Review: “The Poisoned City” by Anna Clark

One of my pet peeves is lazy journalism, the kind that “quotes” studies without naming them, the type that simply copies someone else’s article without fact checking, the brand that presents conclusions as facts without providing the manner in which it arrived there. Luckily, Anna Clark is not a lazy journalist. The preparation for her non-fiction book “The Poisoned City” about the Flint water crisis obviously involved a lot of painstaking research supported by extensive footnotes, and her own conclusions, presented in the epilogue, are nothing if not comprehensible. Ms Clark presents a lot of facts and figures but managed to do it in an engaging manner and without resorting to playing on heartstrings too frequently (although I personally would have left out the quote by the lady whose dogs died from lead poisoning, only because someone who is smart enough to not let her family use suspicious water but thinks nothing of letting her dogs drink it is not really a sympathetic character).

“The Poisoned City” is a book about politics, chemistry, medicine, about financial (mis-)management, environmental protection, and why it is important for a community to band together when the cause requires it, because we are indeed stronger together than when we stand alone. The story of the Flint water crisis is important because its underlying problems affect all of us living in the United States today, and simply sticking your head in the sand and hoping for favorable winds isn’t going to help. It teaches lessons that we should at least be aware of, because in the end, we are all equally responsible for ensuring that our vision of democracy is put into practice in an inclusionary manner.

I very highly recommend this book to anyone, whether you’re interested in the topics mentioned above, enjoy a good fact-based thriller, or are simply a fan of great writing.

“The Poisoned City” is published by Henry Holt & Company. I received a free copy in exchange for a review via Netgalley. All opinions are my own.

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Review: “Ohio” by Stephen Markley

“Do you ever review fiction?” my husband asked the other day. As a matter of fact, I do (and have, here, here, here, and here). It just seems to be an easier task to get hold of good non-fiction. There must be a LOT of reviewers vying for the approval lists for fiction titles. Sometimes, I get lucky. And sometimes, I get very lucky. “Ohio” is one of those latter instances of a lot of luck. I may be having a bear of a time finding employment, but at least the reading list stays interesting.

“Ohio” is the debut novel of author Stephen Markley, a man so mysterious that his biography contains less factual content than the first two sentences of this post. I would love to know why he decided to set his story in the fictional midwestern town of New Canaan (for fact lovers: there is a Canaan, Ohio, although I cannot say how much or if at all it has influenced the description of the setting in the book). I live only one state over, however, and many of the problems of the area more or less affectionately named “the Rust Belt”, like dying industry and shrinking agriculture, apply across the swath of the upper Midwest.

The novel drops us into a memorial parade for a young soldier, a son of New Canaan, killed in action only a handful of years after high school graduation. Ah, you think to yourself, this is about the dead kid! It could have been, but it isn’t. The next chapters introduce us to people from Rick’s circle, both close and not so close. As each character has his or her story told, the voice changes accordingly. If you are easily confused by storytelling techniques such as this, you’ve been warned. Aha!, you might exclaim, it’s about something that connects all these kids! Definitely warmer. There is indeed a common thread here, at first barely perceptible, but naggingly present, even if its true meaning is not revealed until much later.

There is also a character study here, although it’s not of people, it’s of a town. Sure, you nod, there are lots of points to New Canaan that I recognize. And you will, as I did, but again, don’t take things at face value here. This is not about The Town Next Door, so to speak, but goes much deeper. New Canaan is a place that breeds its own kind of horror and tragedy, and what will hook you in and make you stay with the narrative until its breathtaking conclusion is the realization that, perhaps, nobody who has spent any real time in this town gets away unscathed – not even minor characters.

Adjectives like “breathtaking,” “heartstopping,” and the ever-overused “stunning” give me goosebumps, and not for a good reason, but where “Ohio” is concerned, they are not only applicable but true. When I finished the book, I felt as if someone had clonked me in the head with a shovel: I was unable to do anything but sit there and breathe, until I had collected myself. That is why “Ohio” is hands down THE best novel I have read this year, and why you should not miss it when it comes out in August!

