Fox 6 Books: May

These are the books I featured on WBRC Fox 6 this month. I think they are perfect for right now: fiction that you can get lost in, an important picture book for young readers, a way to cope with anxiety and a cookbook to remind us of better days.

A note for right now:  I want you to have access to great reads from your home. While our access to books is somewhat limited, I’ll be sharing books that are not hard or expensive to find. Some are available via the Jefferson County Library Cooperative’s Overdrive (Libby) platform for download on your electronic devices. If you don’t have a library card, you can get an e-card here (https://www.jclc.org). You can also get my recommendations on Kindle or paperback via Amazon. Only one of these books is brand new, but you can get it delivered, too. 

Boy Swallows Universe, by Trent Dalton, is the story of a boy coming of age in 1980s Australia, and it is gritty and funny and heartbreaking all at once. There’s magic here as well as crime, violence, mystery and a character you won’t forget anytime soon. Eli Bell doesn’t know his real father, but his mother and stepfather are heroin dealers. He has a brilliant brother who does not speak. As a young child, their sitter was a notorious ex-felon (a national record-holder for number of successful prison escapes). Eli lives in a neglected neighborhood of Polish and Vietnamese immigrants, but he’s determined to follow his open and big heart, become a journalist and grow up to be a good man. People have called this book “electric,” “mesmerizing,” “thrilling.” I think this debut novel is all those things including amazing.

The Cat Man of Aleppo is a picture book for young readers by Irene Latham and Karim Shamsi-Basha, both of whom are local writers. It’s the true story of Mohammad Alaa Aljaleel, who, in the midst of a terrible civil war in Syria, took care of the hungry, abandoned cats he found on the once-beautiful streets of Aleppo. When most people fled, Aljaleel, an ambulance driver, stayed behind to care for his neighbors who could not leave. He soon realized that they were not the only ones who were suffering. So he used what little money he had to feed the city’s abandoned cats. When that wasn’t enough, he asked the world to help, and the world did. Today, people from all over support Aljaleel’s efforts to house and care for orphaned children and shelter and treat abandoned animals. This is a beautiful (and beautifully illustrated by Yuko Shimizu) story of love and compassion and determination and courage.

You Are Here:  An Owner’s Manual for Dangerous Minds, by Jenny Lawson, is something I found on a reading list for people who are experiencing anxiety. And who isn’t to some extent right now? Part therapy, part humor and part coloring book, Lawson (who wrote the equally hilarious book Furiously Happy) uses art therapy to help readers cope with anxiety and negative feelings. Lawson has always been candid about her personal struggles, something that helps readers cope with their own. Some of the material in this book is dark, but there’s lightness here, too. Lawson doodles and draws when she is anxious, and she sometimes posts these pieces online. Fans would come to her book signings with printouts of these drawings for her to sign. This is an entire book of these funny, smart, sometimes-irreverent drawings (all printed on perforated paper so you can tear them out, hang them up, give them to friends). That and things like fill-in-the-blank lists allow you to make Lawson’s book your own. 

Always Home:  A Daughter’s Recipes & Stories is a brand-new cookbook and more by Fanny Singer. Singer is the daughter of food icon and activist Alice Waters, and she grew up in her mother’s kitchen at Chez Panisse. (As a baby, she was swaddled in dish towels and slept in a big salad bowl.) She also learned the lessons of an edible education—knowing what you’re eating and how it got to your plate This is more than a cookbook; it’s a culinary memoir about the bond between mother and daughter, food (of course) and the need for beauty in our lives. Dozens of well-written vignettes accompany recipes for dishes like roast chicken, coriander seed pasta and her mother’s Garlicky Noodle Soup.  And they highlight an amazing life of food, people and travel.

I link to Amazon to show you exactly what book I’m talking about, but I love to shop locally at Church Street Coffee and BooksThe Alabama Booksmith, Little Professor Book Center, and I often visit my local library.

Pizza

Thank you, Birmingham Breadworks, for getting me out of my house. At an acceptable distance, of course.

