5 Reasons You Should Watch Master Chef Junior!

Master Chef Junior

by REBECCA, April 21, 2014

First things first, because this is an elimination show, be careful of going to the homepage for the show because it’ll spoil the finale.

See that adorable, food-smeared child holding what looks like a restaurant-quality dessert? Well, whereas usually that would imply that the annoying child just shoved their face in someone’s beautiful dessert, in Master Chef Junior, it means they freaking made it.

Now, if you’re anything like me, you might be thinking: I hate reality shows about children because they are always either victimized by their parents’ ambition, or independent psychopaths who will surely grow up to be bullies and serial killers. HOWEVER, Master Chef Junior is not like that! My sister and I watched the whole thing a few weeks ago—it’s only seven episodes, so it’s a great mini-marathon show—and it is bloody amazing. So, here are five reasons why you should definitely check it out!

1. Expertise! There are few things I love more than watching people who are brilliant at something execute that thing well. I love cooking shows because you can see every step of what people do: you can see them brainstorm ideas; you can see them make mistakes and have to fix them; and you can see them receive feedback on them. I’m a pretty good cook/baker and I know there is no way I could ever be on a food competition show. I just don’t have an encyclopedic knowledge of recipes or the time management skills to cook that fast. The regular Master Chef (a competition of adult home chefs) is impressive enough to me for both those reasons.

mc jr 4When the experts are children, it’s mind-blowing. These are 8-13 year-old kids and they are cooking at the same level as the adults on Master Chef. To see an eight-year-old with professional knife skills . . . well, actually, it’s a little creepy. But, no, it’s amazing. And it isn’t only that they’re experts on a technical level; they’re also incredibly knowledgeable about food, which allows them to create unique, diverse, sophisticated, restaurant-quality dishes. Y’all, it’s seriously amazing!

2. Competitors With Heart! In most competition shows—certainly in Master Chefthe competitors talk a lot of shit. They’re nasty and cutthroat and they refuse to acknowledge the talents of their competitors as if it could, in some way, lessen their own. Not in Master Chef Junior. Almost more surprising than the incredible culinary skill these kids have is their amazingly positive attitudes toward one another. They encourage one another, they say lovely things about each other’s work, they cry when competitors leave because they’re friends, and they help calm each other down when they’re stressed out. I think this was actually my favorite element of the show. I hate to sound all from-the-mouths-of-babes, but it’s incredibly inspiring to realize that at a young age, kids don’t just assume that they have to cut people down to elevate themselves. This also made the show so much more pleasant to watch because there was none of the yelling, complaining, and other garbage that so often goes with the truly amazing cooking.

131004masterchef-junior1_300x2063. Young Adults Rule! There is an episode where the contestants take over a restaurant and have to work in the kitchen, cooking all the food for the restaurant. It’s a real challenge because it’s not just about having the ability to cook. It’s about expecting 8-13 year-olds to work together, take instruction, delegate, move quickly, all of it while being yelled at. And, man, they are amazing. After the diners have eaten their food and raved about it, when those kids come out from the kitchen and they see who cooked it, you can see every one of those diners reevaluating everything they’ve ever thought about what young people are capable of.

4. Appreciation of Food! In a culture where kids are stereotyped as being either picky or addicted to junk food, it is so refreshing to see kids who are delighted by bok choy in a delicate ginger sauce or put fresh arugula on a cheeseburger. And it’s not only about whether these ingredients are to the kids’ personal tastes, but about the appreciation of each ingredient that they demonstrate. They work hard and truly honor food, showing how important it is to give kids access to fresh ingredients. I hope that every person in charge of school lunches, programs that bring food into neighborhoods and schools, and policymakers watch this show and see what kids can do when they’re given access to food and cooking instruction—even if that instruction is in the form of the Food Network.

jrmc_104-elim_03315. Self-Motivation! A few of these kids have family members who have restaurants, but most of them learned to cook from family members or they figured it out for themselves. When the chefs ask them if they’ve ever made things before, many of them speak about how they cook for their families three or four days a week. I love this approach to kids contributing to their families. Rather than just doing chores, this approach allows kids to explore their passions and also be responsible for providing for their families, whether they’re trying out gourmet dishes with exotic ingredients (for those whose families have access and cash) or whipping up homestyle comfort foods and elevating basic ingredients.

