Near & Far

Heidi Swanson and her online recipe journal, 101 Cookbooks, have long been a favorite voice and site of mine in the food blogging sphere. Her recipes are healthy and easy to reproduce, vegetarian but adaptable to include meat. Her photography is clean, beautiful and captures a sense of place.

Her third cookbook, Near & Far: Recipes Inspired by Home and Travel, is my favorite publication of hers yet. She shares her experiences in traveling the world and how she has related to food both Near: at home in San Francisco and “en route” and Far: places including Morocco, Japan and India among others. Each location has its own chapter sharing stories, recipes from the area, and Swanson’s iconic photography to give a visual of the place.

The beginning of each chapter includes a few of her reflections about the country and a list of the recipes. She also includes a “pantry” list of ingredients that are commonly used in many of the recipes and will be helpful to have on hand. The recipes are generally recognizable names and ingredients with a clear bent towards the region they are featured in. All are very accessible in their technique. The book as a whole is her unique blend of experiencing cultures other than her own but creating flavor profiles in final dishes that are authentic to her standard of cooking and eating.  As she states in the Introduction, “Everything starts with me trying to garner a sense of place, particularly when I’m traveling. On the culinary front, I attempt to gain a basic understanding of the traditional culture of the cuisine I’m immersed in, gather some historical context, get a handle on what ingredients are typically used and which cooking techniques are deployed, and understand what people are cooking and why…..It’s from this vantage point that I begin to think about cooking and recipe development, and where I often find my own angle, voice and technique.”

The best complimentary piece to this book is the behind the scenes series that Swanson did to show how a cookbook is created from the beginning stages through the printing process. I knew almost nothing about the book process as a whole prior and it was really educational to see the way it all comes together. She traveled to Hong Kong and was able to have access to the book as it went through the printing, binding and finishing process.

Best uses for this book: vegetarian based recipes with international undertones; Swanson’s perspective and stories from her travels; pretty as a display book or decoration for reading short excerpts.

I received this book from Blogging for Books for this review.

The Broad Fork

We should all eat more vegetables, right?! Our family has been actively moving from meat centric meals to an increasingly vegetable based diet. I have shifted my perspective of vegetables from serving one as a side dish to viewing them as hearty enough to carry a meal. Books like The Broad Fork: Recipes for the Wide World of Vegetables and Fruit are invaluable to have in my home library. The recipes are organized by season and then by vegetable making it an easy and fast reference when I find that last vegetable in the fridge to cook up for dinner.


The recipes, almost all of them, sound (and look) mouth-watering. The layout is attractive and fun with the photographs a pleasant mixture of finished dishes and food in process.  That said, it is not going to be a book for the casual cook or one that is wanting the twenty-minute meal to put on the table, at least without significant planning. The ingredient lists are not simplistic and many include items that may be harder to find. But for the advanced home cook able and willing to source ingredients and prep according to the instructions they will be enjoying their vegetables in a new way.

The real gem of this book is the insight into Acheson’s life as a chef and a person. Throughout the book are in sets that share his knowledge, learning process, extra recipes, life as a chef, etc. In my opinion, this makes the book. I always enjoy learning about the personal and professional life of the chef/author and Acheson’s writing shows the sheer depth of his knowledge and ability as a chef. Many of the head notes to the recipes are highly educational giving history of the dish, ingredients, and confidence in the recipe following.

The Broad Fork will be a book I use when wanting to learn and grow as a cook. And in those times when we’re looking to try the same old vegetables in a new way.

I received this book from Blogging for Books for this review.

The Sprouted Kitchen Bowl + Spoon

Bowl + Spoon is my first experience from author and blogger Sara Forte. This book is an inspiration for how I would love to eat, everyday. As our family moves towards eating whole foods, mostly composed of fruits and veggies this book is an invaluable resource of recipes. And the scope of bowls – mornings, sides, big/mains, sweets, sauces – carries us through an entire day.


The ingredient lists are fresh, full flavored, lean and balanced. While not specifically falling into any one category for vegetarian, vegan, or gluten-free most of the recipes are easy to substitute to suit a variety of diets, with helpful head notes that include suggestions for the like. A number of recipes include items that we do not normally incorporate into our diet (tempeh, ahi tuna) but Forte makes them appealing and accessible when paired with common ingredients (chickpeas, cauliflower, rice) and bright, appealing flavors (ancho chilies, tahini, za’atar).

The recipe head notes are informative and personable. The layout of the recipes is one of my favorites in recent cookbook releases. Plus, the book lies flat when open on the counter! The ingredients list is easy to read and the directions are concise and straightforward. Forte’s tone is conversational and realistic in her suggestions. The photographs, done by Forte’s professional photographer husband Hugh, are phenomenal. Sun soaked, mid-action and composed shots that make the food truly drool worthy.