Because I ate a full half of one of your pizzas, I felt compelled (really compelled and fueled) to walk five miles in my hilly neighborhood today.

I really am grateful. That pizza with its savory bacon and thick, chewy Gouda on your delicious airy crust was amazing.

And it’s available for pick-up only on Thursday, Friday and Saturday from 5 to 7 p.m. Options include pepperoni, three cheese, Margherita, sausage and cheddar, onion and arugula, chicken bacon ranch.

You order online. Designate a pick-up time and you’re golden. And full.

Sticky Onion Tart. You’re gonna want to make this.

Jamie Oliver‘s Sticky Onion Tart is a real treat. My friend Beth Wilder made it recently and shared a picture that made my mouth water. So I found the recipe and decided to make it myself.

It calls for things you probably already have on hand: onions, garlic, thyme, brown sugar, apple cider vinegar. I had to get the puff pastry during my last grocery run because I don’t usually have that in my freezer. Next time, I’ll get two because I will make this again and again.

A few notes: I had enormous onions in my onion/potato drawer, so I used two and cut them into eight thick slices. Also, I only had light brown sugar, but it was fine. I made this in a cast iron pan.

Jamie Oliver’s Sticky Onion Tart

Ingredients

  • 4 medium onions 
  • 50 g unsalted butter 
  • 4 sprigs of fresh thyme 
  • 4 fresh bay leaves 
  • 2 tablespoons soft dark brown sugar 
  • 4 tablespoons cider vinegar 
  • 8 cloves of garlic 
  • 320 g sheet of all-butter puff pastry , (cold)

Method

  1. Preheat the oven to 220°C/425°F/gas 7. Peel the onions and halve across the middle. Place the butter in a 26cm non-stick ovenproof frying pan on a medium heat. Strip in the thyme leaves and add the bay, shake the pan around and get it bubbling, then add the sugar, vinegar and 100ml of water. Place the onion halves in the pan, cut side down. Peel and halve the garlic cloves and place in the gaps, then season generously with sea salt and black pepper. Cover, turn the heat down to low and leave to steam for 10 minutes to soften the onions slightly, then remove the lid and cook until – very importantly! – the liquid starts to caramelise, gently shaking the pan occasionally to stop it from sticking.
  2. Place the pastry over the onions, using a wooden spoon to push it right into the edges of the pan. Bake for 35 minutes, or until golden brown and puffed up (it will look quite dark, but don’t worry!). Using oven gloves to protect your hands, pop a large plate over the pan and confidently but very carefully turn out.
  3. Delicious served with goat’s cheese, a simple salad and a cold beer.

Hand-sewn masks

Back in mid-January, we got two weeks’ worth of pasta, beans and canned tomatoes. For Valentine’s Day, I gave my kids the usual heart-shaped box of chocolates along with some disinfecting wipes and their choice of lavender- or lemon-scented spray hand sanitizer. I thought I was prepared.

But then masks.

photo from WBAP.com

It is nearly impossible to get them now, so I decided to make them. I started with the New York Times’ pattern, which took a while. I made one with that. Next, I moved on to an easier pattern with a pocket for a filter from See Kate Sew.

But now, even fabric is hard to come by. I placed an order with JoAnn only to get one email after another saying, “Uh oh! Items from your order have been canceled.”

Then I came across this blog post from Free People about repurposing old clothing into homemade face masks.

That post was inspired by Becky Vieira, a super mom who created the website Masks For Heroes — pretty much overnight — in an effort to streamline support for making and acquiring masks, surgical grade and fabric alike.

As Becky says: “While cloth masks don’t offer full protection when dealing with COVID-19 patients, they serve other purposes: patients with less aggressive symptoms can wear them, freeing up Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) for health care workers, or they can be used as a covering for used N95 masks since, in some cases, many health care workers are having to reuse the same mask for up to five days.”

Visit Becky’s site to find an easy pattern as well as a list of nearby medical facilities in need of masks. In Alabama, Grandview Medical Center in Birmingham, Southern Family Health in Columbiana and Cahaba Medical Care in Centerville are listed.