And, bonus, if you’ve ever seen chefs Gordon Ramsay and Joe Bastianich on the regular Master Chef then you know that they can be exacting, blunt, and intimidating. To see them interacting with kids is at times funny and at times touching (Graham Elliot is as nice as always).

You can watch Master Chef Junior on Hulu HERE.

In the end, even if you’re not a fan of cooking shows in general, the show has a lot in common with YA novels I’ve reviewed that are about teens with obsessions and skills through which they express themselves or, sometimes, into which they escape. Here are a few.


The Sea of Tranquility Katja Millay

The Sea of Tranquility by Katja Millay (2012). Two people in pain who find each other and express themselves through their obsessions, Nastya through baking and Josh through woodworking. My full review is HERE.

With or Without You Brian Farrey

With or Without You, Brian Farrey (2011). Evan is used to getting beat up for being gay and used to having parents who don’t understand him. He can deal with all of it as long as he has an escape plan after high school and his painting. Evan has studied the techniques of all his favorite painters and he painstakingly imitates their styles in the expression scenes from his own life. My full review is HERE.


Too Much Fun!


Happy Monday! This weekend, Tessa came to Philadelphia to visit and we had so much fun. We went to see Bruce Munro’s amazing light display at Longwood Gardens, which I thought were in Delaware and was therefore looking forward to saying “Hi. We’re in Delaware” while there, like in Wayne’s World, but it isn’t. We ate the most perfect meal ever at Amada: manchego cheese with truffled lavender honey, beef shortrib flatbread with horseradish and bacon, patatas bravas, lamb meatballs with truffle oil and pea shoots, and cocktails named after Pedro Almodóvar movies. We went to the art museum and I got to see my favorite room there (Cy Twombly) and Tessa got to see one of her favorites (Marcel Duchamp), made penny wishes in fountains, discussed how Medieval artists seem to portray Jesus with more ribs than people really have, and looked at armor. We rocked out to show tunes at a gay piano bar and Tessa killed it with “Where or When.” [ed. note: “killed it” is kind of Rebecca to say, but it was fun. – T.]

Cy Twombly    Marcel Duchamp

So much fun, in fact, that we couldn’t possibly stop to write about young adult literature. But never fear—we’ll be back on Wednesday with more YA lit than you can shake a stick at! (Also, while we were at the museum we were pretending that we were the kids in From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler and that we were going to be locked in the museum. Tessa would touch the Brancusi statues and I would climb on the armored horse.)

A Cookbook Library, with recommendations for the new cook.

Welcome to our first guest post! I’m super excited to introduce someone who wants to share her home library with you, and what a tasty library it is.  The kitchen can be an intimidating place if you’ve just decided that you want to start cooking more of your own meals, and what better person to give advice on the best cookbooks to give you a stress-free start than a cookbook author and food writer?  Read about her library and check out our previous home library posts here and here.

Casey Barber is the editor of Good. Food. Stories. as well as a
freelance food writer and recipe developer whose work has appeared in
Gourmet Live, Better Homes & Gardens, iVillage, ReadyMade, DRAFT, Time
Out New York, and other print/online publications. She contributes
regularly to Serious Eats as Slice’s New Jersey correspondent. Casey
is the author of the forthcoming cookbook Classic Snacks Made from
Scratch: 70 Homemade Versions of Your Favorite Brand Name Treats
(Ulysses Press, 2013).

(Spoiler alert, she’s also my sister. -Tessa)

My cookbook library parallels my career in food: I didn’t leave grad school with a grand plan to be a food writer and cookbook author, just someone who cooked to clear my head and get away from the stress of my *real* writing job. As cooking grew from a distraction into an obsession and then a vocation, my small stack of cookbooks morphed into a full-on research library.

