30 January 2009

Serve the People: A Stir-Fried Journey through China

Serve the People: A Stir-Fried Journey Through ChinaHere's another book about Chinese food, this time by a Chinese-American author in China. I've read a lot of books about Chinese food in the last year and I can't say this one really stands out from the rest, even though it is good. Jen Lin-Liu mostly writes about her experiences in cooking school in Beijing, then in a noodle shop in Beijing, then in a high-end restaurant in Shanghai, then a short section at the end on hutong cooking. There are a couple of brief mentions of some other regions of China, but the focus of the book is unquestionably Beijing and Shanghai, which was disappointing to me.

The book is very readable though, and I did enjoy the noodle shop section. It did seem a bit disorganized- the recipes all of a sudden pop up almost in the middle of paragraphs, it seemed. I would have preferred the recipes to be at the end of the chapters. And I would have preferred more geographic diversity. Almost the entire section on Shanghai was written about a restaurant that almost no Chinese could afford to eat in.

Shark's Fin and Sichuan Pepper remains best book I've read on Chinese food.

29 January 2009

Salt: A World History

Salt: A World HistoryThis wasn't as boring as it sounds like it would be, but I certainly didn't love it. I really got bogged down in the middle section that was almost entirely about Europe and fish, but the first section was pretty good and the end was better than the middle.

But it did feel as if the author was scraping to find mentions of salt besides the big ones. Of course salt is important, and so are lots of other things that aren't very noticeable, like water. Since this only focused on salt, I didn't feel like I got a sense of its commercial importance in comparison to other products.

It was also really Eurocentric. There was a fair bit about China, but that hardly balances Europe. And the only part about India was in relation to British colonialism. And there were lots and lots of recipes. Not recipes you'd use, but medieval and colonial recipes. That's interesting, but there were a lot.

So in all, I thought it was too long. There's a children's book by the same author that's probably the right length.

27 January 2009

There are lots of things I wish I ate more often, but generally I could eat them more often since they are available. I could spend more time and money to keep good mangoes around, and more cheeses, and lots of other things.

But I don't think there's any way I can get enough dried apricots. I've never found a brand I like (I do not need moist apricots), and I've never even come close to drying enough apricots to last me a year. They usually last a month, if I'm careful. And there are so many more things I want to do with them than just snacking on them.

I suppose these might do. There is no mention of moistness on that page. I'd have to put a lot of money into my apricot habit though.

24 January 2009

Pomegranate Soup

Pomegranate Soup: A NovelThis was such a fun book to read. It's a little along the lines of Serving Crazy with Curry because you want the food (but this one has recipes), but it also reminded me a little bit of a fable or a folk tale with the quirky people and a few impossible happenings.

One of my favorite things about Melissa's challenges is finding great new books like this to read.

The Heretic's Daughter

The Heretic's Daughter: A NovelI finished this one, but I never really got into it. And it was too long.

21 January 2009

I hope my children always remember watching the inauguration, this particular inauguration, today.

Driving Over Lemons

Driving Over Lemons (An Optimist In Andalucia)I thoroughly enjoyed this book by Chris Stewart. It's similar, in a way, to A House in Fez, with an English couple buying a farm near Granada, but so much more fun to read. I liked A House in Fez very much, but it was so very serious and Driving Over Lemons is much lighter, but still as interesting as Fez.


19 January 2009

Persepolis 2

Persepolis 2: The Story of a ReturnThis is the continuation of Marjane Satrapi's life in Austria and Iran and it's divided about evenly between the two countries. One of my favorite scenes in the book is when Satrapi points out that it is difficult to be an art student while wearing impractical clothing and is allowed to redesign the acceptable clothing for art students. We hear so much of what is wrong with Iran that it's good to hear that sometimes, there is at least a little reason (although you can certainly argue that even the redesigned outfits are pretty unreasonable).

I'm not sure yet if I'm sold on graphic novels- at least for my own enjoyment. As I said when I read Persepolis, I think they are a wonderful way to get stories and memoirs like this into the hands of people who might not read them otherwise. But I think I might prefer regular books.

