Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Books, Moms and Mystery by Beth Panageotou

My mother is a voracious reader and keeper of a "book of books."  It's an invaluable resource for tracking authors, series, likes and dislikes.  I came across an email she had sent to some family members making book recommendations on her favorite mystery series.  I wanted to share this with you today, add a few of my own and ask for your input as the Mission Read Library grows!  So...Let's talk Mystery!  Here are some amazing female authors who delight, educate and even frighten their way into our hearts with murder and mayhem.

Mom's Favorite Ladies of Mystery:
If you are looking for something new to read, I have a few suggestions that you might like.  These authors write wonderful mysterys that are great whodonits and great stories.

And I love Wikepedia when looking up authors -- good for biographies and the site always lists books in the order in which they were published.  I often shrink the lists and tape them in my book of books.  And I am pretty anal when starting a new author.  I like to start at the beginning to see the characters develop.  Goodreads is also a fun site to visit.

My favorite of all time is Martha Grimes and her detective Richard Jury.  Her mysteries are set in England and built around pub names.

Sue Grafton is also fun  with her alphabet mysteries set in a small town in California -- all  her books are still set in the late 80s -- no cell phones or computers :)  I have started rereading her books, which I get from the library.

Jane Haddam is another favorite.  Her  books are set in the Armenian American neighborhood of Philadelphia.  Her detective is Gregor Demarkian. 
Anne Perry has another set of Victorian mysteries featuring Thomas and Charlotte Pitt.  Definitely have to start at the earliest book, similar to Monk. 
Laurie King has a terrific series about Sherlock Holmes and Mary Russell. 
I recently discovered Louise Penny.  Her mysteries take place in a small town outside of Montreal. 
Last, but not least, Donna Leon and Venice .... I found her books a long time ago in a little book shop in NYC that is no longer in business.  For many years I could only get the English print version, but she is hugely popular now and available.
I would add the following to this talented list:

Elizabeth Peters: her main character, the heroine, Amelia Peabody, will win your heart excavating ancient Egypt and solving crimes at the same time. They are best read in order to get the full story.

Elizabeth George: set in England, a group of friends led by Inspector Lynley and Detective Havers are sure to keep you on the edge of your seat.  (Warning: You may develop a small crush on Tommy Lynley.)  Also best read in order and was a PBS miniseries.

Laura Lippman: Baltimore P.I. Tess Monaghan is one brave lady!  And if you've ever been to Baltimore, you will surely recognize many of the scenes!

Sally Goldenbaum: Izzy Chambers moves to Sea Harbor, the quintessential New England fishing town.  She opens a knitting shop, has a wonderful set of sassy and intelligent friends and solves the occasional who-done-it.  The Seaside Knitters series are fun, easy summertime mysteries.

Share your favorites with us here, on Twitter, Google+ and Facebook.  Titles will be pinned to the Mission Read Pinterest boards.

ABOUT BETH: Beth Panageotou is the co-founder of Page’s Corner, Inc. and creator of Mission Read.
Beth has a BA from Mount Saint Mary’s University and has a background in public policy and education.  After working in Washington, DC, she taught high school social studies and developed her passion to incorporate multiple learning philosophies, learning styles and student-centered activities within the confines of both the traditional and extracurricular classroom setting.  This carried over to her personal life as Beth left teaching to care for her two wonderful daughters (ages 4 & 7).   Beth strongly believes in the need to stress literacy and creativity in the early stages of child development, as is reflected in the mission of Page’s Corner and the creation of the Mission Read campaign.
Follow Beth on Facebook | Twitter @epan11 @PagesCorner  | Blog | Web | Pinterest mr divider hr

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

SNAP, Libraries and the Need to Read by Marcus K. Dowling

We break from the beach this week to talk about the importance of libraries, especially in the lives of children.  Marcus K. Dowling shares his personal story of the ways in which books transported him to another place.  He also introduces Mission Read to a Microgreens--an organization dedicated to teaching kids how to make healthy eating choices on a SNAP budget.

I grew up an overly literate child because I had no other choice.  I grew up as a child with a knowledge of what it was to live on SNAP benefits because, as well, I had no other choice.  While upon first glance the link between literacy, social awareness and health may not be obvious, in the case of my life - and the choices I could have made that I was not aware that I could make - it absolutely makes complete sense.

My mother gave me a library card at the age of eight, and it wasn't so much because I loved to read. Oftentimes, when she was working overtime on the weekends in order to make ends meet.  There were days where as soon as the doors opened at the Fairmount Heights branch of the Prince George's County Public Library, my mother would give me my card, escort me to a table, and tell the librarians that she'd be back for me by 2 PM.  Yes, for a solid year or so of my life, I was occasionally babysat by books. I read about everything.  I'd find a favorite author or a favorite subject, and in six hours, I'd get started, then take entire collections out of the library to complete at home.  I was hooked.  I would read everything from Matt Christopher writing about youth sports heroes to Beverly Cleary and Judy Blume.  Accompanied by a dictionary, I became a fanatic for reading old editions of the Washington Post and Sports Illustrated.  Reading helped me understand the universe, and words sharpened and defined my idea of what the world was and ultimately could become.

The other thing I loved to read were cookbooks.  My mother - though constrained by what she was able to afford to cook - was truly a wizard.  Even before we received assistance, whatever was on sale ended up on the plate, and never tasted terrible.   Chicken livers?  Well, when they were breaded, fried and served with gravy, they were easily be explained off as being "just like Chicken McNuggets." Beef liver was an infinitely more difficult sell until the first time she ever saw me eat "country fried" steak; then beef liver became a strange new delicacy after being dipped in egg and flour and thrown into a frying pan.  Of course, in the cookbooks I loved to read, none of those meals even existed.  My favorite cookbook was Julia Child's Mastering the Art of French Cooking, which always and forever for me will be a strange and evocative read, everything described then seeming so unique, delicious and sadly out of my immediate reach.