And as I meet and befriend more colleagues–aka, other writers in the food world–my dining room bookshelves get stuffed fuller than a Thanksgiving turkey with work form people I know personally and want to support.  Sadly, the earliest cookbooks that kickstarted my kitchen confidence are no longer in my collection. Better Homes & Gardens Microwave Cookbook, I salute you and your recipe for spinach deviled eggs, even though I don’t remember actually using a microwave in any of my protozoan attempts at cooking.  And the binder in which I slavishly stored recipes ripped from the pages of Bon Appetit or printed from the internet has been relegated to an out-of-sight cabinet after I realized I was creating more recipes for the web than using what others had already developed.  As a somewhat OCD home organizer, I like to have my cookbooks divided by category:

  • general purpose: Mastering the Art of French Cooking, The New Doubleday Cookbook
  • chef-written cookbooks (subdivided by genre, like Italian, farm-to-table, Southern, etc.)
  • cocktails
  • breads and pizzas
  • breakfast (sort a bridge between bread-specific and general baking)
  • baking and dessert
  • ice cream
  • meat and grilling
  • canning and preserving

and so on.


canning! and MEAT

But the built-in shelves that came with the house are small and oddly sized, Making it near impossible to group all themed books together. Some need to be turned on their sides just to fit onto the shelves; other don’t fit neatly into one category, like my lone stir-frying book that hangs out with an overly large jam book and The Flavor Bible, a cool but genre-defying book that tells you what flavors match up with others. Sounds dorky, but sometimes it’s fun to page through and see that scallions and Dijon mustard are a good pair.  Think of them braised in a wine sauce. . . .

the trouble with built-ins.

But I digress. Over the years, my rationale behind the cookbooks I buy has shifted dramatically from impress-the-guests books like The French Laundry Cookbook and The Babbo Cookbook (both of which I still do cook from, honest) to a more well-rounded selection that covers all the bases from bread baking to curing meat to pressure cooking to regional Spanish cuisine. I read my cookbooks like they were novels and I turn to them often for reference and comparison.

If you’re building your own cookbook library, here are my top recommendations for filling your shelves:

For Cooks Just Starting Out

Jamie Oliver got a lot of flak for his “Food Revolution” TV show, but he’s still a smart and enthusiastic chef who knows of what he speaks.  Jamie’s Food Revolution and its follow-up tome, Jamie Oliver’s Meals in Minutes, are like soothing guidance counselors for novice cooks who might otherwise turn to a frozen pizza or Lean Cuisine for dinner. Tasked with the idea of prepping a complete meal, whether it’s for yourself or a whole family, sounds daunting.  but Jamie breaks it down step by step–prepare, cook, and serve–covering all the bases in a conversational way.  He doesn’t ask you to dice the onions into 1/2-inch cubes, he just wants you to “roughly chop” them, knowwhatImean?  Before you know it, there’s a platter of parmesan chicken breasts with crispy posh ham on the table.  Meals in Minutes takes the concept one step further, pairing main dishes, salads, and veg together in one group so you can prepare an entire meal, start to finish, all at once in the kitchen. It’s an ingenious way of looking at things, since that’s the way most of us actually prep our food, and helps new cooks realize that cooking is a really intuitive process.

For Cooks Who Want to Know

Yes, Alton Brown’s recipes are available on the Food Network website, but if you’re a Good Eats junkie like me, you’ll be thrilled by the trilogy of books that covers every single recipe from every single one of the 249 episodes in the TV series. If you’ve never watched an episode, I nonetheless suggest you leaf through one of the tomes the next time you’re at the bookstore–I think these books make a better basic reference series than most of the chestnuts that came before them. Sure, The New York Times Cookbook can give you an eggs Benedict recipe, but Good Eats will explain the provenance of the name, tell you the history of the English muffin, teach you how to poach an egg, and give you a near foolproof hollandaise recipe.  All in one chapter. Isn’t that infinitely more useful, educational, and entertaining?

For Dessert Freaks

My friend Shaina Olmanson’s new cookbook Desserts in Jars takes a novel concept and explores its versatility six ways to Sunday. Newbie bakers can tackle their first yeast bread with the simple pull-apart cinnamon breads; pie crust-ophones like Tessa can tackle mini strawberry or peach bourbon pies, where rolling out pie dough doesn’t have to be perfect; and everyone should get a spoon for the recipe I’ve been jonesing to try ever since I picked up the book, sweet corn panna cotta with bacon-blueberry sauce.  Shaina’s got four kids, so she knows how to make recipes work for any age or experience level.  She’s patient and explanatory in her writing style, but her desserts have oomph.

