8/08/2017

The Corsican Caper and Mashed Limas

 

The Corsican Caper is another of Peter Mayles' light, summer reading type thrillers, with beaucoup good food and wine mingled throughout.  I have been enjoying his various "Capers" with a few yet to read.  Don't expect anything deep, or even thought-provoking here.  Just frothy entertainment.  Despite which, you will get lots of cooking inspiration, and ideas for wine selections.  From the Publisher: In The Corsican Caper, "Master sleuth, Sam Levitt....investigates a case of deadly intrigue among the Riviera's jet set."  His good friend, billionaire Francis Reboul, is being stalked and pressured to sell his villa to a Russian tycoon, who stops at nothing in getting what he wants.

7/30/2017

Salat Olivier for Mastering the Art of Soviet Cooking


For Cook the Books Club this round we have been reading Mastering the Art of Soviet Cooking, by Anya Von Bremzen, the title of her memoir a bit tongue-in-cheek, as it might have been called Mastering the Art of Soviet Living.  Covering three generations of Russian life, which included millions dead, famine and food lines, before she and her mother fled to America from the repression of a Brezhnev era USSR.

At times horrific, sometimes sad and occasionally even funny, Anya's memoir is historically significant, though I was left somewhat confused, due to the held fantasy of an ideal socialism which never panned out. Russia's successive dictators led their country in a vast experiment, attempting to manipulate society, without regard for human nature, leaving former moral codes and God behind; those controlling powers having deemed religion "the opiate of the people." Von Bremzen seems in the end, to have a surprisingly  retained, lingering nostalgia for this failed socialist dream, looking down on Putin and Capitalism.  She at least has an excuse, having spent years of indoctrinated schooling in her home country.  Here in America it's astonishing how many seem to believe we should travel down that same path.  That it might work?  A scary thought.  This book should be required reading for Social Studies, Political Science or maybe Cultural Anthropology.  Definitely lots of food for thought here.

7/27/2017

A Conclave with Blue Marlin, Harissa and Rose

 I am going to recommend an excellent book here: Conclave, by Robert Harris.  When I pulled it off my TBR stack there were doubts.  Am I really going to get into a book on a Vatican election?  A good half of the books on that TBR stack do end up (on the way out) in the NTBR pile.  Of course, leave it to Robert Harris.  A great author can do wonders with almost any subject.  And as a Wall Street Journal reviewer says, "Harris is incapable of writing an unenjoyable book"  True in this case for sure.

The story concerns a pope's death in the near future, questionable  circumstances surrounding that, as well as the gathering of cardinals from around the world, the dynamics of their views and ambitions, as well as the election itself in the Sistine Chapel, all fraught with terrorist attack, protesters, and scandal.  I totally engaged with Harris' protagonist, the Dean of the College of Cardinals (in his fictional account), Cardinal Lomeli.  A truly spiritual man was well portrayed here, with human failings and struggles, who grows stronger through this trial.  All of the characters were engagingly delineated and believable, as Harris is able to competently connect with Religious life and motivations.  The ending was a bit incredible, but a great book altogether.

7/20/2017

Waffling for My Kitchen Year

Having been a fan of Ruth Reichl for quite a few years, I'm only surprised it took me this long to read her latest memoir/cookbook, Ruth Reichl, My Kitchen Year, 130 Recipes that Saved My Life.   Most cookbooks, I find at least, you don't really read from cover to cover.  This is one of those that you should.  I suppose it's the memoir aspect.  And, okay, so the title is a bit dramatic, but no one gets into the positions she has over the years without being something of a drama queen.

Her book was written in a depressive aftermath following the rather abrupt shutdown of Gourmet magazine, where Reichl had been editor in chief for 10 years. Most of us have gone through stuff equally horrid, say the death of someone close, relationship traumas, divorce, children gone off the deep end, job loss, etc., but for a writer like Reichl, it becomes material for a new book.  Taking lemons and making lemonade.  Which is good.  I just wrote a few desperate poems.  Though Jesus was and is my main support.

She is consistently a fine writer, even the tweets, dividing her notes and recipes, haiku like, are so descriptive, sense evocative and full of Ruth's wonder at and love of the surrounding world.  i.e.:

     "Sun coming up. Hawks hovering outside.  Dancing in the kitchen with gnocchi and the blues.  Good way to start a Sunday."

