Cook Food—A Manualfesto for Easy, Healthy, Local Eating by Lisa Jervis

detail_132_cookfood_front_cover300In the past few years we’ve been bombarded with messages about eating organic food and shopping local farmer’s markets. Vegan and vegetarian cookbooks dot our bookstore shelves. And we only need to walk around our communities to find out what overly processed foods are doing to our waistlines and our health. All this information can be overwhelming. Where do we start in improving our food choices?

Thank goodness for Lisa Jervis’ Cook Food: A Manualfesto for Easy, Healthy, Local Eating!

Jervis is like your best foodie friend guiding you in the kitchen. In the first half of the book, she discusses the importance of eating local foods and embracing a meatless diet and manages to do so without getting preachy. She seems to understand that not everyone has access to farmers’ markets, and some people can’t give up an occasional burger. She also tells the reader the kitchen equipment and ingredients they should have on hand. Most of us probably have a majority of these things in our kitchens already, and the rest aren’t hard to find.

Cook Food also gives tips and techniques for cooking. Confused about sautéing, steaming and blanching? Jervis tells you how to use these methods in a way that is easy to follow. She also discusses things like adding spices and herbs (both dried and fresh) to your dishes, plus how to brown, deglaze and prepare tofu and the easiest way to peel garlic.

Now we get to the fun part, the recipes. I feared they would be flavorless and bland but just reading them made my mouth water. Spices and herbs play a big part in the recipes, and Jervis allows for a lot of flexibility to suit your taste buds. Cook Food recipes includes everything from main meals to side dishes and yes, desserts.

One of my favorite go to recipes is a corn, tomato and basil salad, which I love to make when both sweet corn and tomatoes are at their peak. And as for the basil, well, I have a basil plant on my window sill. Here is the recipe:

Corn, Tomato and Basil Salad


3 ears of corn
1 large tomato or two medium, three small, or one basket of cherry tomatoes
1 small handful of torn or chopped basil
1 lemon for both zest and juice
2 tablespoons olive oil
Salt and pepper to taste

Husk the corn. Steam the corn for five minutes in an inch or two of boiling water. Turn once or twice. You can also fully boil the ears of corn. Both methods work.

Place the cobs of corn in the fridge until cool. Cut the kernels off the cobs.

Cut the tomatoes into bite-sized chunks and place in a bowl with the kernels and the basil.

Zest half of the lemon into the bowl. Then juice the lemon into the bowl.
Add the olive oil and toss. Adjust the lemon zest and juice if needed. Add salt and pepper to taste.

There are a lot of variations to this salad. If you’re not a basil fan, you can always another herb. Mint and cilantro are good. You can also add other veggies. I’ve made this salad with cut-up cucumbers and purple onions. If you don’t want to go fully vegan, you can add a bit of feta cheese. Though this is considered a side dish, I’ve often made this salad into a meal with toasted pita bread or cheese and crackers.

Jervis also provides helpful resources for everything from vegan cooking, food politics and social issues to gardening, local farming and activism (including a shout-out to Milwaukee’s very own Growing Power).

Jervis’ writing style is very engaging and down-to-earth. She never lectures, but only inspires. Cook Food: A Manualfesto for Easy, Healthy, Local Eating is the perfect primer for both budding foodies and experienced gourmands alike.

Writer’s Block (With a Dash of Brag Book)

565447-lolcat.gifHey everybody, this is my 100th post! Just thought I’d throw that out there. I knew I was coming up to this momentous occasion so I treated myself by buying over a hundred dollars worth of books at one of my favorite indie bookstores, Boswell Book Company. Yes, I hope these books to become reviews for this blog in the next few months.

Currently I’m working on reading two books. One is a galley a publisher sent me that will be released in mid-November. Look for that review around the same time. The other is a novel by one of my favorite columnists that will also be reviewed sometime next month.

In the mean time, I have some reviews on the back burner that I will post in the next couple of weeks, and a few I might post around the holidays when I get really busy and don’t have so much time to read and review.

And of course, I can always update this blog with links to interesting features on books, writers, media and other book-related news.

I’m also open to possible posts from guest reviewers, so if you’re interested drop me a line at I’m interested in your ideas.

Well, that’s all for now. Enjoy the week-end!


I Read It So You Don’t Have To: The Simplicity Primer: 365 Ideas for Making Life More Livable by Patrice Lewis

simplicity1-194x300Always on the hunt for books on simplifying one’s life, especially in a chaotic and stressful world, I was initially excited to come across Patrice Lewis’ book The Simplicity Primer: 365 Ideas for Making Life More Livable. Sadly, this book was a huge disappointment.

