Books 'N Cooks

Two of my fave things: reading & cooking


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New Site!

Posted by booksncooks on March 10, 2012

Epic fail! I wrote this post and then never posted it. I suck. If you’re still following¬†Books n’ Cooks, it has moved to http://www.books-n-cooks.com

  • Old posts have been imported to the new site, but this one will remain up (if I can figure it out, you will be redirected to the new site when you navigate to the older posts)
  • New posts will only be going up on http://www.books-n-cooks.com

What’s new besides the URL? The design and layout and a new section on my reading list – what I’m reading, what is coming up next, and what I just finished. I do not normally blog about every book I read, but I will happily take requests if you see something you’re particularly interested in.

Please be sure to update your bookmarks, googlereaders, email subscriptions, etc.

Thanks for reading!

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Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a Comment »

Bacon-Cheddar Scones

Posted by booksncooks on July 18, 2011

I’ve been in the same office for quite a while now, and to be honest, I can’t see myself leaving any time soon. I work with an incredibly diverse group of people who are a ton of fun. We have “pig-ins” and happy hours. We draw ridiculous pictures on white boards. Some people build enormous Lego creatures and fire Nerf guns (we’re particularly fond of firing rubber bands). We work crazy hours but it’s ok, because we all love what we do.

Did I mention that this fantastic group of people are all guys? Yep, my office is almost 90% male. I’d say that sometimes it’s tough, but really, it’s not. There’s no drama and no fear of offending anyone with my matter-of-fact manner. But the best part? I can try out new recipes on the gang, and no matter how critical I am of outcome… they always love it because it’s homemade and they didn’t have to make it.

At this time, I couldn’t imagine leaving this awesome group of people for anything short of being able to spend my days in the kitchen. One of my best friends and I dream about owning a little bookstore with a bakery attached. Sometimes these sweets are being sold along coffees, lattes, and teas while other times we’re skipping the coffee and adding in a wine bar. Guess it depends on what we’re craving at the time. ūüėČ

On that note, any investors out there?

But why do I bring this up? Because whether they know it or not, my coworkers are getting me started on my little venture. I’m what the single guys fondly refer to as “the bakery,” the cheap and tasty substitute for our awful cafeteria. Yes, my coworkers pay me to bring them lunch and the occasional breakfast. Even a loaf of bread and a jar of peanut butter and jelly are enthusiastically accepted. Go ahead and laugh. It is pretty funny. But I love these guys and get real pleasure from my time cooking for them as well as their reactions to whatever I bring in. It’s a win-win situation for everyone. I get to test new recipes and to spend time in the kitchen without breaking the bank or going up a pant size. They get to eat something tastier and cheaper than what is offered in the cafeteria.

This scone recipe was one of the new recipes I tried out last week. One of the guys got breakfast and another coworker got a surprise when he came in to work on Sunday to play catch-up. Since the latter requested the recipe, I think I can consider these savory scones a winner. The smokiness (is that how you spell it?) of the bacon (I used turkey bacon) really shines through in these scones, a nice change from some of the sweeter breakfast pastries.

So, as you read this story and recipe, I go to start on this week’s lunch request – chicken cobb pizza. Enjoy!

Serving Suggestions: A great side for eggs, a southwest salad, or chili

Bacon-Cheddar Scones

Adapted from The Pastry Queen (p. 24)

Makes 8-12 Scones

Ingredients:

  • 3 c. all-purpose flour, plus more for counter/board
  • 1 Tbs. baking powder
  • 1 tsp. salt
  • 2 tsp. freshly ground pepper
  • 1/2 c. (1 stick) cold, unsalted butter, cut into 1-inch cubes
  • 1 1/2 c. grated cheddar cheese
  • 4 green onions, thinly sliced (or 10 chives, minced)
  • 10 slices bacon or turkey bacon, diced
  • 1 to 1-1/2 c. buttermilk (I used 1-1/4 to 1-1/2 c.)
  • 1 large egg
  • 2 Tbs. water

Preheat oven to 400F. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper and set aside.

In a large bowl, whisk together flour, baking powder, salt, and pepper. Use a pastry cutter or two forks to cut in butter until mixture is pea-sized. Stir in cheddar, onions/chives, and bacon until combined.

Add 1 c. buttermilk. Use your hands to mix the ingredients together. If mixture is too dry, add more buttermilk, 1 tablespoon at a time. Be sure not to over mix.