By the time I reached the fourth grade, I was 125 pounds and miserable, a diet of fast food and preservative-filled dining not exactly being kind to my waistline.  I didn't love to read at that point, I clung to it.  Books were far less judgmental than potential friends could be, and that was enough for me.  Yes, I still read cookbooks, too. I still was intrigued by what people ate in various countries around the world, and I desired to sample those foods as well.  Of course, at the end of the day, I'd stare at myself in the mirror, think, "wow, I'm just a fat, helpless geek." From there, I built an invisible force field around myself made of books and food.  Being portly, angry and book-smart pretty much became my way of life, and just to think - if an organization like Microgreens had existed, life would have never been this way.

In May 2013, I took the SNAP/Food Stamp Challenge in order to raise awareness for my friend, chef Alli Sosna and Microgreens. Microgreens is a DC-based but nationally-spreading organization founded to teach children who are SNAP recipients how to maintain a healthy diet. I empathize and ultimately support the work of Microgreens for many reasons, two of which being my love of reading and my wanderlust for rare culinary opportunities. If I (or my mother) would have known when I was a child that palatable and ultimately healthy meals were available at an affordable price for a very restricted budget, it would have easily changed my life. 

Literacy opened doors for me that ultimately, due to my own lack of awareness, I closed on myself. To be able to reward someone who is aware with a persistent array of unlimited, yet beneficial choices is an amazing notion that thankfully now exists.

With a finger on the pulse of the past, present and future of business, media, art and entertainment, Washington, DC native Marcus K. Dowling is a locally, nationally and internationally respected veteran executive and journalist.

Over the past five years, Dowling has distinguished himself as a music/arts blogger and journalist for print and online publications, including: The Washington Post, Washington City Paper, Washington Informer, Washingtonian Magazine, BrooklynBodega.com and the Brooklyn Hip-Hop Festival, DC-based arts and music sites Brightest Young Things, the Pink Line Project, as well as numerous online dance music portals.

As Executive Director at Listen Vision - the Nation’s Capital’s oldest recording studio - he oversees not just the studio, but the WLVS Radio brand, growing the online streaming audio and video portal’s number of broadcasters by 52% in the past 18 months. At present, 80-plus hours of live weekly content is being globally accessed in over 130 countries on one of the United States’ largest online radio entertainment providers. At DC-based Ross Business Management, Dowling works as a  Business Development and Acquisition Consultant, assisting the business management firm specializing in the creative community with brand, relationship and business management. As well, as one of the founding principals of Vamos Promo - a PR and marketing firm that services the progressive underground dance community - he aligns DJs and producers with high-profile brand development and content marketing opportunities.

Twitter - @marcuskdowling
Facebook - @marcuskdowling

mr divider hr
Written for Mission Read 2013

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Why I Stopped Reading by Holly Pavlika

I Stopped Reading!

I used to read. I was an addict. I always had a book with me or had one on my nightstand. If it weren’t for people loaning books to me or for the bookshelves in my apartment building’s laundry room where everyone leaves and exchanges books, I would have spent a small fortune on them. I can read a book in a day, so I used to read at least two books a week. If I was particularly into a book, you could have run naked through my house and I wouldn’t have noticed.  At any given time, you would have been able to find at least 20 books hidden in my wall unit waiting for me to read.  My family HATED that I read so much. It drove them crazy.

My mother used to live in a retirement community that had a library.  The retirees would leave books they that had read; the books were there for the taking. She would go in when no one was there and sneak out a whole bag of books. She’d call me to ask which writers I liked and stockpile them until she had a boxful, which she would then mail to me. It was heaven to receive this box of free books!

On top of the free books, if I walked by a Barnes and Noble, I would have to go in. I would always leave with a minimum of three to four books. So I stopped going in because I read too quickly and it was draining my wallet.

If I had kept every book I’ve read over the years, I estimate I have read about 6,000 books.

But I stopped reading. 

I blame it on writing and social media. I spend way too much time on both. They are necessities for my job, but I have let them push aside my love of reading. And instead of reading I play video games on my iPad. I have lost my mind.

Reading is escapism and down time. I need both.  I firmly believe that everyone needs both.

There was a time when my daughter and I shared books. She’s a teenager so it was fun to actually have something we could talk about. If you have a teenager, you know what I mean. We read The Hunger Games, some Jodi Piccoult books, Harry Potter and, of course, the Twilight series. It was a great way to connect. She was never the avid reader I was so I was so happy to see her start to love books too.

Now, she’s home from college for the summer and working. Combine that with a new boyfriend, my job and her job, there’s been little together time for us. So I have a plan. We’re going to go shopping for some books we both want to read. And despite having iPads and technology at our fingertips, we’re both old-fashioned, we like books and holding them in our hands.  We are going to turn a new page, together.