For the Next Generation of Little House on the Prairie

Maybe you’ve always wanted to try your hand at canning, but are squeezed into a tiny studio apartment or don’t have a way to bring 10 pounds of tomatoes or strawberries back form the farmer’s market with you.  As the force behind the small-batch canning site Food in Jars, Marisa McClellan is the expert at the possibilities of preserving no matter how small your space.  Now she’s got a whole cookbook, Food in Jars: Preserving in Small Batches Year-Round, with canning recipes that don’t require a forest’s worth of fruit.  Take a stab at Marisa’s simple raspberry ma, rhubarb jelly, or gingery pickled beets, and you’ll see how crazy satisfying canning can be–not to mention you’ll wonder why you ever bothered to buy Smucker’s in the first place.  And as she says, “Most people believe that you need a ton of special equipment in order to get canning. Truth is, provided your kitchen is stocked with some basics (I’m talking post, bowls, and measuring cups here, not Viking stoves) you can do a wide variety of canning with what you’ve already got.”

Oh, and what would any library be without its resident cats?  Lenny is still upset I took away some of his sleeping space, since he used to nestle in-between books before the space was filled.  But he’ll still relax against the cookbooks and gaze out the window at birds.  Harry prefers the other side of the bookshelves, where he can chill with the art history books.


Har-Har. (pronounced Hair-Hair)

An Extravaganza of YA Lit Awesomeness

In which we celebrate some awesome YA Lit . . . stuff, from tattoos to tie tacks!

Veronica Mars: marshmallow! Mars Investigations bag

By REBECCA, June 1, 2012

As we all know, whenever a YA novel gets adapted into a move, tons of schlocky merchandise floods the market (*ahem* Twilight jeweled comb). Still, just because the powers that be market some ugly crap doesn’t mean that there aren’t some awesome tips of the hat to YA lit out there. Sometimes when I’m googling around for info on a review I’m writing I stumble upon just such random YA lit awesomeness that has no place in the review itself. So, rather than deprive you all of this bounty, here is a smattering of it for you to enjoy!


I love tattoos, and some of my own are admittedly nerdy—check out these amazing celebrations of YA lit.

Ramona Quimby tattoo

I love it so much! Ramona Quimby tattoo, via bellabling.

Where the WIld Things Are tattoo

Where the Wild Things Are tattoo, via The Word Made Flesh.

Chronicles of Narnia Tattoos

Chronicles of Narnia tattoo, via Minutest.

Twilight tattoos

YIKES! Twilight tattoos, via Geekologie, Chicago Now, and Digital Bus Stop.

Harry Potter tattoos, color

Harry Potter tattoos, black and white

Harry Potter tattoos, via Bloody Hell HP Tattoos, HP Tats, and The Frisky.

Forever Young Adult has some more YA tattoos here.


These ladies are artists—artists!

Hunger Games manicure

The Hunger Games manicure, via The Nailasaurus. In other news, there is a line of nail polishes called Capitol Colours that was released in tandem with the film.

Harry Potter manicure

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows manicure, via Nails by Asami.


So, as some of you know, I also write for the wonderful online food magazine Good. Food. Stories. One of the things I write is a column called “Eating My Words,” in which I make up recipes for the food found in my favorite books. So, here my recipes from Hunger Games and Harry Potter.

Hunger Games Stew Good Food Stories

Rebecca’s Hunger Games lamb stew with dried plums, via Good. Food. Stories.

Harry Potter Cornish Pasties

Rebecca’s Harry Potter-inspired Cornish pasties, via Good. Food. Stories.

Marbury Lens cake Andrew Smith

As many of you know, I am in complete love with Andrew Smith‘s amazing novel, The Marbury Lens (see my review here). So, when I stumbled on Andrew Smith’s tweet of this cake, I just had to come and add it to the post immediately! It is one of the best things I’ve ever seen. I’m so ashamed that I didn’t think to make it first.