Lightly flour a counter or cutting board. Turn dough onto floured surface and pat into a flat disc. Use your hands (or a rolling-pin if you don’t mind another dish to wash) to flatten dough into a round disc about 1/2-inch thick. Cut into triangle-shaped wedges or use a cookie cutter to shape as desired. If the latter, reroll and cut dough until all used up. Place scones on prepared baking sheet, 2 inches apart (they spread about 1/2-inch each in all directions).

Whisk together egg and water. Brush tops of scones with egg wash.

Bake 18-20 minutes, until golden brown and cooked throughout.

Serve hot or at room temperature.

Posted in Bread, Breakfast | Leave a Comment »

Beer Bread

Posted by booksncooks on July 9, 2011

A couple of months ago, a friend of mine brought some Pampered Chef beer bread and dip to a party. The bread was incredibly flavorful – I couldn’t stop popping the little squares all night.

Last night, after working late with a couple coworkers, I came home to an empty house. I had my glass of wine on the table, Harry Potter on the tv, and my igoogle bookmarking my favorite blogs and hundreds of recipes I want to try. Since my coworkers stayed late on my behalf, I thought I’d bake them a treat over the weekend – perhaps cookies or a pound cake. I’ve yet to decide on a recipe for them, but stumbled across this Beer Bread recipe from The Novice Chef. I immediately thought back to that Pampered Chef recipe. Knowing that homemade is always better and having nothing else on my plate, I immediately went into the kitchen to make it.

5 minutes later, I was done. Back to my seat on the couch, starting this blog post, and keeping my fingers crossed that the bread is everything I was hoping it would be. It was. It had that wonderful spongy consistency I had hoped for, with just a slight sweetness from the beer.

Serve as an appetizer with dip (spinach dip or a crab dip come immediately to mind), as a snack with butter, or as an accompaniment with dinner (such as chili, stew, steak).

Beer Bread

Adapted from Ezra Pound Cake via The Novice Chef

Makes 1 loaf

Ingredients:

3 c. all-purpose flour
3 Tbs. sugar
1 Tbs. baking powder
1 tsp. salt
12 oz. (1 bottle) beer
1/4 c. (1/2 stick) unsalted butter, melted

Preheat oven to 350F.

Grease a 9-in. loaf pan and set aside.

In a medium bowl, whisk dry ingredients until combined.

Switch to a wooden spoon and stir in beer. Be sure to get the bottom! The dough will very sticky.

Pour half of melted butter into bottom of loaf pan, then dough. Top with remaining butter.

Bake 50-60 minutes, until golden brown.

Posted in Appetizers, Bread | Leave a Comment »

Tomato Mozzarella Tart

Posted by booksncooks on June 25, 2011

The day of my evening baking marathon with K (lemon limoncello cupcakes and cosmo cupcakes for S’s birthday), I played hookey from work. I have more vacation time than I know what to do with, so I decided to stay home, read, and play in the kitchen. I knew I wanted to do something fun for our girl’s night, but substantial enough to go with the cocktails I knew we’d be drinking (Limoncello Cosmos, as it turned out!). And, not having the guys there meant that I was able to go meatless. Thus, the Tomato Mozzarella Tart!

I had it both hot and at room temperature. While it was best straight out of the oven, it was also great at room temperature. It was pretty much as expected – sweet tomato, burst of flavor from the basil, warm gooey cheese… it was fantastic! Serve with a side salad as a light meal or, in tartlet form, as an appetizer.

Tomato Mozzarella Tart

Adapted from¬†from Ezra Pound Cake and The Complete Italian Vegetarian Cookbook as seen on Annie’s Eats

Ingredients for the Crust:

  • 1/3 c. fresh basil leaves
  • 1-2 cloves garlic (or 1 tsp. minced)
  • 1 1/4 c. all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 tsp. kosher salt
  • 8 Tbs. unsalted butter, chilled
  • 4-5 Tbs. very cold water

Ingredients for the Tart Filling:

  • 8 oz. fresh mozzarella, sliced
  • ripe tomatoes, sliced
  • kosher salt
  • fresh ground black pepper
  • 1 Tbs. extra-virgin olive oil
  • freshly grated Parmesan cheese
  • 1-2 Tbs. minced fresh basil

Make the Crust: Pulse basil and garlic in a food processor until finely minced. Add flour and salt, pulsing until just combined. Add in butter, cut into 1-in. chunks. Pulse until ingredients are incorporated and mixture is in small, pea-sized crumbles. Add water, 1 Tbs. at a time, pulsing in between each addition. Stop when dough forms a ball. Remove from processor, flatten into a disc, wrap in plastic wrap, and refrigerate for at least one hour.

