Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Make it Sew Modern: Gather, Twist, Pleat, Texture by Vanessa Christenson

Make it Sew Modern: Gather, Twist, Pleat, Texture by Vanessa Christenson, Martingale & Company, $24.99 list price, paperback.

This is another great book from Martingale & Company, with 20 projects that focus on adding texture and dimension to bags, clothing, pillows, and more.  The book chapters include Ruffles, Twisting, Gathering, and Pleats with 5-6 projects in each one. I especially like the blue pillow with a gathered center and look forward to making one.

The color photographs are beautiful.  Although I haven't made any of the projects yet, I did read through the instructions for each one and felt they were clear and that I could make anything in the book.  The projects are not what I would call advanced, but knowledge of basic sewing and sewing machine techniques is assumed.  Full size patterns for some of the projects are included for photocopying or tracing, but most only require measuring and cutting fabric according to the dimensions given.

I do like this book and the creativity it inspires.  The ideas would make lovely gifts or additions to any home decor or wardrobe.

Project images from the publisher (click on link to view more):

Monday, February 27, 2012

Trail of the Spellmans: Document #5 by Lisa Lutz

Trail of the Spellmans: Document #5 by Lisa Lutz, Simon & Schuster Publishing, $25.00 list price, paperback.

From the publisher:
FOR THE FIRST TIME in Spellman history, Isabel Spellman, PI, might be the most normal member of her family. Mom has taken on an outrageous assortment of extracurricular activities—with no apparent motive. Dad has a secret. Izzy’s brother and sister are at war—for no apparent reason. And her niece keeps saying “banana” even though she hates bananas.

That’s not to say that Izzy isn’t without her own troubles. Her boyfriend, Henry Stone, keeps wanting “to talk,” a prospect Isabel evades by going out with her new drinking buddy, none other than Gertrude Stone, Henry’s mother.

Things aren’t any simpler on the business side of Spellman Investigations. First, Rae is hired to follow a girl, only to fake the surveillance reports. Then a math professor hires Izzy to watch his immaculate apartment while he unravels like a bad formula. And as the questions pile up, Izzy won’t stop hunting for the answers—even when they threaten to shatter both the business and the family.

This is the first book I've read in this series and I liked the humor it contained even though the cases the Spellman family takes on weren't that riveting. The characters are fun and are what makes the storyline different from other mystery novels with the mix of family dysfunction and individual quirkiness.  It was also easy to read in one weekend, and although there were several characters to keep track of, the author did a good job working them all into the story without confusing the reader.

Izzy is a woman in her thirties who works in the family PI business so she has to deal with her parents telling her what to do on one side and keeping rebellious younger sister Rae out of trouble on the other, while juggling her own personal life (i.e. boyfriend Henry) in between. One thing I like about Izzy is that, at least in this book, she knows when to give in and when to not back down and it is her parents that she ends up standing her ground with, but in a humorous way.

Even though I haven't read the previous books in this series, I liked this one well enough to look forward to the next Spellman family adventure.  Although it might help understand the family dynamics and history if I had read the previous titles first, I really didn't feel lost.

Thursday, February 23, 2012

500 Pies and Tarts by Rebecca Baugniet

500 Pies and Tarts: The Only Pies & Tarts Compendium You'll Ever Need by Rebecca Baugniet, Sellers Publishing, $16.95 list price, hardcover.

To be honest, I'd rather have pie than cake for any occasion so I like the idea of a cookbook devoted to pies and tarts.  As with the other "500" cookbooks in this series from Sellers Publishing, there are about 100-125 base recipes followed by four or so variations of each to qualify for the number the title promises.  There also are lots of great color photographs which is always a plus for a cookbook.

I made one recipe so far from this cookbook and that was the butter tarts, a simple recipe using butter, brown sugar, half and half, and a few other ingredients and it tasted similar to pecan pie without the nuts.  I didn't have tart pans so I made it as a regular size pie with good results.  I also used my own homemade pie crust that I already had in the freezer so I can't attest to the basic crust recipe the book provides, but based on my experience with making crust, the recipe seems to be pretty standard and I'd have no problem using it in the future.  A lot of cooks are intimidated by making pie crusts and if that's the case, just use a ready-made one from the grocery store and enjoy the recipes for the fillings this book provides.

