My Life From Scratch [a review]

First things first: Gesine Bullock-Prado, author of “My Life From Scratch,” is the younger sister of Sandra Bullock.  Yes, that Sandra Bullock.  Funny woman, America’s Sweetheart, total babe.  That Sandra.  Or as Gesine calls her, “Sandy.”  You learn this fun fact towards the beginning of the book, but it’s hardly the story.

As head of her celebrity sister’s production company, Gesine Bullock-Prado had a closet full of designer clothes and the ear of all the influential studio heads, but she was miserable. The only solace she found was in her secret hobby: baking.Screen Shot 2015-01-13 at 5.30.47 PM

With every sugary, buttery confection to emerge from her oven, Gesine took one step away from her glittery, empty existence—and one step closer to her true destiny. Before long, she and her husband left the trappings of their Hollywood lifestyle behind, ending up in Vermont, where they started the gem known as Gesine Confectionary. And they never looked back.

Confections of a Closet Master Baker follows Gesine’s journey from sugar-obsessed child to miserable, awkward Hollywood insider to reluctant master baker. Chock-full of eccentric characters, beautifully detailed descriptions of her baking process, ceaselessly funny renditions of Hollywood nonsense, and recipes, the ingredients of her story will appeal to anyone who has ever considered leaving the life they know and completely starting over.

The real story here is Gesine, who sells her soul to a Hollywood production company then decides, “Nah, I want to make cake instead.”  And so she does. (there’s a lot more mental anguish, closeted baking, and taking candy from the devil, but you get the gist of it)  She uproots and moves to Vermont with her uber-charming and tactful husband Ray, and the pair of them decide to open a bakery in a town smaller than mine, staffed by people I would like to know.

The flow of the story is as perfect as the best pastry you’ve ever had.  Gesine starts with her childhood affair with sweets and then quickly moves to life at the bakery, starting at the (ridiculously early) beginning of her day and dragging you along for the ride.  She fills in the hours with snappy bios of co-workers and regulars, flashbacks to life with her German mother and grandmother, and the occasional snippet about how Sandy is one of the best sisters in the world.  You see Gesine’s relatable introversion, sass, and inability to act normal in front of a camera (be it for a write-up in the local paper, or a segment on Food Network).  All the while, Gesine is sharing her recipes with the guarantee that she hasn’t changed a single ingredient or measurement.  So, you know, if you can’t go to Montpelier, Vermont and visit her bakery in person, you can make some of her goodies at home.

Perhaps my favorite element of Gesine’s story is the continual presence of her health-nut mother.  Living in a family of health-nuts myself, I shared Gesine’s pain as her mother insisted on quinoa and wheatgerm when all young!Gesine wanted was cake.  Her mother subscribed to the belief that there’s a time and place for everything, especially dessert.  But despite Gesine’s eye-rolling at her mom as a child, she grew up to understand and appreciate what her mother was trying to teach her: that you need to be conscientious about your indulgence.  Have cake, but have a slice.  Living in a society that is pushing acceptance of obesity, I feel this is a message that needs to be plastered all over the county.  Everything in moderation, guys.  Get that cupcake, but don’t eat the whole damn bakery.

So if you’re in need of a straight-forward, recipe filled, honest read about the power of pastry and the perks of a European upbringing (and how mom is great, no matter what gluten-free nonsense she feeds you), make “My Life From Scratch” that book.

★★★★★

Check out Gesine’s blog, her books, and her delicious looking Instagram feed.

a taste of “Garlic and Sapphires.” [a review]

Gentlemen may prefer blondes, but redheads have more fun, as proven by Ruth Reichl in her book “Garlic and Sapphires.”  While not about hair color, it is about her years working as the restaurant critic for the New York Times, a job that required quite a few creative disguises.  Skim over what the book is about (below), and then let’s move on to the food.