After an hour (or whenever you’re ready to bake), preheat oven to 425¬į F. Lightly flour a wooden cutting board or counter and remove dough from fridge. Roll out dough into a 12-in. circle. Lay dough over a 9-in. round tart pan and press into sides, removing excess dough from top. (I used an 8-in. tart pan, and used the extra dough to create 4 tartlets.). Cover with aluminum foil or parchment paper and fill with baking beads. (I didn’t have any baking beads, so baked without weighing down crust. It came out fine, the only difference was that bottom puffed up a bit.) Bake for 10-12 minutes. Remove baking beads and foil, and bake for another 5 minutes, until crust is just set and slightly golden.

Finish the Tart: Remove crust from oven for the second time. Lower oven to 375¬į F. Arrange sliced mozzarella and tomatoes over crust. Season with salt & pepper and drizzle with olive oil. Top with freshly grated Parmesan and minced fresh basil.

Return to oven and bake for another 15 minutes. Rotate pan and use a paper towel to sop off any extra moisture that has formed. Cook for another 15 minutes. Crust will become golden brown and mozzarella with be bubbly and lightly browned. Remove from oven and let rest 5 minutes before serving.

Posted in Appetizers, Vegetarian, Veggies | 2 Comments »

Lemon-Limoncello Cupcakes

Posted by booksncooks on June 20, 2011

Happy 30th Birthday S! Thanks for letting me spoil you with your choice of cupcakes on you special day. These cupcakes (aka boozecakes) were a wonderful pick, something that I wouldn’t have looked at but normally chosen, since I’m not a huge fan of lemon desserts. However, I ended up really loving these cupcakes. I just wish the photos had come out better, but I guess I should have expected poor quality when I was hiding in your spare room trying to get the shots! Clearly, I’ll have to make these cupcakes again so that I can get some better photos.

A slightly sweet lemon cupcake filled with a tart lemon curd and topped with a light limoncello frosting, these cupcakes were way better than I imagined. The only trouble I had was with the frosting. The original frosting tasted a bit too much like cream cheese for me, and was not nearly thick enough to pipe. I ultimately ended up using twice the amount of confectioner’s sugar than indicated, and it still wasn’t quite thick enough. And I ended up with a ton left over because of all the extra sugar added. In the recipe below, I adjusted the frosting ingredients to make a thicker batch with a stronger limoncello taste.

Lemon-Limoncello Cupcakes

Adapted from BrownEyedBaker, originally from Tartlette

Makes 12 cupcakes

Ingredients for the Lemon Cupcakes:
1 1/2 c. all-purpose flour
1 tsp. baking powder
1/2 tsp. salt
4 Tbs. (1/2 a stick) unsalted butter, at room temperature
2 oz. cream cheese, at room temperature
1 c. granulated sugar
3 large eggs
2 Tbs. limoncello
1/2 c. buttermilk
1/4 c.  lemon juice (juice of 1 lemon)
zest of 1 lemon

Ingredients for the Lemon Curd:
zest of 2 lemons
1/2 c. lemon juice (juice of 2 lemons)
1/4 c. granulated sugar
1 egg + 1 egg yolk

Ingredients for the Limoncello Frosting:
2 Tbs. unsalted butter, at room temperature
2 oz. cream cheese, at room temperature
4 Tbs. limoncello
2+ c. confectioner’s sugar, sifted

Garnishes: i.e. slices of candied lemon, fresh lemon slices, berries, etc.

Make the Cupcakes:

Ensure an oven rack is positioned in the center of the oven and preheat to 350F. Line a muffin tin with cupcake liners and set aside.

In a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, cream the butter, cream cheese and sugar until light and fluffy, about 3 minutes. Add eggs, beating until combined. Same for limoncello. Lower speed. Slowly add remaining dry ingredients (baking powder, salt and flour) alternating with the buttermilk. Scrape down sides of the bowl. Add lemon juice and zest.

Portion batter into muffin tins and bake until a toothpick inserted into center comes out clean, 18-22 minutes. Set on a wire cooling rack and allow to cool completely.

Meanwhile, Make the Lemon Curd:

While cupcakes are cooking, combine lemon juice, lemon zest, and sugar in a heavy medium saucepan over medium heat. Bring to a simmer, stirring occasionally until sugar is melted.

