoleon realizes that sharing power is for the birds. After banishing Snowball, the pigs begin to rule the roost, rewriting the rules everyone had agreed upon and making life and work so difficult for the animals that it suddenly seems not so egalitarian anymore. Will Animal Farm even survive? Or was everyone right -- a farm should be run by humans, anyway?

Ah yes, Animal Farm. The old allegory about the Russian Revolution, and Napoleon is supposed to be Stalin. It's thinly veiled if anything. However, this story is so often told that it's not hard to see timely parallels to our current situation in the United States at present. Oh sure, we don't have a dictator (ahem...cough...yet...), but the nature of the animals working hard and being told that they aren't worthy and that they have to work harder just to make the same amount of money food smells suspiciously like capitalism a couple centuries later. It makes you wonder, is this possibly just human nature?

That's not for me to answer, or at least, not in this blog post. I enjoyed the book, and it was surprisingly short for what I was expecting. I can't remember whether or not I had to read this in high school -- I'm quite confident that I didn't -- so it was interesting to pick it up now, in 2018. I think it home more than it would have in 1995. I was thoroughly entertained while still being absolutely horrified. I could see so much of the world I know in the world of this book, right down to the defamation of Snowball after he chooses to leave the farm once he figures out Napoleon's game. I'm glad I picked up the work when I did, at this point in my life, and I'm looking forward to revisiting 1984, too. This also has me ruminating on the role of the classics in our world, and why it's a shame that it took me 30-something years to get around to reading this. It's also made me seek out more books that I ignored skimmed Cliffsnotesed read in high school.

I leave you with a famous quote from the book, but one that I hope you sit with for a while. It is one of the rules that was rewritten after Snowball leaves Animal Farm and Napoleon begins his dictatorship.

"All animals are equal, but some animals are more equal than others."

Tuesday, February 20, 2018

Supreme Power: 7 Pivotal Supreme Court Decisions that Had a Major Impact on America

I picked this book up at Book Expo for a good friend of mine who is a political science professor, but I found it so fascinating myself that I ended up taking notes in Ted Stewart's Supreme Power: 7 Pivotal Supreme Court Decisions that Had a Major Impact on America and keeping it for myself. Sorry, not sorry, friend.

The cases discussed in this book include Marbury vs. Madison, which established powers the Supreme Court holds and doesn't hold; Plessy vs. Ferguson, which established racism and led to Jim Crow; Lochner vs. the State of New York, which brought about the power of substantive due process on behalf of the Supreme Court; Wickard vs. Filburn, which focused on the role of Federalism in the United States; Everson vs. Board of Education of Ewing Township, which examined the establishment clause and the role of religion in the public arena; Missouri vs. Jenkins, focused on integration and the role of the courts in ordering it; and Obergefell vs. Hodges, which struck down the ban on marriage between same sex couples.

Some of these cases I was already familiar with, and some were new. I particularly found that this book hinged on Lochner, a case that I didn't know at all, and that this case changed the Supreme Court into being the power that we know it. I appreciate that this book was focused on situating the case in historical perspective regarding what was happening in and around the time that the case was weaving its way through the courts; it's this level of historical perspective that I was after. That being said, the first half of the book, through Lochner, was incredibly informative and interesting. In fact, I was so floored at finding out the history of Thanksgiving, the American holiday that doesn't have origins in Pilgrims and Indians (seriously...do the research yourself, it's fascinating), I dropped everything and made my husband pause his movie just so I could tell him about it. It caused a big discussion in my house about the origins of the holiday and how we want to celebrate it.

However, once I hit the second half of the book, I was very turned off by Stewart's crusade to make America moral again. His politics come across loud and clear in the last few cases, and he's incredibly conservative, and whether or not he intends to be, he comes off as hating abortion (but I mean, who likes it?), LGBTQ+ rights, and he especially despises Hollywood, which is so interesting because none of these major cases is about Hollywood specifically. He mentions movies and entertainment several times in the Obergefell chapter, specifically blaming Hollywood and the media for the downfall of society's morals. It's peculiar, and red flags were popping up everywhere. Instead of entertaining the idea that perhaps society and the media shaped each other, it reads as though he blames popular culture and the Supreme Court for allowing such horrible things to occur such as gay marriage, which obviously wouldn't happen if Hollywood still had couples sleeping in separate beds. (That was sarcasm, by the way.)

