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Reader Writer Runner (Victoria, BC)
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Sous Chef: 24 Hours on the Line
Sous Chef: 24 Hours on the Line
by Michael Gibney
Edition: Hardcover
Price: CDN$ 22.45
37 used & new from CDN$ 12.82

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars More Bookish Thoughts..., Sept. 6 2014
From Anthony Bourdain to Marcus Samuelsson to Gabrielle Hamilton, many chef-come-authors have described the arduous process of climbing the kitchen ladder. But "Sous Chef" stands out; Michael Gibney so rawly exposes the weight of the obligations, routine and pressure to perform inherent in the profession that the reader might conclude that becoming a successful chef simply can't be done.

With experience in such restaurants as Tavern on the Green and Momofuku, Gibney has his fair share of intricate and painstaking anecdotes to impart. And he does so with an exacting tone and brilliant recall. Furthermore, he writes in the second person, forcing the reader to inhabit the life of a sous chef working the line on a 300 cover night.

"Sous Chef" opens with a map displaying the layout of the typical restaurant kitchen. We learn about “the pass,” i.e. the area through which all food passes between cooking and plating, the various stations and prep areas, as well as walk-ins, loading docks, offices and locker rooms. But an annotated map doesn't satisfy Gibney; the text begins with "you" arriving at an empty restaurant and walking through the entire kitchen, preparing for the day. This involves checking inventory and cleanliness and pondering the physical and mental strain to come. Such an exposition might seem boring but, with Gibney’s lively prose, a deserted restaurant comes alive.

This setup works prepares us for later events, like when the fish cook becomes ill. Gibney makes us understand the impact of losing a man; tension becomes palpable as "you" jump in to a new position. Time and again, Gibney answers an essential, often glossed over question: how does a restaurant actually WORK? And despite the book's revelations, it does not read like a cautionary tale meant to weed out the delusional. It neither glamorizes the life of a chef nor inflates daily obstacles; it simply lays the facts bare without the trappings, fluff and distractions of celebrity.

Preserving Everything: Can Culture Pickle Freeze Ferment Dehydrate Salt Smoke Store Foo
Preserving Everything: Can Culture Pickle Freeze Ferment Dehydrate Salt Smoke Store Foo
by Leda Meredith
Edition: Paperback
Price: CDN$ 21.79
34 used & new from CDN$ 12.37

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars More Bookish Thoughts..., Sept. 5 2014
Unlike many books on single-topic methods of food preservation, "Preserving Everything" offers pointers and advice on dehydrating, canning, culturing, salting and smoking and even includes a set of guidelines on freezing dozens of foods. Each chapter provides serious instruction on ensuring food safety and then presents a range of recipes that readers can tackle as they gain confidence in various preserving methods.

As well as instructive, Meredith's book is beautiful, well-organized and vividly photographed. She teaches the essentials, helps readers understand WHY the basic techniques work and encourages creativity. Every idea from cheese-making to dehydrator jerky sounds amazing, making this an essential book for anyone interested in food preservation.

Cruising Attitude: Tales of Crashpads, Crew Drama, and Crazy Passengers at 35,000 Feet
Cruising Attitude: Tales of Crashpads, Crew Drama, and Crazy Passengers at 35,000 Feet
by Heather Poole
Edition: Paperback
Price: CDN$ 14.15
42 used & new from CDN$ 0.53

4.0 out of 5 stars More Bookish Thoughts..., Sept. 5 2014
Columnist, blogger and flight attendant with 15 years in a flammable polyester uniform under her belt, Heather Poole has plenty to divulge in her memoir of the good, the bad and the ugly aspects of the "friendly" skies. After reading Poole's account of receiving training in grooming, emergency evacuation procedures and carrying crystal Champagne flutes, most travellers will gain enough empathy to up their in-flight politeness. And that's without even considering the crazy passengers that plague flight attendants every day.

Poole's stories range from the trivial to the unbelievable but, though at times it feels disjointed, "Cruising Attitude" provides an enthralling, eye-opening peek into the life of a professional flyer. Poole introduces the jerks, like the one who yells at her repeatedly to wipe down his crotch. She presents the insane, like the woman who tried to hand over her crying baby for the duration of an eight-hour flight. And she exposes the creeps, like the cab driver, mailman and priest who hit her up for Buddy passes.

