Review – Super Natural Everyday: Well Loved Recipes from Natural Foods Kitchen

Super Natural Everyday: Well Loved Recipes from Natural Foods Kitchen

By Heidi Swanson

Ten Speed Press

ISBN: 9781580082778

5 stars

I’ve never reviewed a cookbook before but I thought I’d give it a shot.  Besides, it’s a book I love, I’ve cooked many of the recipes, several are now staples, and none have let me down.  Since I don’t know where to start with a cookbook review, (I’m sure I don’t really need to do anything different but in my head this is what I’m thinking so go with me.) I thought the best way to do it would be to talk about what gems I found among the recipes.

Confession up front — I did not follow the recipes precisely.  I never do when it comes to cooking, and besides I don’t always have all the ingredients, but I’m always sure I can make it work.  This is why some of my friends hate cooking with me — I make it up sometimes!  🙂 Isn’t that the beauty of cooking though?

I was planning to include pictures but I don’t want you to judge the food by my awful camera work.  If you check out the author’s blog, 101 Cookbooks, (which you should do because it’s a wonderful blog and she includes not only the most tasty food but is an amazing photographer) she has food photos so fabulous they’ll make you want to lick your screen.  Yep, I said that.  Moving on…

This is a book of vegetarian recipes, I eat veggie for the most part, and my husband is a good sport and willing to try most things. The beautiful thing about this book is its diversity and mix and match ability of the recipes. I’m sure a few would also work as side dishes for chicken or fish just as well. These are also hearty recipes — you won’t be hungry an hour later which was a big complaint of my husband when I would make an all veggie meal. He’s yet to say that about any of the recipes from this book. We aren’t big eaters and by that I mean we don’t go in for monster, huge meals but we do like to feel as though we ate dinner.

This book contains recipes for breakfast, lunch, snacks, dinner, drinks, and treats. There is also a section on accompaniments and I’m dying to try and make my own whole grain mustard.

The recipes I’ve tried (which is really a small portion but I do plan to make my way through this one) and loved:

Harissa Ravioli

Tortellini Salad

Tutti-Frutti Crumble (a version of it with my own take)

Broccoli Gribiche (this is seriously one of my favorite recipes in the whole book)

White Beans and Cabbage (another great one and a way to deal with that massive head of cabbage that seems to arrive with our CSA that I don’t know what to do with)

Mostly Not Potato Salad

Wild Rice Casserole

Whole Grain Rice Salad

Open-Face Egg Sandwich

There are a lot of recipes in this book so please don’t let my short list be misleading. This is a cookbook I will go back to and have on several occasions when I don’t know what I want to cook and need ideas. The recipes are easy to follow and while I don’t always have the ingredients on hand, I know that substituting will not cause any major problems. The photos are also fantastic. If you’re looking for something new to add to your kitchen, I recommend this one.

Review – The Last Days of Henry VIII: Conspiracies, Treason, and Heresy at the Court of the Dying Tyrant

The Last Days of Henry VIII: Conspiracies, Treason, and Heresy at the Court of the Dying Tyrant

By Robert Hutchinson

William Morrow

ISBN: 9780060837334

2.75 stars

Oh the Tudors. What a bunch you are — paranoid, mean-spirited, mean, gluttonous, and in the case of Henry, horny. This book only deals with his last years so a lot of the horny court play had run its course already and what was left was a sick, dying man sadly looking for companionship in his last days.

For a man so concerned with his public image and legacy, specifically an heir, he’s remembered much differently than I’m sure he ever thought possible even in his wildest dreams. In his later years, Henry was incredibly obese and most likely spent every minute of his last days in pain. His ulcerated legs constantly oozed. His diet of meat, meat, and more meat caused digestion issues, and he still worried about maintaining appearances. He’s an interesting figure and it’s obvious why so many people want to write books about him and the Tudor court. Honestly though, a book about Henry’s PR machine is something I’d probably read though.

It’s his final wife, Katherine Parr, who brings his family back together though. Welcoming Mary and Elizabeth into the fold and Henry, at this point, adds them to his succession line. His heir, Edward, dies at the young age of 16, Mary turns out to not be the best at ruling, but Elizabeth, well, she turns out to be Henry’s true legacy. Interesting how that works sometimes isn’t it?

This book is broken into chunks meaning each chapter is about a certain aspect of his life — his sickness, his will, his last queen, and his death. While it’s interesting to see these aspects broken down this way, the timeline gets muddles and I found it slightly hard to follow in terms of what year it was and what was important.

I’ve read a lot about the Tudors, both fact and fiction, and some of this felt too familiar to be as interesting as I wanted it to be. I’m glad I picked it up and I’m sure it’ll add a new perspective to my next Tudor historical fiction read. I realize that while I am sort of tired (sort of bored would be a better way to put it) of the Tudors, I know I’ll probably pick up another book about them and I’m not sure why. Perhaps that will be many days down the road though.