“Ohio” is published by Simon & Schuster. I received a free copy of this novel from the publisher via Netgalley in exchange for a review. All opinions are my own.

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Review: “Stuffed!” by Marlena Kur

Maybe you’re one of those people who loves the idea of stuffing fillings into vegetables, but you’re running out of ideas. Maybe you enjoy surprising your guests (or yourself) with amazing-looking, easy-to-make dishes. Maybe you collect gorgeous cookbooks. If you recognize yourself in any of these statements, “Stuffed!” is for you.

Marlena Kur, the author of this book and the website Zest My Lemon, has a passion for beautiful food that is also good for you. Presenting fruits and veggies as ‘boats’ loaded with yummy stuffings is how she expresses it here. Most people are familiar with stuffed tomatoes of some sort, stuffed peppers, and probably zucchini, but have you tried stuffed mushrooms, eggplant, sweet potato, or even fruit? There are hot and cold stuffings, some including meats, some seafood, some simply veggies, with or without grains and/or cheese, and no repeats. All ingredients should be easily available at the supermarket, although some may be seasonal, depending on where you live. Although not every single recipe comes with one, the included photos are appetizing and attractively arranged. This is definitely not a diet book and thus does not include nutritional information for the recipes. If this is an important consideration for you, now you know.

Because it is not suitable to my own dietary lifestyle, I wouldn’t get this book for myself, but I can see myself getting a copy for my stepmother who is an enthusiastic cook and for whom presentation is nearly as important as the dish itself.

“Stuffed!” is published by Race Point Publishing, a subsidiary of the Quarto Publishing Group. I have reviewed a few titles from them on this blog and can honestly say that a lot of care goes into their books. I received a preview copy from the publisher via Netgalley in exchange for a review. All opinions are my own.

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Review: “Plant-Powered Beauty” by Amy Galper and Christina Daigneault

You’d almost think I was on a DIY trip, the way I’m reviewing two beauty guides in a row! This is actually rather serendipitous; I’d requested both, just in case I didn’t get approved for one, and ended up with both. As it turns out, they complement each other rather well. So let’s not dilly-dally any further and get on with the post!

“Plant-Powered Beauty” is an amazing, in-depth resource for anyone wishing to learn the behind-the-scenes science of creating not only your own beauty products, but your very own recipes. Ms Galper and Ms Daigneault, certified aromatherapists, spend the better half of the three hundred-odd pages of this book giving you all the tools you will ever need to do exactly that. As you would expect, you begin by examining the skin. What is it, what does it do, and how does it do it? You’ll learn all about components of skin care, how to combine them in which format to arrive at a desired result, and you will find out how to prepare and store your recipes to get the most out of them. When I said ‘the better part,’ I was not kidding. Part 1 of the book ends roughly in the middle of it, but all throughout this first, as well as the remaining, half you’ll see info boxes and whole pages with additional information inserted. You are in good hands here! One little quibble I have is with the section “Nice to have equipment”: in a setting where hygiene is of the utmost important, bottle brushes are not a pleasant afterthought but essential. They are dirt cheap, too, so there is no reason at all not to add them to your at-home beauty laboratory.

Part 2 begins on page 153. This is where you can begin making products with some 50 recipes, from face cream and body butter to hair treatments (including pomade, although fans of a certain film are left in the dark how this compares to Dapper Dan), deodorant, mouthwash, bug spray, pain relief gel, and massage oil. There is quite a variety! I particularly love the final recipe section, Mind-Body Care, which includes aromatherapy bath tea bags, various salves, roll-ons, and even inhalers for those moments when you’re desperate for some serenity. Please note that some recipes call for honey or beeswax, although there is a discussion on how to substitute different plant-derived waxes, at least. One thing I found a bit odd was the fact that the introductory notes to the recipes come after the list of equipment and ingredients needed. I prefer the actual recipe body to be as uncluttered as possible, but I realize not everyone cares.

Finally, there is a fairly extensive resources list, lots of notes referred to in the text, a glossary, an index, and a separate recipe index (super helpful!). If you want to develop your own body care recipes, this is definitely the guide for you. Do realize, though, that because you’ll possibly be making your own herbal infusions and other vital parts of your recipes,  you will need to plan ahead, possibly even months ahead. If you’re just looking for some quick ideas you can whip up for an impromptu spa day, you would be better off with the book from my previous review.