I did learn a great deal from this book, specifically a historical perspective of these cases as well as some fairly intricate legalese about why the Supreme Court decided these cases the way that they did. Stewart also has great expertise in the Constitution and situates most of his analysis in the document itself, which I very much appreciated and learned a great deal from. I wish he could have done a better job of keeping his political views out of his analysis of later chapters, but I know from experience that this is easier said than done when you feel passionately about something. My overall recommendation is read this for the earlier chapters in order to gain a solid understanding of the earlier cases that shaped the Supreme Court. 

Thursday, February 15, 2018

Salt Fat Acid Heat

After finishing Tuesday's review, I thought it would be perfect to pair with this book, from one of Alice Waters' former employees of Chez Panisse. This book is, hands down, brilliant. I don't own a lot of cookbooks because I love to experiment in the kitchen, but when I read about Samin Nosrat's Salt Fat Acid Heat, I preordered it. It was worth every stinkin' dime.

Cooking is an art form, and some people love it while others can't stand it. I am in the category of "love it." I am no expert by any means, but I love to mess around in the kitchen and I joke around that recipes are against my religion. I am Italian, after all. Nosrat's whole concept with this book is that these four elements (salt, fat, acid, heat) are the main underpinnings of good cooking that you need to understand both in theory and practice to create dishes that will serve your palate. Amateurs in the kitchen are usually afraid of everything but heat, but fear of salt, fat, and acid will leave you with limp and unappetizing food.

This book is astounding because it is a cookbook, yes, but it is also a journey through the basics of cooking that are easy to understand yet so deep and thoughtful. I am madly in love with this book for so many reasons, not the least of which are the illustrations, by Wendy MacNaughton. Holy hell, they are gorgeous. Everything from colors of cooked onions to wheels explaining how to get the regional taste that you want, this book is so gorgeous it's hard to put it on the shelf. I'm not kidding you -- it's currently open to that very page with the caramelized onions on my coffee table right now. One of my favorite pages is right before the section of recipes (which is actually the last half of the book), there is a flow chart that helps you determine what you want to cook that day. The first question asks if you've read the book, and if you select "no," it tells you to go back and read the book because it's about the journey, not the destination. Boy, is she ever right.

I read this book slowly and in sections so that I could start putting into practice what I was reading. I started with salt, because it's the first section. I opened myself up to what Nosrat was explaining about how to use salt and how to get away from our fear of using too much, and it improved my cooking -- especially with meats -- almost instantaneously. It turns out I already had multiple types of salt in my kitchen, and I was able to distinguish what to use and when to use it. Eye opening doesn't even begin to describe it. Now I use salt liberally and, more importantly, appropriately.

Then fat. Sweet, sweet fat. It's another element that scares new cooks, because anyone who was alive in the 1980's has a deep-seated fear of fat. In the past few years I have come to realize how great it is -- and not just in taste -- and I now can taste a (disgusting) difference in full-fat and low- or non-fat products. I now no longer fear butter and cream, and it's made such a big difference in our dinners. I learned how to render fat, how to take advantage of excess fat on meat, how to better cook bacon, and how to balance salt, fat, and the next ingredient, acid, into our meals. Fat is glorious when used (here it is again) appropriately.

Finally, last but never least, is acid. Holy mother of pearl, I had no idea what I was missing in my life. Much like Nosrat's discovery of what acid could do to add volume and depth to a dish, neither did I. It turns out that acid is a vital component for this purpose, and you are missing out if you don't take the time to play around and figure out how to finish off your dishes with the appropriate form of acid. I added apple cider vinegar to finish off my cauliflower soup -- what a difference from before and after! I then began experimenting with my sauteed spinach, and I discovered that squeezing fresh lime juice over the finished product added a new dimension to something that I liked before but that I love now. I decided to get a whole slew of vinegars the next time I grocery shopped, and thanks to Nosrat's section on acids, I now feel comfortable and inspired to experience with something that I previously thought would ruin a dish.