Holly's Mother/Daughter Summer Reading:

President, MOMentumNation LLC
Holly Pavlika is one of the few women to have her name on the door of an advertising agency-and she has done it twice. She also lends her award-winning creative and leadership skills to teaching classes, writing white papers, donating hours to pro bono efforts and participating in several organizations that give back to the industry.
Fox Pavlika was Holly’s first namesake agency. A shop that focused on strategic and creative solutions, Fox Pavlika specialized in integrated “branded” response long before the terms were coined. After 11 years of success, Fox Pavlika was acquired by Lowe and Partners and became LoweFoxPavlika. A perpetual striver, Holly went on to found yet another agency– Margeotes Pavlika Direct.
From Margeotes, Holly joined G2 Direct & Digital. She helped transform the agency from a direct mail/letter shop to a fully integrated and highly digital agency. Holly’s drive for success, combined with her entrepreneurial spirit, led to the building of G2’s pharmaceutical practice (the fastest growing division of the agency) and ultimate restructuring into a vertical go-to-market strategy.
From G2, Holly went to Big Fuel first as the Executive Creative Director. She shortly became the Managing Director of Big Fuel, a pure-play social media agency. Her day- to-day job wasn’t enough, she used her social media expertise and knowledge of moms and women-focused marketing to build MOMentum–a mom practice within Big Fuel that led to her current position as President of MOMentum.
MOMentumNation recently became part of Collective Bias where she will continue in her role as SVP, Strategy.
Holly has written several white papers and contributes as a regular writer for MediaPost Engage: Moms. She also recently swept the competition in an agency contest hosted by Klout to determine the most influential online voice in the industry.
In her spare time, Holly uses her social media expertise for social good.
Holly first got involved with social good efforts with the Cystic Fibrosis and the Breath of the Hamptons when she found out her daughter’s best friend was living with it.
From there stumbling on a article about how much money is spent on Mother’s Day, she decided to rally moms around the concept of asking spouses and significant others to set aside money for charity versus spending money on gifts. This led to her joining Christy Turlington with the Mother’s Day launch of Every Mother Counts. The twitter party brought 25 million impressions to Christy’s brand and over 175 blog posts across the U.S.

Global Poverty Project saw the Every Mother Counts efforts and asked Holly to join them. 1in 4 children in America go to bed hungry around the world. Holly has live tweeted from their events like the Global Festival in Central and lived on $1.50 a day to raise money and awareness for global hunger.

In September, she was asked to become a Champion for the UN Foundation’s Shot@Life campaign. One of 30 women, she was brought to Washington for media and advocacy training, as well as to brainstorm ideas for the grassroots campaign. In May, Holly traveled with the UN Foundation and UNICEF to Tanzania where she saw first hand the issues.

She is also supporting 10X10 Educate Girls with a 12-hour tweetathon to raise awareness around the issues with girls and education. 154 million girls are not in school, which has a huge impact on the world’s economy.
mr divider hr
Written for Mission Read 2013

Tuesday, July 9, 2013

Literary Giants! by Rebecca Campbell

I owe my love of reading to my mother.  It really is as simple as that; my entire life she instilled in both my sister and me a love of the written word. Often, I cannot get out of Barnes & Noble without buying at least five books.  I graduated with a degree in British and American Literature and when I received my Masters in English education, I was excited with the prospect of discussing literature with my students. 

Yet, what I have found is that most of my students no longer have the exposure to the literary giants and do not have the love of reading that I have.  As the years have passed, I purposely design my syllabus around authors that I believe students need to read, particularly if they never take another English class again.  It is with this thought that I created a list of classic texts that I believe everyone should read at some point in their lives.  Some are easier reads than others; some are novels; some are epic poems.  All are worth the time it takes to fall in love with the words.  I kept the list in chronological order just for convenience:  

1.    Dante Alighieri – Inferno
If you have time, read the entire Divine Comedy, but this is by far the best of the three.  It is an epic poem and is a challenging read but it is worth the effort. Be sure to find a modern translation – Mandelbaum’s translation is the one I own.  One interesting note to keep in mind, Dante places sins of passion above sins of reason in hell. Do you need to read every line?  No. Unless you have a fascination with 14th century Italian politics – Dante was exiled and not particularly happy about it, as you will see.

2.   Geoffrey Chaucer – The Canterbury Tales
Again, another challenging read but worth the time.  Much like Dante, find a modern translation or I have one that pairs the Old English version with the modern translation on the opposite page. Unfortunately, the cliché “lost in translation” applies here. I believe it is beneficial to see both versions. Do you need to read every tale in the book, no. Medieval literature is not particularly cheery (the plague, the church was corrupt, all in all not a pleasant time in English history). Chaucer did not finish the tales so skip the unfinished ones.  My personal favorites are “The Wife of Bath” and “The Pardoner’s Tale.”

3.   William Shakespeare – Macbeth, Romeo and Juliet and a few sonnets
Insert groan here, as many of my students do.  For some reason, they hate Shakespeare.  The man gets a bad rap that he never used to have.  Picking what you should read by him is always difficult.  Most people say they have read the two tragedies I listed above but we all read them in either high school or college and hated them – trust me.  Try reading Macbeth now.  The political treachery is far more interesting as an adult.  Romeo and Juliet I picked because I do not believe people realize the entire story takes place in four days.  As for the sonnets, I suggest reading the first line.  If you like it, keep going; if you do not, skip it.  But I suggest reading at least ten – they are beautiful works – and only fourteen lines.

4.   John Milton – Paradise Lost
I love John Milton.  In college, I took an entire class on Paradise Lost.  What is interesting about Milton is that he was not AT ALL a nice person – which might be putting it mildly.  Think Beethoven in literature except that he was blind not deaf.  He composed this epic poem after he lost his sight and dictated it to his daughters.  He is the master of enjambment – uneven line breaks in poetry that cause you to pause unnaturally. What Milton did that makes this poem particularly interesting, is that Satan looks almost like the hero of Paradise Lost.  He is not.  Milton wants you, the reader, to realize that it was Satan’s pride that led to his fall.  It is definitely worth the read.