While waiting for lemon-sugar mixture to simmer, whisk together egg and egg yolk in a medium bowl. When sugar is dissolved, whisk the sugar-lemon mixture into the eggs. This will temper the eggs. Return mixture to saucepan (still over medium heat), and whisk constantly until it thickens, about 5 minutes. Remove from heat and allow the curd to cool completely.

Make the Limoncello Frosting:

In a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment on medium-high speed, beat butter and cream cheese until light and fluffy, 2-3 minutes. Lower speed and add limoncello. When incorporated, with the mixer still on low, slowly add confectioner’s sugar until frosting has reached desired consistency. (Clearly, mine was still a little soft, but I had run out of sugar!)

Assemble the Cupcakes:

When cupcakes have cooled complete, use a sharp knife to remove a cone in the center of each cupcake. Fill the little hole with lemon curd, and top with limoncello frosting. I piped the frosting using a Wilton 1M tip, but you can also spread it with a knife, if preferred.

Garnish with candied lemon slices or fresh fruit.

Posted in Cupcakes | Leave a Comment »

Candied Lemon Slices

Posted by booksncooks on June 15, 2011

Go Big Or Go Home

This is a big year for many of my friends – the bit 3-0. Everyone is choosing a different way to celebrate. We had a ladies weekend at the spa for the first 30th birthday of the year, enjoying massages, pedicures, wraps, and the like for one friend’s birthday. For the second and most recent birthday, another friend hosted a birthday BBQ and asked K and I to bake her cupcakes. We were excited to provide dessert for the BBQ and the three of us made a night out of baking. We had a great night munching on a tomato-mozzarella tartlet, drinking limoncello cosmopolitans (had to beg a neighbor for ice), and baking up a storm. For the celebration, we made Cosmo Cupcakes and Lemon-Limoncello Cupcakes (recipe to be posted this weekend), or what K’s friend fondly dubbed “boozecakes.”

In the spirit of “go big or go home,” I decided to garnish my Limoncello Cupcakes with slices of candied lemon.¬† These sweets were easy to make, but did take a while. It took about two days before the syrup to dry enough for me to handle them. Completely worth it. Like any good cook, I had to try the lemon slices before serving… again and again and again. They’re very sweet, with a slightly stronger taste in the candied rind, and set on top of a cupcake, make a striking presentation. Not going to lie, I was also eating the leftover lemon syrup with a spoon (but would probably be a great addition to a hot or sweet tea or mixed drink).

 Candied Lemon Slices 

Adapted from Use Real Butter

Makes 1-3 dozen slices

Ingredients:

  • 1-3 lemons
  • 2 c. sugar
  • water

Cut lemons into thin slices, about 1/8 inch thick, 10-12 slices per lemon. If the slices tear easily, they’re too thin.

In a medium saucepan, bring water to a boil. While waiting for the water to boil, prepare an ice bath and set aside. When water is boiling, blanch lemons for 1 minute. Remove with a strainer and plunge into ice bath to stop the cooking.

In another medium saucepan (or the one you just used) over medium heat, bring 1 c. water and the sugar to a boil. Stir until sugar is dissolved. Lower to a simmer and add lemon slices. Simmer for 1-2 hours (I did about 90 minutes).

As water boils, set a wire cooling rack over a cookie sheet lined with parchment paper or aluminum foil.

With a set of tongs, remove slices from syrup, allowing excess sugar to drop off, and set on a wire rack to dry. This may take up to 48 hours.

Posted in Candies & Truffles, Condiments | Tagged: , , | Leave a Comment »

Roasted Tomatoes with Pesto

Posted by booksncooks on June 11, 2011

Have I ever mentioned that my hubby is a picky eater? While he’s gotten much more adventurous since we moved in together 3 years ago, there’s still a number of items I can’t make for him. No tomatoes or bell peppers, unless they’re hidden so he can’t see them. No light vinaigrette in salads (Ranch and honey mustard are his favorites). Squash… not so much. Maybe on the rare occasion when we’re grilling. Polish stuffed cabbage? Hell no.

So what do I do when I want to make dishes using tomatoes (like this Greek Pananella) or another one of the banned items? I try to save them for potlucks with friends, but when that doesn’t pan out, or I get impatient, I call a good friend. K has offered to move in, just so I have someone a little less picky to cook for. Thanks K, but I’ll just invite you over for dinner weekly. ūüôā

With an invitation to a friend’s secured and all of the ingredients in the house, I gave these roasted tomatoes a whirl. I loved the way roasting the tomatoes made them slightly sweet and super soft. The basil pesto was a burst of flavor. I imagined eating one of these atop a slice of crunchy French bread or making these as a side to a roasted or grilled fish for an extra punch of flavor. The best part? This recipe can easily be adjusted to serve 1 or 12.

