I’m no Julia Child

 My Life in France by Julia Child with Alex Prud’homme

3 words: enthusiastic, personal growth, amiable

OK, I’m seriously no Julia Child.

But I’m seriously part of her fan club.

That Julia, she’s all about pursuing her passions and personal development and learning. And I really love hanging out with people like that.

Lifelong learners, you are my tribe.

This book’s been around for years, and I only stumbled on it because Gretchen Rubin wrote that one of her favorite posts was the one she’d written about My Life in France.

And it made me want to read Child’s book. Bientôt!

And while I knew only a few facts about Julia Child when I began reading, I liked her immediately. And her story of self-discovery and self-actualization completely resonated with me.

Here’s what’s great about this book:

First, Julia’s voice is clear and brisk and confident and engaging. It’s fun to read her words.

Second, it’s also the story of a marvelous partnership. She and her husband Paul supported one another’s interests and worked together as a team.

Third, it’s a celebration of mentorship and collaboration. Julia gives full credit to her teachers and the other chefs who inspired her, and to her early co-authors and colleagues.

Finally, this is one joyful memoir. It’s downright jubilant. Once Julia found her passion, she threw herself into the hard work of mastery, and she conveys the delight she took in the work. It made me happy to read about it.

How about you — ever read a memoir that made you happy just reading it?


Pizza Pizza!

Delancey: A Man, a Woman, a Restaurant, a Marriage by Molly Wizenberg

3 words: personal, cheerful, entrepreneurial

This book hit the sweet spot: pizza, plus entrepreneurship, plus a nice conversational style. I was happy every moment I spent reading it.

Delancey is the story of Molly and her husband Brandon opening a pizza restaurant in Seattle. It’s the story of the early days of their marriage, when she was pretty sure he’d bail on the restaurant idea before the brick oven arrived.


And while the tone overall is cheerful, Molly is candid about her not-always-positive responses to the stresses of opening and running a restaurant.

It’s exactly the type of book I love to read: people living an experience I’d despise if it happened to me. But give me a book about opening your own business (or traveling to the Arctic or working as a journalist or any number of things I’d hate to actually do), and I’m one happy little creature.

The entrepreneurship thing has really taken hold of my brain, even though I totally do not want to be an entrepreneur. I’ve been listening to the podcast Online Marketing Made Easy with Amy Porterfield, and I’m completely hooked.

It’s like a corollary [dang, people: I did not know how to spell that word!] to my watching HGTV obsessively, when actual house-hunting and renovation makes me break out in hives.

So, back to Delancey. Here are two things that carry this book’s story into the future…

  1. The Dear Man and I have added Delancey to our list of future pizza destinations.
  2. Molly also writes the Orangette blog, which has been on the periphery of my consciousness for years now. So if you want to read the ongoing tale, you can!


The ladies love their quilting…

Prayers for Sale by Sandra Dallas

Back before there were book clubs, the ladies had quilting groups. Heck, the ladies still have quilting groups.
In this book, set in Great Depression era Colorado—up in the mountains—the quilting groups were the big thing. This is a sisterhood book.
I like sisterhood books. I truly do.
This one starts out with 80-something Hennie noticing a sad-looking young woman outside her gate, looking at her “Prayers for Sale” sign (a remnant from happy days early in Hennie’s marriage). Hennie takes young Nit under her wing, telling her stories of their small mining town, and sharing the stories from Hennie’s younger years, which bear a resemblance to Nit’s early married years.
Hennie and Nit are both relocated from Appalachia, and their wording is full of reminders of their origins. (To the question, “How’s yourself?” Hennie replies, “I am deteriorating at a normal rate.” [p. 99] As my people are apt to say, that tickled me.)
And as in many of Dallas’s books, at least one of the characters is carrying a big secret that is revealed at the end.
This book almost could be a little sweet, but the promise of the revelation of a lifelong secret—and some of the earthiness of the town—save it.
Instead, there’s a strong tang of bittersweet. Hennie’s well-meaning daughter intends to move her to Iowa (perish the thought!) plus Hennie isn’t getting any younger, so there is a sense of loss as she experiences “the last time I’ll ever…” moments. As Nit is coming to the end of her days, Nit’s life is just getting going; the juxtaposition really works.
(I made that quilt up there while attending a week-long quilt class with a friend. She pieced the excellent block with the pink in it and helped me pick the border fabric. She is someone great.)

Forever a Beginner

The Knitting Experience, Book 1: The Knit Stitch by Sally Melville

I was so nervous about learning to purl, I nearly stuck with the knit stitch forever. And looking at all the good stuff in this book, I thought that might just be OK. Sally Melville is a teacher, coach, cheerleader, and philosopher. And she designs stuff I like.

The book is a great resource for this perpetually-novice knitter: I keep bookmarks in some essential places I return to frequently. It’s also helpful that she shows techniques from both the right- and left-hand carry perspective. (I’m one of those freaky right-handed left-carry knitters, which I swear I inherited from my Swedish ancestral people.)
My favorite project here is the “Shape It! Scarf,” which I’ve made at least three times now (with #4 in progress). Here is one of them:

From this book, I’ve also made the poncho, the “Have Fun! Scarf,” the maximum scarf, and the minimum scarf. (I’ve sworn never to make any other knit object involving sleeves, which is why my project list is so scarf-y.)