The Swallows of Kabul

The Swallows of KabulThis is not a cheery book at all in any way, so it wasn't a great read for me right now, in the middle of a cloudy winter (but it is sunny today!). Mohammed Moulessehoul, who writes under the pseudonym Yasmina Khadra, tells a story of a Kabul that has lost almost everything, and gained nothing of worth in return.

One of the most fascinating things about this book, to me, is the author. Do click on the link above to learn more about him.

The Hundred Secret Senses

The Hundred Secret SensesI read this one on Melissa's recommendation and enjoyed it. Not as much as I liked The Joy Luck Club, but it was interesting to read a book about China and Chinese immigrants that was different, and this one is different. I very much liked the story and how it was told. Thanks, Melissa.

16 January 2009

Library Loot

The Swallows of Kabul
How Green Was My Valley
The Heretic's Daughter
Pomegranate Soup
Salt: A World History
Persepolis 2
Driving Over Lemons

14 January 2009

Shark's Fin and Sichuan Pepper

Shark's Fin and Sichuan Pepper: A Sweet-Sour Memoir of Eating in ChinaI don't know where I got the recommendation for this book, but it turned out to be a wonderful surprise. This is an excellent book on food in China from the perspective of a British woman who knows China. Fuschia Dunlop speaks fluent Mandarin (how refreshing to read a book on China written by someone who speaks and even writes Mandarin) and is an expert on Chinese food.

I was completely convinced that I loved this book when there was actually a chapter on Xinjiang. Dunlop also talks briefly about other western provinces like Tibet and Gansu, although the focus is definitely farther east. But any author that actually goes to Kashgar is pretty good in my opinion.

One of the major topics of the book is Dunlop's evolving eating habits. She starts off determined to eat everything and learns to love a variety of interesting food (she realizes this when she's eating with her parents and sees them struggling to eat things that she loves). But different things, such as vegan friends, various Chinese food scares, and concerns over endangered species all change her perspective.

It was also interesting to read about her feelings about China. I almost felt sad near the end, until I read the second to last chapter. And you can't miss the last chapter.

My only complaint, and it really didn't bother me, is that there were a few times that the book seemed to drag just a tiny bit. So little that you almost didn't notice it, but it was there. But it really didn't detract from my enjoyment of the book.

Highly recommended.

13 January 2009

This new header is much better. The old one was giving me a headache, even though I'd prefer a map to a photo.


I've wanted to subscribe to Steppe ever since it started to be published, but at $25 an issue, it was a bit steep for me. I can buy a book about Central Asia for that. But I did get the bright idea of asking for it for Christmas and our first issue came last week. It covers all the stans except Pakistan and also Xinjiang.

The things I liked about it: very diverse, many book reviews, a cooking section, lots of beautiful photos, very little advertising, and did I mention it is diverse?

The thing I didn't love: There really were a lot of pictures and I would have preferred more text since I felt like I whipped right through the magazine. A picture might be worth a thousand words, but it's not as satisfying to me as a couple of pages of text. My husband loved all the pictures though. He never reads much of the text in any magazine.

Nyura has long been big fan of Steppe. I'd love to get the back issues.

11 January 2009

The Spice Merchant's Daughter

The Spice Merchant's Daughter: Recipes and Simple Spice Blends for the American KitchenThis one turned out to be mostly recipes. I'd been hoping for more memories, or more travel, or more besides recipes, but it is different because it focuses on spices and flavoring. There's a section to help the beginner with buying new spices, especially at ethnic stores, and then recipes for spices mixes and flavor pastes and then plenty of ideas of things to do with them. I've got a friend who would love this book.

This one also counts for Melissa's challenge, and so will the next one I'm reading now.


Persepolis: The Story of a ChildhoodThis is the first graphic novel I've read and I thought it was excellent. The story was familiar, certainly- an upper-class Iranian girl's reactions to the revolution- but the method of telling it is what's important here. I'd like to think that graphic novels (this isn't exactly a novel though, since it's non-fiction; maybe a graphic memoir?) like this can open up new knowledge to people who might otherwise not have read anything about the Iranian revolution or a variety of other topics. I hope that many more like this are published.

Apparently most of my reading is about food or travel or cultures, so this one also counts for Melissa's challenge.

The Hunger Games

The Hunger GamesI think this was the fastest almost-400-page book I've ever read. I did have to sleep in the middle of it (I had a hard time stopping my brain so I could go to sleep, but I really had to sleep). Melissa's review sums it up perfectly. I look forward to discussing this one.