Neil Gaiman cakes, Sandman and Coraline

Some Neil Gaiman deliciousness: Sandman cake via flikr user ToodlesJupiter and Coraline cake via flikr user looking glass cakes.

Vampire Diaries cake

Vampire Diaries cake, via flikr user Wiggles Whoo.

A Wrinkle in Time cake

A Wrinkle in Time 50th Anniversary edition cake, via Fictional Food.


Some folks out there have created fabulous clothes and outfits based on YA characters/books—here are a few. Check back in the future for my favorite YA fashionistae!

Scott Westerfeld Uglies series shirt Scott Westerfeld's Uglies shirt

Uglies shoes

Scott Westerfeld’s Uglies series provides inspiration for these t-shirts, via Zazzle, and these frankly alarming shoes, for which I can find no source!

Harriet the Spy outfit

This one has a special place in my heart because I dressed up as Harriet for Halloween in college (I went with the red hooded sweatshirt from the book cover instead of the yellow raincoat—just saying, I’m a purist). Harriet the Spy outfit via Polyvore user katherinecginnaven.

Hunger Games Shoes

Amazing Hunger Games shoes, via Etsy user Holly Grothues (they’re sold, folks).

Nancy Drew outfit

Nancy Drew outfit via Polyvore user bramblewoodfashion.

What Claudia Kishi Wore Babysitters Club fashion

If you were anything like me, Claudia’s lobster earings and red & turquoise leggings were a total fashion inspiration! Check out What Claudia Wore for more delightful dissections and disquisitions on Claudia’s fashion. Babysitters Club‘s Claudia Kishi collage via Refinery 29.

Weetzie Bat Francesca Lia Block fashion Goat shoes Cherokee and the Goat Boys Francesca Lia Block

Francesca Lia Block’s Weetzie Bat has some of the best descriptions of clothes ever. Above, left, via Papermag, as part of a whole Weetzie-inspired photoshoot called Danger Angels. Above, right, via goatberries, remind me of the shoes that Cherokee Bat wears to stomp around when she plays music in Cherokee Bat and the Goat Guys. Also check out this photoshoot at I Love Wildfox.

Flowers in the Attic t shirt

Ok, but I seriously want this Flowers in the Attic shirt. Image via No Good For Me.


Auryn The Neverending Story

The AURYN, from The Neverending Story, seems to have been pried off Atreyu’s cold, dead neck—ATREEEEYUUUUU!—via Etsy user Plumevine.

Wonka Bar Charlie and the Chocolate Factory

An entire brand was born of Roald Dahl’s Charlie and the Chocolate Factory.

Ramona Quimby sculpture

Did you know there is a bronze statue of Ramona Quimby (indeed, a whole Beverly Clearly sculpture garden!) in Grant Park, Portland? Image via Flikr user Karathepirate.

The Baby Sitters Club Board Game

An old favorite. Tessa, I want to play The Babysitters Club board game the next time you visit!

Twilighted covers of classic lit

We’ve all seen these covers that got Twilight-ed, but I still can’t get over them. Image via A Muse Sings.


YA author BINGO! For the . . . most mature YA fans?

Goosebumbs lunchbox

Goosebumps lunchbox, via Worth Point.

Harry Potter tie tack Alice in Wonderland Tie Tack

Harry Potter and Alice in Wonderland tie tacks via Etsy user Altered Etc.

What’s your favorite piece of YA lit awesomeness?

Winter in Paris: French Milk

Saturday was Free Comic Day! In celebration, here is a review of French Milk, a graphic novel by Lucy Knisley

Simon & Schuster, 2007

By REBECCA, May 7, 2012

French Milk Lucy Knisley


Lucy is really the only character that we get to know. She’s a bit melancholy and extremely invested in food, drink, art, and feelings.

the hook

When you’re a graphic artist and you spend a month in Paris, what do you do? You keep a graphic journal and publish it when you’re done, of course!


