Tuesday, November 26, 2013

500 Gluten Free Dishes

by Carol Beckerman

I don't know why it hadn't occurred to me sooner to review a cookbook. I have been loving this cookbook and cooking from it for a few months now. Now, yes, I am gluten-free, so my cookbooks are of the gluten-free variety. But don't let that turn you off if you aren't on a gluten-free diet! And if you are gluten-free, I highly recommend this one from the 500 series.

First of all, the book itself is small, which is perfect for those like me who have a painfully small kitchen and need to maximize space. It easily lays flat (non of that cookbook stand nonsense) and won't take up a lot of room on your counter (or windowsill, if you're like me). Best of all, the recipes are easy to follow. Yes, they require things like white rice flour, tapioca flour, xanthan gum, etc. But such is the life of a gluten-free cook/baker. You learn to live with it. And though I've only been cooking from this book for a few months, I already have a few go-to recipes.

The breakfast recipes in this cookbook are great. I don't like starting my day wired for sugar: cereal, french toast, waffles, etc. Every once-in-a-while I'll go for sweets in the morning, but, typically, I prefer savory dishes in the morning. And this cookbook doesn't disappoint: savory cheese & onion hotcakes, cheese & ham mini muffins (which I love and have made over and over), and the ham & cheese strata (for special occasions).

There are also great lunch options for those of us who can't just go out and grab a sandwich at work. Two of my favorites are the cranberry & pecan baked wild rice with shallots and the quinoa & avocado salad with orange dressing. They're perfect to take to work. They're make-ahead dishes that can last you through the week and are served cool.

The other great thing about this book is that it offers variations on each dish. There are dairy free options, different spice and herb combinations; it's super useful. I don't know that it's necessarily "the only compendium of gluten-free dishes you'll ever need," but it is a great staple to have in your gluten-free kitchen.

Thursday, November 14, 2013

The Creeps

by John Connolly

I waited years for this book. I so enjoyed The Gates and The Infernals, I couldn't wait for the third book in the Samuel Johnson series. But, as much as it pains me to say it, I was a little disappointed with The Creeps.

In The Creeps, the little town of Biddlecombe, England is once again threatened and invaded by forces of evil in the Multiverse. It falls to Samuel Johnson, his trusty dachshund Boswell, and friends (Dan and his morally questionable dwarves, Sargent Rowan and Constable Peel, Maria, Nurd and Wormwood (the two most endearing demons), and a rag-tag team of scientists (who helped start the whole mess in the first place) and assorted monsters/demons) to save not only Biddlecombe, but the Multiverse itself. The tears in space and time are explained, we find the reason for all the supernatural energy in Biddlecombe, and loose ends are tied.

Connolly continues a trend in the series that I love, which is his use of footnotes. For me, they are where the book really shines, when Connolly breaks in, in his own voice, to make a bad pun, or explain a joke, or tell the reader about string theory. They are clever and a highlight of the book. Not only are these authorial intrusions funny and entertaining, they're informative as well. The book overall contains a lot of historical and scientific facts, but they tend to be concentrated in the footnotes. And they make me feel like a kid with an infinite capacity for curiosity. Everything is connected and interesting and leads to more facts to be discovered.

The Creeps, however, is a little too silly for my taste, as well as a little too complicated. The demon-possessed toys skew the humor too young. I realize that these books are aimed for younger readers, but the elves and teddy bears and poorly explained evil storybook characters just didn't do it for me. Connolly's previous demons and dark forces were much more creative (Nurd, Wormwood, Crudford, The Watcher, etc.). And the multi-layered Multiverse is complicated in The Creeps. The Shadow Kingdom vs. Hell vs. Earth. I think Hell vs. Earth was enough. I also wish The Creeps had been darker, which is what impressed me so much about The Infernals. The silly and the chthonic (thank you, Connolly, for introducing me to that word) were better balanced in the previous two books.

The major flaw in the Samuel Johnson books, I hate to say, are the culminating battle scenes. The build up to the epic showdowns between Samuel & co. and the demonic forces is long and intense, and just doesn't pay off. The final battle in The Creeps is over in two short chapters! And in all three books these climax scenes aren't very vivid or difficult for the forces of good to win (with maybe the exception of The Infernals). Connolly puts so much thought and finesse into the characters and their journeys, but ultimately disappoints.

However, I still love the Samuel Johnson series. I want to recommend it to everyone, regardless of age. They're books that I really do think have something for everyone (unless you hate fantasy/science fiction, but even so, I think these books could change your mind). The series is enjoyable and fun, and they're great books to get lost in. The Infernals, for sure, is my favorite in the series, but I still recommend The Creeps. (You can't abandon a series 2/3 of the way through!)