Earning $18,000 a year minus $2000 for uniforms, Poole started out sharing a house in Queens and accepting dinner dates from strangers to keep from starving. Her stories of strange men do come dangerously close to resembling a bad Sex in the City episode but Poole redeems herself when providing etiquette tips, gossiping about celebrity passengers and generally giving the public a rare look behind the galley curtain.

Missing Microbes: How The Overuse Of Antibiotics Is Fueling Our Modern Plagues
Missing Microbes: How The Overuse Of Antibiotics Is Fueling Our Modern Plagues
by Martin Blaser
Edition: Hardcover
Price: CDN$ 22.49
4 used & new from CDN$ 22.49

4.0 out of 5 stars More Bookish Thoughts..., Sept. 4 2014
A human being consists of a mere 30 trillion cells, trifling when compared to the 100 trillion microbes that have colonized every niche of the body. Unlike some doctors' discussions of microbes, Martin Blaser's doesn't invoke fear of exotic diseases; instead, he focuses on the more profound concern of the damage that modern life inflicts on beneficial bacteria.

Most people picture microbes as parasitic or disease-causing, or at least as having a high "eewww" factor. But Blaser explains that the vast majority of microbes do no harm and many perform vital metabolic functions: digesting carbohydrates, absorbing nutrients, regulating blood sugar and manufacturing vitamin K. Needless to say, we would die without these microbial partners; hence, Blaser compares the "microbiome" to a full-fledged, three pound internal organ.

Blaser bases his thesis on anecdotes involving his daughter, Genia. While an infant, she often suffered ear infections and took many courses of strong antibiotics. She ended up with mild asthma. In her 20s, Genia travelled widely in Latin America, where she constantly battled diarrhea and, again, looked to antibiotics for relief. Several years and more stomach pains later, a specialist finally diagnosed her with celiac disease. Are Genia's asthma and allergies coincidental? Dr. Blaser suspects not. He argues that, while effective in clearing up her infections, the drugs also caused "collateral damage" by wiping out essential microbes.

Some might say that "Missing Microbes" stretches a theory too far, blaming the rise of autism, juvenile diabetes, obesity and Crohn's disease on damage to the microbiome. But research does provide some evidence: mouse studies have linked disruptions to microbe function to a rise in obesity and infants born by Caesarian section lose out on exposure to essential microbes housed in the mother's vagina. Dr. Blaser admits that we don't know whether damaging microbes actually causes ailments or merely combines with genetic and environmental factors in "tipping many people from a clinically silent stage into overt illness." Essentially and frustratingly, we barely know what we don't know.

This fascinating look at what lies under a microscope leaves many questions unanswered but at least proves that microbes do more help than harm.

The Boreal Feast: A Culinary Journey through the North
The Boreal Feast: A Culinary Journey through the North
by Michele Genest
Edition: Paperback
Price: CDN$ 23.16
22 used & new from CDN$ 21.32

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars More Bookish Thoughts..., Sept. 4 2014
Canadian cuisine has always defied definition; each diverse province boasts its own specialty from B.C. salmon to Alberta beef to Quebec maple syrup. In "The Boreal Feast," Yukon resident Michele Genest introduces readers to the tastes of a much lesser known region: the North.

This lush cookbook spans a whole year and includes a feast menu for each season. As well as presenting homey, thoughtful recipes, Genest shares many stories from her surroundings and imparts the significance of Canada's boreal forest on our environment. She notes that the boreal forest is the largest biome on earth and includes a mantle of 12 million square kilometres in Canada, Alaska, Siberia, parts of Asia, Russia and Scandinavia. No wonder such varied, earthy dishes come out of the area.

Thankfully, recipes do not require extreme foraging; instead, dishes such as morel-crusted bison short ribs and sunflower seed soup prove easy to source. Any slightly obscure ingredient, such as wild Saskatoon berries, has an easy substitution (B.C. blueberries). Finally, Genest offers a helpful chapter on the boreal pantry, which includes spruce tip jelly. If there was ever a paragon of Canadian flavour, Genest may have found it.

