Kate F. (kateford) - Reviews

1 to 14 of 14
The Brown Bag Cookbook: Nutritious Portable Lunches for Kids and Adults
Review Date: 5/3/2010
Helpful Score: 4

I don't need to write a review because a blogger named Susanne Koenig already said it best as follows. Imported from Amazon as a public service to unsuspecting Swappers is her take on using this book for KIDS:

"I went to the library looking to preview a couple of brown bag cookbooks so I could broaden the lunch selection at my house. "P B & J or Bologna and cheese?" Those are the current two options and I thought it might be nice to pack something different every once and a while. So not wanting to buy before I tried, I found this little baby in our online library catalog and tried it out.

It is, by far, the best laugh I have had all year. After fifty pages of nutritional dribble, the author finally starts the recipes. I mean, instruction is all well and good, but I don't need that much information on *lunch*. I just want to put something remotely nutritional into my kids bag that they will actually *eat*.

That leaves me to the hysterical bit. Here's the first recipe, I KID YOU NOT.

Peanut Butter Sproutwich

1/4 cup shredded lettuce mixed with alfalfa sprouts
1 tlb lemon juice
1 tlb toasted sesame seeds
1 tlb craberry sauce or relish
4 tlb peanut butter
2 slices date bread (and next comes the tasty part)
2 slices BACON, cooked crisp and drained

I know, I know!!! I couldn't stop laughing either! I pulled myself together just to lose it again on the next selection:

Peanut Butter and Tofu Sandwich

I'll spare you the ingredients. Next comes the best one of all, recipe number three, my personal favorite from the Peanut Butter selection:

Peanut Butter and Egg sandwich

2-4 tlb peanut butter
1-2 tsp pickle relish, well-drained (oh, I like mine runny, ya know)
1 hard-boiled egg (soft wouldn't do???)
salad greens (cause apparently you can't have peanut butter without greens)
2 slices wheat berry bread

All I can say is: LOL. LOLROF. LOLROFLMAO. No, that doesn't quite do it. LOLROFLSMTKCRTSIYHAS. (Laugh Out Loud Roll On Flor So Much That The Kids Come Running To See If You've Had A Stroke.) I mean, we live near Graceland and all and are required by law to know the ins and outs of a friend peanut butter and banana sandwich, but doggone it, even The King (gracious Southern boy that he is) wouldn't have said "Thankya, thankyaverymuch." with this in his bag.

So if you are in for a really, really good laugh (one of the best I've had all year) snap this baby up. The Seawich tacos (with raw cabbage, cocktail sauce, AND mayo) are not to be missed. Five stars for comedy. None for stuff kids will actually EAT. "

Fly Away Home
Fly Away Home
Author: Judith Kelman
Book Type: Hardcover
  • Currently 3.4/5 Stars.
Review Date: 7/29/2008
Helpful Score: 1

This book is only for dedicated fans of Kelman. Most others will find it too difficult to suspend belief and accept her improbable and outlandish plot -- that a teacher would commit a crime and kidnap a child to return to whom she THINKS is his family -- based on nothing more than a hunch and internet research.


The fact the book winds up the ending abruptly and carelessly (the woman suffers no legal or other consequences for her well-intentioned but irresponsible and baseless assumptions) should make every parent angry.

Fourteen: Growing Up Alone in a Crowd
Fourteen: Growing Up Alone in a Crowd
Author: Stephen Zanichkowsky
Book Type: Hardcover
  • Currently 3.7/5 Stars.
Review Date: 6/2/2009
Helpful Score: 3

This book is the definition of "lonely in a crowd." Stephen Zanichkowsky is child number 8 in a family which grew to include 14 children. When you are born in the midst of chaos, you not only are denied the opportunity to have a "normal" childhood, you don't even know what normal *is*. All you know is that you have to fight, literally, for everything.

