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New Books

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Published : Oct. 7, 2011 - 19:08

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Dinner without a recipe

The Kitchen Counter Cooking School
By Kathleen Flinn
(Viking)

If you are going to read one book to change your diet and your life, “The Kitchen Counter Cooking School” is it.

The second book by Le Cordon Bleu graduate Kathleen Flinn starts with her stalking a woman in the grocery store, but it ends better than you‘d expect. Flinn is struck by the number of boxes and cans the woman is buying -- and the grocery bill she’s racking up -- and spends the afternoon leading her through the store, explaining how she can save cash by buying a whole chicken, a pot roast and vegetables instead of ready-to-eat items.

The chance encounter leads to Flinn’s offer on a local radio show to teach cooking to nine volunteers who are willing to open their kitchens and psyches to her inspection. The women range in age from their 20s to early 60s. Some are well-off financially, others are not. One woman who had a good job lost it to the recession and is on food stamps. One needs to watch her sodium. Others are watching their weight. None of them can cook a lick.

Flinn starts with basic knife skills and soon the women are chopping up vegetables like line cooks. They eventually learn to break down chickens, bake bread and butcher meat. Flinn teaches them how to liven up vegetables, make quick homemade pasta sauces and “salt to taste” -- always a tricky order in a recipe.

They also learn how to make use of leftovers to reduce food waste and cut their grocery bills.

The nice thing about Flinn’s book is that the reader can follow along. Her descriptions of technique are detailed enough to allow someone to saute, braise and grill along with the class. Each chapter ends with a short summary, quick tips and at least one recipe.

After the classes end, Flinn revisits her volunteers‘ homes to see how their kitchens and eating habits have changed. Some have made drastic changes. For others, it’s smaller -- substituting sandwiches for fast food, for example. Most roast chicken and make soup regularly. One eventually goes on to become a master canner and teaches others how to preserve food.

All say they are more confident, have cut waste, saved money and feel like they are eating higher quality food.

“The Kitchen Counter Cooking School” is a great book for people who want to learn to cook or break out of their box, close their cookbooks and make dinner without a recipe. It cannot replace a Cordon Bleu education, but for someone who wants to be a good home cook, not a chef, it‘s affordable and fun -- and as Flinn notes repeatedly, there’s nothing wrong with simply wanting to make a healthy dinner for yourself and your family. (AP)


Gripping anthology of zombies

Zombies! Zombies! Zombies!
Edited by Otto Penzler:
(Vintage Crime/Black Lizard)

What exactly could a book titled, “Zombies! Zombies! Zombies!” be about?

Cooking? Self-help?

I‘m kidding, of course, but it’s worth noting that the Otto Penzler-edited anthology of zombie tales probably isn‘t exactly what you’d expect.

The current generation of pop culture content consumers, who have been raised on zombie-apocalypse fare such as “Dawn of the Dead” and “28 Days Later” on big screens and “The Walking Dead” on small ones are accustomed to seeing zombies portrayed as bloodthirsty reanimated corpses roaming the Earth in search of a human snack.

But despite its rather uncomplicated title, “Zombies! Zombies! Zombies!” actually presents a more nuanced portrayal of death brought to life -- one to which Gen Xers, Gen Yers and others probably haven‘t been previously exposed.

Not every zombie out there wants to eat your brains, kid.

“I have attempted to maintain some balance in this collection and have omitted some pretty good stories that, in my view, slipped into an almost pornographic sensibility of the need to drench every page with buckets of blood and descriptions of mindless cruelty, torture, and violence,” writes Penzler, who is considered to be an authority on crime, mystery and other kinds of genre fiction (he also has edited a book on vampire stories).

True to his introduction, Penzler has selected 800 pages of zombie-themed short stories, but most of them are high on drama, tension and a feeling of the macabre and low on blood and guts.

Stories by Edgar Allan Poe, W.B. Seabrook and H.P. Lovecraft are guaranteed to provide the reader with a different prism through which to view creatures that aren’t alive, but not fully dead.

And for those eager for a more traditional view of zombies, look no further than the Stephen King-penned yarn “Home Delivery,” a more humorous than terrifying tale of the dead rising from their graves on a remote Maine island.

Each of the stories is prefaced with a short biography of the author, which serves as a good table-setter for what‘s to come in the succeeding pages.

As Penzler writes: “You will find in these pages some stories that you’ve never read by authors of whom you‘ve never heard, and you are in for a treat.”

Agreed.

I’d say it‘s a no-brainer. (AP)



Media circus in England

King of the Badgers
By Philip Hensher
(Faber & Faber)


The first thing you notice about “King of the Badgers,” the new novel by British writer Philip Hensher, is how sharp its descriptive detail can be. For example: “He was a man fat in rolls about the middle, the top of his bald head wet and beaded. His gingery-white hair shocked out to either side, weeks away from a respectable haircut.”

The second thing you notice is how sour-witted and slackly focused its satire is -- qualities that ultimately make it a wearying, dispiriting read.

“Badgers” chronicles events and nonevents among upscale types and clueless lowlifes in a north Devon town. The plot initially seems to concern the disappearance of a young girl from an “awful family,” which soon leads to a media circus descending on quaint old Hanmouth. (“Human curiosity,” one character comments. “There‘s no decent limit to it.”)

The rumors surrounding the likely crime serve as an excuse to drop into the lives of dozens of Hanmouth’s citizens. They include doddering retirees, sullen teens, a transgressive collage artist, a security-obsessed snoop, a pair of middle-aged professionals with a spending problem, and a circle of cocaine-sniffing gay “bears” who get together for orgies.

The book is ambitious in scope, but the more you read the less its mysteries deepen and the more its stereotypic protagonists stay put in their shallows. Hensher, author of the Man Booker Prize-shortlisted “The Northern Clemency,” is no genius with plot here, and he pushes coincidence to an absurd degree.

The description, although impressive at first, cumulatively feels as clotted as Devonshire cream. This is fiction for readers who want to know every last detail about a room’s decor each time another thinly drawn character enters it. 

(MCT Information Services)