5.   William Blake - Songs of Innocence and Songs of Experience
Clearly I love the Brits.  Blake actually completed the illustrations for Paradise Lost and he is one of my favorite poets.  His poems are accessible but certainly contain a deeper meaning that you will find enjoyable and more modernized concepts than the four gentlemen listed above.  For example, “The Chimney Sweeper” deals with child labor loss and the innocence of a small child whereas “A Poison Tree” focuses on the sins of man – Blake manages to include almost all of the Seven Deadly Sins in twelve lines.  Again, do you need to read all of them, no.  But browse through and you will fall in love.

6.   Mary Shelley – Frankenstein
Odd choice, I know.  But we all have seen the movie – or seen Mel Brook’s Young Frankenstein ­– which is by far a funnier version than Shelley’s classic.  Mary Shelley was very young when she wrote Frankenstein and it is interesting to see her take on the faults and flaws of Victor Frankenstein (remember the scientist is Frankenstein – not the monster). Many consider this the first version of science fiction but it includes some great elements of horror and gothic tragedy.  Just think about who you pity throughout the novel.  You might surprise yourself.

7.   Emily and Charlotte BrontëWurthering Heights and Jane Eyre respectively
I combined them because, well, they’re sisters and I think it is interesting to read the two of them back to back to actually recognize the differences in their writing styles.  They died young (Charlotte at 38 and Emily at 30) and were neglected by their father after their mother died. Reclusive and shy would be generous terms.   Jane Eyre starts off as a very dry read but is worth the plodding through the beginning to get to an amazing, strong female character in literature.  Wurthering Heights conveys a vitality in both Heathcliff and Catherine that Emily could never display.   She also manages to intertwine the pitiful working classes’ lifestyle and the extremely religious.  Combined, the sisters’ novels are worth the read.

8.   Mark Twain – The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn and The Adventures of Tom Sawyer
Mark Twain is perhaps the most influential American writer to date.  These two novels, when taken together, give us a clear view of what life in the South was like in the late 1800’s. Huckleberry Finn has come under fire lately because of the language used but it is worth the read the way Twain intended it.  Remember language changes – see The Canterbury Tales and Shakespeare.  Just because we do not speak like that now, does not mean it is not relevant. The two novels are tales of innocence, experience and the lives of the two boys. Twain’s sarcasm and writing style in the two novels are evident and the picture of our society is clear.

9.   F. Scott Fitzgerald – The Great Gatsby
Again, insert groan here.  We have all read it.  We have all seen the movie.  We have all been forced to read it.  Read it again. It is completely different as an adult when you will pick up on Fitzgerald’s subtle imagery and symbolism as well as his critique on society.  I could go on forever about Fitzgerald and the entire Lost Generation but I will not.  Just read the book again. Let it speak for itself. 

10.  Ernest Hemingway – A Farewell to Arms
My love of Hemingway might be more than my love of Milton.  I picked A Farewell to Arms because it depicts a tragic love story amidst the mess of World War I. Henry and Catherine battle throughout the novel with their emotions.  Hemingway, without a doubt, critiques the atrocities of war and the effects of it on the mental and physical state of the soldiers.  It is a beautifully written story.  If you have time, read everything that Hemingway wrote and then read his biography. When you think of a Man’s Man – Hemingway is it. 

I literally could go on forever with books that I think you should read.  When you finish this list, Google “The English Literary Canon.” Pick any author on there that strikes your fancy. Find one who has a weird name.  Find one who is in an era of history that you like. The above list of ten has maintained my love of reading throughout my adult life.  I promised myself that this summer I would read thirty books – I have finished five so far.  Hopefully this list will inspire you to find the little known authors of the Renaissance or a new author who uses Hemingway as an inspiration.  They are literary giants for a reason – and they deserve the credit that they were once afforded.  Yes, modernized literature is important but knowing where our words come from is also important.

Happy reading!

~ Rebecca

Rebecca Campbell has her MA in Secondary Teaching from NYU and BA in English Literature from the University of Maryland.  She is a New York, New Jersey and Maryland certified secondary English education teacher. Rebecca has been teaching college-level English since 2009 and hopes to enhance her students understanding of literature and works to develop and maintain a high standard of excellence in their writing.

Follow Rebecca on Twitter
mr divider hr
Written Exclusively For Mission Read 2013

Tuesday, July 2, 2013

Bad Girls or Sad Girls? You Be the Judge! by Pragmatic Mom

Bad girls
Talking about the sad girls
Sad girls
Talking about bad girls, yeah

You ask yourself who they are
Like everybody else, they come from near and far

Bad Girls by Donna Summer ... Toot Toot, Beep, Toot Toot!

Sirens, jezebels, murderesses, thieves, and other female villains. Who are they?

Bad Girls, Talkin' about the Sad Girls

Well, they're all here in Bad Girls by Jane Yolen and Heidi E. Y. Stemple, illustrated by Rebecca Guay.

Jane Yolen teams up with her daughter, Heidi, to pull together all the women in history with a bad rap. It's a book with an unusual format: short stories for each bad girl starting with Delilah from the Bible with a graphic novel "weighing in" page hosting by Jane and Heidi acting as judge and jury. There is a full-page illustration introducing each bad girl as well.

Mata Hari
Mata Hari

Mata Hari
Mata Hari

Some of the more famous bad girls are household names: Jezebel, Cleopatra, Bloody Mary, Lizzie Borden, Bonnie of Bonnie and Clyde, Typhoid Mary, and Mata Hari. Good marketing or were they just very, very bad? You be the judge.