Recipes we’ve tried so far:

  • Pumpkin Pie Steel Cut Oats (really, really good and a welcome change from our standard steel-cut oats)
  • Lentil and Rice Bowls with Summer Vegetable Kabobs (one of my favorites! and company worthy too)
  • Strawberry Tabbouleh (we’ve made this more than once already and I love having it leftover in the fridge)
  • Summer Quinoa Salad (my least favorite; I didn’t love the quinoa and Josh said it was to mustard-y for him)
  • Yogurt Ranch Dressing (ate this on homemade cobb salads, a perfect pairing)

Forte’s book has become one of my favorite books to plan our family’s weekly meals from. When cooking from it I know we’ll eat healthy throughout the week with a variety of foods and loads of vegetables. As a mother I appreciate the ease of serving one dish that incorporates a balanced meal.

I received this book from Blogging for Books for this review.

Homemade Decadence

I have followed Joy Wilson’s blog for a handful of years now and her first book, Joy the Baker Cookbook: 100 Simple and Comforting Recipes, has become one of my go-to books for reliable, always hit-the-spot desserts. Since hearing about it, I looked forward to her sophomore release, Homemade Decadence. It exceeded my expectations in style (hardcover!), photographs (styled but realistic) and the array of recipes from brunch to classic pies and on trend ingredient pairings.

homemade decadence

Homemade Decadence is a collection of well crafted recipes that clearly reflects Wilson’s unique tone and signature use of interesting ingredients where you otherwise might not expect them. While the recipes are accessible in technique the ingredients shine and give the appropriate wow factor.

And an entire chapter on ice cream! We have gotten into the habit of making almost all of the ice cream we eat. For such an indulgent food it helps us follow the code of ‘if we don’t make it, we don’t eat it.’ The French Vanilla Bean ice cream is so good that it has become the vanilla ice cream recipe I use. Honestly though, I haven’t had a single flop come from this book, and so far we’ve tried:

  • french onion quiche
  • bourbon-chocolate pecan pie bars
  • strawberry-ginger crumb cobbler
  • chocolate-malted oatmeal cookies with salted peanuts
  • under-baked chocolate chip skillet cake
  • double peanut butter ice cream
  • french vanilla bean ice cream

Both of her books, and the blog too, are most often what I reach for when planning dessert for a meal with friends. I have never had a recipe fail and the variety means there is always something that will work perfectly.

I received this book from Blogging for Books for this review.

2015 Reading Goal: April Update

We moved this month.

I read: nothing, absolutely nothing

Instead, I

searched for a home to buy,

lamented that we’d never find something that we liked and could afford

almost immediately after complaining, found the perfect one that exceeded our expectations and kept us firmly within our budget

waited on the sellers; did ALL THE PAPERWORK for lending; waited longer on sellers

packed everything we own into boxes I hope we don’t use for a very long time

cleaned and painted our rental home to perfection for our demanding landlord

moved every last bit (who owns all this stuff?!) to the new home

and have started to slowly unpack settle.

And now I’m reading again.

an easter meal

I love cooking for holidays. I love learning why people eat what they do for traditions. I love having a crowded table and many side dishes. The din of chatter and excitement of children. Menu planning is enjoyable and I’m a nerd that finds satisfaction in putting a meal together within parameters of allergies and dislikes and traditional foods.

We have a family that lives near us that are good friends from our college years. Neither of us have extended family in town and we often celebrate the holidays together when we’re not traveling. For the Easter meal I needed to take into consideration: seven children under 10; no MSG and gluten-free (most or all of the dishes); the odd position of living in a house that is partially packed for moving along with trying to eat through our freezer and cabinets and while conserving our food budget.

Here is the meal we enjoyed:

deviled eggs – Josh asked for ‘normal’ ones, so I suppressed my desire to make all the exciting recipes I saw.

honey bourbon glazed ham – This one failed, sadly. The ham was delicious, but generally a spiral cut ham is. The honey bourbon glaze seized on me and I could not get it to recover. I fell back on the brown sugar glaze packet that came with the ham. It tasted fine but solidified quickly. Most of us dipped our ham in the whiskey butter glaze from the carrots.

chipotle scalloped potatoes from The Homesick Texan, Lisa Fain – These have been a staple at the last few holiday meals. I find they are the perfect creamy, cheesy potatoes with a good spicy flavor to cut through the richness.

whiskey-glazed carrots from The Pioneer Woman – Whiskey and butter is always a good plan.

dinner rolls – I used frozen Rhoades ones as I didn’t have time to make them from scratch

fresh pineapple – I personally love pineapple and ham together.

lemon cheesecake w/ brown sugar almond crust – This dessert was the winner! I don’t often make cheesecakes. Josh doesn’t like them and I’d prefer to not eat an entire one myself. This one had a lighter, more fluffy texture than most and the three layers took it up a notch.

birthday dinner

One of the sweetest friends I know celebrated her birthday recently! The last time we were in their home for a meal she handed me a butter knife and asked me to assist with dinner and cut an apple. Her knife ‘collection’ is hilarious, even to her. We have often laughed about her knives.

We had their family over for dinner and to gift her with my current favorite knife, the J.A. Henckels International Classic 8-inch Chef’s Knife. It’s a sturdy knife that has a good weighted feel to it and is easy to handle. It is the primary knife I use for cooking. I hope she loves it!

