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About Seira Wilson

Seira Wilson can't remember a time when she wasn't surrounded by books, and instead of "eat your peas" her mother always said, "no reading at the dinner table." Not much has changed--today her house is filled with books: biographies, humorous fiction (it's good for what ails you), children's books, cookbooks, more fiction. And when she's alone, Seira reads at the dinner table.

Posts by Seira

Moosewood Cookbook 40 Years Later: A Guest Post by Mollie Katzen

MoosewoodCkbk400It's hard to believe, but the Moosewood Cookbook turns 40 this year with a beautiful commemorative edition that includes a new introduction by author Mollie Katzen.  

According to the New York Times, Moosewood Cookbook is one of the top ten best-selling cookbooks of all time and for many of us it revolutionized the way we think about vegetarian cooking.  First published as a spiral-bound notebook with hand-written recipes and simple illustrations,  this classic cookbook has stood the test of time and is still one of the most popular guides to making delicious home-cooked vegetarian dishes.  Restaurants today pride themselves on menus highlighting seasonal ingredients, but in the pages of this cookbook Mollie Katzen has been showing home cooks how to make the most of in season fruits and vegetables for decades.

We asked Katzen to write a guest post for us, in celebration of the 40th anniversary of her first cookbook*, and to share her favorite recipe from the book which turns out to be Califlower-Cheese Pie.

*Since Moosewood Mollie Katzen has written several cookbooks, including her most recent, The Heart of the Plate: Vegetarian Recipes for a New Generation.


The original Moosewood Cookbook originated, in part, from random notes used to help keep track of what my friends and I were cooking in the tiny kitchen of our modest 1970s restaurant. “Vegetarian” was in the early stages of becoming a “thing,” but it was highly unofficial. We were greatly inspired by international dishes as remembered from various world travel (actual or via the “ethnic restaurant” route), discovering cuisines from other countries that placed far less emphasis on meat and more on creative preparation of garden- and orchard-sourced ingredients.  (At that time, hardly anyone in the United States had heard of tabouli, pesto, hummus, or many other then-considered-exotic items that are now ubiquitous.)

Our food was largely plant-based, although that term was not yet in anyone’s vocabulary. The notebook was an attempt to more or less standardize our “cuisine,” which was varied and eclectic and often quite spontaneous—determined largely by the produce delivery of the day and the imagination and skill level of the cook. We had a casual approach to everything (including the idea of standardization itself), so this would ideally help us keep things somewhat consistent.  An inveterate journal keeper and art school graduate, I turned these notes into a booklet, speaking with an informal voice through my own hand-lettering (didn’t own a typewriter; computers decades short of existing) and pen-and-ink illustrations.

In 1974, I photocopied the booklet and sold copies through a local bookstore. Over the next couple of years, it ended up selling thousands of copies. In the fall of 1977, the national edition (the one many people have come to know) was first published by Ten Speed Press. It was not an overnight sensation; it actually took a few years to catch on and begin to sell. To this day, amazingly, the Moosewood Cookbook has never been out of print.

For Moosewood Cookbook’s 40th birthday celebration, Ten Speed and I have collaborated on an upgraded package with a fresh new look, built to last. For those of you with old, stained, notated, dog-eared, scotch-taped, rubber-banded (and in some cases, coverless) copies from yesteryear, you might appreciate this newly refreshed edition—whether for yourself or for someone who is new to this tome, inspired more by  curiosity, perhaps, than nostalgia.  In any case, we are thrilled to celebrate this milestone with you.  We hope these recipes—and this style of cooking, in general—will call out to you, giving you a range of ideas to keep your cooking fresh in all ways and helping you make or keep your kitchen a place of creativity and enjoyment.  --Mollie Katzen

 

CauliflowerCheesePieRecipe

 

Best Children's Books of 2014

BOTY2014KidsCollageThis year there seemed to be as many great children's books in the first half of the year as the second, great news for all of us book lovers who didn't have to wait until the big fall books to find the gems.  Case in point, The Pigeon Needs a Bath by Mo Willems--our top pick for 2014 that released in April--is hilarious whether you're 4 or 44. 

Deciding on the top 20 children's books is always difficult, but I won't complain about having so many beloved books to choose from over the course of 2014.  Below is a sampling of the Best Children's Books of 2014, the top five (of a total of 20) across all ages.  You can also see the top 20 for each category:

Top 5 Children's Books of 2014:

1. The Pigeon Needs a Bath! by Mo Willems (ages 3-5): A new book in the beloved Pigeon series, even the flies think the pigeon needs a good scrub.  Hilarity ensues as pigeon does everything he can think of to avoid a bath but when the inevitable happens, the pigeon is pleasantly surprised.

2. The Fourteenth Goldfish by Jennifer Holm (ages 9-12): The clever, funny, and uplifting story of 11-year-old Ellie, who is entering a new chapter of her life when her grumpy scientist grandfather ends up living with them under strange circumstances.  As Ellie discovers new friends and interests, she and her grandfather form a unique bond that results in the gift of possibility for both of them.

3. The Boundless by Kenneth Oppel (ages 9-12): Historical fiction for young readers at it best, The Boundless successfully mixes history, folklore, and imagination into a sweeping adventure story. Will and Maren's paths cross twice around the Boundless, a train of epic proportion.  Though they live very different lives, they are united in the face of the murderers, thieves, and deception aboard the train's inaugural run.  

4. The Heroes of Olympus Book Five: The Blood of Olympus by Rick Riordan (ages 9-12): The final book in the Heroes of Olympus series, Riordan brings his A-game to end the story of these Greek and Roman demigods' battle to save the world from Gaea's destructive force.  Action-packed adventure, witty characters, and suspense make this one a page-turner from beginning to end.

5. Leroy Ninker Saddles Up: Tales from Deckawoo Drive, Volume One by Kate DiCamillo (ages 6-8): Award winner Kate DiCamillo kicks off a new chapter book series with a character readers may remember from one of ther Mercy Watson books, Leroy Ninker.  A sweet and funny story about a would-be cowboy and the horse he loves, this is a great book for reluctant readers and young enthusiasts alike.

You can see all of our favorite chidlren's books of the year here.

Recipe Road Test: The Slanted Door's Ginger Braised Chicken

SlantedDoor2014 has been a really big year for cookbooks so deciding which one would be in the top spot for Best of the Year was tough. In the end, though, The Slanted Door: Modern Vietnamese Food really has it all. 