On a positive note, Ms. Lewis is a decent writer. And I like how her primer is divided into several sections on topics like marriage, raising children, running a household, the workplace, and saving money. These passages are brief and easily-digestible. The reader can freely read this book piecemeal instead of reading from beginning to end.

However, I soon found Lewis’ advice repetitive and her tone to be snotty and self-satisfied. First, Lewis hardly breaks new ground with “The Simplicity Primer.” Instead of providing concrete, step-by-step advice on how to simplify, be frugal, etc., Lewis offers common sense that most of us already know—don’t break the law, discipline your kids, wear your seat belt, and live within your means. Now even if we don’t always use common sense, most of us learned these things children.

Secondly, Lewis is quite smug. There is nothing wrong with enjoying one’s life and being proud of one’s choices, but in “The Simplicity Primer” Lewis exhibits a moral superiority that is off-putting. Lewis lives on a twenty acre homestead in Idaho where she and her husband own a woodworking business. Her family raises all their own food, and Lewis home-schools her two daughters. Sure, that’s wonderful…for her. But I could have lived without Lewis’ dismissive attitude towards those of us who don’t live like her. Not everyone is suited for the country life. I find I’m more suited to living in a city where I can walk just a few short blocks to the grocery store, my favorite coffee shop, and the local library. Lewis seems convinced city dwellers don’t have any connection to nature, but I live only a few blocks from Lake Michigan—talk about being able to connect with nature.

Thirdly, Lewis admonishes us not to gossip but I found this book quite “gossipy.”  Lewis often mentions friends and acquaintances and the bad choices they made, the kind of choices she would never make because she is just so perfect. But what really got under my skin was how she described a former employee of hers as “slow…not a mental giant.” Though she did praise his amazing work ethic, I couldn’t help but wonder why she had to mention that he was less than bright. I thought it was rather unnecessary and quite cruel.

Lewis also has a blog called “Rural Revolution: In-Your-Face Stuff from an Opinionated Rural North Idaho Housewife.” I read a few of her posts, and she is quite sanctimonious and imperious in her blog and she definitely has her devoted followers. However, “The Simplicity Primer” might have been a more satisfying read if Lewis softened her tone and wrote with more humility. After all, this is a book that can be found at libraries and bookstores by people who have never read her blog. And I’d hardly be surprised if they, too, would find Lewis’ superior tone a complete turn-off.

While reading The Simplicity Primer I couldn’t help but think of Deborah Niemann’s vastly superior book Eco-Thrifty: Cheaper, Greener Choices for a Happier, Healthier Life. Like Lewis, Niemann lives on a huge homestead (only in Illinois, not Idaho) and grows her own food, raises livestock and homeschooled her children. However, Niemann actually gives out sound advice that is easily doable, not a bunch of common sense admonishments we already know. Also, unlike Lewis, Niemann writes in an inviting tone that is friendly, down-to-earth and open-minded.

The Simplicity Primer, simply not worth your time or your book-buying dollars.

Brag Book! It’s My One Year Blogoversary!!!

dancing leslie knopeI can barely contain myself. I one year ago I published my first review at the Book Self, Joe Muto’s memoir, An Atheist in the Foxhole: A Liberal’s Eight-Year Odyssey Inside the Heart of the Right Wing Media. Since those humble beginnings, I’ve read and reviewed some really great books (and some not so great ones), gained followers and likes, received wonderful messages from the authors I’ve reviewed and have gotten involved in some really cool things like the giveaway for the movie “This Is Where I Leave You” based on the Jonathan Tropper novel of the same name.

I initially started this blog because I had gone through a horrific writing situation in the professional sense, and I needed an ego boost to prove to myself I still had the chops as a writer. I figured a blog might do the trick, but I wasn’t quite sure what I wanted to write about. Writer and artist Austin Kleon once advised don’t write what you know; write what you love. What wise advice. I love books and I just knew I had to write about them. And now look where I am! Wow!

I want to thank my readers for joining me on this journey, and we have so many more miles to go. I’m working on a couple of book reviews. A publisher sent me a galley of a novel to be published in mid-November, which I am reading now and will probably post a review around the publishing date. I’m open to guest reviewers. And there are just so many books I want to read and review. I have a list as long Shaquille O’Neill.

I’m really looking forward to starting my second year of the Blog Self, and I hope my readers are, too. Thanks so much.

