Beyond the Great Wall by Jeffrey Alford and Naomi Duguid

Stepping beyond the familiar Chinese cuisines, Beyond the Great Wall by Jeffrey Alford and Naomi Duguid explores the flavors and foods of the outlying areas of China, including Tibet and Xinjiang in the far west of the country. Authentic recipes, gathered by the authors over a series of visits to China over the past 20 years, are “translated” for the Western kitchen (no need to go looking for camel meat!)

However, this is much more than a cookbook; stories of the adventures and people that were met along the way are scattered throughout the book. The photography is spectacular – there are the usual mouth-watering close-ups of delicious dishes, but there are also sweeping views of the landscape, intimate portraits of the people, and a careful recording the customs and practices of this distant land.

Part cookbook, part travel book, part cultural education, Beyond the Great Wall will feed the soul as well as the body.

Triumph: the Untold Story of Jesse Owens and Hitler’s Olympics by Jeremy Schaap

The 1936 Olympics, held in Berlin on the eve of World War II and under the shadow of Adolf Hitler, were in large part the story of Jesse Owens and his dominance on the track.

Born in Alabama, Owens’ athletic talent was recognized early. He became a star at Ohio State University where, in one of the greatest athletic feats ever, he equaled one and set four world records – in the span of one hour. Hitler’s plans to showcase the superiority of his Aran athletes on the world stage of the Olympics was spoiled by the Americans, especially Owens, who won four gold medals in track and field. Triumph: the Untold Story of Jesse Owens and Hitler’s Olympics by Jeremy Schaap takes you through Owens’ remarkable acheivements, the obstacles he faced and overcame, the political turmoil that nearly canceled these games, all with a vividness that puts you track-side throughout.

Armchair Traveler – China

There’s more to China than panda bears and sweet-and-sour-pork. The Summer Olympics have focused a lot of attention on China – her history, her people and her policies. Take a closer look at this vast and mysterious country through some of the books that have been written about “the Sleeping Dragon”

Bonesetter’s Daughter by Amy Tan. Before her memory fails, LuLing sets down her memoirs so that her daughter can better understand the choices she made. Born and raised in a remote village in China just before WWII, LuLing’s journey to modern America involves both joy and sacrifice.

Snow Flower and the Secret Fan by Lisa See. This engrossing novel, set in 19th-century China, tells the story of two lifelong friends. Their story is interwoven with the beliefs and practices of the time (including a horrifying description of foot-binding), the inferior status of women and the endurance of friendship.

The Crazed by Ha Jin. Set during the Tiananmen Square uprising of 1989, Jien Wen attends to his college professor who has suffered a stroke. The professors fevered rantings about his past reveal a different China to Jien and eventually changes the course of his life.

Balzac and the Little Chinese Seamstress by Dai Sijie. Forced into menial labor in a remote mountain village as part of Mao’s “re-education” program during the Cultural Revolution, two young men find strength and solace through the reading of forbidden literature. Charming, playful and bittersweet.

Rome 1960: the Olympics that Changed the World by David Maraniss

Setting the personal stories of the 1960 Olympics in the context of world events and issues, Rome 1960 by David Maraniss adds credence to the thought that the Olympics are a reflection of their time. 1960 saw, among other things, some of the first instances of illegal performance enhancing drugs, political unrest in the decision to make China enter the games under the name of Taiwan and tensions spilling over from the Cold War, the spotlight shining on the social injustices still felt by black Americans even as they became heroes to the rest of the world, and the practice of strict amateruism coming under scrutiny.

This was also the Olympics of Cassius Clay (soon to become Muhammad Ali), Wilma Rudolph (who overcame childhood polio to win gold) and Ethiopian marathoner Abebe Bikila who won gold while running barefoot.

The Opening Ceremonies of the Beijing Olympics will be held tonight; what insights into the state of our world will we see from China?

Novel Destinations by Shannon Schmidt and Joni Rendon

Novel Destinations by Shannon McKenna Schmidt and Joni Rendon is for the person who likes to plan destination vacations and loves the classic authors. Themed lists in dozens of categories offer fascinating insights and behind-the-scenes stories about author houses and museums, literary places to drink and dine, and literary walks and festivals spanning the globe. Included are 10 in-depth “Journeys between the Pages” for those who want to experience literature come to life, from Franz Kafka’s Prague to the small-town South of Harper Lee.

I was particularly interested in the Key West section about the haunts of Ernest Hemingway. Having visited several Hemingway sites in Key West I was surprised how much I had missed. The other sections on Hemingway cover Oak Park Illinois, Idaho, Paris, France and Havana, Cuba. The description of these places makes me want to plan some vacations!

For further information on Novel Destinations, you can visit their website.

National Farmers Market’s Week

Eat better, help save the planet and support your local economy – you can do it all in one place, all at the same time simply by visiting and shopping at your local Farmers Market.

You’ll eat better because you’ll know exactly where you food comes from, often the food is organically grown, and usually it has been harvested within the last 24-48 hours so it’s incredibly fresh. You’ll help save the planet by buying locally, cutting the use of fuel (and the resulting pollution) caused by transporting produce hundreds of miles. And you’ll support your local economy by buying from area farmers – people who are probably your neighbors.