Oh wait -- let's not forget heat! See, my mom is amazing but it wasn't until I was an adult that I realized that she never taught me to cook very well. She learned on her own, as did I, but she came from a tradition that opened cans for dinner. (1950's and '60's, anyone?) I will say that I discovered I have been using heat inappropriately for YEARS. The section on heat really opened my (impatient) eyes to how to slow down my cooking and take advantage of different ways to use heat to cook.

When I picked up this book, I didn't realize that Nosrat was the cook who worked with Michael Pollan on cooking when he was writing one of my favorite books on food, Cooked. It was really wonderful to see the connection between my favorite food writers. No matter how I came to it, this book will remain one of my all time favorites and I am so, so glad that I splurged on purchasing it. Now that I am incorporating our son into our meal times (we skipped purees and have gone strait to eating what we eat -- I'm sure this will come up again in the Sassy Peachiverse someday), I love that I have new tools in my arsenal to play around with flavors. Thank you, Samin, from the bottom of my heart, for this glorious tome you have given the world. 

Tuesday, February 13, 2018

Coming to My Senses: The Making of a Counterculture Cook

I thought I would pair books this week, so we are starting with Alice Waters' Coming to My Senses: The Making of a Counterculture Cook, followed by a cookbook from one of her former chefs at Chez Panisse.

Growing up in America in the 1950's, Alice Waters wasn't introduced to a wide range of gastronomic delights -- that era wasn't exactly known for good food, but rather the invention of kitchen items and foodstuffs that made household life easier on everyone. When she went to Paris for a study abroad trip, her palate was introduced to some of the world's finest flavors, and Alice fell in love with food. When she graduated college, she floated around Berkeley, trying to find her way, until one day she realizes her dream of opening up a small restaurant. She was never a trained chef, but she wanted a place that she and her friends could eat great, handmade French food and spend hours talking. Chez Panisse was the realization of that dream.

I found Alice's own words on her history to be very interesting. I will say at the start that her prose leaves a lot to be desired, but the meat of her story is incredibly interesting. From her childhood in a happy home all over the country to her transferring to Berkeley during the heyday of the cultural revolution, it's fair to say that Ms. Waters is a product of her culture. She trusts her instincts and it pays off. She talks in this book of her two great loves in the lead up to the opening of her restaurant, and she waxes poetically about her time in and love of France. I am completely biased, as I have found France to be positively lovely, at least once we got out of Paris. That's where Ms. Waters and I differ, but I think it's wonderful that she found the charm there that i didn't. But the rest of France -- ah. [Cue the emoji with heart eyes here.] French cuisine is entirely what Ms. Waters makes it out to be in this book. I have pictures for days of the incredible dishes that I ate while there. Just incredible.

I see what she is saying when she calls herself a counterculture cook, and some of that is on point. She is a woman chef who opened her own restaurant in the 1970's when that was basically unheard of, especially with no formal training in the kitchen. Chez Panisse serves just one meal per night at a prefixed price, and Ms. Waters is known for taking chances on informally trained staff based on instinct. Frankly, no one can argue that she knows what she is doing based on instinct. She certainly is counterculture for the time period that made her. It's hard for me, though, in 2017 to rectify that label with the story, but I will say that I believe that is due to my age and my distance from that time period. (By distance, I mean I wasn't even alive.) So I will just have to trust Ms. Waters on this one.

This book was picked up on a whim and I'm so glad that I got it. I was able to pair it with the cookbook I will post about next, and it really put Chez Panisse into perspective. I would love to one day make our winding way to Berkeley and eat at the famed restaurant. I mean, Alice's raving about her love affair with lettuce is enough to make a salad lover out of just about anyone. (I appreciate her recommendation to toss your salad by hand, as it is the best way to ensure that the dressing coats every leaf.) That isn't sarcasm, either; the way she talks so kindly and warmly about salad is just wonderful, and now my stomach is grumbling. I'm off to cook, inspired by Alice and the famed California restaurant.