“Plant-Powered Beauty” is published by BenBella Books. I received a free copy via Netgalley in exchange for a review. All opinions are my own.

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Review: “Pure Skin Care” by Stephanie L. Tourles

Whaaat, another review already? What is going on here? Yes, I do seem rather prolific this week, but I’m eager to get through some of the excellent non-fiction titles so that I can give you a few awesome fiction titles to meet!

My interest in natural skin care first arose in my teen years. Like so many of my peers, I was plagued with acne and sought both to alleviate the ugly, red pimples and reduce the appearance of my pores. Because I had better things to spend my allowance on than expensive creams and tinctures (hello! Books and music, of course!), and because I’ve always enjoyed stirring things together, I experimented with making my own products. Over the years, I’ve bought, read, and discarded a number of instruction manuals on the subject, but this is one I would actually get for myself.

“Pure Skin Care” is divided into two major parts. In part one, you learn what skin is made of and what it does for you, how to determine your skin type, and how best to pamper it. From the get-go, you’ll find the chapters augmented by info boxes to deepen your understanding on the given subject. You’ll also find out how to choose your tools and containers to store your products safely, and there is an introduction to basic techniques to make the magic happen.

As you might have guessed, part two is all about recipes. The remaining four chapters provide a plethora of easy-to-make products that will have you glowing from face to feet. Notice that haircare is not covered in this book; after all, hair is not skin. Every recipe notes which skin type the product is recommended for and comes with easy instructions on making, storing, and using it. The vast majority is vegan-friendly, although some recipes include honey, yoghurt, or buttermilk. I love that a good number already reside in my fridge and pantry: the best for your skin without having to empty your wallet or spend loads of time searching for exotic items. Friends of short ingredient lists will love this book: some recipes require only one or two items, and most can be made with a small handful.

If you’re unsure where to source your oils, etc., you will find a handy resource guide after the glossary (look here to learn the difference between base oils and essential oils, what to look for when buying essential oils, and everything you need to know about using herbs) and the ingredient dictionary. At the very end is also a recommended reading list, if you would like to delve deeper.

The book has a layout that is easy on the eye and is illustrated with luscious photos that will get you in the mood for a spa day right away.

“Pure Skin Care” is published by Storey Publishing. I received a free copy via Netgalley and the publisher in exchange for a review. All opinions are my own. Publishing date is September 18, 2018.

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Review: “Go Dairy Free” by Alisa Fleming

There are many reasons to forgo dairy products: you may suffer from an intolerance or a full-blown allergy, you may have other health concerns or ethical reservations, or you’re simply not interested (some of us aren’t). Alisa Fleming was born with a severe milk allergy which she never outgrew. Ten years ago, when the first edition of “Go Dairy Free” was released, there were far fewer non-dairy food options than there are today, and of course research has advanced, as well, so now seemed like a good time for an updated version.

Sure enough, whether you actually want or have to skip out on dairy, or whether you’re merely curious, this book is filled to the margins with interesting information. In part one, you’ll learn the difference between an intolerance and an allergy, what the latest medical findings are, what dairy really is and which bits the body needs for what, how you may substitute these important bits, and much more. In part two, you will find more than 250 recipes to accommodate the dairy-free lifestyle, from simple staples like non-dairy mylks and butter replacements to breakfast favorites like muffins, breads, and even French toast sticks, soups, entrees, and desserts, and again: MUCH more. All recipes are vegan-friendly, as well, listing modifications where required to replace eggs (which are not in fact dairy products, no matter how cuddly they get with milk at the grocery store).

I found the information presented interesting and written in a very accessible format. The recipes span a huge variety. For people wanting even more, Ms Fleming also operates a webzine called Go Dairy Free, in which you could easily get lost for days.