I did read through most of the remaining recipes and variations and from what I could see, they seem to be accurate and clear enough but I'm also reading it as someone with reasonable experience who can usually find ways to modify a recipe that isn't.  Some of the amounts for crumble toppings and crumb crusts seemed a bit skimpy for the size of pie the recipe makes but I usually make more than what a recipe calls for anyway out of personal preference.  My suggestion with those recipes is to double the amount and freeze any left over for next time.

The categories in this cookbook include classics, fruit; cream, custard, and chiffon; meringue, frozen, and chilled; savory, mini pies and tartlets, individual pies and turnovers; cobblers, strudels, and crumble pies; and special-occasion pies.  My traditional favorites are included such as apple, cherry, lemon meringue, key lime, and pecan, but there are so many different pies I hope to try: chocolate strata pie (four layers of chocolate!) pear and almond tart, pineapple-mango pie, blueberry-yogurt cream pie, banana and strawberry split pie, chocolate-peanut butter tartlets, nectarine cobbler, and an eggnog chiffon pie that seems a good choice for the holidays.  There are also savory recipes for a mushroom tart with gruyere and pine nuts, some quiches, and pot pies that I look forward to trying for main dishes.

I think cooks of any level of expertise will enjoy the recipes and variations provided in this cookbook.  The instructions are easy to follow and the ingredients are those that are easily found in most grocery stores.

From the publisher website:

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

The Organic Family Cookbook by Anni Daulter

The Organic Family Cookbook: Growing, Greening, and Cooking Together by Anni Daulter, Sellers Publishing, $21.95 list price, paperback.

Clean eating using organic foods can sometimes be intimidating and expensive without resources like one's own garden or year-round farmer's markets available to everyone, but cookbooks like this one by Anni Daulter help.  I was glad to discover that none of the recipes were "weird" - something that can be a challenge with cookbooks focusing on "health food" - but actually used ingredients I recognized and could find in my local grocery store even if they aren't locally grown. 

The only recipe I've tried so far was the Dill Dip for fresh veggies and my family really liked it so I'll make it again.  Other recipes I want to make are the quinoa with peas and corn, apple cranberry tuna wraps, and the roasted sweet potato and potato fries.

The photos are great and include not only many of the recipes but also some of Daulter's family, along with stories about how her kids have grown up with healthy, organic foods yet still have developed personal tastes for foods that can present a challenge, and how they have learned to experiment with food to come up with their own recipes. 

Even though this is marketed as a family cookbook with kids in mind, the recipes are for everyone and will appeal to adults as well.  Chapters include breakfasts, snacks, lunches, dinners, side dishes, desserts, and a chapter of extras such as condiments, flavored butters, jams, sauces, salsas, and dips.  There are a few gluten-free recipes as well.

500 Chocolate Delights by Lauren Floodgate

500 Chocolate Delights: The Only Chocolate Compendium You'll Ever Need by Lauren Floodgate, Sellers Publishing, $16.95 list price, hardcover.

Any chocolate lover has to smile at the thought of a whole cookbook devoted to it...and I did.  This little book packs a lot with 500 recipes, each including chocolate in the list of ingredients.  As with the other books in this series, there are about 100 base recipes and each includes four to five variations to total 500.  There are recipes for every occasion, season, and level of ability making it a nice addition to any cook's collection.

The chapters include everyday cakes and desserts, cookies, muffins and cupcakes, bars, celebration cakes; pastries, tarts, and cheesecakes; mousses and ice creams, petit fours and candies, and drinks, frostings, and sauces.   As with other "500" cookbooks, there are lots of color photographs that I always find to be a source of inspiration to try the recipes.

Some traditional desserts can be found such as chocolate chip cookies, brownies, chocolate cake, basic chocolate sauce, and pudding, but there are so many different recipes as well including chocolate orange cheesecake muffins, triple chocolate terrine, praline truffle, chocolate puddle cookes, and sticky apple and chocolate cake, to name just a few.  The only recipe I've tried so far and with good results was the white chocolate chunk cookes which will become a favorite.  Other recipes I have bookmarked to make besides those already mentioned are ginger and chocolate chip cookes, energy bars (might be a good breakfast treat), cheesecake brownies, and strawberry and chocolate marshmallow bars.

Anyone who loves chocolate will enjoy this cookbook.  It would make a great gift for such a person if not for yourself.

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Everyday Handmade: 22 Practical Projects for the Modern Sewist by Cassie Barden and Adrienne Smitke

Everyday Handmade: 22 Practical Projects for the Modern Sewist by Cassie Barden and Adrienne Smitke, Martingale & Co. Publishing, $24.99 list price, paperback.