Lucky for us, the Quad City area is home to a lot of Farmers Markets making it easy to find one close by. This week (August 3-9) is National Farmers Market Week, a reminder to get out there and see what your local growers have to offer. August is a great time to shop at the Farmers Markets – corn, tomatoes, zuchinni, beets, potatoes, peppers, eggplants, onions, herbs of all kinds not to mention gorgeous flowers such as sunflowers and zinnias – are all in great abundance now.

Not sure what to do with all of that bounty? Check out these books for fresh, easy recipes designed to make the most of this wonderful season.

Outstanding in the Field: a Farm to Table Cookbook by Jim Denevan

The Farm to Table Cookbook by Ivy Manning

Blue Eggs and Yellow Tomatoes by Jeanne Kelley

Summer on a Plate by Anna Pump

Local Flavors: Cooking and Eating from America’s Farmers’ Markets by Deborah Madison

Rules of Deception by Christopher Reich

What would you do if the person you thought you knew best turned out to be someone else entirely? Mix together some Robert Ludlum, a little David Baldacci and a dash of Ken Follett and you’d have the recipe for a great spy thriller. Christopher Reich does just that in Rules of Deception.

Jonathan Ransom, a surgeon with Doctors Without Borders, and his wife Emma are climbing in the Swiss Alps when a freak accident causes Emma to fall to her death. When Jonathan returns to their hotel, he discovers that an envelope addressed to Emma has been delivered. Inside are two baggage claim tickets. Despite his grief, his curiousity gets the best of him and he goes to claim the mysterious packages. Before he even gets back to the car, two thugs attack and nearly kill him in an attempt to grab the packages and suddenly Jonathan is on the run, pursued by an assassin and shadowy government agencies, searching for the real Emma, for what the packages mean, for a way out of the growing web of lies.

Set against the glittering, snowy landscape of Switzerland, this is a great beach book or lazy afternoon read; you won’t be able to put it down!

Peter Pan Legend from a Different Angle

Dave Barry and Ridley Pearson have created a wonderful tale as a prequel to legend of Peter Pan. Peter and The Starcatchers, Peter and the Shadow Thieves, and Peter and the Secret of Rundoon explain many of the hows and whys to the Peter Pan. How does he fly? How did the alligator get the clock in his stomach? Why does Peter never grow old? These questions and more are answered.

Peter Pan, the Lost Boys, and Captain Hook have been reinvented so well that a generation from now no one might remember where J. M. Barrie’s original creation ended and Barry’s and Pearson’s begins. So far, the two have written three incredibly fat and action-packed volumes of Peter’s adventures with the “starstuff ” – the magical fallen stars that gave him his power and – in effect – rendered him immortal, though as a boy doomed never to grow up.

If you haven’t read this trilogy, you can’t wander through them; the books have to be read in order. Peter’s powers grow, as does the villainy of his foes. And readers are gently nudged out of the world that existed then and slid right into Neverland. If you like juvenile fantasy novels, you’ll be hard-pressed to find many better, more quick to read, or more inventive than these. The world is at once familiar and wondrous.

If you are going on a long trip, with or without children, this is a great book-on-CD set to listen to as Jim Dale (narrator for the Harry Potter series) takes you to the magical world of Peter Pan with his many voices.

A is for Apron by Nathalie Mornu

You might think that aprons are only for stereotypical grandmas, or a throwback to the 50s when “a woman’s place was in the kitchen,” but aprons are making a comeback and for good reason. They’re practical, attractive and fun. And they’re not just for the kitchen anymore – those extra pockets come in handy when you’re gardening, crafting, even working on home improvement projects around the house.

Nathalie Mornu’s stylish book A is for Apron will show you how to make all kinds of aprons, from basic to embellished, with or without pockets, fancy and plain. The first part of the book gives instructions for basic apron construction (aprons are great for beginners because sizing is minimal), advice on materials and equipment, and clear diagrams for sewing techniques, then a brief history of aprons including a gallery of vintage examples.

The rest of the book is devoted to 25 “fresh and flirty” designs. Included are several smock styles as well as aprons for children (great for those messy craft days). Beautiful, modern fabrics make the aprons bright and fun and there’s plenty of room to add your own special touches. So express yourself – and have some fun!

Dog Days of Summer

Is it hot enough for you? This period, from July 3 to August 11, is traditionally the hottest time of the year (at least in the Northern Hemisphere) and is commonly known as the “Dog Days of Summer.” According to Brady’s Clavis Calendarium, 1813, this was thought to be an evil time “when the sea boiled, wine turned sour, dogs grew mad, and all creatures became languid . . .” If you can imagine life without air conditioning, some of these conditions would still prevail today!

How did this term originate? Well, in ancient times the star Sirius (also known as the Dog Star) was thought to be the cause of the hot, humid weather because in the summertime the star rose around the same time that the sun did. Their solution was to sacrifice a brown dog, hoping it would “appease the rage of Sirius” (from Chase’s Calendar of Events, 2008).

Fortunately, we longer sacrifice dogs or blame them for the hot weather. In fact, lots of folks really do love their dogs. If you’re looking for a good dog book this summer try one of these:

Dog Days: Dispatches from Bedlam Farm by John Katz

Marley and Me: Life and Love with the World’s Worst Dog by John Grogan

James Herriot’s Dog Stories by James Herriot

Cesar’s Way: the Natural, Everyday Guide to Understanding and Correcting Common Dog Problems by Cesar Millan and Melissa Jo Peltier