You fight for love and affection, which is in very short supply.
You fight to protect what pitifully few possessions you have.
You fight for a sense of self -- to show you have a personality and not a number.
You fight to get out.
You fight to stay out.
You fight to be visible -- please notice me as a unique person.
You fight to be invisible -- please don't beat me because I happened to be standing next to the kid who misbehaved.

You fight, fight, fight ... inside your own head, with your father, with your siblings, with your shame, with your anxiety, with your fear, with your impulses.

You are surrounded by 14 children, with every older child having lost some of himself or herself in the forced "nanny duties" they had in taking care of the younger children, setting up the inevitable certainty that the only things you want in this world are 1) things you don't have to share with other children; 2) invisibility so that you are not punished for the slightest infraction or due to misbehavior of other children; 3) freedom and 4) peace and quiet in a place of one's own.

Growing up lonely in a crowd, and being groomed to want nothing more than a piece of ground, someplace of your own, was never more clear than in this novel, which was heartbreaking and sad, but totally worth the read.

Good luck, Mr. Zanichkowsky. May you never again have to find a hiding place for your things, and may you always have your fill of candy.

Gasping for Airtime : Two Years in the Trenches of Saturday Night Live
Gasping for Airtime : Two Years in the Trenches of Saturday Night Live
Author: Jay Mohr
Book Type: Hardcover
  • Currently 3.3/5 Stars.
Review Date: 7/25/2008
Helpful Score: 2


This is a fast read. I expected something a bit light hearted, mostly anecdotes about the back stage antics of the SNL cast members. Instead, this book just made me really sad. It's still a good read, but the reader should be prepared for a look at just how poorly some cast members are treated (even if they may bring it on themselves) in a cut throat business.

Jay Mohr was a SNL "Featured Player" for two years. One thinks the announcer on a show who reads off a list of cast members, and then says the term "And featuring ..." with additional names, including Jay Mohr, suggests some kind of specialty or guest star status, when in fact it's the exact opposite. It means you are NOT in regular rotation are basically a rookie on probation, an intern. It's the lowest player in the bunch.

Jay was brought in by producer Lorne Michaels, personally, and then went through two years of writing and submitting sketch after sketch with little or no mentoring or assistance from other cast members, who each have to elbow others aside to get even a minute of air time. His popular impressions of Christopher Walken saved the day on a few occasions, but being given only modest air time with a few sketches, in two years, makes for a demoralizing experience.

The initial chapters deal with Jay's early internship with the show and what is plainly obvious to the reader, but not to Jay for a year at least, that he was suffering from extreme Panic Attacks. He finally gets the medical help he needs and begins to feel just a little bit normal, which ironically, makes accepting his increasingly intolerable situation at SNL all the more difficult to bear. When you are feeling insane, the insanity surrounds you is almost normal. When you are finally feeling normal, the insanity which surrounds you becomes unbearable.

The interesting anecdotes about various quirks with guests and cast members are contained primarily in the last chapter, and by the time I got to that chapter, I was quite simply, exhausted with the stress he had been under. I wanted some of his medication. I honestly felt sympathy for this guy I once considered to be a "bit player", but felt some cheer that immediately after leaving the show, he went on to FAR greater acclaim in "Jerry Macquire" and other movies.

To be fair to SNL, why he was underutilized in SNL isn't THAT much of a mystery -- he was on the show at the same time as Phil Hartman, Chris Farley, Adam Sandler, David Spade, Mike Meyers, Michael McKean, and other talent powerhouses. While he was moderately good on the show, he wasn't nearly as good as they were, and that left him with the title of the book -- gasping for airtime. Why Michaels brought him on board in the first place when his show already had significant talent and didn't need his sketches? No clue.

He's in a better place off that show, and I now have a different viewpoint to what I used to think was one of the greatest shows on television. I stopped watching it years ago, when it just seemed not terribly unique anymore. Now that I know what goes on behind the scenes, I'm kind of glad I'm not watching the end product. Basically, never ask how sausage is made. You won't want to eat it after you know.