Retro Reviews: Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret by Judy Blume **UPDATED**

AreYouThereGodWhere would generations of women be without Judy Blume? Sure, some people wanted to ban her books, but I loved Judy Blume because she wrote about characters I could actually relate to. Blume’s characters dealt with divorce, death, family strife, religion, sex, bullying and peer pressure. But most of all Blume’s characters dealt with the difficulties of growing up: physically, emotionally and mentally. Blume didn’t sugar-coat these difficulties nor did she patronize the reader. And that’s why one of my favorite books is her 1970 classic Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret.

Margaret Simon is the title character. She’s 12 years old and just moved to suburban New Jersey. She’s worried about starting a new school, making friends and other assorted growing pains. She soon befriends three girls: Nancy, Gretchen and Janie. Together they gossip, talk about boys, wonder when they’ll get their periods and practice breast development exercises, chanting, “We must, we must, we must increase our bust.”

Margaret has other important things on her mind beyond growing out of a training bra and needing a box of Kotex. Margaret has questions about religion, questions that can’t easily be answered. Her mother is Christian and her father is Jewish. But what is Margaret? According to her friends, she has to pick one of the other so she can join either the YMCA or the Jewish Community Center.

Margaret’s paternal grandmother calls her granddaughter “My Jewish girl” and takes Margaret to synagogue. Margaret’s estranged maternal grandparents are convinced Margaret is Christian. Margaret even tries to go to confession at a Catholic church. But all this leaves Margaret confused, and she gets angry with God. Eventually she begins to accept the messy realities of growing up, though Blume refuses to tie up Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret in a tidy little bow.

My mother gave me a copy of the book when I was ten. I was the only girl in my fifth grade class to get my hands on a copy and soon my classmates asked to borrow it. By the time I got it back, the book was pretty much in tatters, widely read and hugely loved.

It’s been ages since I read Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret but it still resonates with me. To this day I can remember Gretchen was the first of Margaret’s girl tribe to get her period, and all the girls want to mack on Philip Leroy during “7 Minutes in Heaven.” And before “Sex and the City” gave me the term “frenemy” I knew Nancy was kind of a bitch even though she was supposed to be Margaret’s friend. And poor Gretchen (spoiler alert); she was the last of Margaret’s coterie to get her period. The horror!

As for, those breast enhancing exercises where you chant, “We must, we must, we must increase our bust.” Well, they don’t work. You know I tried, okay!

I hope today’s girls like Margaret like I did. Sure, girls have Hermione Granger and Katniss Everdeen these days, but I also hope they have a Margaret Simon. Her appeal is enduring and universal, no matter what generation you got slid into.

Are you there, Judy? It’s me, Bookish Jen. Thank you.

**Carole Besharah is a fellow book blogger. In her essay, Playboys, and Periods, and Bras, Oh My!, Carole shares her love of Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret” with her daughter Teagan.**


Book Marks

bookmarkIf I had a kid who was not obsessed with books, I hope I’d be as opened-minded as this mom.

“Gilmore Girls” inspires reading challenge. After reading this feature, I’m kicking myself for not watching “Gilmore Girls.” Rory sounds like such a cool character. I must binge watch the DVDs.

BJ Novak, yep, Ryan the Temp from The Office, hopes his children’s book, The Book With No Pictures, gets kids hooked on literature.

John Oliver of HBO’s “Last Week Tonight” wonders why Ayn Rand is still a “thing.” Hmm, I’ve been pondering the same thing.

The film adaptation of Gillian Flynn’s hugely successful novel Gone Girl is tops at the box office.

Reading to Reels: This Is Where I Leave You

This_Is_Where_I_Leave_You_posterJudd Altman (Jason Bateman) has the ideal life. He’s happily married to his college sweetheart Quinn (Abigail Spencer). He has a great job working as a radio show producer. He believes his life can’t get any better. And it won’t. In fact, it’s about to get a lot worse.

In the beginning of This Is Where I Leave You (based on the Jonathan Tropper novel of the same name) we see Judd working for a hugely popular radio show called “Man Up” hosted by a “take no prisoners” shock jock named Wade (Dax Shepard). It’s not just any ordinary day for Judd. It’s also his beloved Quinn’s birthday, and before he heads home to the missus, he purchases her a delicious birthday cake. Judd can’t wait to surprise Quinn to some fabulous baked goods. However, he’s about to get a huge surprise himself.

As Judd enters the marital bedroom he notices two people tussling under the covers. Quinn and Wade (yes, Judd’s boss) are doing the horizontal sweaty. And it turns out Quinn and Wade have been having an affair for nearly a year. Not surprisingly, Judd is devastated.

