Book Review: My Perfect Pantry, by Geoffrey Zakarian


A well-stocked pantry is essential for any home cook. In his new cookbook My Perfect Pantry, chef Geoffrey Zakarian shares recipes and lists of his 50 favorite ingredients to keep on hand.  As culinary director at New York’s Plaza hotel and a judge on the Food Network’s Chopped, the author has plenty of wisdom and expertise to enlighten readers.

My Perfect Pantry starts with a list of must-have spices and seasonings along with descriptions of each ingredient and suggestions for use and storage. For example, he explains the differences in flavor of the various types of mustard seeds and explains how to choose the best vanilla beans. The rest of the book is dedicated to the 50 essential pantry ingredients. Each ingredient has its own section, which includes a description of the ingredient as well as a variety of recipes that include the ingredient. For example, the “gelatin” section includes recipes for Perfect Herb Mayonnaise, Classic American Meat Loaf, and Blackberry Panna Cotta.

The book has a pleasantly informal yet knowledgeable tone, with a few personal reminiscences sprinkled among the pages. Every recipe has a gorgeous, full-color photograph. The list of pantry staples ranges from pine nuts to baking soda and from honey to pasta, with creative ways to incorporate the ingredients into recipes.

My Perfect Pantry will be one of my go-to cookbooks in the years to come. I appreciate the variety and versatility of the suggested ingredients. As a longtime cooking enthusiast, I learned new recipes for familiar ingredients and discovered ingredients that I have yet to try, such as white anchovies. I highly recommend this book to anyone who loves to cook.

To learn more about My Perfect Pantry by Geoffrey Zakarian, visit the Random House book page and author bio.

FTC Disclaimer: I received this book from Blogging for Books for this review.

Settling Into Fall

After living in South Central Texas for five years, I had forgotten the joys of living within the rhythms of four seasons. It’s been seven months since we moved to Idaho, and our garden is finally settling into its fall rest after months of color and fragrance. I bought some leaf bags today, and we had our sprinkler system winterized and shut off this afternoon. The squirrels are still gathering the last of the black walnuts that have fallen from the neighbor’s tree, which now bears deep golden leaves. We are reminded to slow down and savor the cooler weather and the changing angles of the sunlight.




Some of the hardier flowers are still in bloom. One of my favorite discoveries in the garden –planted by the previous owner of our home — is a bed of gaillardia. The first blooms appeared in June and persist into late October.



There are many varieties of this long-blooming flower, with blossoms that range from    reddish orange to wine red or peach. They’re hardy in USDA zones 3 through 9, and produce a low, spreading bed of profuse blooms if you keep pinching off the spent flowers. In fact, the low-growing groundcovers are taking center stage as the taller perennials finish blooming.

Before we know it, we’ll be pulling weeds and deadheading rose bushes again. Meanwhile, we’ll let the changing seasons set our pace.



Heifer International: Ending Poverty and Hunger Through Empowerment

Yes, it is a bit early to think about Christmas, but one of my favorite Christmas catalogs arrived in the mail today. It’s from the humanitarian organization Heifer International — a group that reminds me of the dramatic difference one gift can make.

Through agricultural and livestock projects, Heifer International has helped impoverished families around the world for 70 years. The Christmas catalog lets you buy a gift for a poor family in honor of a loved one. The gifts, which include a $20 flock of geese, a $50 share of a heifer and a $150 llama, helps families get started on the path to self-sustainability. For example, a $30 gift of pollinating honeybees can help a small-scale coffee farmer increase production by  10 percent and provide honey for additional income.

According to its 12 Cornerstones of Just and Sustainable Development, Heifer International provides training, livestock, seeds, and other needed support to people in the poorest regions of the world. Through one of the most effective cornerstones, called “Passing On the Gift,” families who have been helped by Heifer International give to others in need in their communities. Other cornerstones include “Accountability,” “Nutrition and Income” and “Training and Education.” Women and men are encouraged to reach decisions together, and participants learn sustainable farming methods that protect the environment.

Food Network star Alton Brown explains the benefits of Heifer International:


So, if you’re looking for a way to make a difference this holiday season, look up Heifer International’s gift catalog. It’s called “The Most Important Gift Catalog in the World” for good reason. Individual acts of kindness really do make a difference!

Collectively: A New Sustainability Media Platform

This week, a new media platform called Collectively appeared online. Targeting the 18-to-30 age group, Collectively shares articles and videos about sustainability projects from around the world. Many of the world’s largest corporations, including Coca-Cola, Unilever, McDonald’s and Twitter. are partnering with (i.e. sponsoring) the Forum for the Future to bring this platform to the Internet.