Teaser Tuesdays

Teaser Tuesdays is a weekly meme, hosted by MizB of Should Be Reading.  The idea is to give everyone a look inside the book you’re reading.

Play along: Grab your current read; Open to a random page; Share two teaser sentences from that page; Share the title and author so other participants know what you’re reading.

I’m starting The Last Days of Henry VIII: Conspiracies, Treason, and Heresy at the Court of the Dying Tyrant by Robert Hutchinson.

“Henry VIII – ‘by the grace of God, King of England, France and Lord of Ireland, Defender of the Faith and the Church of England … on earth the Supreme Head’ – finally departed his long, troubled life, friendless and lonely, at around two o’clock in the morning on Friday 28 January 1547.  The golden glory of his spry, gallant youth had years ago faded away and the radiant European prince of the Field of the Cloth of Gold in 1520 had decayed into a bloated, hideously obese, black-humoured old man, rarely seen in public during his last month.”  (pg. 13 of 273)

Review – Cleopatra: A Life

Cleopatra: A Life

By Stacy Schiff

Little, Brown & Company

ISBN: 978-0-316-12180-4

4 stars

She’s been portrayed as a seductress, a whore, a queen, a brilliant woman, a trailblazer, and was even played by Elizabeth Taylor in a role she’ll always be remembered for.  But who was the woman we know as Cleopatra?  Accounts of her life vary so greatly I believe what I personally know about her is probably based more on a pop culture standard than on reality.  Reading about her makes me wonder how a woman so smart — she was an extremely well-educated woman for her time able to speak several languages — could manage to both get herself into and out of trouble so many times.  Cleopatra managed to rule a kingdom, make it prosper, and seduce two Roman rulers without an uprising occurring in Egypt during her reign.  By any standard, she deserves a place in history.

Unfortunately, and I’ve encountered this before in reading about ancient women, her story is told by men and through the men in her life which means a good portion of the book is set aside for Julius Caesar and Marc Antony.  Frankly, they both played such enormous roles in her life that it would be impossible to exclude either in the telling of her story, but many recorders of history, mostly Roman men, preferred to write her life story as one of luck, scandal, sheer bravado, sheer stupidity (depending on who is doing the writing), and in some cases, slightly in wonder of her.  Cicero ’s take on Cleopatra is infuriating but he’s no fan of women in general and there was no expectation that he would treat Cleopatra, even though a queen in her own right, with anything nearing awe or even dignity.  Granted, many of her acts — her first appearance before Julius Caesar she is smuggled into his presence in a burlap bag — aren’t so regal.  Her trip to Rome to visit Caesar is though and that’s where this book shines.

Schiff takes a story about a woman we know and strips away many of the generalizations about her and presents someone still recognizable but also intriguing.  She starts off with her education which is amazing for the time period considering most women, and definitely most Roman women, were never educated at all.  She could speak several languages which made beguiling audiences and male rules rather easy.  She created a currency system with denominations and managed a vast wealth without losing it to the men in her life.  Egypt prospered with her as queen and she built what some consider wonders of the ancient world.  Sadly, none survive to this day and most likely collapsed in a giant earthquake and now rest underwater leaving readers to imagine what an amazing site Alexandria must have been in her day.

Cleopatra in many ways helped to create the image of her that we have today.  Inscriptions and temple carvings still exist of her and her children in Egypt and she was a master of managing her image.  Her identity with the goddess Isis and the luxurious ways in which she inhabited her life would cause anyone to be impressed, especially a general like Marc Antony who was easily impressed, had little to no money, and couldn’t manage it when he did happen to get it.  He was also a womanizer and easily taken in by Cleopatra and the impressive world of her Egypt.

I realize this isn’t necessarily helpful as a review and I haven’t told you much in general about the book itself.  Sometimes I admit to having trouble reviewing non-fiction books since there isn’t a plot to follow but if anyone’s life would read like a novel, it would be Cleopatra’s.

If you’re looking for some good non-fiction, pick this one up.  You’ll walk away fascinated and full of facts you’ll want to spout off to everyone you meet.

Review – Demon Fish: Travels Through the World of Sharks

Demon Fish: Travels Through the World of Sharks

By Juliet Eilperin

Pantheon Books

ISBN: 978-0-375-42512-7

4 stars

Sharks.  Fish to be feared?  Or, should we be exchanging our fear for awe?  These ancient fish that have evolved for eons are now facing decimation, and in the case of certain species, humans are the ones doing the killing.  As the author points out, sharks are hard to love.  They aren’t soft and fuzzy and they’re saddled with all those teeth that look ready to take a leg off.  How do you make that appealing?  I found Demon Fish a very enjoyable read but I’m one of those people that believes sharks can be lovable or at the very least fascinating.