Let me start by saying that this cookbook is utterly beautiful and interesting to look through--every single page of text, be it recipe or brief essay, is accompanied by a full page photograph opposite. 

Broken into three acts according to the restaurant's location, The Slanted Door cookbook complements it's recipes with an entertaining history of a restaurant and the modern Vietnamese cuisine that has made it a top destination for food lovers living in, or traveling to, San Francisco for nearly two decades. 

The recipes that pack these pages are gorgeous, well explained, and inspirational.  The Slanted Door's Shaking Beef is one of the dishes I order every time I go, along with a couple of Ginger Limeade cocktails and the Stir Fried Green Beans--recipes for all of these are included in the cookbook, along with a wealth of other mouth-watering drinks and edibles you can now try at home.  Last week I made the Ginger Braised Chicken and it was heavenly.

If your evenings are as hectic as mine, I recommend giving yourself a little time ahead to do the prep work.  It's not too much, but I was really grateful that I'd cut the thin matchsticks of ginger and sliced the garlic cloves the night before.  This is a recipe I will make often in the future--everyone who ate it loved it, and Ginger Braised Chicken makes for a jealousy-inducing lunch the next day. 

MyGingerBraisedChicken

 

Here is what my Ginger Braised Chicken looked like before I put it with jasmine rice. I went a little rogue and used full size drumsticks so I did have to cook it a little longer to accommodate.  I'll stick to the smaller pieces per the ingredients list next time.

If you want to try this one yourself, the recipe and photo from The Slanted Door, our pick for the number one cookbook of the year, is below.

 

 

 

 
 
 
 
 
 
BRAISED GINGER CHICKEN
from The Slanted Door by Charles Phan
 
My mother used to make this dish whenever a family friend was pregnant, since ginger minimizes nausea and aids digestion. I like to start with a whole chicken, cut Chinese style (see instructions below), and save the breasts for another use.
  • 1 whole chicken, 2 to 3 pounds
  • 3 tablespoons canola oil
  • 1 teaspoon cornstarch
  • 1 teaspoon kosher salt
  • ½ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • ½ yellow onion, thinly sliced
  • 4 cloves garlic, thinly sliced
  • ¹⁄³ cup very thinly sliced fresh ginger, about ¹⁄¹6-inch-thick
  • ½ cup rice wine, such as michiu or sake
  • 1 cup chicken stock (page 246) or water
  • 1 tablespoon fish sauce
  • 3 or 4 Thai chiles, halved lengthwise
  • 6 green onions, white parts only, halved lengthwise
  • Slivered green onions, for garnish
  • Steamed jasmine rice, for serving

Serves 4 to 6 

1. Using a cleaver, cut the chicken legs from the body by cutting cleanly through the joint. Cut the drumstick from the thigh along the joint and, using strong, swift cuts, chop each drumstick and thigh through the bone into three pieces. Cut the wings from the body along the joint, and cut each wing into two pieces, a drumette and wing. Reserve the breast for another use.

2. Place the chicken pieces in a large mixing bowl and add 1 tablespoon of the oil, the cornstarch, and the salt. Toss to coat.

3. In a wide-bottomed clay pot or sauté pan over medium-high heat, heat the remaining 2 tablespoons of oil until shimmering. Add the onion and cook, stirring occasionally, for a minute. Add the garlic and ginger and cook for 2 more minutes. Add the chicken pieces and a few grinds of black pepper and cook for another 2 minutes. Add the rice wine and let simmer for about 5 minutes, stirring occasionally. Add the chicken stock, fish sauce, chiles, green onions, and a pinch of salt. Bring the liquid to a boil, reduce the heat to a simmer, and simmer until the chicken is cooked through and tender, 20 to 30 minutes. Garnish with slivered green onions and serve immediately with steamed rice.

GingerBraisedChickenSlantedDoor

YA Wednesday: Best Books of 2014

Back in January I thought 2013 was going to be tough to beat in terms of great YA but here it is, mid-November, and I just got over the trama of having to narrow down my favorites to a list of 20.  Interestingly enough, the last couple of years have had the top picks release in the first half of the year.  Typically it's the fall that brings the "big" books, but not so in YA.  At the end of the day, and basically the year, I'm still most in love with We Were Liars (as an aside, in our Celebrity Picks Martin Short chose We Were Liars as one of his favorite books this year, too).   Below are the top 5 titles for the Best Young Adult Books of 2014: WeWereLiars400

1. We Were Liars by E. Lockhart  - What can I say, every bit of this short book is beautifully written and this is a story that grabs hold and doesn't let go.  Mystery, love, friendship, pain, and most of all beautiful writing fill these pages. I've received middle of the night email from friends I gave We Were Liars to, telling me they just finished (and it's 2 a.m.) and loved it.

2. Belzhar by Meg Wolitzer - In her debut YA novel, Belzhar, Wolitzer captures the urgency and larger-than-life feelings of adolescent love, heartbreak and friendship through the story of Jam Gallahue.  After a traumatic experience at home, Jam is sent to a boarding school with similarly "damaged" souls and there they uncover truths about themselves and each other.  Surprising, observant, and completely absorbing, this is a book you'll want to read straight through. 

3. Hollow City by Ransom Riggs - The long-awaited follow-up to Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children was worth waiting for.  Out in the world outside their island, Miss Peregrine's charges make their way to London trying to find her before it's too late.  The year is 1940, a turmultuous and uncertain time, and what transpires on their journey is harrowing and riveting.  Like he did in Miss Peregrine's Riggs includes eerie but perfect vintage photographs throughout the story.

4. I'll Give You the Sun by Jandy Nelson - Twins Jude and Noah tell the story of what happened between the age of thirteen and sixteen, a time when everything changed in their relationship,their family, and themselves.  The dual narratives dovetail beautifully, one starting at the beginning and the other moving backwards from where things ended up.  I'll Give You the Sun is a powerhouse story of identity, loss, fear, and forgiveness that had me trying to read at stop lights just so I could see what happens next.