Closer to home, there’s the Facebook group bham face masks. They are making masks by the thousands and offer practice tips and troubleshooting for participants.

The mask from the Free People blog is super easy. This DIY hand-sewn mask is made with elastic hair ties and whatever fabric you have around the house … even, perhaps, a shirt or skirt you no longer wear.

DIY Hand-Sewn Mask

You’ll need:

Needle & thread (or sewing machine if you have one)

Two elastic bands 

One 10-by-18-inch piece of new or freshly-washed fabric 

*NOTE: Most departments of health suggest that masks be made from two layers of tightly woven 100% cotton fabric.

Begin by folding your fabric in half along its longer edge, so that it measures 5 x 9 inches. Make sure that, if your fabric has a pattern, the pattern is on the inside. 

Take your needle and thread and sew along the long, open side of the fabric (a simple running stitch will work). You’re essentially creating a small tube, with two openings on each of the shorter sides.

Once sewn, turn the fabric inside out so that the stitches sit on the inside.

Take an elastic band and insert it around the cloth on the short side. Fold about 1” of cloth over the rubber band and sew along the length of that side, making a casing for the band so it fits securely in place. Repeat for the other side and, voila! You’ve made a mask! And best of all, you’ve played a definitive part in helping to safeguard yourself and the community around you. 

Here’s a link to a video showing you how it’s done.

(A shout-out to Free People: The retailer is partnering with Goldsheep, an LA-based factory that normally produces FP Movement leggings. They are producing masks that will be donated throughout the medical community.)

Finally, of course, here’s the simple bandana mask that requires no needle or thread–only a bandana and two hair ties.

Remember that social distancing is still key to staying safe–even with a mask.

A fun way to support our favorite local businesses

I love the folks at Yellowhammer Creative. For one thing, I can always count on them for fabulous shirts to send to my friends across the country and across the world even. (There are more than a few It’s Nice to Have You in Birmingham shirts in Munich.)

This is one of the shirts in Yellowhammer Creative’s Locals Series. Love my friends at Ted’s Restaurant!

But now, they’ve created something even more awesome called the Locals Series. They’re partnering with some favorite local small businesses to make a limited-edition line of t-shirts to support these places we love so much–places like Ted’s Restaurant, Queen’s Park, Make Bhm, Parkside, Eugene’s Hot Chicken, Mom’s Basement, Battle Republic, Left Hand Soap Co., Paramount and Jones Valley Teaching Farm.

Queen’s Park is fabulous all the time. It is especially fabulous during Christmastime.

The line is called the YHC Locals Series, and 50% of the profits from each shirt will be donated to the featured business.

These styles are available via web pre-order ONLY. Act now or miss out.

Here are the details: unisex crewneck t-shirt, tri-blend, slim fit with an eco-friendly water-based ink imprint for the great vintage feel we’ve come to expect from Yellowhammer.

Also, there’s free shipping.

This homegrown hot chicken restaurant is one of my favorite things.

Pre-order closes at midnight on 4/16/2020. You’ll need to allow two weeks for printing and delivery.

Still Serving: Crestline Bagel Co.

We’ve been baking bread here at my house. Well, my husband has been baking bread, and I’ve been really enjoying it. Here’s my blog post with the tried-and-true, no-knead, made-in-a-cast-iron-dutch-oven recipe. The original recipe is from Sullivan Street Bakery.

But one bread we always buy: bagels. We just can’t do them like my friend Jennifer Yarbrough and her teams at Crestline Bagel, so we don’t even try.

Luckily Crestline Bagel is still serving during this current crisis.

The downtown location is temporarily closed, but the Mountain Brook and Cahaba Heights stores are open 7 a.m. to 1 p.m. seven days a week.

Photo by Jennifer Yarbrough.

They are doing delivery through UberEats and Waitr. Or you can order online for curbside and takeout at Crestlinebagel.com.

So my go-to whole wheat everything with honey-walnut cream cheese–the perfect mix of savory and sweet, creamy and crunchy-remains something to enjoy.

And I’m truly grateful for that.

Lost and Found

Friends, we don’t know half of what this coronavirus is taking from us. 