The Good, the Bad, and the Very Ugly: A Hollywood Journey
The Good, the Bad, and the Very Ugly: A Hollywood Journey
Author: Sondra Locke
Book Type: Hardcover
  • Currently 3.3/5 Stars.
Review Date: 5/31/2009

I do pity her situation and admire her perseverance against a power house enemy, but I couldn't finish this book. I read the first two chapters, and the final two chapters, and everything in between I had to skim. Ultimately I had to 'wiki' it to get some basic facts. I just don't have enough time to read poorly written books. It's mawkish, clearly the work of an amateur, and sorely in need of a good editor. I love biographies and am not beyond reading a little dirt, but this was just a waste of time. I'm glad she prevailed and in fact set a legal precedent for similar cases which followed (this is not a spoiler inasmuch as this case has been a public record for years), but, Locke is no writer, and didn't have a good ghost writer.

A Guide to Modern AMerican Cooking
A Guide to Modern AMerican Cooking
Author: Pol Martin
Book Type: Hardcover
  • Currently 2/5 Stars.
Review Date: 5/2/2010

Well, this cookbook, A Guide to Modern American Cooking, is 1) not a guide 2) not modern and 3) most definitely not American.

The late Chef Pol Martin of Canada has put together what I suppose he views as "American Cuisine." He's wrong in most every way he could be wrong, starting with very odd chapter categories, but that doesn't mean there are not some worthwhile recipes here, with colorful photographs.

The chapters are presented in the following order:

Kebab it!
Budget Cooking
Outdoor Cooking
Grilled Fish

As you can see, not the traditional American Style of appetizers, breakfast, lunch, entrees, baked goods, grains, etc. Within those chapters, many non-traditional recipes with non-traditional ingredients are presented.

Here are some examples of "Modern American Recipes"

Lamb Kebobs
Layered Coquilles
Passion Fruit Kebabs
Plums with Jubilee Sauce
Anchovy Egg Noodles
Nicoise Bluefish
Boiled Beef
Cottage Cheese Sundaes (yep, use cottage cheese in place of ice cream)
Double Fish Kebabs
Cheese Topped Haddock
Fried Smelts
Curried Grouper
Fruit Cake
Mango Salad

Etc. Not very American, but interesting nevertheless. If you have a taste for more Canadian and British cuisine, you may find this an interesting cookbook. Ingredients are presented in both US measurements (volume) and Metric (weight). You won't find macaroni and cheese, pot roast, fried chicken and the like. You will find dozens of kebabs and salads and other "outdoorsy fare" best suited for entertaining.

How to Cook Everything: Bittman Takes on America's Chefs
How to Cook Everything: Bittman Takes on America's Chefs
Author: Mark Bittman
Book Type: Hardcover
  • Currently 2.3/5 Stars.
Review Date: 4/27/2009
Helpful Score: 2

This is the most disappointing cookbook I've ever read, and quite possibly -- no, definitely -- the worst photographed book I've ever seen. Pictures are out of focus, blurry, poor color. They look as if someone with a WalMart brand webcam snapped a photo of their lunch on their desk at work, uploaded it to Picasa, and then printed their own book.

**Update** I learned from someone in the restaurant biz that the recipes being cooked were being filmed and the publisher grabbed video stills from the shoot, scanned them, and uploaded those as photographs. That's why they are grainy, out of focus, have poor color, and look as if they came from a 1970s era television. Just awful.**

As for the recipes, they range from the very complicated to the very simple, but they are universally disappointing. For instance, the concept of "taking on America's Chefs" by creating competing, but substantially similar dishes, is just a joke in certain respects. Here's a perfect example:

One chef created a Persimmon Gelato. Bittman's answer, and his posted recipe was to freeze a persimmon and eat it with a spoon. I kid you not -- eat a frozen piece of fruit. That's his answer to the Persimmon Gelato, and, HIS idea of a frozen piece of fruit took up an entire page in this cookbook. Not that the recipe was long, mind you. Freeze a persimmon. Eat it with a spoon. It's just that presenting the original recipe on one page, and his response, on the other, he gets "two pages out of it" and he's that much closer to being done with this POS cookbook.