Drawing & Designing Tattoo Art: Creating Masterful Tattoo Art from Start to Finish
Drawing & Designing Tattoo Art: Creating Masterful Tattoo Art from Start to Finish
by Fip Buchanan
Edition: Paperback
Price: CDN$ 22.49
42 used & new from CDN$ 4.96

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars More Bookish Thoughts..., Sept. 3 2014
With over thirty years of hands-on experience as the owner of several Californian tattoo shops and credentials ranging from certified blood borne pathogen instructor to international seminar leader to graduate of the Pittsburgh Art Institute, Fip Buchanan has become one of America's leading tattoo artists. In "Drawing & Designing Tattoo Art," he shares valuable insights and tricks of the trade that have made him an expert.

Despite its slim 128 pages, the book thoroughly advises professionals on choosing graphic tools, consulting with clients and placing designs. Everyone can both learn from Buchanan's down-to-earth business commentaries and receive inspiration from his beautiful illustrated gallery of finished tattoos. In short, the only thing the book doesn't teach is how to operate a tattoo machine!

The Up Side of Down: Why Failing Well Is the Key to Success
The Up Side of Down: Why Failing Well Is the Key to Success
by Megan McArdle
Edition: Hardcover
Price: CDN$ 24.71
33 used & new from CDN$ 1.63

4.0 out of 5 stars More Bookish Thoughts..., Sept. 2 2014
Megan McArdle brags about her spectacular failures. Yes, brags. Using witty, engaging prose, she relates the bumpy road that symbolizes her professional life and laments the nearly impossible task of finding a stable job. But she emphasizes that her many mistakes later yielded important lessons and eventually led to "bigger and better" opportunities. "The Up Side of Down" thus reframes the reader's perception of failure, turning it from something to be feared into something to strive for.

Psychologists have found that, when people must complete tasks outside their comfort zones, they will often self-sabotage; a student who feels he/she will fail a test will go to the movies the night before in order to blame their failure on lack of studying, rather than a lack of intelligence. Furthermore, children praised as “very smart” will only choose easy tasks whereas those praised as hard workers will choose more challenging ones.

McArdle laments the generation of “Trophy Kids," those taught that winners and losers don't exist; everyone gets a gold star by simply showing up. While this school of thought might stroke a child’s ego, it does not prepare him/her to navigate the harsh realities of the real world. This practice has also manifested into grade inflation and the appointment of “30–40 valedictorians at a single school” because “no one wants to make a distinction among the kids.” When these coddled children become adults, they cannot take initiative or anticipate needs, requiring specifically structured tasks and require constant encouragement.

After a very informative focus on failures of the individual, McArdle turns to governmental and corporate failures, such as the epic bomb, New Coke, the bailout of General Motors and welfare reform. The addition of the author’s own struggles, including a two-year stint of unemployment, helps to further humanize her points.

From an army of one to a large corporation, "The Up Side of Down" certainly proves that "Failing Well is the Key to Success."

The End Of Absence: Reclaiming What We've Lost in a World of Constant Connection
The End Of Absence: Reclaiming What We've Lost in a World of Constant Connection
by Michael Harris
Edition: Hardcover
2 used & new from CDN$ 75.56

2 of 3 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars More Bookish Thoughts..., Sept. 1 2014
3.5 Stars...

Michael Harris identifies as a member of the last generation to have experienced adult life without the Internet (he identifies 1985 as the birth year separating digital natives from “digital immigrants”). Arguably, then, he sits in an authoritative position to discuss advantages and disadvantages of the online paradigm shift, perhaps the greatest of its kind since Gutenberg invented moveable type in the 15th century. "The End of Absence" asserts that moments of solitude, slowness and contemplation have disappeared from our lives at the hands of constant connection: emails, text messages, Instagram photos and YouTube videos.

In order to examine the detrimental effects of online surfing on concentration and memory, Harris takes a month-long sabbatical from the Internet. He provides a range of thought-provoking insights in attempting to reclaim control over his inner life and he refreshingly avoids the panicked, dominating tone that pervades the work of other digital dissenters. But his conclusion breaks no new ground: the Internet has become so essential that simply "opting out" is not an option, at least for the long term.