5. Dreams of Gods & Monsters by Laini Taylor - This third and final book in the Daughter of Smoke and Bone trilogy sealed it for me--this is one of my favorite YA series. Period.  Laini Taylor is an extremely talented writer and in this moment I'm reminded of how it feels to begin one of her books. It feels like you are starting something you won't want to end (and you won't).  The end of anything can be tricky, but Taylor knows just how to do it in Dreams of Gods & Monsters, combining new twists with the reappearance of beloved elements of the earlier books.  Good and evil, friend or foe, a blue-haired girl and fire-eyed boy--I miss all of it and think I might have to read these again.

You'll find the other 15 books that made 2014 memorable here.

BOTY2to5

A Unique Look at the ABCs: "Alphabetabum"

Award-winning author/illustrators Chris Raschka and Vladimir Radunsky recently teamed up to create an unusual pairing of rare vintage photos and verse in the highly original alphabet book. Alphabetabum

The antique photos of children accompanying each letter are a mirror into history and just examining the dress and expressions is fascinating.  Add to that Raschka's quirky verse, and you have a picture book that looks like an object from another time and is appealing to all ages.   See below for a look inside:

Cover

 

Images from Alphabetabum: An Album of Rare Photographs and Medium Verses

 
 
 
 
 
 

Guest Review: Michael J. Fox on "The Pollan Family Table"

PollanFamilyTableThe Pollan family is expanding a presence in our kitchens that began with Michael Pollan’s ground-breaking book, The Omnivore's Dilmena. Now it's the Pollan ladies, matriarch Corky and three sisters Lori, Dana, and Tracy, in the spotlight with The Pollan Family Table, a new cookbook that begs to be read and shared, used widely and often (we chose it as one of our Best Cookbooks of November).  

Beautifully photographed, the recipes are personal and accessible, with enough variety to easily put together a delicious meal for guests or night after night for family.

Besides the recipes, I also really like the section called Sage Advice that covers everything from replicating buttermilk using 2% and lemon juice to removing corn silk using a damp paper towel. 

Below, Michael J. Fox, married for more than two decades to Tracy Pollan, shares his thoughts on The Pollan Family Table.

PollanFamilyWomenCropped

 


 MichaelJFoxIn the interest of full disclosure, you should know that the authors of The Pollan Family Table are my wife, Tracy Pollan; her sisters Lori and Dana; and my mother-in-law, Corky. My brother-in-law, Michael Pollan, the Carl Sagan of food, wrote the foreword. Spoiler alert: my review is a rave.

How could it not be? Notwithstanding the fact that I’d like to keep my place at that eponymous table—one that I’ve had the privilege to hold for some twenty-five years—I can honestly and enthusiastically report that this collection of recipes, reflections, and gorgeous color photographs is a thoughtfully conceived, beautifully realized, invaluable asset to any family making dinner plans. Moreover, it’s a paean to those moments, however brief or infrequent they may be, when we gather the people we love and share a meal.

So much can get in the way of preparing and convening for a regular family dinner. But this book offers solutions to those problems with simple recipes that cater to any taste or occasion, running the gamut from soup (Creamless Broccoli Soup with Whole Roasted Garlic and Frizzled Leeks) to nuts (Key Lime Pie with Walnut Oatmeal Crust).

And there is something in this book you will love, no matter your appetite or dietary restrictions. Even nonvegetarians will rejoice at what I believe to be the most perfect veggie burger on the planet, the Supreme Crispy Quinoa Vegetable Burger. Seafood lovers are well served here, too, with favorite recipes like Smoky Sautéed Shrimp. And just looking at the Citrus-Roasted Chicken with Grand Marnier triggers a Proustian flashback, bringing to mind not only the aroma and juicy, subtle flavor but also a cascade of memories, conversations, plans hatched, jokes and stories told and retold at family get-togethers. The familiar food and setting provide a continuum. Proust describes it as “Time regained.” Marty McFly might exclaim, “You built a time machine . . . out of a beef tenderloin?”

Every family’s story develops around its own table. You share the moments, both seminal and trivial, that over time become your life. For us, it’s a banquette in the breakfast nook of our New York apartment. In the chaotic process of raising four children, we have put in so much time around our own table—not only with meals but also with homework and art projects and games of Clue—that Tracy and I have had to reupholster the bench seats at least half a dozen times.

But the definitive PFT is the trestle table in the dining room of Corky and Stephen’s Connecticut home. As the family multiplied, there became less and less space for new spouses and their offspring and weekend guests, boyfriends, girlfriends, etc. Corky says that she and Stephen “were determined the family tradition would continue, with everyone able to sit together, rather than relegating the youngest to ‘the kids’ table.’ So ours became the ever-lengthening table.” When the table grew too large for the room, Corky and Stephen extended the house, knocking out a wall in the dining room to provide extra space for another half-dozen happy cousins.

So, yes, this is a book of delicious recipes, complete with pantry and market lists and tips on essential utensils and homespun advice; but what makes it compelling on the human level is its insistence that the family meal is not a thing of the past. The Pollan Family Table reassures that best intentions can be put into action and the results can enrich your family’s life in ways that are both harmonious and healthy. Corky, Lori, Tracy, and Dana share what they know so you can share with those you love. As I said, full disclosure: you knew it was going to be a rave because, after all . . . this is what my life tastes like. -- Michael J. Fox

This Is No Bush-League Tapioca Pudding...

ThugKitchenThug Kitchen is a gust of profanity-soaked fresh air in the cookbook universe of late.  The subtitle, "Eat Like You Give a F*ck" is your warning light--if swearing bothers you, don't even open the cover.  For those who couldn't care less, welcome to the irreverent and delicious pages of this fantastic vegan cookbook.

I'm not even remotely vegan, and to be totally honest the first vegan meal I cooked (Wedding Soup with White Bean Balls and Kale) is from Thug Kitchen. The food was so tasty that I immediately flagged a fast half-a-dozen more recipes to try.  At first the vernacular is a little shocking (did they really just say that?!), but rather than becoming gimicky, I found it to be like listening to a good friend who has a cheeky and infectious sense of humor. I had fun cooking and ate well from this Best Cookbooks of October pick.

From page 189 in the Sweet Talk section of Thug Kitchen, this recipe for Peachy Almond Tapioca Pudding convinced even me (a staunch avoider of all things bubble tea or tapioca) that I might like this old-school orb-a-licious dessert.