Not even half.

Our time with family. Our time with friends. Our time to just freely walk in this world and not think about the distances between us. 

I have often taken for granted the absolute delight of a sentence spooling out—one word sewn neatly into another and another and another, but now I am simply grateful, most days, that the words I fit together make any kind of sense.

Some days I am frozen. There are no words. 

So I look to someone else’s words for inspiration, for distraction. 

Yesterday, we lost John Prine, whose words in song are poetry. Sometimes, we don’t fully realize that, or stop to consider it, until we see them written down.

Here’s Angel from Montgomery:

I am an old woman named after my mother
My old man is another child that’s grown old
If dreams were lightning, thunder were desire
This old house would have burnt down a long time ago

Make me an angel that flies from Montgomery
Make me a poster of an old rodeo
Just give me one thing that I can hold on to
To believe in this living is just a hard way to go

When I was a young girl well, I had me a cowboy
He weren’t much to look at, just a free rambling man
But that was a long time and no matter how I try
The years just flow by like a broken down dam

Make me an angel that flies from Montgomery
Make me a poster of an old rodeo
Just give me one thing that I can hold on to
To believe in this living is just a hard way to go

There’s flies in the kitchen I can hear ’em there buzzing
And I ain’t done nothing since I woke up today
How the hell can a person go to work in the morning
And come home in the evening and have nothing to say

Make me an angel that flies from Montgomery
Make me a poster of an old rodeo
Just give me one thing that I can hold on to
To believe in this living is just a hard way to go

Fox 6 Books: April

These are the books I featured on WBRC Fox 6 this month. Each of these books will take you somewhere else. And right now, while we’re unable to travel (even outside our homes for the most part), they offer windows to the wider world.

A note for right now:  I want you to have access to great reads from your home. While our access to books is somewhat limited, I’ll be sharing books that are not hard or expensive to find. Some are available via the Jefferson County Library Cooperative’s Overdrive (Libby) platform for download on your electronic devices. If you don’t have a library card, you can get an e-card here (https://www.jclc.org). You can also get my recommendations on Kindle or paperback via Amazon. Only one of these books is brand new, but you can get it delivered, too. 

Everything Lost is Found Again:  Four Seasons in Lesotho by Will McGrath is part memoir, part essay collection and offers an up-close-and-personal journey to Lesotho (this small, land-locked kingdom is surrounded by South Africa and is a place few of us have been, I’m guessing).

The author taught high school there, while his wife worked with families devastated by the AIDS epidemic. The subjects here can be serious and sad (there are lots of AIDS orphans in Lesotho; Old Testament retributions are not uncommon), but a lot of this book is laugh-out-loud funny. Truly funny. And that’s truly necessary right now. But best of all, this book takes us to a place of joy and resolve in the face of hardship and incredible love of life—a place where a stranger might reach out and hold your hand as you walk down the street. 

Sailing Alone Around the Room by Billy Collins is perfect for right now if you find your attention span shorter than usual. Actually, I would recommend any of Collins’s accessible, beautiful poetry. Also, this is National Poetry Month, so poetry is timely.

I absolutely adore Collins’s literate and totally accessible take on the everyday—things like the scrawled comments of a book’s previous readers or forgetfulness or having insomnia (After counting all the sheep in the world/ I enumerate the wildebeests, snails/ camels, skylarks, etc./ then I add up all the zoos and aquariums/ country by country.) Collins served two terms as our country’s Poet Laureate. He has been called “the most popular poet in America” by the New York Times, and his conversational style and smart, witty and approachable, works are why. 

Abraham:  A Journey to the Heart of Three Faiths by Bruce Feiler, the author of Walking the Bible, highlights the common heart of the world’s three monotheistic religions:  Christianity, Judaism and Islam.

All three share Abraham, and so Feiler takes readers on a journey to understand this common patriarch. He travels through war zones, explores caves, talks to religious leaders and visits shrines to uncover some little-known details of the life of a man who connects the faiths of half the world. Read it and understand your neighbors better. Read it and understand that many conflicts are not really necessary.