Harris analyzes how the online world invades and degrades our modern existence with intelligence and lucidity but readers can't help feeling dissatisfied with the author's limited treatment of the concept he refers to as "absence." Many digital immigrants find nothing more depressing than watching a group of people around a restaurant table, all of them feverishly engaged with their smartphones. Does this not constitute absence? Harris indeed acknowledges this paradoxical situation but doesn’t fully pursue its implications. In the end, readers wonder if mobile technology might create not a dearth of absence, but an overabundance of it.

The Organized Mind: Thinking Straight In The Age Of Information Overload
The Organized Mind: Thinking Straight In The Age Of Information Overload
by Daniel J Levitin
Edition: Hardcover
5 used & new from CDN$ 18.87

30 of 31 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars More Bookish Thoughts..., Aug. 31 2014
McGill professor of psychology and behavioural neuroscience, Daniel J. Levitin, knows exactly how modern culture seeks to understand life: brain research, studies on evolution and information theory. With that in mind, he has written a science-based self-help manual of sorts, one built on the premise that information has become a key resource yet we struggle not to drown in a flood of it. "The Organized Mind" offers some basic guidelines on how to thrive in such an environment by drawing on recent studies in Levitin's field.

After long-windedly bringing readers up to date on concepts like attention, information, and memory, Levitin uses the test case of dealing with the diagnosis of a potentially life-threatening illness to discuss improve negotiations of our lives and mindsets. He argues that we need to shift our burden of organization from our brains to the external world, including improving our understanding of statistics and refining our ability to critically sift information. Levitin concludes with advice on the values and skills we can teach our children to prepare them for life in information overdrive.

Much of Levitin's analysis informs and engages, especially his discussion of the disadvantages of procrastination and his deconstruction of the myth of multitasking. However, such a long book does not seem to contain enough insight to render it unique.
It shows us how to organize our mental homes but the reader can't help thinking that he/she has perused the same material before. Then again, that could just be symptomatic of information overload.

The Third Plate: Field Notes on the Future of Food
The Third Plate: Field Notes on the Future of Food
by Dan Barber
Edition: Hardcover
Price: CDN$ 23.99
35 used & new from CDN$ 19.66

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars More Bookish Thoughts..., Aug. 31 2014
Dan Barber runs two of the most famous restaurants in America today: Blue Hill in NYC and Blue Hill at Stone Barns in the Hudson Valley. His farm raises much of what appears on both menus but Barber's philosophy extends far beyond the 100 mile diet. He argues that the farm-to-table practice focuses too much on what consumers want, e.g. heirloom tomatoes every summer, rather than on what provides the most balance for the earth. Though this sounds like a drab topic to drag out for 400+ pages, "The Third Plate" takes readers on an engaging, thought-provoking journey as Barber proves he can write almost as well as he can cook.

Early on, Barber presents readers with three plates: the first bears a big, cornfed steak and vegetables, symbolizing the "typical" American diet. A more earth-friendly, healthier grass-fed piece of meat and organic vegetables comprise the second plate. Finally, a carrot steak garnished with sauces from secondary beef cuts make up the third plate which treads most lightly on the earth and reflects portion allocations healthier for all organisms involved.

Barber asserts that, with so much pristine land, American settlers never had to shape a food culture around the health of the environment; instead, they forced the land to conform to their desires. This practice has unleashed disastrous consequences on our land, seas and air and the flavour of agricultural products has suffered equally. Commercial plant breeders' goals include consistency, transportability and shelf life; taste has fallen to the bottom of the priority list.

Some food heroes remain, however. We meet a renegade organic grain farmer who transformed his community, a foie gras "whisperer," a chef who celebrates bycatch and a wheat breeder who marries deliciousness, sustainability and yield all in one. Barber tells their tales with elegance and admiration, always rethinking his own obsession with best practices in the face of new information.

A wonderful and passionate storyteller, Barber discloses everything he things, feels and sees during a food-related experience. The most invested readers will appreciate this thoroughness but others may find it encyclopedic. Regardless, Barber never comes across as jaded nor laconic and offers a refreshing openness about the future of our dinner plates.

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