 

 

Peachy Almond Tapioca Pudding

Thug_Kitchen_PeachyAlmTapioca

1⁄2 cup small tapioca pearls*
2 cups water
3 cups peach juice**
1 cup plain almond milk
Pinch of salt
1⁄2 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 tablespoon agave syrup
(optional)
2 tablespoons lemon juice
Blueberries, for serving

Tapioca pudding might sound like an old lady dessert but trust them; they aren’t wasting their golden years on some bush-league bullshit. This pudding is creamy and perfectly sweet. Now go call Gladys and tell her that shit Ethel said earlier.
makes enough for 4 normal people

  1. Put the tapioca pearls in a bowl with the water and let them soak overnight. You can do this in the morning too; they just need to sit for at least 6 hours. Don’t let them go more than 16 hours, though. Shit gets weird after that.
  2. When you are ready to cook, drain the tapioca pearls. Put them in a medium saucepan with the juice, almond milk, salt, and vanilla. If your juice isn’t super sweet, then go ahead and add the agave. Just fucking taste it and you will figure it out. Warm the pot over low heat and stir constantly. You don’t want it bubbling or anything, so pay attention and don’t fucking stop stirring. At around 8 to 10 minutes it should start thickening up and the pearls should start looking clear. Keep stirring until it is about the same consistency as a thick soup or gravy, about a minute more. Turn off the heat and stir in the lemon juice. Pour the pudding into a medium bowl and put in the fridge to cool.
  3. Let it sit for 3 to 4 hours, otherwise you’ll be eating hot pudding and that shit is gross. If it thickens up too much in the fridge, just stir it up real good and add an extra tablespoon of peach juice. Top the tapioca with blueberries and serve.

* These little white balls are usually sold in bags in the baking aisle of the store or

just look on the Internet. They are the starch that helps this thicken up so don’t even

fucking think about leaving them out.

** You can use whatever the fuck kind of juice you want, just not something real acidic

like orange. Peach-apple juice is a good one, too.

Hauntingly Good Halloween Books for Kids

I love Halloween for many reasons (the candy, the costumes, the candy...) but particularly for how much fun it is for little ones.  Besides putting up spider webs and skeletons, or carving this year's pumpkins, Halloween is a great time for reading spooky, silly, and fun-filled children's books. 

Here are a few of my old and new favorites:

ShiveryShadesHalloween

Little Boo by Stephen Wunderli:
A little pumpkin seed tries to be scary but is laughed at instead.  Even when he grows into a seedling he’s still not scary.  The wind reassures him that his time will come he just needs to be patient and grow.  At last, the little seed has become a pumpkin and then a frightening—and very happy--jack-o-lantern.  Ages 3-7

Bunnicula in a Box
by James Howe:
A perennial favorite any time of year, the story of the Monroe family's latest pet, a rabbit named Bunnicula who may or may not be a vampire, has been entertaining kids through the course of seven books, all of which are collected for the first time in a paperback boxed set.  Ages 8-12

Frankenstein: A BabyLit® Anatomy Primer by Jennifer Adams:
The latest board book in the popular BabyLit series uses good old Frankenstein to introduce simple anatomy like hands, feet, mouth, eyes, and of course a body.  Adorable illustrations and the usual fun play on a classic story we’ve come to expect from this series make this a perfect Halloween read.  Ages 2-6

A Very Witchy Spelling Bee by George Shannon:
A spelling bee (that's spell in the sense of letters forming words vs. the casting of) pits young witch Cordelia against the 203-year-old longtime champion Beulah Devine. Wands and words fly around the stage of the Witches Double Spelling Bee as contestants change words by adding or subtracting a letter and the results are crazy, fun, and stealthily educational. Ages 4-8

Ladybug Girl and the Dress-Up Dilmena by Jacky Davis:
It’s Halloween and Ladybug Girl’s brother doesn’t think she should wear the same costume.  So now what should she be?  A bat? A vampire panda? Nothing seems quite right until a visit to the corn maze makes it clear exactly what she is meant to be.  Ages 3-5

The Monsterator by Keith Graves:
Young Edgar Dreadbury thought Halloween costumes were boring until he discovered  a spooky little shop that contained only one thing—a Monsterator machine.  From that day on, Edgar was never the same but loved his new monster look after all.  A surprise in the last few pages gives kids the chance to monsterate Edgar themselves with the split flaps. Ages 7-10

Room on the Broom by Julia Donaldson:
Perfect for reading aloud, Room on the Broom is likely to end up looking well-worn and well-loved by the time October 31st rolls around.  A witch and her cat encounter a few mishaps leading to helpful new friends hitching a ride on their broom.  When it looks as if the broom has had it, the smiling witch finds a way to repay their passengers' kindness and keep everyone together.  Ages 3 and up

Shivery Shades of Halloween by Mary McKenna Siddals:
If you thought Halloween was just orange and black, you are in for a surprise.   Green can be an eerie glow and then there’s purple potion and cobweb white. Toddlers and preschoolers will have fun learning their colors in this fun rhyming story that takes them from a moonlit forest, to a fun Halloween party. Ages 2-5

Jim Gaffigan Eats His Way Across the USA

FoodLoveStory500Jim Gaffigan has been making us laugh for years, both as a top performing stand-up comedian and the author of last year's best-seller, Dad Is Fat On stage, Gaffigan freely shares his thoughts, obsessions, and observations of food and food culture, and he brings that and more to a new book, Food: A Love Story. To give you a little taste of what's in store, check out this exclusive guest post from the author:


People look at a map of the United States and see different things. Some people see red states and blue states. Some people see North and South. Some see East and West. I see food. I’ve performed in all fifty states and eaten my way through pretty much every major city. After my fourth or fifth lap of performing and eating across our beautiful and delicious country, I started to think of the geography of our country as it relates to food.

Here’s a preview of five food lands I talk about in Food: A Love Story

SEABUGLAND: (The northeast coast of the United States as far south as Maryland)
Lobster is as much a part of the New England personality as is the hating of all things New York City. If you can catch something in a net and crack it open for food, those bug lovers will eat it. The French may refer to seafood as the “fruit of the sea,” and scientists may call shellfish “crustaceans,” but to me they are creepy-crawly giant insects on the bottom of the ocean floor.

SUPER BOWL SUNDAY FOODLAND: (The Midwest and eastern part of the United States)
What is served on Super Bowl Sunday feels like a homecoming of all the great unhealthy American foods. They are dishes that taste great with beer and are all easy to eat while watching television. What could be more American than that? The deepest appreciation of and love for these Super Bowl Sunday foods can be found in the Midwest.