Virginia Hill
Virgina Hill

Strengths: The paper in the hardcover is sumptuous. Extremely thick and glossy. I actually had to check as I turned each page that it was just a single page and not two stuck together, the paper is that thick! I liked the wide range of bad girls. Yolen and Stemple did a thorough job rounding up all the ladies with a bad rap, and their stories are told in short biography form. This is a nice format for reluctant girl readers. The graphic novel page is also a nice break from all the pages of text.

Bonnie Parker, Bonnie and Clyde
Bonnie Parker of infamous Bonnie and Clyde duo

Weaknesses: I wished there was more meat to the mother/daughter dialogue. Either a fact should have been withheld and revealed in this piece or perhaps the graphic novel portion should have been the Bad Girl herself telling her side of the story. That would have been fun. I would have loved to seen actual clippings, photos or portraits of the ladies as well. Especially the ones famed for their beauty. A collage format with old newspaper headlines would have been fun!

Images of Mata Hari from Swung Over.

Image of Virginia Hill from TruTV.

Pragmatic Mom, PragmaticMom, Pragmatic Mom BlogMia Wenjen blogs excessively on children's books, education and parenting at PragmaticMom. She has 3 kids, a husband and a dog. Only the dog listens to her.

mr divider hr

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Family Connections by Mike Colicchio

I grew up in an Italian-American family. We thought we were just like everyone else. Until I was a young adult, I was totally unaware of how unlike everyone else we really were. Food was of course essential to our well-being, but it went well beyond sustenance. It was our lifeblood, our entertainment, our social network and our passion.

Everyone cooked. Mom, Dad, both sets of grandparents, aunts, uncles...everyone.  It wasn’t fancy, it wasn’t picture perfect but it was wholly satisfying. I grew up in a northern New Jersey city famous for its Italian immigrants. Many of my relatives lived within walking distance and this meant that a home cooked meal was literally just around the corner. Even though all were related, each had a wonderful uniqueness about their dishes never leaving me to contemplate food boredom or other cuisines.

Four distinct memories often flood back into my consciousness. Each involved food and many relatives. It was hectic and loud but was overwhelmingly delicious.

I can remember nights eating four dinners. I would  start at an Aunt’s, move onto a Great Aunt’s, then to my Grandparents and finally home where my Mother didn’t believe for a second that I was only eating her cooking.  She fed me anyway!

During my early childhood, Sundays were spent sitting around the table at my paternal Grandparent’s home. I would sit there; listening to rapid fire Italian while munching on anisette toast. I would also sneak a bit of anisette--but just a tiny bit as I was no more than four or five years old. Tragically, my paternal Grandfather passed away suddenly when I was five and my Italian lessons and anisette tasting were greatly curtailed.

Every Sunday my brothers and I would wake up to the smell of meatballs, sausage, braciole and bacon frying. Eggs and bacon were made to order by our very own short-order cook, Mom. She spent the entire day cooking. I spent the entire day eating macaroni and gravy, meats, bread, wine, salad, and a cake or pie to round out the meal.  Now I’m certain we missed a few Sundays here and there, especially in summer, but to miss two consecutive Sundays would be sacrilege. I’ve continued this tradition with my now college age daughters. Although modern life doesn’t allow for a weekly ritual, I’ve been able to transfer these traditions to them as they have watched me cook this meal many, many times. 

The last and most frustrating memory involves the perfection of the simple dish of peppers and eggs. I often slept next door at my maternal Grandparents. There I had my own bedroom and I could eat without anyone telling me to eat less! Gramps was a truck driver and he would be up before dawn frying the peppers just so in olive oil and marrying them at just the right moment with scrambled eggs. I have been trying my entire life, to no avail, to replicate this favorite dish of my childhood.

Now lest you think that food is the story, it’s really just the stage. The real story was the family connections, the discussions, the laughter, the arguments and the development of lifelong friendships with my cousins. The table and the food that threatened to collapse it was only a backdrop to the real purpose, to tell the family stories that unbeknownst to us children would continue to be told through the subsequent generations. There are very few tangible reminders of life as it was. Social media and iPhones were a half century in the future but the mind preserves just as well if not better than today’s technology.  Family connected through food can never be broken apart!

(Gram's 90th Birthday, 11/00.  left to right -- brothers Tom, Mike and Phil with Gram.)

From 2005 through 2011 my wife, daughters and I lived in Texas and Budapest Hungary. When we were deciding where in the U.S. we would return, a wise 16 year old made our decision very easy. She wanted to eat Sunday dinner with Grandma. I needed no other input; New Jersey it was and I knew at that moment that their children were going to be as fortunate as I was. Our family tradition had been preserved.

The author, 52, was born and raised in Elizabeth, New Jersey and is a from a large Italian-American family of professional and home cooks. A Certified Public Accountant and management consultant by profession, he is by aspiration a world traveler, home cook, bicyclist, singer and lover of life. He loves all things Springsteen, counts Italy and Hungary as his favorite places outside of the good ole U.S.A. and would spend everyday at the Jersey Shore if possible. He is married and the father of two daughters getting ready to go to college. 

Follow Mike on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram

mr divider hr

Written for Mission Read 2013 

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

The Farm-to-Table Movement (and the books that took me there) by Val Curtis

This is the time of year when it is easier to acquire fresh produce. By fresh, I mean from the farm or, better yet, from your yard.

Whether you are starting small and enjoying fresh herbs or harvesting enough cucumbers to have a winter's store of pickles, you know that the homegrown taste is incomparable to what you would buy in a store.

A few years back, I was a member of a local CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) and the produce was FLOWING. Often I caught myself thinking, "What am I going to make with this?" and as a result, I fell into a group of cookbooks that inspired fresh, seasonal recipes.