PASS this one up, cooks. Really, take it off your wish lists. It's not even worth the 1 point you'll spend to get it, and certainly not worth the $3.00 or so you'll pay to ship it to someone else.

Life of Pi
Life of Pi
Author: Yann Martel
Book Type: Paperback
  • Currently 3.7/5 Stars.
Review Date: 6/24/2008
Helpful Score: 2

I found this book completely fascinating, which was particularly gratifying because while I consider myself spiritual, I am not, in any way, a religious person. In fact I find most organized religions rather repellent, but theology from a historical perspective or non-preaching fictionalized standpoint, can be really fascinating, and this certainly fills the bill.

I found myself captivated by Pi and his companion, Richard Parker. His tale of survival, whether embellished or not, was gratifying and uplifting, and not so much *inspiring* to me as it was reassuring. We find the ability to accomplish things we never thought possible when we are faced with the most dire of circumstances, even if that means training a tiger in the middle of the open sea.

I remain captivated and sated by this story, so much so, that I have a large print of the image shown above, on the book, on my bedroom wall, as even the images of the aquatic life swimming under Pi is somehow comforting to me.

I am so very eager to see the film.

The Pea & Lentil Cookbook: From Everyday to Gourmet
The Pea & Lentil Cookbook: From Everyday to Gourmet
Book Type: Hardcover
  • Currently 4.5/5 Stars.
Review Date: 5/2/2010
Helpful Score: 1

I was anxious to get this book so I took it off my wish list and bought it from the Pea Council, directly (which is cheaper than Amazon). I am so glad I did -- I am really surprised how a "niche" book like one involving dried peas, chickpeas and lentils could be so varied and comprehensive, and yet it is. This is an *excellent* cookbook for both vegetarians and meat eaters alike, with many "I could have had a V8" moments when I realized how many different dishes could have lentils easily incorporated. Further, it gave me the great idea to immediately cook and puree a batch of lentils, to have the puree on hand for numerous baked recipes. I've had banana lentil muffins before and you'd be surprised how delicious they are, so when I saw an entire chapter of baked goods calling for pureed lentils, I knew I'd hit the jackpot. This was a really, really good buy for me. I hope it turns up for others on PBS! If not, don't buy it from Amazon ($34), get it from the Pea Council for much less ($19.99).

The Red Tent
The Red Tent
Author: Anita Diamant
Book Type: Hardcover
  • Currently 4.1/5 Stars.
Review Date: 6/24/2008

I found this book completely fascinating, which was particularly gratifying because while I consider myself spiritual, I am not, in any way, a religious person. In fact I find most organized religions rather repellent, but theology from a historical perspective or non-preaching fictionalized standpoint, can be really fascinating, and this certainly fills the bill.

I was not aware of the vague reference to the character of Dinah in the bible, and its suggestion of violence in her life, so I didn't come to the table with any background, curiosity, or knowledge about this character. Even so I found myself riveted by her story, that of her family, how groups lived in this time period, how they functioned, how they loved.

This book was also one of those page turners that you just keep reading, late at night, when your head nods off in bed and you jerk your eyes back open again and check to see where you left off on the page. It's one of those books I also sneaked into my office in my purse and when no one was looking, I read a few pages, under my desk.

Treasured Recipes from the Shipwreck Coast
Treasured Recipes from the Shipwreck Coast
Author: Jan M. Holt
Book Type: Paperback
  • Currently 3.8/5 Stars.
Review Date: 8/4/2012

I found the narrative by the woman who grew up in the lighthouse more interesting than the cookbook, as well as her description of her mother's and grandmother's recipes. I wish those had been included. Most of the recipes here were "contributed" and thus not necessarily vintage in origin -- although one of them is for Beaver and I have not seen too many Beaver recipes in current cookbooks. It's a charming read but not something I'd actually cook from for no particular reason. Nothing "grabbed me" as interesting enough to make, and there is a lot of seafood. I happen to love seafood, but I'm partial to our California methods of grilled or charred as opposed to baked with sauces, which makes more sense in a Shipwreck Coast environment.