Ruth Reichl, world-renowned food critic and former editor in chief of Gourmet magazine, knows a thing or two about food. She also knows that as the most important food critic in the country, you need to be 9780143036616_p0_v1_s260x420anonymous when reviewing some of the most high-profile establishments in the biggest restaurant town in the world—a charge she took very seriously, taking on the guise of a series of eccentric personalities. In Garlic and Sapphires, Reichl reveals the comic absurdity, artifice, and excellence to be found in the sumptuously appointed stages of the epicurean world and gives us—along with some of her favorite recipes and reviews—her remarkable reflections on how one’s outer appearance can influence one’s inner character, expectations, and appetites, not to mention the quality of service one receives.

I love hearing people describe food, especially the taste, because I have a hard time tasting certain spices and ingredients.  For me, hearing someone describe a meal is like tasting that dish in a way I’ll never actually taste it, because my tastebuds like being defective.  So for me, Ruth Reichl is… a dream come true? someone I want to spend the rest of my life listening to as she describes food?  all the above?

As The Washington Post Book World said,

Reading Ruth Reichl on food is almost as good as eating it.

What I love is that Ruth was a cook long before she was a critic, which I feel gives her a leg-up with the whole “describing food for the masses” schtick.  I can see her writing some amazing menus that would make people drool long before they ordered.  Heck, this book made me drool a couple times and just like the Food Network, I found myself having to pause frequently to dig up some food to eat while reading because this book makes you hungry.  In an absolutely wonderful, “I want to eat like that, but also cook like that,” kind of way.

Ruth doesn’t just talk about food, though.  As the restaurant critic for The New York Times, the restaurant world keeps an eye out for her, which results in her creating a few clever disguises with the help of friends and family.  You see her as an icy blonde, a vivacious redhead that attracts crowds, and my favorite: her mother.  She throws herself into each role, becoming her new identity with an ease that is surprising, but so honest, it’s impossible to read about her transformations and not recognize that in yourself.  We’re all chameleons.  We can all change, fill a role, be someone else.  It’s just that so few of us have a real reason to do that, but reading about Ruth’s adventures, seeing the different aspects of her personality brought to life, left me wanting to play dress up, take myself out, and get to know the different sides of me.

“Garlic and Sapphires” not only left me hungry for food, but it left me hungry to discover other sides of me.  My best side (Ruth’s “Brenda”), my worst (her “Emily”), and the part of me I inherited from those who came before (“Miriam”).  This book is as deep, flavorful, and layered as the food Ruth Reichl describes, which makes me want to flip to the beginning and go back for seconds.

Maybe even thirds.

★★★★★

Check out Ruth and her books here.

Happy Holidays!

I hope you all had a Merry Christmas and are planning something fun to ring in the New Year.  With family in town, friends from far away visiting, work, and standard holiday madness, I’m going to forget about this site for the next week and go have some fun while 2014 lasts.

See you all in the New Year!

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If you want to keep up with my holiday shenanigans, check them out on Instagram. 

I Loved, I Lost, I Made Spaghetti… and it was delicious. [a review]

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“I Loved, I Lost, I Made Spaghetti” by Giulia Melucci is the kind of book you pick up on a whim at a bookstore, because the title has to do with spaghetti, there is spaghetti on the cover, and there’s a promise of recipes inside… being written by an Italian-American woman, you assume there’s going to be at least one spaghetti recipe and, if you haven’t noticed by now, I have a thing for spaghetti.  Who doesn’t?

Melucci’s book, for me, is just as I described above- that impulse buy because it was about food and love and that was all I needed to know.  The recipes were an added bonus.  But here, just so you’re not left in the dark, is what this book is really about.

From failure to fusilli, this deliciously hilarious read tells the story of Giulia Melucci’s fizzled romances and the mouth-watering recipes she used to seduce her men, smooth over the lumps, and console herself when the relationships flamed out.

From an affectionate alcoholic, to the classic New York City commitment-phobe, to a hipster aged past his sell date, and not one, but two novelists with Peter Pan complexes, Giulia has cooked for them all. She suffers each disappointment with resolute cheer (after a few tears) and a bowl of pastina (recipe included) and has lived to tell the tale so that other women may go out, hopefully with greater success, and if that’s not possible, at least have something good to eat.

