I’m heading south to my parents’ home to relieve my sister for a long weekend so this part of the letter will be a bit short. I’ve been in a bit of a reading slump lately—at least as far as books go. It’s not a struggle to pick them up but I find the necessary concentration and commitment of time a bit lacking on my part. I am distracted by worry, and oddly, especially for someone who hasn’t owned a television for twenty-two years and has no interest in getting one, I am watching more television than I have for years. Mostly it’s the cooking channel where I find myself enthralled with reruns of “Restaurant Impossible,” a show that both makes me cringe in sympathy for the owners and staffs and cheering as the changes burst forth.
Small wonder then that what I “read” at night is more cookbooks or home décor books than anything else. I suspect it’s because those provide a kind of comfort—literary comfort food, if you will. It’s also dangerous in a way because they invariably tempt me to get up and get moving, either making some dish over which I am drooling or to re-arrange furnishings. It’s not what I’d consider reading, more browsing, kind of like watching the television. Flip … “hmm” … flip … “interesting” … flip … “that’s an idea” … flip … flip …
In other words, I am fidgety. Content too, but that’s not really reading. However, slumps occur and if “fidgety reading” is what I need now, then I’ll take it. Books need to complement life, to work with it, not constrain it. So if you will pardon me, I will gather together some of my comfort reading and pack it for my trip down tomorrow.
Upcoming Book Festivals and Fairs:
Location: New York, New York
Location: St. Louis, Missouri
The Pub House:
Living in southern California, I grew up with and still adore Latin food and I noted early on the Latin Women’s Initiative Houston decision to include both English and Spanish versions of the recipes in their book, Latin Flavors: A Taste of Our Heritage. A cookbook that draws its material from “Latin households that are not only from Mexican backgrounds but also Spain, Peru, Cuba and just about every other country in the world that speaks Spanish as its first language” is one that should be published in that language—as well as in the first language of its country of origin (the U.S.) if different, which in this case it is. Yet this is almost never done. And it never occurred to me, a native English speaker, that incorporating both languages is a superb way to transcend the cultural differences and bring both cultures together over the same food.
The recipe pages themselves are well designed and well written. The English version is almost always to the left of the Spanish version, though in a few instances where the recipes are long, the Spanish version will immediately follow the English ones. Each recipe also has a small description or personal note nestled between the name and the ingredients list. I like seeing the ingredients bolded because it makes it easy to read for the busy cook, and the directions are invariably clear and to the point.
What about the recipes which are, frankly, the heart of any cookbook? Superb. I found that I would eventually use about two-thirds of them, an unusually high number for any cookbook. The reason is that they are generally easy to make and rarely incorporate ingredients anyone will have difficulty finding. Their Black Bean Croquettes with Pasilla Salsa, for example, uses whole black beans (not canned), salt, oil, onion, cilantro, cotija cheese (easily found in any cheese store or Latin market), eggs and egg whites, breadcrumbs, pasilla chiles (again, a Latin market), garlic, tomatoes, and a clove. The whole process, other than soaking the beans overnight, takes less than an hour—and most of that is the cooking the soaked beans. (May I also say it’s delicious!)
I am especially fond of soups and in here I found, among others, avocado, carrot-jalapeno, cream of poblano, cream of olives, and cilantro soup. The latter required only garlic, onion, butter, cilantro, chicken stock, cream cheese, salt and pepper. If you love cilantro as I do this book is worth it for this recipe alone. But of course there is more. I have also tried Seared Sea Scallops with Lemongrass Sauce and Basil, Mint and Cilantro Salad, Salmon in Guajillo Sauce, Crispy Cuban Beef, Jalapeno Roasted Potatoes, and am looking forward to warm weekends when the Grilled Chili Lime Corn on the Cob is up.
Neither breakfast (with lots of egg dishes) or drinks are forgotten. And desserts are plentiful though I think people who like cake, brownies, and chocolate are more likely to use this section than I am. What did attract me and what I have yet to try, but will, is the Cajeta Crepes (Goat’s Milk Caramel Crepes). So while I am not giving up any of my other Latin-based cookbooks this one has moved to the top of the list.
Imaging Books & Reading:
Until next week, read well, read often and read on!