Lucy and her mom have rented an apartment in Paris for the month of January, 2007, to celebrate her mom’s 50th birthday and Lucy’s 22nd. They spend most of their time eating, drinking, and wandering around Paris looking at stuff. Since this is a journal, it takes us through the trip day by day, so it mainly focuses on the details of what they ate and drank, where they went, and what they saw. This makes for a sensory smorgasbord of meats, cheeses, pickles, cakes, spirits, cigarettes, rain, and music. If, like me, you enjoy reading about such things, or about Paris in general, you will be delighted by the feeling of immediacy that Knisley’s scenes evoke. (Note: better eat before reading or you’ll be sadly disappointed at the non-Parisian state of your refrigerator when you become hungry halfway through.)

French Milk Lucy Knisley

My favorite thing about French Milk is that although Lucy is in Paris for a month eating and drinking delicious things (god, I’m so hungry now), she still gets in funks, misses her boyfriend, gets annoyed with her mom, has cramps, and generally feels out of place in the world. And, while in moments she could come off as an asshole to those of us not in Paris, it mostly adds texture to what might otherwise be a pretty superficial trip. She has that feeling of being privileged to do something that she’s not fully appreciating: that feeling of “I’m in Paris on vacation so I should be happy but my stupid brain is intruding with my real personality and preventing the word vacation from being synonymous with bliss.” You know that feeling, right?

French Milk Lucy Knisley

what was the book’s intention? did it live up to that intention?

Oscar Wilde's grave

Oscar Wilde’s grave avec kisses!

To celebrate Lucy’s birthday, her father comes to Paris to visit and she and her parents go to Père Lachaise cemetery so Lucy can pay homage to Oscar Wilde, who’s buried there. Lucy talks a lot about Wilde—he’s an apt interlocutor for her journal, which is so invested in physical pleasures, art, and aesthetics. But, while French Milk is mostly delightful drawings of food and wanderings around Paris, the funks that Lucy gets in from time to time begin, by the middle of the book, to touch on real depression: fears of her impending college graduation, anxiety that she won’t be able to find a job, insecurity about her self-worth as an artist. So, woven throughout this story of a Parisian adventure are the real world concerns of a woman in her early twenties trying to find where she belongs.

The strength of French Milk’s journal format is the specificity of Lucy and her mother’s experiences—that cheese, this painting, that bridge, these buildings. That immediacy drew me in and made me feel like I, too, was in Paris for a time, along with all my senses. That format was French Milk’s biggest weakness, too, I think. Because the book was stuck in the realism of what things happened when, it never quite opened up into being more than one woman’s experience with things in a highly unusual setting. Whereas sometimes travel shines a light on the feelings of alienation or belonging that a writer always feels but cannot quite capture when in familiar territory, in French Milk those feelings become so specific as to seem a bit solipsistic.

Paris in the winter

Image: design serendipity

The frontispiece of the book says that French Milk “deals with the valuable and significant influence that we take from our mothers, as well as my own struggle toward adulthood at an age when we so desperately cling to our adolescence.” This is true, in moments, but the journal format doesn’t leave Knisley any room to shape those themes into more affecting art, instead leaving them where they lie. That makes French Milk, for me, an escape piece—more travel writing (drawing) than creative nonfiction. And that isn’t a bad thing; far from it. I thoroughly enjoyed my trek through the streets and foods of Paris—even though I don’t care for milk.

personal disclosure

The one moment that French Milk lost me was this page when Lucy and her mom learn of Saddam Hussein’s execution but then find “humanity redeemed” when they eat good cookies (66):

French Milk Lucy Knisley

I think this is actually a very realistic reaction. So much of the book upholds a Wildean aestheticism (a celebration of taste food, drink, sensuality), though, that the use of taste in this instance—to redeem acts of cruelty and violence—made the rest of the book feel a bit more . . . superficial?


Carnet de Voyage Craig Thompson

Carnet de Voyage by Craig Thompson (2004). Also a graphic travel journal, in Carnet de Voyage Thompson finds himself lonely and lovesick during his travels.

Everything is its own reward: an all over coffee collection paul madonna

Everything Is Its Own Reward: An All Over Coffee Collection by Paul Madonna (2011). “All Over Coffee” began as a column of Paul Madonna’s that first appeared in the San Francisco Chronicle. It pairs Madonna’s stunning ink wash drawings with musings about the places he visits, from San Francisco to Tokyo to Paris. Gorgeous!

Procured from: library

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