And just when he thinks his life can’t get any worse, Judd’s sister Wendy (Tina Fey) calls him to let him know their father, Mort, long suffering from cancer, has died. His last dying wish? Mort Altman wanted his family to sit Shiva, the traditional 7-day Jewish period of mourning. This is odd because Mort, an avowed Atheist, was Jewish in name only. And his wife and the Altman kids’ mom, Hilary (Jane Fonda), isn’t Jewish. The Altmans were never particularly observant, and there is even a mention of putting up a Christmas tree later in the film. (I, as a recovering Catholic turned Unitarian, probably have more experience making latkes than this motley crew.)

So the Altmans all awkwardly shit Shiva, awaiting in low chairs, as various friends, relatives, neighbors, and assorted acquaintances pay their respects. Judd explains his wife’s absence by claiming she had a bad injury at the gym. Wendy wrangles her two kids, a baby and a toddler in the midst of potty training. How do we know the toddler is in the midst of potty training? Well, because the adorable moppet drags his potty chair everywhere. And Wendy’s wheeling dealing hubby (who I named “suitpuke on the cell phone”) is too busy chasing the all mighty dollar to be much help and soon splits the scene.

Joining Judd and Wendy are older brother Paul (Corey Stoll) who stayed in town to help run the family business, and bad boy baby brother, Phillip (Adam) Driver), who drives up in a flashy sports car. Paul and his wife Alice (Kathryn Hahn) are desperate to have a child, so sex is on a very strict schedule and Alice is going a bit crazy from the fertility drugs. She’s also Judd’s old high school flame, which just adds to the awkwardness. And Phillip doesn’t come alone. With him is his much older therapist turned girlfriend Tracy (Connie Britton—and her gorgeous spun from sunlight hair).

As for the Merry Widow? Well, she’s mourning her late husband while also showing off her newly enhanced cleavage (or as Judd later calls them “bionic breasts”), and waxing nostalgically for Mort’s dong. The Altman kids are appropriately embarrassed, but quite used to it. Hilary was a notable child therapist and author who often revealed her children’s most mortifying moments in her books.

Seven days of mourning bring up years of family dysfunction, childhood roles are resumed, under the surface resentments start bubbling, past regrets are revisited, and misty-eyed memories are shared.

Separated from Quinn, Judd reconnects with teenage crush Penny (Rose Byrne), but some very interesting news from Quinn may throw a wrench in Judd and Penny’s budding romance. Feeling neglected and unappreciated by her husband, Wendy reconnects with Horry (Timothy Olyphant) the neighborhood boy who was her true love. Sadly, Horry is now brain damaged due to a bad car accident he and Wendy were in years ago. Horry lives with his mom Linda (Debra Monk), and works in the Altman sporting goods store. Phillip uses Tracy to deal with his messed-up mommy issues and Tracy is sadly wise to this, but damn, Phillip is so damn charming at times. And matriarch Hilary is also dealing with some surprising romantic secrets that may shock her kids.

Mourning Mort also brings up sweet memories for the Altmans. Judd recalls how Mort would comfort him by touching Judd’s forehead with his own. Linda tells the kids how Mort paid her mortgage after her own husband died. Mort wasn’t perfect but he truly cared about his family and others. And maybe in all their grief, the Altman can grow to appreciate their father and each other.

And there are also funny moments. Judd gets back at Wade in an epic way with the help of some college boys. Wendy shows she’s in good fighting shape with a balled up fist. The family rabbi (Ben Schwartz—yep, Jean-Ralphio from “Parks and Rec”), and childhood friend of the Altman boys, helps celebrate the late Mr. Altman with some Borscht-belt shtick, while fending off his nickname of Boner. And while at temple Judd, Phillip and Paul steal away to toke up only to set off the sprinklers.

Directed by Shawn Levy and adapted by Jonathan Tropper himself, I was at bit hesitant to see the film version of This Is Where I Leave You because I adored the novel so much. But for the most part the film delivered. I noticed a few changes from the novel. For instance, in the novel the Altman’s go by the last name Foxman, and Quinn’s original name is Jen (no, I’m not bitter about the change). The film doesn’t delve too much into the Altman’s various pasts but that may have been a good choice because I’m afraid it may have been a bit too much for less-than-two-hour movie.

The best part of This Is Where I Leave You was its top-notch cast. I expected a lot and the cast totally delivered. Jason Bateman has a wonderfully real “everyman” quality. Relative newcomer, Adam Driver, is a fabulous new find. Jane Fonda (and her bionic breasts) was hilarious. And Tina Fey, one of my favorite comedic girl crushes, shows she also has the chops to handle more dramatic material.

The Altmans of This Is Where I Leave You, made me laugh, cringe, and tear-up. This shiksa wouldn’t mind observing shiva with the Altmans for a short spell. I’ll even bring the latkes.