Peppered throughout Giulia’s delightful and often poignant remembrances are fond recollections of her mother’s cooking, the recipes she learned from her, and many she invented on her own inspired by the men in her life. Readers will howl at Giulia’s boyfriend-littered past and swoon over her irresistible culinary creations.

Okay, so it’s exactly what I described- food and love.  It’s also about a woman in the book business (!!!) who managed to cook delicious food using cookware she picked up at REI (a camp stove, wasn’t it?), and fell in love with as many men as she did types of pasta. (by the way, you will come out the other side of this book being a pasta snob and thinking you can make your own from scratch)

My favorite part?  She’s completely shameless about it all.  … her love of men and pasta.

The older me and my friends get, the more I feel the pressure to be “cool” about dating.  As if we’re somehow supposed to mature overnight to the ridiculous extent that an attractive guy checking us out is not cause for a breath check, but rather a dismissive look as we wait for him to approach.

Come. On.

Somehow getting more mature the more you date and not acting like a lovesick teen girl is an old wives tale and having just finished reading Melucci’s book (scratch that, I’m calling her Giulia), I think she’d agree with me.  Because no matter how bad the last heartbreak was, and no matter how not-so-prospective the next one looks, Giulia lets herself dream.  She can have the house and the names of the kids picked out before date number one and yes, she is a grown woman who gushes to her friends about all the details and the fantasy dream house she’ll have (with a gorgeous kitchen, of course), and I love her for that.  I love that she’s fearless in her love life as well as her cooking life. (homemade pasta from scratch? with no recipe? hats off.)

I also love that, although this is a memoir about “good food and bad boyfriends,” Giulia never digs at the exes.  This book does not read like a bad breakup song, but rather one woman’s story about all the relationships that didn’t work out (despite winning over the man’s stomach, no matter how delicate) and how she’s still hopeful she’ll meet The One.  But also, there comes a point where Giulia completely accepts herself, her singleness, and decides to be happy.  She stops waiting for Mr. Right, the big wedding, the picket fence, and just buys her own place.  She makes “fabricated” (factory made) pasta for her boyfriends and decides to save her homemade pasta for The One, enjoying it herself until he shows up.  She’s not shy about her love in any area of life and that’s the kind of woman I aspire to one day be. (also, I want to write about food the way she writes about food, because it sounds less like a meal and more like an old, dear friend who can solve any of your problems)

To wrap it up, I’m a fan of endings, and I particularly liked Giulia’s.  I try not to skip ahead, because I want the ending to be a surprise, and while this ending wasn’t exactly a surprise, it is, nonetheless, perfect.

Giulia’s recipes are interspersed throughout the book, tying in with the narrative at appropriate times.  She concluded the book with this recipe:

HOMEMADE PASTA
Flour
Eggs

I don’t know the exact measure.
I’m still trying to figure out the steps.

Five stars, you guys.  Or maybe five bites?  Five plates of spaghetti?

Until next time.
-Britt.

Check out Giulia and her book here.

And We’re Back…

… to our regularly scheduled rantings of a lunatic writer.

Kidding.

There’s nothing “regularly scheduled” about this blog and how I update it.  Oh well.

First off, congrats to the giveaway winners!  There was a giveaway running during my blog tour and the winners have been chosen!

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The winners have been contacted (those who won ebooks, your book is attached to the email; those who won paperbacks- I’ll need your addresses!), so check your inboxes!

For those who missed the tour, here’s the master list of everyone who participated.  If you just want to skip to the fun bits…

And I know I promised to tell you about my latest projects, but I’m currently in the midst of National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) and I’m only coming up for air long enough to catch you up with the tour and to say this: The next book I publish will be a poetry collection, I’m working on a fairytale rewrite, and I have some cool Howl artwork to share with you later.

For now, I’m back to writing!  See you guys on the flip side… i.e., when NaNoWriMo is over.