In addition, I began reading about the food movement, finding out how to save money while eating well and making my own bread.

Here is a collection of the books and cookbooks that led me through this journey.

Food for Thought:
1. Ominvore's Dilemma and Food Rules by Michael Pollen

2. Animal, Vegetable, Miracle by Barbara Kingsolver (great recipes in here, too!)

3. Real Food by Nina Planck

 4.  Moosewood Cookbook and Pretend Soup (for kids) by Mollie Katzen

 5. The New Laurel's Kitchen by Laurel Robertson

 6. Foster's Market Cookbook by Sara Foster

 7. How to Cook Everything Vegetarian by Mark Bittman

 8. Practical Paleo: A Customized Approach to Health and a Whole-Foods Lifestyle by Dianne Sanfilippo

 9. The Bread Bible: 300 Favorite Recipes by Beth Hensperger

10.  The New Mediterranean Diet Cookbook: A Delicious Alternative for Lifelong Health by Nancy Harmon Jenkins and Marion Nestle

What are your favorite fresh foods cookbooks?

Val Curtis is the CEO and Co-founder of Bonbon Break and the creator of the Food & Garden site Mental Chew and Val Unplugged. She is a former middle school science teacher who put her career on hold to be at home with her son and daughter in the Pacific Northwest.

When Val breaks away from her keyboard, she enjoys gardening, cooking, hiking, camping, tidepooling, sailing and potlucks. She gets a kick out of combing the web for recipes and then adapting them for her husband, family and friends to enjoy. Through her love of organic cooking, she became interested in growing her own produce and Mental Chew gave her the chance to combine her love of food and gardening as well as explore her new passion for photography. Follow her on Twitter.

mr divider hr

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Dude's Day!

This Sunday is Father's Day; a day to celebrate or remember all of the wonderful men in our lives.  As we at Mission Read continue our tour of food books, here's a list that covers all of the bases from beginner cook to grilling maestro (and they make great gifts for your dudes this weekend)!

1.  Ad Hoc at Home - Thomas Keller (2009)

2.  The Art of Living according to Joe Beef - Frederic Morin, David McMillan (2011)

3.  Charcuterie: The Craft of Salting, Smoking and Curing - Michael Ruhlman & Brian Polcyn (2005)

4.  Michael Chiarello's Live Fire: 125 Recipes for Cooking Outdoors - Michael Chiarello (2013)

5.  The Complete America's Test Kitchen TV Show Cookbook - America's Test Kitchen (2012)

6.  Frontera: Margaritas, Guacamoles, and Snacks - Rick Bayless (2012)

7.  Momofuku Milk Bar - Christina Tosi (2011)

8.  The PDT Cocktail Book - Jim Meehan (2011)

9.  Ruhlman's Twenty - Michael Ruhlman (2011)

10. Smoke and Spice: Cooking with Smoke, The Real Way to Barbecue - Cheryl & Bill Jamison     (2003)

Share your favorite cookbook, Father's Day recipe or cocktail with us and we will post it on our Facebook page and Pinterest boards!  Happy Father's Day!

 ABOUT BETH: Beth Panageotou is the CEO and co-founder of Page’s Corner, Inc.
Beth has a BA from Mount Saint Mary’s University and has a background in public policy and education.  After working in Washington, DC, she taught high school social studies and developed her passion to incorporate multiple learning philosophies, learning styles and student-centered activities within the confines of both the traditional and extracurricular classroom setting.  This carried over to her personal life as Beth left teaching to care for her two wonderful daughters (ages 4 & 7).   Beth strongly believes in the need to stress literacy and creativity in the early stages of child development, as is reflected in the mission of Page’s Corner and the creation of the Mission Read campaign.
Follow Beth on Facebook | Twitter @epan11 @PagesCorner | Blog | Web | Pinterest

("Pots" photo used in slider courtesy of knockknockingblog.com)mr divider hr

Tuesday, June 4, 2013

Reading (and Cooking) with Kids! by Beth Panageotou

In part two of Mission Read's FOOD & PRINT book list, I turned my attention to children's books.  From picture books to classics, this list represents the silly, the touching, the old and the new.  Read the whole list as a family this summer.  As you complete each book, make a dish (and write down the recipe) as a family that represents the story.  You will have created your own FOOD & PRINT cookbook when you are finished...a personal treasure of the time you spent reading and cooking together!  And as Little Pea would say, "Yum, Yum, Extra Yum!"

--> Favorites for Kids:
1.  Alice in Wonderland: Lewis Carroll
2.  The Chocolate Touch: Patrick Skene Catling (2006)
3.  Duck Soup: Jackie Urbanovic (2008)
4.  Green Eggs and Ham: Dr. Seuss (1960)
5.  How Do Dinosaurs Eat Their Food: Jane Yolen (2005)
6.  The Jungle Book: Rudyard Kipling
7.  The Lemonade War: Jacqueline Davies (2009)
8.  Little Pea: Amy Krouse Rosenthal (2005)
9.  The Magic Cake Shop: Meika Hashimoto (2011) 
10. Silverlicious: Victoria Kann (2011)
11. Stone Soup: Marcia Brown (1947)
12. Tony’s Bread: Tomie DiPaola (1996)
13. Walter the Baker: Eric Carle (1998)
14. Wind in the Willows: Kenneth Grahame
15. Winnie The Pooh: AA Milne

ABOUT BETH: Beth Panageotou is the CEO and co-founder of Page’s Corner, Inc.
Beth has a BA from Mount Saint Mary’s University and has a background in public policy and education.  After working in Washington, DC, she taught high school social studies and developed her passion to incorporate multiple learning philosophies, learning styles and student-centered activities within the confines of both the traditional and extracurricular classroom setting.  This carried over to her personal life as Beth left teaching to care for her two wonderful daughters (ages 4 & 7).   Beth strongly believes in the need to stress literacy and creativity in the early stages of child development, as is reflected in the mission of Page’s Corner and the creation of the Mission Read campaign.
Follow Beth on Facebook | Twitter @epan11 @PagesCorner | Blog | Web | Pinterest

mr divider hr

Monday, May 27, 2013

The Cooking School of Gram

You’re Never Too Young to Start Cooking

It may not have official accreditations. But it should.
It may not be nationally known. Perhaps we can change that.