The Forum for the Future states that the goal of Collectively is to inspire “a generational shift to a new normal.” Collectively highlights encouraging news in the push for sustainable agriculture and energy, as well as related news about art and technology. Visitors to the site can watch a video about urban beekeeping in Los Angeles, for example, or read an article about the promise of micro farming. In an age of alarming news about climate change, wars, and health crises, you don’t have to be a member of the Millennial generation to crave good news about the future of our planet.

It is easy to question the motives of corporate sponsors, and to feel skeptical about claims that the sponsors do not dictate content. However, it is necessary to bring both private and public organizations and businesses to the table as we tackle complex — and urgent — environmental and humanitarian issues.  Meanwhile, young visitors to this new platform will have a chance to learn about sustainability issues and consider their own potential for creativity and leadership. I am at least thankful for that.

Book Review: And Then Came a Lion, by Cecilia Marie Pulliam



In her novel And Then Came a Lion, Cecilia Marie Pulliam introduces us to Susannah Carlson, a young girl who has premonitions about child abductions. As Susannah matures into a young woman, she repeatedly risks her life by acting on these premonitions to save children from horrific crimes. Eventually she must decide whether to reveal these premonitions to those who are dearest to her. Throughout the story, which takes the reader from the northwestern United States to Africa, Susannah is faced with gut-wrenching choices and life-or-death decisions.

Ms. Pulliam deftly and creatively weaves this gripping tale, building suspense and prompting yet another late-night turn of the page. As I read the book, I found myself close to tears at some moments, and rejoicing at others. Susannah Carlson is a believable and admirable character. As I got to know her friends and family, I cared about them and felt like I knew them. The descriptions of Africa are vivid and breathtaking, and made me want to visit that continent.

I highly recommend And Then Came a Lion by Cecilia Marie Pulliam. The pace of the story builds suspense and places the reader in the middle of the sometimes terrifying, sometimes beautiful scenes. At times the story will break your heart, but like many good heroic tales, triumphs are often accompanied by heartache. I look forward to reading the next novel by Ms. Pulliam.

To find out more about the book and the author, click here.

Your Food: USDA Tool Can Help You Find Local Farmers’ Markets

Many farmers’ markets are open throughou the fall and even year round. If you’re still looking for a market in your area, a little-known USDA tool can help. The USDA Farmers’ Market Directory lets you search by zip code and distance, and lets you filter your search based on products available, payment accepted, market location, winter markets, and state contacts. To be eligible for a listing, a market must “feature two or more farm vendors selling agricultural products directly to customers at a common, recurrent physical location.”


The directory makes it possible to find a farmers’ market that best suits your preferences or budget. For example, the “Products Available” list includes baked goods, honey, crafts, herbs, meats, dry beans, soaps and many other product categories.  The “Payment Accepted” filter lets you look for markets that accept credit cards, WIC vouchers, SNAP and other Federal nutrition programs.

If farmers’ markets aren’t your thing, you can find other locally-grown options in the USDA Local Food Directories. You can look for Community Supported Agriculture (CSAs), for example, which provide members or subscribers with regular deliveries of fresh produce during harvest seasons. Other directories include on-farm markets and food hubs, which manage distribution and marketing of locally-grown food to wholesale, retail and institutional buyers.


Buying from CSAs, farmers’ markets or other local options lets you know where your food comes from, and keeps dollars in the local — especially rural — economy. Besides, fresh food tastes so much better!





Five-Minute Friday: Because


Welcome to Five Minute Friday, where we gather at Heading Home every week to write for five minutes straight from a prompt. That’s five-minutes of spontaneous writing, with no edits, no second-guessing :)

This week’s prompt is “because.” Here I go:


Because I have to write, just like I have to breathe.

Because the line was too long at the checkout. I’ll go back to the store and pick it up tomorrow.

Because sometimes I need a day off from writing.

Because I didn’t know it was going to rain today.

Because I wasn’t sure if you would actually read this.

Because I will always love you.

Because I forgot to take the chicken out of the freezer.

Because I didn’t sleep well last night and got up on the wrong side of the bed.

Because the submission deadline is two days earlier than I thought.

Because the cat was afraid of the vacuum, so I let him sleep next to us.

Because He created me this way.

Because I can carry this with His strength.

Because you can carry on, knowing that you are loved.

Because we can do all things through Him.


Time’s up! I hope you’ll link up and join us with your take on this prompt!