There are two caveats I noticed: one, Ms Fleming mentions borage oil in the section of butter replacements. In recent years, experts have warned people away from the frequent use of borage (the plant) because it contains parts that act as carcinogens. I do not know if this also applies to the oil, but do exercise caution, if you can even find borage oil for a price that will not send you to the poor house. Secondly, red palm oil is gaining in popularity, but I for one am not buying into the claims made by virtually every company on the planet these days that their palm oil is sourced sustainably. The two biggest palm oil producing countries still destroy swaths of precious wildlife habitat every single day to accommodate the market. The trees from which red palm oil is made naturally grow in Africa, so if you can find oil sourced from there vs. Latin America or Southeast Asia, you’re better off using that. And then, of course, the debate is ongoing whether the saturated fats in palm oil are any better than those found in animal-derived products. You can do your own research on that.

“Go Dairy Free” is published by BenBella Books. I received a free copy via Netgalley in exchange for a review. All opinions are my own.

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Review: “The Warehouse Industry” by William Macbeth

Perhaps it is an odd life goal to not draw attention to oneself, but that is exactly the place in which the narrator of “The Warehouse Industry” finds himself. Socially awkward and insecure, he does his best to blend in, yet still manages to stand out far more than he’s comfortable with. In order to fit in, he often finds himself going along with things he actually finds disagreeable. Slowly, over the course of twenty years, he reveals his story, told through flashbacks from his elder brother’s stag night, his own sketchy employment history, up to his brother’s second wedding. It is this wedding which turns out to be a pivotal, indeed cataclysmic, point in his life.

The narrator seems oddly disengaged, but the book draws the reader in, nonetheless. For those disinclined to read lenghty tomes, fear not: I found this book well-paced to the point where I was somewhat surprised to suddenly find myself deposited at its conclusion.

Mr. Macbeth employs repetition as one of the narrator’s distinguishing features; after all, he has problems holding on to facts. What could make events and people more real than searing their details into one’s brain? The reader may find this way of storytelling somewhat irritating to begin with, but I ask you to persevere. “The Warehouse Industry” has a few unexpected twists in store that will definitely do anything but not draw your attention.

“The Warehouse Industry” is published by Thistle Publishing. I received a free copy for review. All opinions are my own.

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Review: “Vegan Yack Attack on the Go!” by Jackie Sobon

If you’re a vegan, and especially an American vegan, chances are you have heard of Vegan Yack Attack. Maybe you’re a fan of Jackie Sobon’s excellent blog, or perhaps you already own her first book, “Vegan Bowl Attack!” Possibly, you follow her column in VegNews magazine. As a food photographer, she has also illustrated some of my favorite cookbooks, like “NYC Vegan” and “Superfoods 24/7.” Many readers value illustrated recipes, and as we say in German, ‘das Auge isst mit’ (‘the eye eats, as well’). In any case, you know you’re in good hands with Jackie.

Requesting books by popular authors is a game of chance because publishers get TONS of requests, and so I consider myself particularly lucky to receive a preview copy of “Vegan Yack Attack on the Go!” Many, many people online have expressed frustration when it comes to putting meals together quickly, or coming up for lunch ideas for school and office. In this book, you will find answers in form of dishes that come together fast, can be made ahead, or both.

After a blissfully short introduction (I’m not big on intros), new vegans especially will find the first chapter, Vegan Eating Made Easy, a huge help for creating a kitchen well stocked with basic necessities. The Helpful Tips and Tricks are helpful indeed to ensure maximum enjoyment of your culinary creations and also a word on oil-free cooking. I would like to point this out in particular, because all too often comments show up by reviewers who have neglected to actually read the entire book and then complain that they ended up returning it for not accommodating an oil-free lifestyle!

But on to chapter 2, Quick Breakfasts, Snacks, and Treats. Here you find 14 recipes to suit your preference, from smoothies and floats to bars, cheesecakes, and chickpea scramble to burritos. Chapter 3, Prep-Ahead Recipes, contains all-purpose items like trailmix, overnight oats, crackers, popcorn, and even mushroom jerky. As a huge fan of overnight oats, I have put the Overnight Peach Pecan Oats on my “must try” list before the preview expires. This chapter isn’t all sweets and snacks, though: you’ll also find a recipe for Freezer Black Bean Burritos and Millet Sweet Potato Soup Bags, for example. Please note that from here on out, recipes may require several steps to prepare different components; be sure to read the entire recipe ahead of time and plan accordingly. Then, you will have a fridge and freezer filled with dishes that will reheat or can be assembled in no time at all.