I started cooking with Gram at six years old. One day, the summer between Kindergarten and first grade, I packed an overnight bag and my Charlie’s Angels lunchbox for an overnight stay with Gram. Like Luke traveling to study with Yoda, I returned home two weeks later.

That first two-week stay launched my culinary school of Gram learning. What could a six year-old and a 59 year-old have in common, you ask? Yoda’s like 800 years old, and I totally would’ve hung out with him, too.

I followed Gram around, well, everywhere, but mostly in the kitchen. That’s where Gram loved to be, and that’s where I loved to be with her. Thirty-five years ago she began to teach me her ways, her secrets, her methods, everything her mother and mother-in-law taught her. From special ways to twist Italian cookies, to seasoning sauce, tricks for homemade pasta, to pies and pot roast: she completed most lessons with, “that’s how we do.”

Gram loved her sweets and she loved to bake. Her Italian cookie towers became legendary, stories of them told near and far. Stacked over a foot high and wide, with Italian candy almonds nestled in between all those cookies, when it entered the room, I think it floated. On its own. It would have had that power. It Jedi’d itself. It was glorious.

The biggest VIP at any wedding, shower, or special event, everyone waited for Gram’s Italian cookie tower. Then, like a gun at the races, people shot off to fill every purse, napkin, or MacGyver’d makeshift doggie bag at the first sighting. I failed to secure one cookie at my own wedding. My fault, too busy chatting it up with guests. Only sad shards of cookie shrapnel remained when I finally got to them.
Gram and I at her 90th birthday/Carnivale, the Italian feast before Lent where we make and eat hundreds of homemade ravioli.
The first thing Gram taught me to make? God-given, glorious cookies. It’s probably why I developed a somewhat unhealthy attachment to them, a food blankey sort of love. There are worse vices, right? Who doesn’t love a cookie? Maybe someone soulless and wrong. In my family, cookie love is in our blood.

The first cookie I made with Gram: chocolate chip. What is better than a hot, gooey chocolate chip cookie? Not much.

But Gram upgraded me to the next cookie lesson right away, my favorite Italian cookie of all time: Tarralls. I have no clue if that is the real name or how you spell them. That’s how they show up in Gram’s old recipe box. They also are named “5 Egg Cookies” in there, so your guess is as good as mine.

As with most of Gram’s “recipes,” for the ones she even has, they pretty much consist of a list of ingredients. Instructions – you’re on your own. She assumes that if you’re making her food, you know how to cook. If you don’t, good luck. If anything, you may see a line that says, “make like a pie,” or “bake til done.” Hence the need to cook with Gram to learn her food. A never-ending learning that evolved over decades.

The secret to the Tarralls isn’t as much the mixing or the baking. Although Gram will be sure to tell you that if you screw those things up your cookies won’t come out right. It’s the twisting of the dough that keeps them soft, cake like. She first taught me how to do this sometime around 1980. I still make them today.

All Gram’s cooking lessons included more than a recipe and a demonstration. She let me do it. “You gotta get your hands in there, Angela.”

She showed me how the dough should feel, because ingredients, temperature, and environment may vary. You need to adjust accordingly based on how the food should taste, feel, look, react, and respond. “How’s a recipe gonna teach you that?” she’d furrow her eyebrows and ask.
Gram giving me a scrippele lesson, showing me how to pour and cook the crepe.

Without saying a word, just by watching her work, Gram taught me that a love and respect for the food, her joy, somehow made it better. Granted, my hypothesis has yet to make the science journals. Even still, I carry no doubt about the impact of it on Gram’s cooking. If anything, over the years, the importance of this lesson has grown larger. The energy you put into something is the energy you get out. Cooking School of Gram 101. A lifelong lesson that never tires and never gets old.

The passing of this cookie proved so monumental, many of my great-aunts circled around Gram’s long, wooden, kitchen table, watching this lesson take place. They looked so proud, a little Italian in training, who would pass on the family traditions.

Gram and my great-aunts treasured few things more than knowing that the younger generations would carry on their traditions. It kept their life’s work alive. I think it gave them purpose and comfort to know that “how we do” would nourish generations to come – if passed down. Not just the food, but the stories that go along with them. As my culinary Jedi skills grew, I realized that keeping “how we do” alive ran much deeper than the food.

“How We Do” Inspires “How I Do”

Set the DeLorean to 1995. I’m the model Italian granddaughter, learning “how we do,” from a young age, so I can pass on all Gram’s awesome food, our family traditions. (Angels singing on high. Look at me go.)

Along that road, I managed to gain 100 lbs and rack up a bunch of unexplained health issues. Too many chocolate chip cookies? I did consider them a food group at that point in my life.

After 296 doctor’s visits (not really, more like 20), food allergies figure four’d me into a complete diet transformation: no wheat, milk, eggs or sugar.

