10/01/2017

A Death in Vienna - Pastry Disaster

 I just finished A Death in Vienna by Frank Tallis, the debut novel for a new series, and was quite impressed with his unique combination of the history of psychology and early 20th century Vienna, romance and mystery.  This is the era of Freud, Klimt and Mahler. There is a new wave of artistic as well as scientific innovation, contending with old school thought, the reigning, male dominated conservatism which categorized abused and traumatized women as "hysterics" and often had them committed to hospitals for the mentally ill.  It was also an age in which antisemitic feeling was gaining ground.

This then is the setting for a murder, and the fledgling psychologist hero, Max Liebermann, assists his police detective friend in finding the totally unusual and unexpected solution.

A beautiful medium is killed in mysterious circumstances – a murder that couldn’t have been committed by anyone alive, from all the available evidence.  The supernatural is invoked, but of course, appearances can be deceiving.  A fascinating, delightful read and highly recommended.

It is the height of cafe society in elegant Vienna, with pastries galore to accompany the various fancy coffees.  So, you know I had to make some Viennese treats.  I settled on a delectable pastry called Chremeshnitten, one of the many varieties mentioned in the novel.  Puff pastry on the bottom, a thick layer of vanilla custard, then whipped cream and topped off with a chocolate glaze.  Sounded pretty good to me.  I sampled the vanilla flavored custard when layering in and it was delicious.


Oh boo hoo ....This is where the disaster comes in.  Whilst taking the pan out of the fridge to add on the final chocolate layer, it fell.  Yes, all over the floor and side of the refrigerator.   I took a picture so you could share the angst.  On top of which I was expecting friends over for a meeting.  The mess needed to be cleaned up, and alternative refreshments arranged.  

The good news is - the chocolate was saved!  So glad not to be cleaning up that as well.  There was more than enough waste. Luckily, I had some banana muffins that could be topped with it.  And there were chips and fresh rambutans.  No one was discombobulated.  Except me.



These are my very favorite banana muffins, an old recipe, originally from the Queen's Surf Restaurant, which I  posted about in the distant past. That's not to say I was thrilled or anything. I had been looking forward to a glorious Viennese pastry, which I'll probably never get around to making again.  Well, maybe a modified/cut down version.  There was too much of it.. (She says after cleaning up.)  Anyway, you might find it easier to make the muffins, which I'm sure they would also enjoy in Vienna.


The Queen's Surf Banana Muffins
Ingredients:
3/4 cup sugar
1 stick butter (4 oz)
3 ripe bananas, mashed (a few bigger chunks are ok) and double the amount for smaller varieties like the Apple Banana
2 eggs
1 1/4 cups cake flour
1/2 teas. salt
1 teas. baking soda
Cream sugar and softened butter, add bananas and well beaten eggs. Sift dry ingredients together three times and blend with batter. Don't over-mix.  Pour into greased muffin pan or use liners, and bake at 350F for 25-30 minutes. Cool on rack and enjoy!


 If you're interested in doing the chocolate glaze, it's very easy.  Just melt 150g dark chocolate (I used Sharffenberger bittersweet) in a double boiler, and add in 7 g. butter and 3 tablespoons milk.  Stir until you have a nice shiny mixture.

I'm linking this post with Simona's Novel Food, Fall edition, the October Foodies Read Challenge, and with Beth Fish Reads for her Weekend Cooking event.

9/17/2017

Bird's Nest Pudding for the Farmer Boy


Our latest Cook the Books Club selection was Farmer Boy by Laura Ingalls Wilder, her charming, somewhat bucolic, and idealized novel of early American farm life, as seen through the eyes of a young boy. Mostly biographical, as it was based upon her husband's upbringing in upstate New York.

I enjoyed the story, with all of the homegrown vegetables, grains, and meat, the home cooking, preserving of food, weaving, spinning, and their whole life of self reliance and  living on and from the land.  Even using the straw for hats, leather for shoes, etc.  Talk about going back to the land.  We have come so far from that sort of life. Refreshing to read about.

Even the "bad boys" at school get their comeuppance.  This is definitely not a dysfunctional family.  Though of course we know there were lots of those at that time as well as in our own.  She spared her young readers, many of whom likely wished themselves on the little house planet.

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.'