MEXICAN FOODLAND: (The southwestern part of the United States, and, of course, Texas)
I’m convinced that anyone who doesn’t like Mexican food is a psychopath. It is a known fact that it is impossible to eat quality Mexican food and not be in a good mood afterward. Even bad Mexican food is better than 90 percent of all other foods.

WINELAND: (Northern California)
Wine is a key element of the NorCal culture, and it is overemphasized with gracious abandon. I enjoy wine, but I’m certainly no expert. Occasionally, I’ll make the mistake of asking which wine the waiter would suggest. They always seem to point at one of the more expensive wines. “Well, this wine would complement your meal.” I always think to myself, Is there a box of wine you’d recommend? ’Cause that would complement my wallet.

FOOD ANXIETYLAND: (Louisiana)
You don’t just dine in New Orleans. You overeat. Whenever I’m about to go to New Orleans for a show, I always suffer food anxiety. There are just too many decisions. Where should I eat? What should I eat? How often can I eat? Did anyone watch all the episodes of Treme? New Orleans is a food mecca. It’s not just the variety; it’s the fact that I’ve never had bad food in New Orleans. I think it may be against the law.

Of course there is much more in Food: A Love Story.

--Jim Gaffigan

  Final-Gaffigan-Marketing-MapNODATE

YA Wednesday: Meg Wolitzer on "Belzhar"

BelzharBack in June I read a book called Belzhar that I'd been hearing about.  Author Meg Wolitzer's The Interestings was one of our Best Books of 2013 and prior to that I'd loved her novel for middle graders, The Fingertips of Duncan Dorfman, so I was eager to read her first book for young adults.  It's amazing. And it just released so not only did it *finally* get to claim it's rightful spot at the top of our Best YA of October list, but now when I rave about it I don't have to follow-up with, "...but it won't be out until September 30th..."

Belzhar speaks to the experiences of love, loss, and reading something life-changing. And sharing those experiences with people you may never have picked out of a crowd but when life throws you together, deep friendships are forged.  I laughed, I cried, and in the video below I talked about Belzhar with Meg Wolitzer at Book Expo in New York. I enjoyed talking with her as much as I do reading her books.  Now I anxiously await the next...

Who Needs Pictures? B.J. Novak Tells the Story

BkWithNoPicturesFrom his work on The Office we already know B.J. Novak is funny, and we had a great time reading his book, One More Thing earlier this year.  It was when he came to our office for that book that I met Novak and he told me about the children's book he had coming out at the end of September.  A picture book format but with no pictures. Huh. 

When The Book With No Pictures came in I took it home right away, read it to my seven-year-old and we both cracked up.  This is one of those rare children's books that, as a parent, I'm willing to read over-and-ove--and believe me, I've been asked to do exactly that.  Loads of fun for kids and adults, Novak proves that even in children's books, words can do all the heavy lifting.

In his guest essay below, B.J. Novak talks about the origin and creation of The Book with No Pictures (one of our Best Children's Books of October and our top pick for ages 6-8).


When I was a very little kid, I was lucky enough to experience the joy and connection of having my parents read books to me. I found myself drawn above all else to humor, and especially the sense of controlled rebellion that humor always represented in books by my most beloved authors—Dr. Seuss,  Shel Silverstein, and Roald Dahl, to name a few favorites. The world they presented had clear rules and expectations; and when those rules and expectations were bent and broken, the results were exciting, interesting, funny.

Last year, as I waited for my first book, One More Thing, to be published, I would often spend time with my friends and cousins who were starting to have kids. My role in connecting to these kids was always to ask which books he or she would like me to read.

My best friend has a very young and rambunctious son named Bruce. One day when I was visiting, Bruce picked up a book and held it out to me with an insistent expression that I read him whatever was inside, and something occurred to me. This is funny, I thought. Even though I’m the one who can read, and I’m the adult—he’s in control of me, because he’s choosing the book, and the book is in charge. This was basically a little two-year-old producer handing me a script. And it occurred to me that any kid who hands you a book is essentially the producer of that evening’s entertainment, a tiny Harvey Weinstein telling you, “Here’s what you’ll be performing tonight. These are your lines, stick to the script; and I may ask you to do it a second time.” The kid was in charge because the book had the power, and the kid had the book. That was funny to me. And I thought, you know who would really find this funny? The kid.

The idea started as simply as that: If a book is a script that a grownup is being asked to recite, what script would be the funniest one for a kid to hear? As I thought more about this idea, and looked back at my favorite books from childhood from the point of view of someone who had written comedy for adults but not yet for kids, I realized a second necessary function in comedic children’s books that is not present in comedy for adults. Comedy for adults takes the rules of the world for granted - and then twists them. The world has already provided the set-up; all that the humor really needs to provide is a punchline. But comedy for the youngest children needs to accomplish a second purpose, too: It needs to somehow introduce kids to both the setup and the punchline. In an Amelia Bedelia book, a child may need to be introduced to the idea that words can have double meanings; in Dr. Seuss books, there is an established sense of order that it would be particularly funny to disrupt.

This inspired me to play with the ways that a book might introduce the rules of the written word itself, leading to a comic payoff of these rules a few pages later. The fun would come from the child and book “teaming up” to make the adult say words that were purely for the enjoyment of the child. And the lesson would be that written words aren’t simply captions to pictures: They are powerful on their own—and they can always be a child’s ally. To try to make this lesson even more clear, I came up with a title that I knew would inspire a child’s curiosity with its sheer audacity: The Book With No Pictures.

I wrote and printed up a copy and took it around to the houses of other friends with young children and asked if I could watch them read it to their kids—rather than read it myself —because I wanted to be sure I had a book that worked as a reading experience for every type of parent. With each reading I made small changes to phrasings and pacings based on the grownup’s reading and the child’s reactions, until I could tell it inspired the same amount of laughter for everyone, but for different people in different ways. As the book got closer to publication, I focused on the design, keeping an eye out for two purposes: that the page looked beautiful and colorful to a child’s eye; and that the size, spacing, and rhythmic layout of the words were so clear and simple that even the most performance-shy adult could read it easily and intuitively.