Between our two families we have six kids, all under the age of 9. I always prefer to plan a meal that allows the kids to eat the components separately, allowing for pickiness but without preparing a second meal. For the birthday dinner we had:

big steak salad from The Pioneer Woman – I make it as-is on the recipe and we built our own salads so everyone could choose what they wanted.

green beans boiled and tossed with a butter and lemon juice


simply delicious strawberry cake from Paula Deen – a southern classic the birthday girl requested

2015 Reading Goal: March Update

March was a whirlwind for us. We made the decision to start looking for a home to purchase in the area. For me the search swung from “we’re going to live off the land with an outhouse in the boonies” to “this is the perfect home!” within a matter of two weeks. After our offer was accepted we’ve been keeping a frenetic pace to line up financing, inspections, ALL THE PAPERWORK, showings for our current home, and packing along with the details of our normal routine.

Needless to say, I haven’t sat down to read very often, but here is what I finished in March, both I listened to as audiobooks.

My Life In France by Julia Child

This was an interesting read, though I found it difficult to fully engage with it. Previously I only knew the commonly known basics about Julia Child’s life. I’ve seen her TV show a handful of times over the years, but I don’t currently own any of her cookbooks. The book skirts the line between essay style memoir stories and chronologial autobiography. While overall the method works there were times I found myself wondering why they left chronological details out until I remembered it was supposed to lean towards essay style.

Perhaps the most interesting part, to me, was the full scope of a life written in a book. Julia herself was in her late eighties and early nineties when she wrote the book with Alex Prud’Homme, and she died during the writing process. The perspective of having lived an entire life time lends itself to wisdom and ‘hind sight’ perspective. It’s interesting to ponder an entire lifetime and choose what to say about it.

The Power of Habit by Charles Duhigg

I found this book to be fascinating in almost every aspect. It is well written and engaging, especially considering a majority of the book is presenting research and studies to present the habit theories. Duhigg examines human behavior and psychology as it relates to our habits both by choice and involuntarily. I learned the reasoning behind why we develop the habits we do which also equips us to change the habits we no longer want to have.

Reading this book has triggered an ongoing introspective period for me. There are habits I’d like to develop – running, drinking enough water, sleeping better – and in thinking about how to take steps forward to develop them into habits I’ve started to really think about what I spend my time doing and why. I’m finding that the commitments I make are always at the sacrifice of something else and I’m weighing my options differently. I’d like to find balance and develop healthy habits.

2015 reading goal

I am a reader. As in, total nerd. We regularly visit the library and I always have an audio book on tap that I listen to while cleaning, driving, exercising, etc. I recently migrated my “to read” list onto Goodreads from an Amazon wish list. It’s made a world of difference for organizing and adding books.

This year I’ve decided to read all those books I’ve added to my list but have never touched. Some have been sitting on the list for years. I tend to go to the library or bookstore and choose something new and exciting to read, while amassing recommendations on my list that I ignore for the most part. Some are physical books on my shelves that I’ve purchased but have never read.

Last week I took everything on the list, deleted ones I’m no longer interested in and sorted it into categories (again, nerd alert). There are a lot of books still listed and it’s not completely realistic that I’ll finish them all. But I’ll consider it a success if I don’t pick up anything that’s not already listed.

I’m utilizing Goodreads reading challenge for 2015 to track my progress. And hopefully encourage me to stay on track.

Here they are by category, but in no particular order:















Cookbooks I’d like to own:


Shake Cover

One of my favorite food books published in 2014 was Shake: A New Perspective on Cocktails. From creators of the Mason Shaker and other bar accessories, Eric Prum and Josh Williams, authored a beautiful, accessible book on cocktails. It lives up to its name as a “new perspective” via a variety of seasonal drinks made from whole foods that are commonly found in stores or even your own garden. There are no rare pre-made mixes or highly processed foods in the recipes. As they state, “We believe wholeheartedly that the idea of eating locally and seasonally should apply to cocktails just as it applies to cooking.” This philosophy is evident in each recipe.

While we’re not heavy drinkers, Josh and I both enjoy a solid mixed drink or great beer (Trappistes, anyone?!) from time to time. We almost always drink at home as we’re too cheap to pay the cost of drinks at restaurants and bars, unless it’s a special occasion. And I’ll often include a coordinating cocktail into the dinner menu when having guests over. It’s easy to choose what goes well with the menu as the drinks are organized by season and there is easy recognition of ingredients that pair well with the other food I’m preparing.

Screen Shot 2015-01-01 at 10.16.13 PM

The “cocktail crafting 101” is valuable in developing a stock of delicious liquor, equipment and bar vernacular. The entire tone of the book fits into their statement that “cocktails should be fun, simple and social.” It reads like a conversation with educated friends.

The photography is clean and appealing while keeping a down to earth visage. Each recipe has an overhead shot of all the components to give you a quick read on the flavor components of the drink. The photos of the prepared drinks make them look irresistible and many one ingredient and “action” shots are included.

Shake ingredients

This book, coupled with the mason shaker makes for a perfect celebration or “just because” gift for a friend, colleague, and family member. Or yourself. I won’t judge.

I received this book from Blogging for Books for this review.