Sophie Mae and her best friend decided to join a CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) as soon as the opportunity popped up in their small town. One day when they’re volunteering at the farm, a dead body is found in the compost heap. Sophie Mae is determined not to get involved this time, after all, she’s got enough on her plate with her soap making business and trying to make a baby with her husband, Detective Barr. But Barr’s boss asks her to help identify the body by talking to the folks in the community , and she just can’t say no.
Cozy mysteries consist of a mystery (that’s not too explicit or bloody) paired with an unlikely investigator, some sort of crafting, a good dose of humor, and a punny title. In other words, they were basically made for me. (Some even come with recipes!) So when this one popped up on NetGalley, I snatched it up, and I’m so glad I did! McRae successfully pulls together everything that makes a cozy great.
The plot is excellent. The murder mystery isn’t too gory, but is also realistic. The body is found in a compost heap, yes, but it’s just a dead body. There aren’t slashed off heads hanging out in tea kettles or something. Everyone is appropriately disturbed by the finding. There’s no ho-hum just another day element at play. Although I admit I had figured out whodunit before the end, the why and when were still a mystery. Plus I never felt that Sophie Mae was being stupid and just missing something. Why it was taking her a bit to see whodunit made total sense. I also really appreciate that GLBTQ people are included in the plot without a big deal being made out of it. They are just another character, which is just how I like my diversity in genre literature.
The characters are fairly three-dimensional for a cozy. Everyone had something I liked and didn’t like about their personality, even the heroine, which is key to characters seeming realistic. There were also a wide variety of people present from Sophie Mae’s best friend’s daughter to an elderly friend of the family. This range is something that is often missing in literature, and I liked seeing it here.
What I really come to cozies for, though, I admit, is the integration of crafting. In this case the theme is participating in a CSA, so parts of the book are devoted to how a CSA works from acquiring your weekly allotment to figuring out how to use it to cooking with it. I really appreciated the quips about having so much of a certain produce that they’re coming out your ears. I also really enjoyed the scenes that discussed taking real time out to cook dinner and what that feels like, such as talking about how garlic smells when you first throw it into a hot pan. I know not all readers enjoy this, but honestly that’s part of the point of a cozy. Taking the time to linger on crafts and talents that take time to cultivate but are well worth it, and McRae incorporated this element very smoothly into the book. I do wish some recipes or CSA tips had been included, but it’s possible I just didn’t see them since I had an advanced copy.
Overall this book has a dash of everything enjoyable about a cozy mystery. Recommended to cozy fans, particularly those in or considering a CSA.
4 out of 5 stars
Cookbook Review: Olive Trees and Honey: A Treasury of Vegetarian Recipes from Jewish Communities Around the World by Gil Mars
Vegans beware. When this says it’s a vegetarian cookbook, it really means it! Almost every recipe is drenched in animal products, primarily dairy and eggs.
The Introduction explains the various food cultures that have sprung up in Jewish communities around the world, complete with maps and such. This part was fascinating, although I felt that it was a bit too Old Wold focused. I know for instance that there are strong Jewish cultures in Argentina and Brooklyn, but they are not included in the book.
After the Introduction is an explanation of vegetarian foods incorporated into Jewish holidays. I found this part rather averagely done and skimmed over it.
The recipes are oddly divided up. The chapters are: cheese and dairy spreads; pickles, marinated vegetables, and relishes; salads; soups; savory pastries; cooked vegetable dishes; vegetable stews; legumes; grains; dumplings and pasta; eggs; sauces and seasonings. As you can tell, some of the recipes are put together based on the type of dish (salad, soup) and others based on the ingredients (eggs, legumes). This makes the book appear disorganized. Also the complete lack of dessert is sad.
Beyond the maps in the Introduction, there are no pictures. Additionally, the recipes are mostly designed to serve 6 to 8. I’m not sure what planet the author is from, but that is not a typical family sized meal in America. I must admit, that I didn’t try any of the recipes because I couldn’t find a single one I wanted to try. They are all completely swimming in cholesterol and insane food portion sizes. Looking at the soups, which should presumably be a healthier option, the Persian Onion Soup on page 123 contains 3 eggs and the Hungarian Cream of Mushroom Soup on page 125 contains TWO CUPS of sour cream. Similarly, almost all of the breads and pastries are fried. My cholesterol practically spiked just looking at the cookbook.
Essentially, then, this book is a good introduction to Old World style Jewish food but ignores the healthier options that I know from experience exist in Jewish communities in the Americas. It is difficult to enjoy the cookbook since there are no pictures or colors. Additionally, all of the recipes are designed for 6 to 8 servings, which is a bit large for the typical American household. Overall, then, I would recommend this book to those with a vested interest in Jewish culture and cuisine who can see past the dull layout and design of the cookbook.
3 out of 5 stars
Source: Public Library
With an intro endorsement from actor Woody Harrelson, who just so happens to also be vegan, Chef Renee Loux Underkoffler seeks to present not just the ins and outs of raw cooking, but also the beauty in it.
So, I picked up a copy of this via Better World Books back when a close friend and I were getting into trying some new raw food recipes. They’re great in the summer for a change from salads when you want something cool, fresh, and healthy to eat. Plus, I’m always interested in learning more, so I was excited to see that Underkoffler provided more than just recipes, but also chapters featuring the benefits of the various raw ingredients and preparation techniques. Unfortunately, ultimately this cookbook really did not work for me.
First there’s the fact that a book seeking to show the beauty of raw foods has zero color pictures and almost no black and white illustrations. It is almost entirely straight text. Very unattractive in a cookbook!
Second, the background information goes on for an excruciatingly long time. The recipes do not start until page 261 of the book! And as much as I like learning more about some veggies and fruits, it felt like information overload to me. If I really wanted to know all the properties of every fruit and vegetable out there, I’d become a nutritionist. Knowing the basics, such as what is provided by the scientists in DASH–lots of servings of brightly colored fruits and vegetables are good for you–that’s really all the consumer needs to know. Well, that and how to properly assemble the foods for the right tastes and textures.
So I was pleased to get to the recipes, but only found three that I found to be at all doable by me. The rest required either an insane amount of prep time, special tools, or special ingredients that even with all of my grocery options in a city like Boston I was unable to even fathom where I would find them. (Vegans should also note that the recipes make abundant use of raw honey).
I, admittedly, have yet to try the three recipes I did find, primarily because they all require a blender, and mine is broken. I did save them to try in the summer during a hot spell of a week. But even if Underkoffler’s recipes are delicious, they are overly involved and intimidating, even to someone like myself who cooks a ton. I suppose her market might be raw chefs, but then why have the entire beginning of the book be toned toward beginners with no idea what’s in fruits and vegetables? The book is a bit of a mystery to me, honestly.
Ultimately, although the title of the cookbook is lovely, the recipes and content themselves are not. Underkoffler’s cookbook lacks a true direction. It is unclear if her target audience is talented raw chefs or the average American developing an interest in raw foods. As such, neither audience is properly served. I would not recommend starting with this book if you have a new interest in raw cooking, but chefs may be interested in flipping through the recipes in the back to see if any are new ideas to them.
2 out of 5 stars
Source: Better World Books