That’s the story of The Book With No Pictures. I hope people enjoy it! There’s no sound in the world like a child’s laughter, and while there are so many things I can’t do—for instance, draw—it would be quite an honor to know I’ve contributed a little more of that sound to the world.--B.J. Novak

Grub for the Game: Tailgate Inspiration

According to Wikipedia, tailgating "often involves consuming alcoholic beverages and grilling food."  What's not to love about that kind of pre-game kick-off?   The art of the tailgate just keeps getting better and that includes the food and drink.  Don't get me wrong, hotdogs will always have a place on the grill, but you wouldn't be out of line to turn them into a signature of sorts with a unique mix of toppings.  If you are one of the many who will put on the team colors (around here that's blue and green--Seahawks--or purple and gold--Huskies), load up the cooler, and hit a stadium parking lot this weekend, let these cookbooks inspire you to some good eating and drinking.

 NFL Gameday Cookbook by Ray Lampe - For those who want to review photo highlights with a barbeque fork in hand.

NFLgamedayCkbk

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The American Craft Beer Cookbook by John Holl - Craft beer. It's a good thing. This is about bringing the brewpub to the parking lot.

CraftBeerCkbk

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Guy on Fire by Guy Fieri - You know this man. Classic red Camaro, extremely blonde hair. Eats at kick-ass local spots across the country.  Appears trustworthy. 

GuyOnFireCkbk

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Barbeque! Bible by Steve Raichlen - This is not called the bible for nothin'.  Don't mess with Raichlen when it comes to barbeque--just follow directions, lick your fingers, and take all the credit.

BBQBible

 

Thug Kitchen by Thug Kitchen - Get your veggies and your attitude on with this one.  Go for salads, tacos, or snacks, whatever you choose swearing is a main ingredient and reading the recipes is half the fun.  Dip, dip, pass, motherf*cker.

ThugKitchen

Rick Riordan's Greek Mythology Pop Quiz

BloodOlympusToday marks the release of The Blood of Olympus, the fifth and final book in Rick Riordan's Heroes of Olympus series. It's hard to believe the second Percy Jackson series has come to an end, but in true Riordan fashion he wraps things up beautifully though of course we still want more (always). 

Next up will be a brand-new series based on Nordic mythology--look in the back of The Blood of Olympus for a tidbit of info about the first book...

After all the Greek mythology we've absorbed courtesy of the Percy Jackson books, including the recently released Percy Jackson's Greek Gods, now might be a good time to take a little pop quiz composed by the author himself to see how your knowledge stacks up:

Choose the best answer to each question below then check your answers to see how you did.

1. He was raised by the magical goat Amalthea on the island of Crete; after eating and drinking from the cornucopia, he was eventually returned to his father, soon after which he rejoined his brothers and sisters.




2. She was the mother of the goddess of spring, who was also the Queen of the Underworld; her name in Greek means “Barley-Mother.”

Artemis
Hera

3. Which of the Olympians chose never to set foot on Mt. Olympus?

Aphrodite
Athena
Poseidon
Hades

4. This god’s symbols are the shield and spear; the moons of the planet which bear his namesake are Phobos and Deimos.




5. This Greek goddess of victory’s Roman name was Vitula; the gods wisely did not contest with her, as she could not be defeated.




6. This Olympian god made golden mechanical women and twenty 3-legged tables with golden wheels that ran by themselves to help him in his smithy as he made weapons and armor for the gods and heroes. Who was he?




7. Chiron was this type of mythological beast.




8. This sorceress changed the men of Odysseus into pigs, although later she recanted and turned them back into men when Odysseus tricked her.




9. This was the favorite food of the gods.




10. Who ferried the dead across a river in the Underworld if they gave him the proper payment, a coin or obol, which the Greeks always placed under a dead person’s tongue when given a proper burial?




 SEE THE ANSWERS

Exclusive Recipe from "The Skinnytaste Cookbook"

SkinnytasteCall me a skeptic, but when I hear the words "light on calories, big on flavor" I'm generally doubtful.

In the case of The Skinnytaste Cookbook, however, author Gina Homolka is absolutely right.  I made the Cajun Chicken Pasta on the Lighter Side last week and seriously could not believe how good it was.  And low calorie! And everyone in my family liked it! 

I decided then and there to turn this week over to the pages of The Skinnytaste Cookbook and every single thing I've made has been delicious.  Plus, I've heard nothing but raves from my fellow diners (believe me, this is not a given...). 

So far we've had Zucchini Lasagna (even better the next day), Santa Fe Chicken (yes, a slow cooker recipe that takes 10 hours, just like a work day. amen.), and Sausage with Peppers (I chopped the veggies ahead and it was super fast to get on the table).  

Gina Homolka is my new hero (not even kidding) and The Skinnytaste Cookbook is our Best Cookbook of October spotlight title. Below is an exclusive recipe from her that I'm dying to try.  Even though I keep saying I won't buy any more kitchen gadgets I'm pretty sure I've got a spiralizer headed my way...  Enjoy!

 


Raw Spiralized Beet Salad with Candied Pecans and Goat Cheese

Serves 1

If you're not a fan of cooked beets, you may be surprised if you try them raw! They're sweet and crunchy and absolutely delicious in this spiralized salad, which I made using my favorite cooking gadget, the Paderno World Cuisine Spiralizer. And since there's no need to turn on your oven, it’s ready in less than 20 minutes. The creaminess of the goat cheese goes well with the sweetness of the beets, and the mint makes it bright and refreshing!

RawSpiralizedBeetSalad

  • 1 medium beet
  • 1 teaspoon extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1 teaspoon golden balsamic vinegar
  • 1 teaspoon local honey
  • Pinch of kosher salt
  • Freshly cracked black pepper
  • 1/2 ounce candied pecans
  • 1/2 ounce goat cheese
  • 1/2 teaspoon chopped fresh mint

 

Peel the beet and trim off the stem end. (I recommend using gloves to prevent staining your hands.)

Insert the thicker end of the beet into the round blade of a spiralizer fitted with the smallest blade, keeping it centered.

Cut the beet into long spaghetti-like strips. Using kitchen scissors, cut the strands into pieces that are about 8 inches long.

Transfer the noodles to a bowl and add the olive oil, vinegar, honey, and salt, and season with black pepper. Toss well and let it sit for 15 minutes.