This Is the Season for Knitting

The Yarn Girls’ Guide to Simple Knits by Julie Carles and Jordana Jacobs

Novice knitters, rejoice! This book lives up to the promise of its title: its projects are simple. And they’re darn cute. I made myself the “Summer in the City” tank, which is one of my favorite shirts. In the category of “I just can’t stop knitting these!”—I’ve become addicted to knitting the little “Hole-in-One” scarves, which make wonderful gifts and are also a fine way to use up a random ball of yarn. The authors are the co-owners of The Yarn Co. in NYC, which is a great shop even when you’re shopping from across the continent. I called them to order some yarn for a project that involved mixing/matching some yarns, and the staff person was tremendously helpful. (And their web site always sucks me in for way too long. Witness the 20 minutes that just elapsed while I cavorted among the online yarn and patterns.) One additional note: On their web site, they have also posted corrections to some of the patterns, which is useful. (Hey, nobody’s perfect!)

Those Quilt Shops Can Be Just Deadly

The Lover’s Knot by Clare O’Donohue

A cozy mystery that doubles as a romance novel. I don’t mean this in a bad way. The book opens with Nell, newly stricken by her fiancé Ryan’s decision to postpone their wedding, decamping for her grandmother’s house in a small town where everybody knows everything about everybody. So naturally everybody already knows her business when she shows up on the scene. Humiliating? Yeah, just a bit. But when her quilt-shop-owning grandmother falls on the stairs and breaks her leg, Nell decides to stay in this small town, at least for a while. She takes a leave of absence from her job and tries to figure out whether she wants to reconcile with Ryan— who is making noises about getting married after all. Then it turns out her grandmother’s fall was no accident, and before long, someone ends up murdered right there in the quilt shop. And the police chief is a handsome, brooding young widower… A fine debut in the Someday Quilts mystery series.

Fire Up That Oven

Baking: From My Kitchen to Yours by Dorie Greenspan

A friendly, wonderful cookbook full of desserts. All I can say is: Hallelujah! Greenspan provides the perfect amount of detail in her recipes, so for the first time in my life I was able to make biscuits and shortcakes that were actually flaky. I’ve been working my way through the cookbook and hope to try many of the recipes eventually. (I’m still shying away from the pies and the fancy celebration cakes. A gal has to gain some confidence first!) My favorites from this cookbook: Gooey Chocolate Cakes (a recipe people keep requesting), Thumbprints for Us Big Guys, Swedish Visiting Cake, and Mixed Berry Cobbler. Kudos to the colleague who introduced this book to me; my sweet tooth is grateful.

Piecing Together a Life

The Quilter’s Apprentice by Jennifer Chiaverini

Sarah, a newly-married young woman, is forced to re-invent herself when she moves with her husband to a small Pennsylvania town. After she meets an ornery older woman who is a master quilter, Sarah gradually discovers her calling. The first book in the comforting Elm Creek Quilts series. I’m a quilter, so these books drew me in immediately. I’ve met many non-quilters who love the series, too.

Happy Vegetarian

Still Life with Menu Cookbook: Over 200 Delicious Vegetarian Recipes with Original Art by Mollie Katzen

This vegetarian cookbook is one of my standards. And the cool thing is that it includes recipes for full menus, so I can make sure I’m preparing a salad that goes well with the main course and a dessert that complements the dinner. The other thing I love is that it offers a timeline to help you prepare the meals in advance. For example, 2 days ahead, you can roast and peel the peppers and prepare the cookie dough. One day ahead, cut the vegetables and cook the soup. It revolutionized the way I approach other recipes, since now I have discovered the shocking concept that I can break the preparation down into steps to do in advance. Embarrassing that it took a book to alert me to this, but there it is. My favorites from this cookbook: Lentil Chili, Autumn Vegetable Soup, Sweet and Sour Soup with Pineapple and Basil, Spinach Roll-Ups with Lime Chutney, Applesauce-Cocoa Cake, and Chocolate Chip-Mint Cookies.

Eating Cookies in the White House

Presidential Cookies: Cookie Recipes of the Presidents of the United States by Bev Young

Recently, in honor of the Iowa Caucuses, I busted out my cool Christmas gift, Presidential Cookies. The neat things about this cookbook are that it includes a cookie recipe associated with each president from Washington to Bush 43 – and that it includes a description of each president’s White House entertaining style and, in some cases, cool little anecdotes related to the cookies. (For example, the time Bess Truman beckoned a reporter into the Trumans’ Independence, Missouri, home, for cookies and to say hello to the president, when the reporter had been hovering outside in the cold during the Christmas holidays.) The first recipe I tried was for Hillary Rodham Clinton’s Original Chocolate Chip Cookies, which I selected because she’s the only person in the book who’s also running for president at the moment. Great cookies! Plus, they were convenient to make: I already had all the ingredients in my pantry. In the name of partisan balance, next up were the Texas Governor’s Mansion Cowboy Cookies. One note: for these cookies, I had to go shopping for some of the ingredients – and paid $4 for the pecans alone! Yikes. However, the cookies were amazing, and I am going to say they’re worth it. Another thing to love about this book: it’s fun to browse, so much so that I almost could call it a “look book” (a picture-filled book that is wonderfully browseable). There are pictures of all the presidents and for most, if not all, of the cookies! Excellent feature in a cookbook.