The Mirror and the Light by Hilary Mantel is finally here! Fans have waited eight long years for this final book in Mantel’s historical fiction trilogy about the life of Thomas Cromwell in the court of Henry VIII. This saga started with Wolf Hall and continued with Bring Up the Bodies (both of these won the Man Booker Prize). Both of those books also are available for download, but you might want to own them. 

In this last book, (which picks up after the beheading of Anne Boleyn, Henry’s second wife), Mantel traces the final years of Cromwell, who always has had to rely upon his wits with no great family to back him, no private army at his disposal. But this blacksmith’s son—a common man—rose to the very highest levels of wealth and power in a very fickle court and changed the course of a country before he was done.

I link to Amazon to show you exactly what book I’m talking about, but I love to shop locally at Church Street Coffee and BooksThe Alabama Booksmith, Little Professor Book Center, and I often visit my local library.

Fish Market Family Meals

Right now, when life is so very different, it’s nice to know some favorite things remain available.

The Fish Market Southside is still serving with curbside takeout and delivery (through DoorDash, Uber Eats and Bham Takeout) Monday through Thursday from 11 a.m. to 8 p.m. and Friday and Saturday 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. The restaurant’s full menu is available as well as some family meals.

Family Menu #1 ($38) includes Greek salad, house-made focaccia, Greek chicken (or chicken tenders), Mediterranean-style green beans and Greek potatoes.

Family Menu#2 ($50) includes Green salad, house-made focaccia, green beans and Athenian-style grouper or salmon (or half and half because both are awesome) served over orzo.

photo from The Fish Market

Both these meals feed four, but Fish Market owner George Sarris is known for his generous portions. He is, after all, Greek; they like to feed people. These family meals are available with an hour’s notice all day.

All dishes–from the family menus or the regular menu–are in safely sealed takeaway containers. There’s half-price wine and beer available to go, too.

photo from The Fish Market

The Fish Market’s fresh seafood market is open (9 a.m. – 6 p.m. Monday to Thursday and 9 a.m. – 7 p.m. Friday and Saturday). There are grocery items there, too:  the Fish Market’s own extra virgin olive oil, coffee beans, pastas, Mediterranean sea salt, organic grits, assorted imported olives and cheeses and house-made condiments like Athenian sauce and Greek Island sauce. Grab some baklava, some bananas.

Additionally, some of the Fish Market’s most popular items are now “grab and go” – things like West Indies Salad, their famous gumbo, smoked salmon spread, shrimp or chicken Creole, red beans and rice with Andouille, feta spread, roasted eggplant and hummus dip.

This is comfort food when we all need some comfort.

photo from The Fish Market

National Poetry Month

I can always count on my poet friend Irene Latham to remind me of National Poetry Month.

Musings of an Old Man by Nancy Milford

Her postcard featuring a work from Baldwin County artist and writer Nancy Milford (“Musings of an Old Man”) was a sweet reminder to live my poem.

In happier times, whenever I sent a package to my kids in college, I always included a poem. Always. The poem tucked in with food or other little treats reflected what was going on my my life or their lives at the moment. Sometimes these poems were just about the season we were in at the time. (I also always had the postman stamp these packages “spoiled” just for fun.)

Irene is the author of wonderful books of poetry and fiction and narrative poetry and poetry picture books for children and adults including Leaving Gee’s Bend; Don’t Feed the Boy; The Color of Lost Rooms; The Cat Man of Aleppo (out Apirl 14); Meet Miss Fancy; Can I Touch Your Hair?: Poems of Race, Mistakes and Friendship; Dictionary for a Better World; and more.

Read them, enjoy them and here are some other poetry resources for you:

Irene’s own tips for writers including an editing checklist and books to make you a better writer and Author ABCs. There are resources for young writers here, too.

The Academy of American Poets was founded in 1934 to support poets and bring their work to as many people as possible. The organization celebrates poetry all year long, but this month is especially special. You can search a curated collection of more than 10,000 poems by occasion, theme, form, keywords or poet’s name. I also love their poem-a-day. There are materials for teachers there, too, which should help parents these days.