7/13/2017

Beets with an Avocado Cloud for The Marseille Caper


Peter Mayle's The Marseille Caper was a terrifically enjoyable read, right from the first sentence:

 "Shock has a chilling effect, particularly when it takes the form of an unexpected meeting with a man from whom you have recently stolen three million dollars' worth of wine."

Although pretty lightweight, his novel was throughout, entertaining, funny, romantic and included a thrilling high jinks rescue off a grand yacht.  There are gangster thugs, and an intrigue-ridden local real estate war going on in Marseille.  Sam, the fixer, takes on various tricky jobs mainly to make his life more interesting. This is on top of all the wonderful food and wine descriptions, being as our intrepid hero and his client are both connoisseurs.   Good summer reading.

The only other book of Mayle's I've read was French Lessons, a memoir which our Cook the Books group did a few years back.  That link will take you to the round-up with all our inspired dishes for the book.  I think, all in all, I like his fiction better.

7/06/2017

A Trade Wind Pizza

 This post has only a marginal link between book and culinary interest.   Trade wind by M. M. Kaye, is set in Zanzibar, so I had thought of investigating the food of that Island and making something.  Never got to it.  Anyway, I don't really recall  much  local cuisine being mentioned in the book.

However, that is a digression from the central point of any review of her novel.  It is so well written and researched, with fabulous characters who come alive, right off the pages; pirates, slave traders, concubines and sultans included.  The setting is a tropical paradise, though contrasted with the filth, disease and squalor of the time.  Ameliorated by romance, and fascinating history worked into an amazing plot and story.  I absolutely loved this novel.

"The year is 1859 and Hero Hollis, beautiful and headstrong niece of the American Consul, arrives in Zanzibar. It is an earthly paradise; it is also the last outpost of the slave trade. A passionate opponent of slavery, Hero is swept into a turmoil of royal intrigue, abduction, piracy, smuggling, and a virulent cholera epidemic. There in Zanzibar, the most cruelly beautiful island of the southern seas, she must choose her love and unravel her destiny." (from Goodreads)

6/20/2017

Goldy's Potatoes au Gratin


 Over the last few years I have enjoyed reading Diane Mott Davidson's fun culinary mysteries, starring her intrepid, nosy heroine, Goldy, who now has her own cookbook, Goldy's Kitchen Cookbook, Cooking, Writing, Family, Life.  If you've read any of the series you will know there are some terrific recipes included with each book, and they are all here, plus a few.  I especially loved hearing Ms. Davidson's background on the various books, origins of plots and characters, how she got started, and accomplishes her writing.  She is an inspiring as well as an entertaining writer.
 From the Publishers:

 "The beloved New York Times bestselling culinary mystery writer delivers a cookbook packed with more than 160 mouthwatering recipes and charming anecdotes about her writing and cooking life.
Diane Mott Davidson is the author of seventeen bestselling mysteries featuring caterer/sleuth Goldy Schulz, a woman who 'took the lemon that life had given her and made not just lemonade but Lemon Chicken, Lemon Bars, Lemon Cookies and Lemon Meringue Pie.'

6/15/2017

Split Pea with Fresh Corn Soup for Bertie

 Bertie needed a bit of comfort food in this book, another from the inimitable writings of Alexander McCall Smith, The Bertie Project, from Smith's 44 Scotland St. series.   Seven year old Bertie has a mother everyone loves to hate, the horrid Irene.

As the publishers write:
"Bertie's mother, Irene, returns from the Middle East to discover that, in her absence, her son has been exposed to the worst of evils -- television shows, ice cream parlors, and even unsanctioned art at the National Portrait Gallery. Her wrath descends on Bertie's long-suffering father, Stuart." 

Admittedly Stuart is a total wimp, but might just be acquiring some wee cojones by the end of this book.

6/10/2017

Olive Oil and Fresh Rosemary Cake - Happy 21st!!


 Ever since the bit of time I spent in Greece, and subsequently buying Greek cookbooks, I've been intending to make one of those lovely olive oil cakes popular around the Mediterranean.   The idea is a little off-putting, but they have two good things going for them: 1.  the excellent taste and 2. the ease of putting one together.  Being as we are celebrating my grandson's 21st birthday today, and as I was making a chicken curry, my thought was that this Rosemary Olive Oil Cake would be an excellent dessert pairing , accompanied by a light sorbet.