Traveling to South Africa, Papua New Guinea, Hong Kong, and Belize, Eilperin meets with shark callers, scientists, shark evangelists, fisherman, environmentalists, restaurateurs selling shark fin soup, and even meets a few sharks up close.  It’s all done in an attempt to understand what draws people to sharks with all their sharp teeth and fins.  Frankly, in some instances, it’s cold hard cash but for others, it’s true admiration.  Each though has a strange reverence for the fish even the ones that make their living off dead sharks.

It’s full of facts: what it takes to track a shark, DNA studies, the cost of shark fins, and shark fishing.  I found myself constantly amazed by the cash amounts assigned to certain parts of a shark’s anatomy.  I also wanted to follow my husband around citing random shark facts at him.  Considering my husband doesn’t share my love of sharks, he would have found this really annoying.  🙂  I would have found it enlightening and fun.

I’ve mentioned this before; I’m a huge fan of the Discovery Channel’s Shark Week.  I actually wrote this while watching an episode on great whites so I guess it’s fitting that I’m posting it today.  While this book focused on the economy of sharks — their worth on the open market as well as their scientific and ecological worth — I enjoyed it.  I would have liked more information about specific species (Have you ever heard of a salmon shark or a goblin shark?) but that wasn’t the focus of the book, however, it was still a satisfying read.  If you have an interest in sharks, this is a good addition to your library.

Today’s Book – Non-Fiction & Travelogues

Today, I’m highlighting three books on my TBR.  I’ve said before that I want to read more non-fiction this year and while I haven’t stuck with my one non-fiction book a month idea, I have added several to my list.  Let’s take a look.

Cabinet of Roman Curiosities: Strange Tales and Surprising Facts from the World’s Greatest Empire by JC McKeown – I love strange facts about ancient Rome and this one promises to provide me with facts for days about Roman life, superstitions, and customs.

Without Reservations: The Travels of an Independent Woman by Alice Steinbach – This one appealed to me because her travels are centered in Europe.  It’s also got a bit of the finding yourself theme that I don’t so much like but I think I can look past that to enjoy the travel part.

Turn Right at Machu Picchu: Rediscovering the Lost City One Step at a Time by Mark Adams – We live near the Peruvian embassy in DC.  Right now they have banners up celebrating the discovery of Machu Picchu and the photos on the banners make me want to get on a plane.  I also have a friend that hiked the trail this year so there are many reasons this one appeals.

Anything interesting on your list?

Review – Livia, Empress of Rome: A Biography

Livia, Empress of Rome: A Biography

By Matthew Dennison

St. Martin’s Press

ISBN: 978-0-312-65864-9

3.5 stars

A few years ago I read a biography of Augustus, the first emperor of Rome, and loved it.  I moved on to a biography of Cicero but never finished it; my interest in ancient Rome waning slightly on the non-fiction front.  My husband, knowing I enjoy reading about this time period, brought home this biography for me and in an effort to read more non-fiction this year, Livia, Empress of Rome made it to the top of pile quickly.

Livia’s life is told through the men in her life.  Starting with her father, then her first husband, the affair she has with Octavian, the man who would become Augustus, and then her sons.  For ancient Romans, who could be meticulous when it came to noting things of importance, weren’t so good about record keeping when it came to women.  Even the date of Livia’s birth is speculation but easy enough to pin down to a year or two.  Her first marriage is rather undocumented much like her birth but it’s when she meets and begins an affair with Octavian that her life seems to become more definitive.  Divorcing her first husband, and merely three days after giving birth to her second son, Livia marries Octavian and she embarks on the journey of becoming one of the first women in ancient Rome to be called empress.

Constantly accused of being manipulative and power hungry, her marriage to Octavian, who is on a path of power himself, surprises no one.  In fact, the descriptions of Livia are less than flattering but that doesn’t stop her husband from portraying her as the pious, divine, and picture of goodness he wants her and every other woman in Rome to be.  The marriage of Livia and Octavian was probably based on love considering Livia never gave birth to a child of Octavian’s and he could have easily divorced her in favor of a woman who could bear him sons.  Apparently though, it didn’t stop Octavian from having affairs which considering his pious public persona, was quite amusing to read about.  Octavian, now Augustus, dies without a son or heir but being ancient Rome, the act of adoption is not unknown and he adopts Livia’s son Tiberius in order keep a line of succession.  For a man who planned everything, not having an heir had to be distressing considering each time he named someone they died.  Rumors abounded that it was Livia who was scheming to put her son Tiberius in line and poisoned the others.  These rumors of poisoning actually followed her throughout her life and beyond but nothing was ever proven.

I have to say for a book that in parts felt dry, and I found myself somewhat annoyed at times when I wanted the book to more about Livia and not the men she was surrounded by, I have so much to say about it.  It wasn’t the best book I’ve read or the best biography, but it was good.  Obviously, writing about someone whose life took place in ancient times is difficult and though this one wasn’t what I thought it was going to be, it was interesting enough.