Roasted Tomatoes with Pesto

Adapted from Barefoot Contessa How Easy Is That? (p. 179)
also on Food Network

Serves 6

Ingredients:

  • 2 – 2 1/2 lbs. large red tomatoes
  • 3 Tbs. olive oil
  • 2 tsp. dried oregano
  • kosher salt
  • freshly ground black pepper
  • 1/2 c. pesto
  • 1/2 c. freshly grated or shredded Parmesan cheese

Preheat oven to 425.

With the tomato stem facing up, slice tomatoes into 1/2-in. thick slices. Place slices in a single layer on a baking sheet. Brush with olive oil and sprinkle with oregano, kosher salt (~1 tsp.), and pepper. Bake for 10 minutes, until tomatoes are beginning to soften, but still hold their shape.

Remove baking sheet from oven. Top each tomato slice with a bit of pesto (~1/4 – 1/2 tsp. on each) and then sprinkle with Parmesan cheese. Return to the oven for another 7-10 minutes, until Parmesan begins to brown and the tomatoes look softened.

Remove from oven and sprinkle with a little more salt (if desired). Serve hot or at room temperature.

Posted in Barefoot Contessa, Sides, Veggies | 1 Comment »

Ina’s Old-Fashioned Potato Salad

Posted by booksncooks on June 6, 2011

As summer approaches (some might argue that it’s already here, with our 90+ degree weather), so do cookouts, BBQs, and summer picnics. Almost weekly, my friends and I get together for some sort of pot-luck — lunch or dinner accompanied by soccer and kayaking in the park, an impromptu Sunday BBQ, or a summer holiday festivity. We all bring something and end up going home with containers of leftovers. It really is an awesome time.

I do have my stockpile of recipes set aside for these occasions – tortellini salad or a summer orzo salad for a side; skirt steak marinated simply with a little kosher salt and pepper; or easy cookies for dessert. This past Memorial Day, I decided to try something new, Ina’s Old-Fashioned Potato Salad. I was a little skeptical about the dish. I tasted the dressing when I first made it, and it was super tangy. But, it was too late to run to the grocery store and make something else, so I threw it in the fridge for an hour and hoped for the best. I’m so glad I stuck with it! After sitting for a few hours, the dressing had mellowed out and my girlfriends and I were gathered around the bowl, forks in hand, eating right out of the serving dish. (Plates were ignored and the guys were at the grill). This salad was a winner, and incredibly addictive. Less than a week later and I am already getting requests for it.

Ina’s Old-Fashioned Potato Salad

Adapted from Barefoot Contessa At Home (p. 86)

Serves 6-8

Ingredients:

  • 3 lbs. small red potatoes or other thick-skinned potatoes (potatoes with thinner skins tend to be a little messier, with the skin peeling off)
  • kosher salt
  • freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 c. mayonnaise
  • 1/4 c. milk
  • 2 Tbs. Dijon mustard
  • 2 Tbs. whole-grain mustard
  • 1/2 c. fresh dill
  • 1/2 c. diced celery
  • 1/2 c. diced red onion

Fill a very large stockpot with water and 1-2 Tbs. kosher salt. Bring to a boil. Add whole potatoes and cook, 10-15 minutes, until potatoes are “barely tender” when pierced with a knife.

Drain water, returning potatoes to pot. Cover with a clean dish towel, allowing the steam to continue to cook the potatoes until tender but still firm, another 15-20 minutes. Once cooked through, uncover and allow to cool.

Meanwhile, combine mayo, milk, mustards, dill, 1 tsp. salt, and 1 tsp. pepper in a bowl. Set aside.

When potatoes are cool enough to handle, cut into 1 1/2-in. pieces. Toss with 3/4 of the dressing, adding more if needed. Toss onions and celery, along with 1 tsp. each salt and pepper. Cover and refrigerate at least 1 hour before serving.

Posted in Barefoot Contessa, Sides | Tagged: , , , | Leave a Comment »

Strawberry Muffins with Crumble Topping

Posted by booksncooks on June 3, 2011

Last year, a friend and I split a share of a CSA. While I love participating – knowing that a local farmer could count on my payment, the ease of picking up a box of fresh fruit and veggies near my house – I missed the choice and flexibility weekly shopping provided me. Instead of planning meals around what looked good that week, I was planning meals in the middle of the week around whatever came in my box. So, this year, I decided not to commit to a CSA and instead pledged to visit my local farmers markets and farms more often.