Ta!
-B.

Howl Book Tour, Book Sale, Book Giveaway… lots of books.

Hey Guys!

For those of you who don’t know, Howl is currently on a little book blog tour this week.  For the master post that tells you which blogs are participating (reviews, promos, fun facts, etc.), check out this schedule over at Book Enthusiast Promotions.  There’s also a little giveaway going on at the moment (2 signed copies of Howl, 3 ebook copies of Howl, and 2 ebook copies of Star Fall), so feel free to enter when you check out the schedule!

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If keeping up with a blog tour just isn’t your thing, don’t worry; I’ll be recapping the highlights at the end of the week.  But just so you know, Howl is $.99 on Kindle this week, or if paperbacks are your thing, it’s 30% off on Createspace.  Just use code L3BDG29X at checkout. :)

I’ll be back after the tour is over to tell you about my upcoming book (hint: it’s not a novel), and fill you in on the latest novel I’m working on.  Until then!

-Britt

Can’t We Just Be Happy For Each Other?: Thoughts of Women’s Success

I’m not political.  Politics make my head hurt and I care more about what people are doing to/for other people, than what new laws are being passed. (thank goodness I have political-minded people in my family who keep me up-to-date)  To each their own, you know?  So that might make me late to the party on the whole Saira Blair thing, but here’s what I have to say about that/her:

WAY. TO. GO.

I don’t care what her political leanings are.  I don’t care that her dad is a Senator.  I care that she’s an 18 year old girl who just made political history.  I care that she ran a campaign from her dorm, while still managing to keep up in her classes.  I care that she contributed $4,000 of her own money to her campaign, because “I wanted voters to know I was serious.” [Washington Wire]

I care that she’s a woman who did something amazing, and that’s all you should care about too.

This two-faced acceptance of women needs to end. You can’t say, “We support women!  Women are movers and shakers!  Women can do amazing things!” and then, the second a woman pulls off an amazing feat, turn around and say, “I know we support women… but you’re not exactly what we wanted.”

It makes me think of that Meghan Trainor song, “All About That Bass” (yes, I am really late to the party).  I’m usually behind on pop culture (unless it involves Taylor Swift), so it took me awhile to hear Trainor’s song.  I thought it was cute and catchy at first.  But what caught my attention that wasn’t cute?

“I’m bringing booty back, go ahead and tell them skinny bitches that.”

I gave the song another listen and instead of hearing a pro!woman, accept-bodies-of-all-shapes-and-sizes song, I was hearing a song about curvaceous women having “that boom boom that all the boys chase,” as if boys aren’t also attracted to “them skinny bitches.”  It was just another example of, “We support women!… but only if you fit our idea of what a “real woman” is.”

And yes, Trainor does go onto say she’s, “just playing,” when she talks about the “skinny bitches” and how, “I know you think you’re fat.”  Wrong.  I have friends and relatives who are size-two, not a curve on their body, and do they think they’re fat?  Nope.  They think they’re beautiful.  They think they’re healthy.  They think, “Oh hey, I have this super cool body that can do super cool stuff.  Does it look exactly like everyone else’s body?  No, but it’s mine, and I love it.”

Why can’t we just be happy for women?  Why can’t an 18 year old girl become a lawmaker without people criticizing her political leanings or the fact her dad’s a Senator and clearly, that must be the reason she’s a success.  Because 18 year old girls can’t do anything without riding on daddy’s coattails.

Why can’t we have a song that lifts up all women, of every shape, size, ethnicity, etc?  Why does one standard of beauty have to tear down another?  There’s no validation to be had in tearing down women (or anyone, for that matter).  If you make yourself out to be a great person, but you have to tear down other people to look good, guess who’s really looking good?  Not you.

So ladies, if you’ve done something cool, congratulations.  Way to go.  You wanted to do something, or you saw a need, or you had a dream, and you did it.  You are an inspiration.  Here is that round of applause you may or may not have received, but most definitely deserve.  No strings attached.

-B.