Chapter 4’s Lunchbox Stuffers primarily consist of wraps, sandwiches, and salads, but there are also empanadas, spring rolls, and even a Veggie Sushi Bento Box. Chapter 5, Meals in 30 Minutes or Less, has the wonderful subtitle ‘Home-Cooked Meals for the Hangry’, people like me who sometimes (or maybe as a general rule) want dinner RIGHT NOW! Whether you crave a filling stew or chilli, a hefty burger, or your favorite comfort food, chances are you’ll find something here. Personally, I have been experimenting with exotic -read: beyond crumbles and lentils- taco fillings, so I am looking forward to testing the Sheet Pan Squash Tacos. If you’re a fan of the pressure cooker, try the Pressure Cooker Pesto Spaghetti Squash. Chapter 6 addresses Bulk Cooking, featuring an international potpourri of recipes, like kluski, pierogi, and Middle East-inspired dishes, and even a seitan roast made in the slow cooker.

My favorite chapter, though, is Chapter 7, Food on the Move, because it contains loads of things that can go on the grill. It is, after all, finally summer, even in Indiana! Because these recipes are quite portable (even if the caveat Some Assembly Required is given), these can go with you when you’re invited and not sure your host will be able to accommodate your dietary needs. There are quite a few dishes I’m itching to try, like the Cauliflower Curry Grill Packets with Yogurt Sauce, Campfire Banana Splits, and Beer Can Pulled Cabbage, which is why this book has been placed on my wishlist: I need my own copy!

In the final chapter, Chapter 8, you will get ideas on creating your own staples. Besides the usual suspects, tomato sauce, pesto, cheeze sauce, and mayo, you’ll also get some out-of-the-ordinary variations, like Berry Rhubarb Chia Jam (so psyched to find the far-too-neglected rhubarb here!) and Buckwheat Taco Meat. The latter found its way into my frying pan last night: it was easy to put together, smelled heavenly, and tasted quite good, although the buckwheat I have seems to have a peculiar flavor that doesn’t entirely go away even among all those spices. As I have noticed this in a buckwheat-based smoothie bowl before, I can honestly say it’s the grain, not the particular recipe, and results may vary. Still, I’m looking forward to taco night!

If my math is correct, you get a total of 107 recipes to keep you well fed and happy. The vast majority comes with a photo, so there is no guesswork as to what the final result might look like. Each recipe has a sub-heading with useful information, like ‘under ten ingredients’, ’30 minutes or less’, ‘gluten-free’, ‘soy-free’, etc. Most come with helpful notes at the end. Haters of “exotic” ingredients will love the fact that everything can be bought in a regular supermarket, at least here in Podunk, IN, with the exception of kala namak, which I found at the local Indian grocer without any fuss. And of course every recipe tells you how many servings you’ll end up with. What I really appreciate is the table of contents at the beginning of every chapter. As is common in vegan cooking, you will not find nutritional information for the dishes included.

“Vegan Yack Attack on the Go!” is published by Quarto Publishing Group – Fair Winds Press. I received a preview copy in exchange for a review via the publisher and Netgalley. All opinions are my own.

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Review: “Cook, Share, Eat Vegan” by Áine Carlin

Since going vegan roughly two years ago, I have joyfully spent more time in my kitchen trying out recipes than ever before. Anything by Isa Chandra Moskowitz is usually a winner, as are recipes by Ella (Woodward) Mills. And now, there is Aine Carlin, blogger, actress, and fashionista, who has just released her third cookbook, the somewhat oddly titled “Cook Share Eat Vegan: Delicious Vegan Recipes for Everyone.” Her second book, “Keep It Vegan,” remains another of my favorites, thanks to her down-to-earth, non-preachy writing style and the ease of her recipes. The writing style remains in the new release, the recipes are getting a little more demanding in parts. That means that alongside quick and easy dishes like Angel Hair Pasta with a Lemon, Dill & Walnut Sauce, there are some that require a bit more prep work. Fortunately, sauces, dips, and salsas can be made in advance, and the dishes still come together fairly fast. No complicated techniques or exotic ingredients are required, either.