This is a delightful book full of projects that will appeal to crafters of all levels of experience.  I love the tote shown on the cover decorated with fabric-covered buttons and have already started sorting through my stash for buttons to use when I make a revised version of it for myself.  I'm envisioning something done in shades of blue using decorative plastic buttons.  One thing I like about this book is that the projects inspire me to come up with some of my own ideas using what I have on hand.

Projects include a cover for an e-reader, quilted coasters, stuffed toys, handbags and totes, a messenger bag that includes a section for a laptop, a knitting needle tote, an adorable ladybug coin purse, potholders and other kitchen items, and quilts, to name a few.  Instructions are given for assembling and sewing the projects, there are plenty of photos and diagrams, and some full size patterns are included.  Other projects give instructions for measuring and cutting fabric instead of patterns.  Although I haven't made anything from the book yet, I did read through the instructions for each project and found them to be clear and easy to follow.

At this writing it is only February, but many of these projects would make wonderful Christmas gifts or holiday bazaar items so this book would be a good one to have now to get an early start.

Images of some projects in the book from the publisher website (click on link to see more):

Monday, February 20, 2012

500 Pizzas & Flatbreads by Rebecca Baugniet

500 Pizzas & Flatbreads: The Only Pizza & Flatbread Compendium You'll Ever Need by Rebecca Baugniet, Sellers Publishing, $17.95 list price, hardcover

Pizza is one of my favorite foods so I was pleased to discover a cookbook devoted to it.  As with the other cookbooks in this series from Sellers Publishing, there are about 100 main recipes with each including four or five variations to total 500.

The book begins with suggested equipment and ingredients, along with basic crusts (including gluten-free) and sauces recipes.  Chapter categories include thick crust pan pizzas, thin crust pizzas, rustic pizzas and calzones, international pizzas, flatbreads (from several regions such as European, Africa, Middle East, and South America), and sweet dessert pizzas and flatbreads.

I made the spinach and feta pizza (cut the recipe to an individual serving size) as something different and enjoyed it. The next one I want to make is the grilled chicken and fontina pizza. 

There are traditional recipes that include Chicago deep-dish style pizza and those using familiar ingredients like mozarella cheese, mushrooms, sausage, olives, and pepperoni.  There are also lots of unique offerings including a seafood pizza, pesto pizza, a chevre, arugula & pear pizza; Mexican pizza, turkish pizza (using lamb and spices), and smoked salmon and capers pizza.  The dessert section has some interesting recipes such as chocolate pizza, apple and cranberry pizza, and ice cream pizza with a brownie crust.

Most of the recipes are simple to make so even novice cooks will find tasty pizzas to try.  There were a few cheeses I wasn't familiar with that I might have to go to a larger grocery or specialty store for, but most ingredients were those I could find locally and if not, could easily be substituted with something else.

Overall this seems to be a great collection of recipes for pizza lovers with a nice balance of traditional and unique recipes.

From the publisher website:

Stitched For Fun: 35 Easy and Adorable Embroidery Projects by Fiona Goble

Stitched For Fun: 35 Easy and Adorable Embroidery Projects by Fiona Goble, Martingale & Co. Publishing, $24.99 list price, paperback.

Sometimes I come across a book that just makes me smile and this is one of those.  It is full of fun and easy embroidery projects that add a whimsical embellshment to clothing and home decor, or for gifts.  Projects include toys, cards, clothing, baby items such as bibs and blankets, home accessories such as placemants, pillows, towels, lampshades, and framed pictures; bags and totes, and fabric-lined boxes.

There are lots of color photographs that made me want to make every project, along with clear instructions and diagrams for the various embroidery stitches that anyone can learn.  Full-size embroidery designs used in the projects are included for transfer or tracing with instructions on how to do that, and can be photocopied bigger or smaller as desired.  Some of the projects require sewing the item before adding the embroidery (such as placemats, pillows, towels) and instructions are given for those as measurements for cutting the fabric and how to sew them.  Some of the embroidery is done on felt, some on other kinds of fabric.

The designs are simple but the results are charming, in my opinion.  I don't have grandkids yet but found many ideas for toys and adding a unique touch to ready-made clothing and bibs.  I especially liked the embroidery on children's tennis shoes and the cup cozies.