What Italian can’t eat bread, pasta, cheese, milk, and eggs? Tony Soprano would wack me on general principle. Could I argue with him? And crap, what would Gram say??

Looking for sympathy (totally stupid on my part), I got more of a “Gee Ricky, sorry your Mom blew up last night,” kind of response from Gram. With a confused, “puzzled up” look, she said something like:

“No pasta? Pasta’s good for you. Who can’t eat bread? There must be some kind of pasta and bread you can eat.”

I was busy throwing a “Danger, danger, Will Robinson,” tantrum, and Gram was already thinking about what pasta and bread I could eat.

I told her about the awful food, choking down non-dairy boxed milk, scoffing at dense baked goods, and turning my lip up at flavorless food touted as healthy. “Why does healthy food have to suck,” I complained. Gram said, “So make it better, Angela. You can cook.”

As always, Gram was right. Inspired, I started with food I knew. Gram’s food. Which happens to be the most awesome food. Ever. (I’ll throwdown with anyone who challenges it.)

I swapped wheat, dairy, eggs, and refined sugar for healthier ingredients. I made it my mission to recreate it, not just into food I could eat, but into food anyone would love it eat – food that’s just as good as Gram’s. In the meantime, I lost 100 lbs., and got my health back. Maybe I was onto something?

My confidence in my food comes from my foundation of “how we do” with Culinary Yoda. We cooked together from the time I was six until she passed in 2009. For years Gram and I sat at the table, tasted my recreations, and she gave me feedback. Honest feedback.

The Cooking School of Gram closed in 2009. I am so grateful for the 31 years I attended. Even though I’ve earned formal degrees, I can honestly say, no other education can match my time with Gram. I utilize what she taught me every day. Stuff like:

“Food doesn’t wait, Angela. You do. And it doesn’t rush to get anywhere. You’re on its timetable.”

“No one wants to eat ugly food.”

“Don’t serve food until it’s ready.”

“Make it taste good.”

“Don’t give anyone anything you don’t want to eat.”

“Get your hands in there.”

“Taste it.”

“Know how it should look.”

Just some of the things Gram passed to me. Now, I share it with others. “How we do” lives on Gram, even if some of the ingredients get transformed for a healthier today.

“How We Do” + “How I Do” = a Cookbook

I have hundreds of recreated recipes, many inspired by Gram’s original ones (some written down, some not so much). I’m compiling them into a cookbook, telling the story of how Gram’s food and cooking with her, inspired me to recreate the recipes. Delicious, dairy-free, wheat-free, gluten-free, vegan, and refined sugar-free food. Food just as good as Gram’s!

Years ago when I told Gram I planned to create healthier chocolate chip cookies she tilted her head, pursed her lips, looked a little doubtful, and said, “Ok, Ange, you let me taste them.”

Gram loved her sweets. And she didn’t like you messing with them. But I knew I could win her over. I just needed time to get the recipe right. Very supportive, Gram critiqued countless iterations over the years. Little did I know, however, that it would take 15 years until I was totally happy with this recipe, a year after Gram passed. I know she would love them. I hope you do, too.

Who says cookies without bad stuff in them don't rock? The gluten-free version tastes great, too!
mr divider hr

Sample Cookbook Recipe

Chocolate Chip Cookies

Dairy-free, Vegan, Refined Sugar-free, Wheat-Alternative, Gluten-free Option


1/2 cup non-dairy butter substitute (I like Earth Balance Original)
1/2 cup non-hydrogenated shortening (I like Spectrum or Earth Balance)
2/3 cup palm sugar
6 tbsp high quality light agave nectar
1/2 tsp molasses
1 ½ tbsp vanilla extract

2 1/3 cups spelt flour*
1 cup almond flour (I use Honeyville or JK brands, no blends)
3/4 tsp fine sea salt
1 tsp baking soda
1  1/3 cup dairy-free chocolate morsels

*For Gluten-free Variation:
Use 2 cups Carol's Dairy-free Gluten-Free, all purpose pastry flour in place of the spelt flour.


Ahead of Time:
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line baking sheets with Silpats or parchment paper.

Cream non-dairy butter substitute and non-hydrogenated shortening with a mixer on medium low to medium speed until fluffy. (30-60 seconds)

Add palm sugar, agave, molasses, and vanilla. Beat on medium low to medium speed until fluffy and all ingredients are well incorporated. (30-60 seconds)

Mix together dry ingredients. Fold them into batter until just incorporated. Fold in chocolate morsels.

Drop batter in tablespoon size balls on lined cookie sheet, about 2 inches apart (about 12 cookies per tray). You can use a tablespoon scoop to get a consistent size. Lightly press cookie down just slightly. Bake for 11-13 minutes or until golden brown and desired doneness.

Store in an airtight container. Makes 3 – 3 ½ dozen.

Copyright: Angela Marinelli, M.S., M.Ed., Nourishment Connection, http://nourishmentconnection.com/, 2013.

ABOUT ANGELA: After 20 years as a Marketing professional in high tech, education, and owner of her own consulting firm, Angela Marinelli now owns http://nourishmentconnection.com/. A food blogger and health/cooking/food consultant, she creates dairy-free, wheat-free, vegan, gluten-free, refined sugar-free food that tastes like real food.

She’s earned masters degrees in nutrition and education, and is working towards an online culinary degree from Escoffier Online International Culinary Academy. She’s compiling a cookbook that will tell the story of cooking with Gram, learning about  food allergies, and recreating recipes for healthier, delicious food. Here’s to getting published!

Special thanks to @MissionRead for the opportunity to share this story about learning through food and cooking with Gram.

mr divider hr