This time, the book is divided into chapters according to the primary flavor compound: Zesty, Fresh, Spice it Up!, Grains&Goodness, Nuts’n’Seeds, Earthy, Sweetly Does It, and finally Baking Brilliance. I started bookmarking recipes to try and ended up running out of flags, so I simply started in Chapter One and have cooked my way through from there. So far, every recipe we have made has been enthusiastically received, and the picky husband has even made repeat requests for a few, namely the Pea & Rocket Chickpea Flour Pancake, the Watermelon, Watercress & Cucumber Salad, and My Favourite Penne alla Norma. You can probably tell that I simply did not want to wait to find out when the book would be released in the US and pre-ordered it from Europe. Incidentally, it has been available here since May 1, as well.

Another fact I really appreciate about this book is that there are no repeats: no “fluffiest vegan pancakes”, no 115th recipe for the perfect guac, no “cheesiest mac and cheeze”. Instead, you get innovative takes on taco night, pasta dishes, and pizza, right along with a shlew of exotic-sounding combinations like Melon, Avocado & Butter Bean Salad (next on my list, by the way). Because of the huge number of recipes, you can find dishes for every season, from Green Bean Summer Rolls (dinner tonight) to Spicy Mushroom-Stuffed Calzone to Savoury Fid & Walnut Stuffing Slice and Chestnut & Miso Soup. I don’t know how long it will take me to get through this book, but I know I’ll be happily cooking out of it for some time to come!

Is there anything I don’t find so hot? Yes, there is. It appears Ms Carlin has jumped on the bandwagon to promote Himalayan pink salt. Unfortunately, salt is not a sustainable resource, nor is mining it environmentally friendly, especially in a fragile eco system. Stick to your favorite table or sea salt, instead.

“Cook Share Eat Vegan: Delicious Vegan Recipes for Everyone” is published by Mitchell Beazley.

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Review: “The Brew Your Own Big Book of Clone Recipes”

Brought to you by the folks who publish Brew Your Own magazine, this beer bible features 300 clone recipes, put together in cooperation with the original brewers and frequently including tips and tricks of the trade from these brewers. Although the introduction claims that the book is aimed at home brewers of all skill levels, it clearly helps if you have worked with more than just a Mr. Beer kit before. The first chapter, ‘Cloning Basics & Recipe Standards,’ offers a brief guide on how to analyze any commercially available beer to determine the factors that must be present in a successful clone. It also gives instructions on how to best evaluate how your clone recipe stands up to the original brew and any former batches you may have made. Ultimately, with some practice, the home brewer should be able to use these processes to create his or her own clone recipes from scratch. You can see where prior brewing experience and having established a brewing procedure comes in handy.

If you don’t want to bother with the fancy footwork, delve right in by choosing your favorite style of beer from the recipes grouped into 17 different chapters, from IPAs, Porters, and Stouts over Belgian-style and British-style Ales to Brown Ales, Pilsners, European- and North American-style Ales & Lagers to Winter Beers and much more. Every recipe comes in an all-grain or extract with grain version to accommodate personal preference.

The “Big Book” ends with a resource chapter for those needing help or wishing to connect to fellow brewers; here, you find a listing of books, websites, tools & calculations, and message boards/forums for more information. My only beef with this list is the lack of locations where the less established home brewer might find specialty ingredients. At least a couple of suggestions may have been helpful. My personal preference would also have been to give a listing of beers contained in each chapter at the beginning of the chapter instead of just jumping in. Input from my home brewing husband, when he discovered the inclusion of a Pliny the Elder clone: “This might be a cool book to have!”

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“The Brew Your Own Big Book of Clone Recipes” is published by Quarto Publishing Group – Voyageur Press. I received a free copy in exchange for a review. All opinions are my own, except where otherwise stated.