Transfer the beets to a salad plate. Sprinkle with the candied pecans, goat cheese, and mint, and serve. Serving size: 1 salad

Calories: 214 • Fat: 13 g • Carb: 21 g • Fiber: 3 g • Protein: 5 g • Sugar: 17 g Sodium: 171 mg • Cholesterol: 7 mg

Jane Lynch Gets Mean (fictionally speaking, that is)

MarleneQueenOfMeanEarlier this year, when I found out I was going to interview Jane Lynch during Book Expo America, I kind of got heart palpatations.  I love her in films, particularly Best in Show, saw her play Miss Hannigan in the Broadway revival of Annie last year (a show I'd never had a particular desire to see until I heard she was in it), and then of course, there's Glee...

Turns out, she's this totally amazing, down-to-earth children's book author. Yes, that's right--Jane Lynch, along with her co-authors and illustrator, have written a funny and smart picture book about bullying.  October is National Anti-Bullying Month, so it's only fitting that we should be talking about Marlene, Marlene, Queen of Mean  on October 1st.

The main character, Marlene, is a bully who is trying--as many do--to make friends and be popular with other kids, but just doesn't know how, and so resorts to being pushy and mean.  In the video below, Lynch and I talk about Marlene, Marlene, Queen of Mean, Lynch's own experience as a bully, and creating a character that stays true to her personality but learns how to tone down the sharp edge. 

 

 

Behind the Book: Lauren Oliver on "Rooms"

RoomsSince her debut novel, Before I Fall, Lauren Oliver has established herself as a beloved author of young adult novels, most recently with Panic, one of our Best YA Books of the Month (March 2014).  Oliver has also successfully ventured into the world of children's books in recent years, and yesterday her first book for adults was released. Rooms is another shining example of what makes Oliver so popular, and in the same way that her YA books are often sought out by older readers, I think many of her young adult readers will fall in love with this one. 

Rooms is the story of a fractured family, a house haunted by the past, and connections between the living and dead told through the voices of multiple narrators.  Earlier this year, I met up with Oliver at Book Expo America in New York to talk about Rooms, what it was like to write her first adult novel, ghost stories, and what's next--as you'll see in the video below, this is an author who stays busy

Books referenced in our interview with Lauren Oliver:

TurnofScrew VanishingGirls

2014 National Book Award: The Longlists

The titles long listed for the National Book Awards have been trickling in this week and today the final category, Fiction, was announced.  Some of the titles that have appeared on our Best Books of the Month lists are included but we'll have to wait until October 15th to see which books make the list of finalists.  We usually do a pool in the office with our predictions for the winners in each category--last year our Director, Sara Nelson, was the most prescient.  Do you have any thoughts about who should take home the National Book Awards this year?

NBAlonglistFBCollage

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Fiction:

 

Nonfiction:

 

Young People's Literature:

 

Poetry:

 

 

Jennifer Holm and Esther Ehrlich: Best Books of September

14thGoldfish400Two of my favorite kids' books this month (both on our Best Children's Books of September list) are Jennifer Holm's The Fourteenth Goldfish and Esther Ehrlich's Nest.  They are very different stories, but have strong family relationships and spunky main characters in common--I think the same reader would really enjoy both.

The Fourteenth Goldfish (our spotlight pick) is clever, funny, and thought-provoking.  I loved eleven-year-old Ellie's grumpy inventor grandfather who teaches her about the power of science and belief and being no less than one hundred percent yourself.  I laughed A LOT reading this book and recommended it to three people just last night.  Not even kidding.

Set in 1972, Nest is a powerful story about Nest400eleven-year-old Naomi, called "Chirp," and the tremendous change her family undergoes as the result of physical and mental illness.  Over the course of the book they bring out the best and worst in each other, anger and love competing for space.  Chirp finds solace in the birds near home and in an unlikely friendship with the neighbor boy who has family problems of his own. This is a book that made me hug it to my chest and heave a big sigh when it was over.  Fans of Jenni Holm's books like Turtle in Paradise would like this one.

These two authors recently got together and shared their conversation:

Jenni Holm: Your book is just gorgeous. Was there a specific moment in your life that inspired it?

Esther Ehrlich: Thanks, Jenni! No, there’s not a specific moment that inspired Nest but, I think, a lifetime of moments. The spark for the book was an image that came to me of two sisters dancing in the road together in a summer rainstorm while their mom, a dancer who wasn’t feeling well, watched them from the porch. That image captured my imagination and wouldn’t let go, and the rest of the book unfolded from there.

Jenni Holm: I have all brothers, so I really enjoyed how you delve into relationships between sisters. Can you talk a little about that?

Esther Ehrlich:  I grew up in a family with four children born within five years of each other, three girls and one boy. I guess I couldn’t imagine writing a story without siblings, but I could imagine a few less of them! Chirp having one sister just felt right.

There’s something so powerful and unique about sister relationships; they’re amazingly intimate, but you don’t choose them. Sisters can be dramatically different from each other, yet there’s a deep bond that links them together. Chirp and Rachel have such different personalities, but in ways that really matter, they’re similar—they’re both loyal, smart, observant girls with a huge capacity to love.

Jenni Holm: You developed a wonderful sense of place and time. How did you go about doing your research? 

Esther Ehrlich:  Oh, the research! I spent a fair amount of time making sure that this bird would be doing that thing at this time of year there. I depended on a wonderful guide I found online that was specific to the birds on Cape Cod. And I listened and listened to birdsongs on the Cornell Lab of Ornithology website. I wanted to do the birds justice—choose the right bird for the right mood/situation.

Most of my research was about double-checking the accuracy of my memory of the early 1970s. What did it say on the box of Screaming Yellow Zonkers? What Stevie Wonder song would Chirp and Sally most likely be dancing to in the basement? When did that commercial with the owl saying “Give a hoot! Don’t pollute!”run? I also dug up an old menu from Howard Johnson’s so Dad could order a “grilled-in-butter frankfort” instead of just a plain old hot dog!

Jenni Holm:  It's great having a story starring quiet yet observant children. Were you like this as a child? Why did you decide to write these sorts of characters?

Esther Ehrlich: Wow, good questions! To answer the second question first, I feel like I made very few conscious decisions about the characters, especially about such fundamental qualities like their personalities, what makes them who they are. I don’t mean to sound mystical, but the process of writing characters, for me, is much more about following their lead, paying attention to their quirks, what they reveal in little and not-so-little ways about themselves as the story develops, than about a deliberate choice I’m making. I never said to myself, “I think I want to write about an eleven-year-old girl whose eyes are wide open to the world but who doesn’t talk much to other people about her experiences.”