Typhoid Mary : An Urban Historical
Typhoid Mary : An Urban Historical
Author: Anthony Bourdain
Book Type: Hardcover
  • Currently 3.3/5 Stars.
Review Date: 5/2/2010

This slim volume (148 pages) is a quick read (I started and finished during a 5 hour airline flight).

As other reviewers have pointed out, there are pages I skimmed and skipped because Bourdain didn't have a lot of material to work with (many details of Mary Mallon's life are lost to history) and thus filled the gaps with his customary over-the-top prose.

His style can be annoying at times, funny at others (but more annoying than funny). If you read Kitchen Confidential and remember his excessive use of colorful adjectives to describe vagabonds, scalawags, and the like, you'll certainly get your fill of them here. Example:

Chapter Two is simply titled "Typhoid Sucks."

-One sample sentence: "Popular objects of desire of the day were 'British Blondes', women who looked like the defensive line of the Pittsburgh Steelers."

-When Mary's stool samples positively identify her as a carrier of Typhoid, Bourdain writes: "Mary was now thoroughly and profoundly screwed."

In any case, getting past the hackish style, this is an interesting story, and I learned a lot more about Mary Mallon than I knew, but Bourdain still can't plug a lot of the gaps that will remain forever lost to history.

What we do know, is that she didn't kill the legions of people her name suggests. She was the "boogey woman" of the day, although not without reason (there were others far worse, at the same time).

That washing your hands is a really, really important thing.

That we are so fortunate to live in a time when medical advances help detect and treat these illnesses, and that we know about "carriers" who may not show symptoms and how to identify them and we don't ship carriers off to lonely islands to get rid of them.

That she brought a lot of this on herself by simply refusing to believe she was a carrier, and even if she didn't believe, by living so sloppy and with such disinterest and lack of self-respect (we already know from history that she died in absolute squalor with no reason at all for having done so) that she couldn't be bothered to wash her own feces off her hands when she cooked food. It's as simple as that.

And, as another reviewer pointed out, don't read this around supper time. You're going to be reading about feces and urine and squalor from page to page. Then you're going to wash your hands. A lot.

Witch: The True Story of Las Vegas' Most Notorious Female Killer
Witch: The True Story of Las Vegas' Most Notorious Female Killer
Author: Glen Puit
Book Type: Mass Market Paperback
  • Currently 3.6/5 Stars.
Review Date: 7/14/2008
Helpful Score: 4

Interesting story about a very odd, dysfunctional, troubled, and ultimate violent family. Brookey Lee West was convicted of murdering her mother and disposing of her remains by sealing them in a garbage can in a Las Vegas storage facility. This is not a spoiler inasmuch as the end result is presented immediately, and the book merely unravels how Mom may have come to be in the garbage can.

The murderous daughter, West, may have been responsible for the death of her brother and her husband as well, and left a trail of mayhem, frightened neighbors, and bad feelings everywhere she went.

This first-time author, a newspaper reporter, benefits from having an interesting story about oddball characters. This alone, I think, carries the day. Contrary to other reviewers who liked his writing style, I thought his writing was appalling, and the editorial work surprisingly bad.

While I admire his decision not to embellish conversations between parties that no one could possibly verify, which is to his credit, his decision to
"keep it real" by writing with gratuitous profanity surprised me. It surprises me even more that a savvy editor wouldn't say "cut the profanity where it isn't required." For instance, he describes various sexual encounters between West and her boyfriends and husband. He doesn't write "Brookey and her date had sex in the back seat of the car." No, he writes "They f**ked in back seat of the car." I'm no prude and profanity doesn't offend me -- bad writing DOES.

His spartan writing in one paragraph and then overuse of film noir metaphors in another paragraph, when relating a factual element, was also annoying. For instance, he'd be reciting facts in one paragraph and then switch to overuse of metaphors such as "a wind as hot as the burning fires of Hades."