This past weekend, I grabbed my good friend K and headed out to the farm, our first trip of the year. Strawberry season opened only a week ago, so the bushes were still nice and full. The berries were incredibly sweet and juicy, such a change from the strawberries I get at the supermarket. Completely worth the trip out! I spent the week munching on the sweet berries and these strawberry muffins, which friends and coworkers couldn’t get enough of. We finished the last one today, and I’m already debating about whether tomorrow is too soon to make another batch! Enjoy!

Strawberry Muffins

Recipe link found on Smitten Kitchen, recipe originally from Noob Cook

Makes 2 – 2 1/2 dozen cupcakes

Ingredients:

  • 3 c. all-purpose flour
  • 2 c. granulated sugar or 2 c. caster sugar**
  • 1 Tbs. baking powder
  • 2 tsp. vanilla extract
  • 3 eggs
  • 125 g. unsalted butter, melted (roughly 9 Tbs. butter)
  • 1 c. milk
  • 1 1/2 c. fresh strawberries, diced
  • Crumble topping (optional, recipe below)

** If using granulated sugar, briefly blend in a food processor or immersion mixer until more finely ground. Caster sugar, more commonly found in Europe, is finer than granulated sugar, but not quite “super-fine sugar”

Preheat oven to 400. Line a muffin tin with cupcake liners and set aside.

In a large mixing bowl, whisk together flour, sugar, and baking powder. Add vanilla extract, eggs, butter and milk, stirring until just combined. Fold in strawberries.

Fill muffin cups until 2/3 fill (about 1 scoop with a medium ice cream scoop, under 2″ in diameter). Top with crumble topping (below), if desired.

Cook 18-22 minutes, until muffins are golden brown and a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean. Let sit in muffin tin for a few minutes before removing to a wire rack to cool completely.

Crumble Topping

Adapted from Smitten Kitchen

Yields enough for 1 batch of muffins

Ingredients:

  • 60 g. all-purpose flour (~5 heaping tablespoons, using a soup spoon)
  • 50 g. rolled oats (~5 heaping tablespoons, using a soup spoon)
  • 35 g. light brown sugar (~2 heaping tablespoons, using a soup spoon)
  • pinch of salt
  • 60 g. unsalted butter (~4 Tbs. or half a stick)

In a small microwave-safe bowl, melt butter. Stir in remaining ingredients, until mixture is crumbly.

Posted in Breakfast | 2 Comments »

Book Review: The Zookeeper’s Wife

Posted by booksncooks on May 28, 2011

Book Review:

The Zookeeper’s Wife

By Diane Ackerman

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Based on memoirs, interviews, old photos, and other historical documents, Diane Ackerman tells the story of Jan and Antonia Zabinski, a Polish couple who ran the Warsaw Zoo when World War II broke out. When the Nazis occupied Poland, the Polish Jews became persecuted Рthey hid within a shadow world or moved into ghettos; many were sent to labor camps or killed.  Jan and Antonia opened their house and their destroyed zoo to old friends and unknown Guests who sought to escape to a safer place. Antonia ruled the home, the villa and the zoo, where Jewish Guests were hidden throughout the war, in closets, animal houses, tunnels, and cages. Jan played a lead rule in the Underground, the Polish resistance, where he and a network of Poles helped smuggle Jews out of Warsaw, created false papers for those staying in the city as well as fleeing, and, of course, led acts of sabotage against the Nazis (including everything from spray-paint vandalism to poisoning Nazi officials and bombing Nazi trains).

The Zookeeper’s Wife is rich with descriptions that make both life at a zoo as well as life in the Polish shadow-world come alive. Animal life¬† thrived, despite the war, as pets were hidden and Guests (code-named by animals) acquired qualities of those animals they were called. At the same time, Ackerman described the daily emotional struggle of the Zabinski’s and their Guests (the story often bouncing from the Zabinski’s to highlighting the story of a Guest) – the fear for themselves and their families, the guilt at endangering others with their activities – all make the Underground resistance come alive.

The Zookeeper’s Wife is an amazing glimpse into the Underground resistance. Although the Zabinski’s were aided by many friends and corrupt Nazi and Polish officials, their story shows how much impact just a couple of people could have. Over 300 Guests stayed at the Zoo, and all but a couple of them survived the war.

Recommendation: Absolutely.

Grade: A (4.5 of 5 stars on Goodreads)

Posted in Fiction, Non-Fiction | 2 Comments »