Several of the things that bothered other reviewers didn't bother me. The story still wrapped up despite the obvious cliff-hanger. Dystopian novels aren't really my thing, so it didn't seem to me as if the plot was over-used. And I've never been much for reality TV, so I didn't get hung up on any of those comparisons. It all just worked for me and I loved the book.

One more thing about dystopian novels- I still like The Giver the best because the people in the society made a conscious choice to live the way they do. The members of society thought they could create something better. It seems that dystopian societies generally go in for a lot of coercion to keep things going, but The Giver was different (even though there clearly was coercion in some cased in The Giver).

Another for Melissa's challenge, since food is one of the main themes in this book.

10 January 2009

Library Loot

Library trips in this city are mostly quick, because my branch is tiny. So everything comes in from other libraries and I just have to pick up my books and run out. The boys approve. This week's loot (picked up by my husband):

The Hunger Games
The Great Weaver from Kashmir
The History of Bread
The Hundred Secret Senses
The Spice Merchant's Daughter
Shark's Fin and Sichuan Pepper

Go to Melissa's blog to find out more about this one. I'm still sick and not thinking enough.

08 January 2009


We watched Wall-E last week and I really liked it. I didn't feel preached at, nor did I feel like it was trying to make some huge point. I just liked Wall-E.

Footnotes and Endnotes and Citations and All That

So, I still haven't been able to go to the library so I'm wandering through a biography of Theodore Roosevelt. This is one of those books that has interesting notes, not just citations of where a quote came from, etc. The trouble is that they're all endnotes, so I'm flipping to the back of the book all the time, and it's hard to find the correct page because I'm jumping around the biography. This happens to me all the time. I don't think there's a perfect way to do notes.

I think my least favorite system is the one that's becoming more popular- where there are no superscript numbers and the endnotes at the back refer to a phrase in the text. You have to spend all sorts of time flipping back that, because you don't even know if there's a possibility that something interesting is hiding back there. At least with regular endnotes you know when to flip back.

I don't really understand why footnotes seem scary, especially in popular fiction. I think my favorite system is when there are numbered endnotes for basic citations, but also footnotes for longer and more interesting notes. Sometimes the notes are as good as the text and I don't want to miss any. Maybe I'll start a group to bring back the footnotes in popular nonfiction.

05 January 2009

Near a Thousand Tables: A History of Food

Near a Thousand Tables : A History of FoodI picked this up because another book referenced this one as having a history of the tandoor oven. Well, it was about a 3-line history, but the rest of the book was pretty interesting too, even if it felt as if I was just getting bits and pieces of everything. A 224-page history of food can't be very detailed. I liked the first half better than the second, although I thought the last chapter was probably the best. It's very readable, even though the author is very opinionated. Maybe I just agreed with him more in the last chapter. Recommended if you're a food person.

I guess this technically finishes Melissa's challenge. I didn't mean to do it so quickly, but, like I said, I've been sick and these are the books I've had on hand to read. I am beginning to be in desperate need of a trip to the library.

03 January 2009

The Joy Luck Club

The Joy Luck ClubNo, I'd never read this before yesterday. Well, I had read the first chapter in the bookstore a month ago, but even though I've meant to read this one forever, I finally did it and I loved it. I do love to read about China.

This one definitely counts for Melissa's challenge, so it'll make up for the last one she wasn't so pleased about.

02 January 2009

Book of a Thousand Days

Book of a Thousand Days [BK OF A THOUSAND DAYS]This was a good book, and a little different too, since it's set in a place like Mongolia. It rings a little truer than a lot of books like this- the heroine is a little more believable, even though she does read and write, and it does feel like it could have taken place somewhere on the steppes. I doubt this one will be as popular as some of Hale's other books, but I'm glad she wrote this one.

I'm thinking this one could count for Melissa's book challenge, although it might be a stretch. Melissa can veto it if she wants. There are plenty of other books coming up that will fit better.

The Goose Girl

The Goose Girl (Books of Bayern)I very much enjoyed this book. It was especially perfect since I haven't been feeling well and it was just right for my fuzzy brain. Recommended.