He states up front he intentionally omitted the use of lengthy trial transcripts, which is good, but then spent FAR too much time delving into the personal habits or lifestyle of some relatively minor characters.

The pathologist for instance, who performed the autopsy. His medical background, and why he chose pathology, is interesting enough, without devoting multiple pages to the fact he enjoys rocking out in his residential garage, which he painted black, because he likes dark colors when he writes music. I suppose this was intended to add to the noir-ish aspects of the novel, but it didn't help. It just made me flip several pages ahead because I really couldn't care less what color the pathologist painted his garage.

If you can get beyond the hackneyed writing of newspaper reporter who got a big break writing the full length story of one of his most interesting assignments, the family dynamics are interesting enough to warrant picking this up. You'll need to flip through several sections of bad writing, however. This just speeds up the conclusion, which is a good thing.

A Year by the Sea: Thoughts of an Unfinished Woman
A Year by the Sea: Thoughts of an Unfinished Woman
Author: Joan Anderson
Book Type: Paperback
  • Currently 4/5 Stars.
Review Date: 9/24/2008
Helpful Score: 26

I must be the only reviewer who found this book absolutely irritating. The thought behind it -- excellent. I was actually jealous at the writer's ability to make a decision to take a year away from her marriage for reflection, and that she had the resources to do so. I relished the opportunity to curl up with her for a year, feeling sad, or happy, joyous or disappointed, as she wrote about her experience.

Instead, I found my forcefully slamming the book down at times, and at other times, heaving deep sighs of irritation and annoyance. I thought Joan was a whiner who didn't appreciate the abundance of riches she had available to her, to even think about this experiment, let alone carry it out.

Poor me, my marriage has grown stagnant. My children are grown. I'm lonely. I'm overweight. Join the club, sister. But, guess where you and most of your readers part company? Many of us are still slaving away at the 9-5 jobs which put food on the table and pay the rent or mortgage. We don't have options. We don't have Cape Cod getaway houses, multiple vehicles, royalty checks arriving, a savings account we can empty to make the leap, and a year of free time to write about our disappointments.

I don't begrudge her what she had. I just wish she would have had more tact, class and dignity not to write from a place where she felt she had to constantly lament her life, when she had more abundance -- an embarrassment of riches, really -- in that little cottage and the option to retreat to it, than legions of sad and lonely married women have.

I also have to hand it her to husband, estranged during this time, who took a few steps to make her grow up and stop whining. For instance, her cottage belonged to her family before she married and it came down through "her side of the family", not his. Long after she'd separated from her husband and moved to her cottage, and he'd moved to another state to start over a new career as well, the cottage needed a major repair. What did she do? Called him for financial help. Another PBS review states he "refused to help" and I think this was totally justified. The husband pointed out, and I think fairly so, that this was her house, her problem. He had bills, as well. Two mortgages to make (his new house, the old house), etc. It was her decision to take a year off and create this financially precarious situation, and she can't have it both ways -- the independence of living alone, and the expectation that her estranged husband would fix her house for her the minute something went wrong.

She then wrung her hands and lamented about what she had to do --- gasp --- GET A JOB and earn extra money digging clams and such, to pay for the repairs. Welcome to our world, Joan, the world populated by single, divorced women everywhere -- and with small children, working two jobs to make ends meet.

I also felt she used too much poetic rambling. She uses 10 words when she could use 5 and there was just such a sense of "Look at me, I'm a writer. I can write about a rainstorm and make it sound as if I'm watching it in technicolor."

I appreciate nature and all its glory, but the best way to cook fresh ingredients is to let them shine through with simple recipes. Ditto nature and her beautiful displays. You don't need to ramp up the poetry to help describe Mother Nature's beauty. We GET it.

I still envy her ability to take herself away to reflect, and I think she made some wonderful observations which many women, me included, will benefit from, gut good gosh, she was so annoying.

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