That said, my mother always used to say to me, “You don’t miss a trick, Es!” which I took as a compliment. I was definitely a kid who paid attention to pretty much everything. Of course, this also meant that I was very tuned in to what was going on with the people in my life—my family, friends, kids at school, teachers—and my accurate or, I’m sure, sometimes inaccurate ideas about how they were feeling. There was a vigilant quality to my observing. What is this person feeling and what is it that they need from me? No one who knew me as a kid would have described me as quiet—I was definitely a talker and still am. But the truth is, especially as a kid, my most peaceful and therefore happiest time was when I pulled back from the hard work of being vigilant and just spent time, quietly, by myself. I can’t tell you how many hours I spent alone with my bunnies in the backyard, brushing their fur with a soft toothbrush, trying to teach them to sit and stay, and just hanging out in the grass or fall leaves or snow.

Jenni Holm:  Anything you would like to add?

Esther Ehrlich: Well, I’d like to thank you for your interest in Nest and me, but I’d especially like to thank you for all of your writing. You give feisty, smart girls—and kind boys—a good name, and I appreciate that!

Recipe Road Test: Best Guacamole EVER

SeriouslyDelishGood guacamole can be the entire reason for going to a particular restaurant, but there is also a lot of mediocre guac out there--especially at my house...  I've tried the package of guacamole seasoning from the grocery store. So wrong. I've tried winging it with avocado, lime juice, hot sauce, and the occasional dalliance with sour cream.  Also no bueno. 

Seriously Delish has a lot of great recipes (it is, after all, one of our Best Cookbooks of September) but when I saw how sweet house guac, I knew that was the first recipe to try.

I made it for a group recently after a day of sun, boating, and beers, and it was hands-down the best guac I've ever made and one I'd be proud to serve again.  I attribute this to the copious amount of lime, the finely chopped jalapeno and red onion, and the right amount of salt.  Fresh, bright, and delicious, the recipe is also mighty generous and was perfect for our hungry group of eight. Next time I'm going to try one of Merchant's recommended ways to "trash up" my guac (starting with bacon, of course). I failed to take a picture of my own bowl of how sweet house guac which I blame on beer and the desire to eat this as fast as possible.

Below is the recipe and photo from page 92 of Seriously Delish.  

SweetDelishGuacamoleHow sweet house guac

I have been known to eat an entire bowl of guacamole by myself in one sitting. To say that I am in love would be a severe understatement. It would probably even be offensive. Over the years there has been a lot of guac to cross my path. I’ve determined what I love and don’t love, and this is it. My number-one preference is for the dip to remain completely authentic in flavor—so I don’t want any sour cream or yogurt mixed in. I am happiest when my red onion and jalapeño are finely diced and when my tomato is mostly seeded. Lots of salt and pepper are a must. And the limes—well, they are the key. Oh, and so are the margaritas.

MAKES 3 cups • TIME: 10 minutes

4 very ripe avocados, halved and pitted

Juice of 2 limes

1 large tomato, chopped

1⁄2 red onion, diced

1 jalapeño chile pepper, diced

1⁄3 cup chopped fresh cilantro

1⁄2 teaspoon salt

1⁄2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

1. Scoop the avocado flesh into a large bowl. Add the lime juice, tomato, onion, jalapeño, cilantro, salt, and pepper. Mash the avocados with a potato masher or a fork—you can leave it as chunky as desired. Taste and season additionally if desired.

NOTES: For all of you cilantro haters out there who claim your guac tastes like soap, simply leave it out. No biggie. And if you want to trash up your guac (aka, one of my favorite things to do), feel free to add some juicy mango chunks or crispy bacon. I’ve done it, my friends. It’s fab.

Good Morning! Now Pack Me a Lunch.

School started in our district this week and while I'm excited for all the new things my daughter will be learning, I'm less enthusiastic about the return of the daily lunch packing chore.  And let me just say that there are few things more irritating than doing the blurry-eyed lunch creation (especially if I have to deal with meat and mayo at 7 a.m.) only to have it return half eaten. Grrr...  So, I've been checking out some of the books on the subject of kid lunches that have crossed my desk.  Below are a couple I'm most excited about.  Also, if you are a parent who leaves the occasional note tucked in with the sandwich, there are these really great note packs that are the perfect size and come in all different themes.  Yes, I do this.  It's nice.  My mom used to do it sometimes (and believe me, it doesn't happen every day in my world, either) and I still remember how much I loved seeing that little surprise at lunchtime.  

 

BestLunchBoxEver

 

Best Lunch Box Ever by Katie Sullivan Morford
This book knows my pain. In the first section there is a whole strategy for weekend do-ahead tasks that will make Monday morning (and Tuesday, and Wednesday...) much easier.  There are new sandwich ideas--everything from how to upgrade a turkey and cheese to mini pita sandwiches for kids who love little bites, to packing salads with kid appeal.  There is even a little section at the end for after-school snack ideas that are healthy and tasty.

 

 

 

 

 

BestHomemadeKidsLunches

 

The Best Homemade Kids' Lunches on the Planet by Laura Fuentes
Now we're talking expert lunch box advice here.  Author Laura Fuentes has a website (MOMables.com) dedicated to helping busy parents come up with healthy fun lunch that kids will actually eat.  In the book she collects over 200 recipes including some that are gluten-, soy-, and/or nut-free.  One special touch is the addition of a chart at the back of the book where kids can rate the different recipes.  A great way to get kids involved and build a repertoire of tried and true winners.

 

 

 

BeatingLunchBoxBlues

 

Beating the Lunch Box Blues by J.M. Hirsch
J.M. Hirsch recognizes that working parents are often trying to pull together lunch for themselves along with the kids', so Beating the Lunch Box Blues is good for both. The recipes include twists on a traditional sandwich, such as pizza sushi, salads, and noodle dishes.  The book is the result of a blog Hirsch started, chronicling the lunches he made for his son every day.  So he knows whereof he speaks when it comes to getting out the door with something good for both of you in hand.

 

 

 

 For those of you who like to add a little hello to the lunch, here are a couple of my favorite mini notes:

   Who wouldn't want a note from Snoopy?                                                     Bright die-cut notes

 PeanutsNotes MacaronNotes

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