The ideas in this book remind me of the kind of embroidery my grandma used to do on tea towels and pillow cases so maybe that's one reason it appealed to me, but I think anyone who likes to embroider will find the projects enjoyable.

Images of some of the projects in the book from the publisher website (click on link to view more):

Nature's Wrapture: Contemporary Knitted Shawls by Sheryl Thies

Nature's Wrapture: Contemporary Knitted Shawls by Sheryl Thies, Martingale & Co. Publishing, $24.99 list price, paperback.

I'm a fan of craft books from Martingale & Co. and this book of shawls and scarves inspires me to get out the knitting needles to make one for myself.  I'm barely a beginner knitter, having tried it decades ago and am now giving it another try so something like a simple shawl appeals to me.

The projects take on a fun nature theme for the names that fit the patterns or colors such as Bumblebees, Chunky Bamboo, Fall Colors, Heavy Rain, Raspberries, Snowdrift, Twilight, and Milky Way.  The projects are rated from easy to advanced so any knitter of any level of expertise can find something.  I have my eye on "Milky Way" which is a beautifully simple gray shawl that seems to be something I could tackle after some practice with the stitches (it's the last photo below).

While I haven't made anything from this book yet, I did read through it and the instructions are clearly written with plenty of photos and diagrams.  For the most part I did understand the instructions but as a novice, felt I would have to consult other resources for clarification on some, or have someone more experienced explain them to me.  The projects aren't that advanced but this isn't a "learn to knit" book and assumes some general knowledge about the basics so beginners might want to do some simpler learning projects before trying the ones in this book.  That isn't a negative but rather a clarification and the projects really are beautiful and motivate me to learn more.

All the necessary stitches are taught to complete any or all of the projects.  Knitters will find plenty of projects to try or at the very least will be inspired by the ideas this book contains to make an original shawl for themselves.

Images of some projects from the book from the publisher website (click on link to view more).

Sunday, February 19, 2012

Get Hooked on Tunisian Crochet by Sheryl Thies

Get Hooked on Tunisian Crochet by Sheryl Thies, Martingale & Co. Publishing, $22.99 list price, paperback.

Also known as the afghan stitch, Tunisian crochet is an old needlework technique that is making a combeback.  It is worked on a long needle with a crochet hook at one end and the final project looks and feels similar to knitting with the clothing items being more soft and wearable than with regular crochet.  This book offers 13 gorgeous modern projects that include handbags and totes, wraps and shawls, sweaters, placemats, pillow covers, gloves, and other wardrobe and home accessories.  The book includes clear instructions with lots of photos and diagrams.

I've done a little crochet and knitting and although I hadn't tried this technique before, I felt the instructions were clear enough for me to follow and I like how simple stitches turn out something that looks more complex and intricate. The author teaches three basic stitches - Tunisian Simple Stitch, Tunisian Knit Stitch, and Tunisian Purl Stitch - that are combined to create many of the projects. The stitches taught run from beginner to advanced, and the photos are beautiful and inspiring. I think anyone who enjoys knitting and crocheting will love the projects this book offers while keeping in mind that this isn't a "learn to crochet" book and assumes the reader has some general knowledge of the craft already.  I love the wrap shown on the cover and was happy to discover that is labeled as "easy" so that's what I'm going to start with.

Images of projects in the book from the publisher website (click on the link to see more):

500 Cookies by Philippa Vanstone

500 Cookies: The Only Cookie Compendium You'll Ever Need by Philippa Vanstone, Sellers Publishing, $17.95 list price, hardcover.

I'm always looking for good cookie recipes and this cookbook gave me plenty to choose from.  It starts with the classics like tollhouse, sugar, shortbread, peanut butter, lemon bars, and snickerdoodles. Also included are chapters for teatime, cookies for kids, celebration cookies, healthy cookies, bars (brownies, etc.), dessert cookies, savory cookies and crackers, and a chapter devoted to chocolate cookes.

Our family enjoyed the ginger nut cookies and look forward to trying several others such as chocolate orange, hazelnut chewies, granola cookies, toffee bars, and cream cheese and chocolate double decker cookies.  There were some savory treats I'd like to try as well including cheese and pecan bites, and lemon and black pepper butter biscuits.

As with the other "500" cookbooks in this series from Sellers Publishing, there are actually 100 or so base recipes with 4-5 variations for each that complete the total that the title promises.  There are lots of color photographs to inspire cooks of any level of expertise.  All the recipes seem easy to follow and use readily available ingredients.

From the publisher website: