7/18/2018

Amazing Food from Garlic and Sapphires

On this round of Cook the Books Club we have been reading and getting inspired by Garlic and Sapphires, a Ruth Reichl memoir, hosted by moi.  Like Miss Ruth, I am a woman who goes through life seeing the comic absurdity at play all around me.  Perhaps why I so appreciate her writing.  The disguises she literally got into here!

And, I absolutely love her many transfixing culinary descriptions. For instance, on the occasion of a meal at Jean-Georges' restaurant in the Trump Tower, in a hastily put together disguise: "'A little amuse bouche as a gift from the chef,' (which should have been the clue she was made) murmured the waiter, setting down a minuscule porcini tart framed by a delicate salad of tiny herbs.  I ate slowly, first the lacy licorice-flavored chervil, then sturdy, spicy wild parsley, and finally the aggressive little fronds of dill.  Poring through them I discovered a single leaf of lamb's quarter, bits of sorrel, dandelion, chickweed.  I followed the flavors in my mind until the walls vanished and I emerged into a deep glade that grew more distinct with each bite.  It was disappointing to come out of the woods...."

At that same meal there are creamed morels, spooned over asparagus.  That certainly caught me up, along with everything else.  But, perhaps something I could manage, when asparagus is back in season.  Later, there was Salmon with a Moroccan glaze, wild mushroom dumplings, scalloped potatoes, Risotto with Lobster and rosemary, Gougeres, and so on and on, throughout this tribute to food and the inventive chefs she encountered during her tenure as food critic for the NY Times.


From the overwhelming selection, I prepared Scalloped Potatoes, Pureed Watercress, Moroccan spiced salmon, and a salad inspired by the delicate mix of tiny herbs, mentioned above.  Served at various meals.


The Scalloped Potatoes alone (a half recipe, mind) were enough as a side for three meals, neither of us being exactly hearty eaters.  It continually amazed me reading this book, as well as her others, how much food that woman can put away at a sitting!  I am planning to make her yummy sounding hash browns, the creamed morels over asparagus, a risotto with lobster and rosemary, short ribs with horseradish dumplings, and some wild mushroom dumplings, perhaps to be served in a simple clear broth of reduced, homemade stock and wine.  We're still being inspired here.


This is my contribution for our current round of Cook the Books.  Stay tuned for the round-up after the 31st.  You still have time to read the book and join in!  This will also go over to Beth Fish Reads for her Weekend Cooking event, and to the July Foodies Read Challenge.  Stop by and sample the many goodies - books as well as good food -  at those sites.

6/28/2018

Scintillating Dishes from Indian Cookery

Being a long time fancier of Indian food, I was happy to order, and receive so quickly, Indian Cookery by Sameen Rushdie, recommended by Beth Fish over at her site, Beth Fish Reads.   Her brother, Salman, who seems to have loved his task as official taste tester for his sister's book, certainly has a way with words, and as it turns out, Sameen is also an excellent writer. I enjoyed her comments and many interesting reminiscences on food, her past, the culture, and her mother's cooking.

In the book, regarding chicken:  "'My children only eat chicken,' my father would remark sarcastically to emphasize just how thoroughly spoilt he thought we were.  In the subcontinent chicken is the most expensive meat available, and has become synonymous with good living, hospitality and privilege."  She found things to be much different upon moving to England, and remarks: "Personally I was very pleased to find chickens put in their place in the West.  It is true that I have always been fond of chicken, but the pomp and snobbery surrounding it in the subcontinent did make it a little hard to swallow."

6/21/2018

Stuffing Spinach and Finding Family

An absorbing novel on surviving family life after the death of one's mother, finding one's birth mother and birth sister, wanting to have a real family, dealing with rejection, managing the teenagers of one's boyfriend, and much more, The Survivor's Guide to Family Happiness, by Maddie Dawson.  Terrific stuff, with tongue in cheek good humor.

Of course, it's probably easier to manage teens if they're not related to you.  Must be why she did such a good job in that corner at least.  I loved the story, back story and development of all the characters.   Here's a quote, from when Nina is on her way to the re-cycling place after her mother's death.

"And then I went outside and got into my Honda Civic that held the portable commode and the IV pole and the shower chair, all of which I'd spent an hour wrestling into the backseat before leaving the house, and I jerked the car into reverse, pressed on the accelerator - and immediately got my tires stuck in the pile of snow by the curb.
     I did everything you're supposed to do - cursed, banged my hand on the steering wheel as hard as I could, and then, when that didn't work, I rocked the car back and forth, pressing on the gas, then turning the wheel - but it got progressively worse with every attempt.  The tires kept burying themselves deeper and deeper in, and what had been snow under the tires was now turning to slick ice. There was a squealing noise, and after a while, the smell of something burning.
     I mashed on the accelerator so hard that the car lurched forward, and the commode in the backseat took the opportunity to jump into the front seat and pin me down with its aluminium legs.
     Sometimes when you're moving from the old to the new, the universe likes to remind you who's in charge by spinning your tires on ice and then throwing a toilet at your head.
     At least that's the lesson I took away from it."

6/15/2018

Lilikoʻi Glazed Roast Duck - Never Change

I've read and enjoyed several of Elizabeth Berg's novels, and this book is definitely one of her best.  Never Change - is a winner, with totally engaging, if occasionally frustrating characters (as in real life) who finally face their need for change in a sometimes sad, lovely, and inspiring story.
From Publisher's Weekly:

Myra Lipinski has been lonely all her life; she trained as a nurse "because I knew it would be a way for people to love me." Now 51, she lives alone with her dog and works as a visiting nurse in Boston, caring for an array of eccentrics that includes the feuding Schwartz couple, the feisty DeWitt Washington and the anxious teenage mother Grace.

Resigned to spinsterhood, Myra is secretly thrilled when her agency assigns her to care for a former crush, Chip Reardon, who has returned to his parents' home with end-stage brain cancer. In high school, Chip was a golden boy, athletic and clever, out of ugly duckling Myra's league. Now, though, he and Myra strike up a friendship based on their mutual loneliness and on Chip's resistance to his parents, who want him to pursue aggressive treatment for his cancer. Chip prefers to die peacefully, a decision that only Myra seems to understand.

5/31/2018

A Meal for Women in Sunlight

Frances Mayes has written another ode to Tuscan living, this one fictional.  Women in Sunlight is her novel, written memoir style. It's the story of a writer living in Tuscany, in a lovely hillside village. (Sound like anyone we know?)  Mayes has also written Under the Tuscan Sun, Bella Tuscany, Every Day in Tuscany and Sunday in Another Country, among others.

Mayes describes the locale so beautifully though, we'd all want to relocate given the chance. Possibly.  In this novel, the expat poet, Kit, meets her new neighbors, three older, retired women, also transplants from America, and they all become best friends forever, with lots of great meals, romance and good times along the way.  That's it in a nutshell.  However the individual stories are well told and woven together. They draw one in, each woman with  her unique character and history, so we want to know how things end up for them.

There is plenty of wonderful food described, as noted.  More than could be reasonably mentioned here. I happen to love a novel that incorporates what people are eating.  Suggesting reality really - we eat - not always a feast, admittedly, though often memorable.  If there's no discussion at all, you have to wonder about a whole, often delicious aspect of life going missing.  Do those people not eat, or is it just unimportant to them?  I know there are folks who consider food merely a necessity for survival.  And cooking an activity that must be got through.  Too sad.

5/17/2018

Mapo Tofu and a Memoir of Eating in China

I have thoroughly enjoyed reading our latest pick for Cook the Books Club - Shark's Fin and Sichuan Pepper, a Sweet-Sour Memoir of Eating in China, by Fuchsia Dunlop, this round hosted by fellow Hawaii resident, Deb of Kahakai Kitchen  Dunlop writes a mostly delicious, sometimes revolting, entertaining, well researched and fascinating account of the food, culture and the peoples of that humongous country, mixed in with just enough history to punctuate her tale.

Fuchsia starts out as a young student of the Chinese language and culture, then embarks upon learning to cook Chinese as well, in the city of Chengdu, Sichuan province.  There she attends the premier Sichuan culinary school as their first foreign student, a woman at that, in a class of about 50 young Chinese men.

Fuchsia continued to travel widely in China and recounts her many adventures over the years with wit, humor and style. She began what became a long term odyssey by deciding to eat whatever was going, and stuck by that, consuming what a majority of us would consider truly horrifying food.  Not just every bit of an animal, but including the odd critter and bug in the mix; some of which may have started out as frugality in hard times, but have come to be considered exotic and expensive delicacies for the wealthy.  Her title is evocative in that sense - sweet-sour.

5/05/2018

A Cinco de Mayo Kumquat Margarita



Happy Cinco de Mayo, which we all know is just an excuse :)  and after all our earthquakes and volcanic eruptions yesterday, I figure we're due for one.  I do love kumquats, just to eat out of hand, and they're also good for chutney, and lots of other things, like this:

4/28/2018

Ham and Cheese Gougeres for the Sweetshop of Dreams

I've just finished Jenny Colgan's Sweetshop of Dreams, a charming, way sweet, little confection, only edged out of the totally saccharine by her two protagonists and their blessedly sarcastic sense of humor; occasionally just rude.  I've enjoyed a few of Colgan's other novels but this was sort of an exception. The heroine (plot) was pretty clueless.  We all knew where things were headed, both with her boyfriend and the solution at the end.  She was the only one refusing to see things.

Rosie seems to wear "rose colored glasses" as far as her long term "fiance" is concerned, and to my mind at least, she had a narrow escape from that situation, out to the countryside.  She is supposed to be helping her great aunt who has just gone through hip replacement surgery.  An aunt who has a closed up "Sweetshop",  or what we would here in the U.S call a Candy Shop.  And we do have them still, at least in Hawaii, as there is an Eastern predilection for various peculiar candies, added in with some carry-over local favorites. I have added on a picture of our Hilo shop at the end.

From the Publisher: "Rosie Hopkins thinks leaving her busy London life, and her boyfriend Gerard, to sort out her elderly Aunt Lilian s sweetshop in a small country village is going to be dull. Boy, is she  wrong.


 Lilian Hopkins has spent her life running Lipton's sweetshop, through wartime and family feuds. When her great-niece Rosie arrives to help her with the shop, Lillian struggles with the idea that it might finally be time to settle up, and wrestles with the secret history hidden behind the jars of beautifully colored sweets.



But as Rosie gets Lilian back on her feet, breathes a new life into the candy shop, and gets to know the mysterious and solitary Stephen-whose family seems to own the entire town-she starts to think that settling for what's comfortable might not be so great after all."
To tell you the truth, I dislike most candy, with the exception of some good quality chocolates.  I don't really have a "sweet tooth" per se, preferring salty chips. So the endless enumeration of all extant varieties as well as their history left my mouth in a pucker.  Easily skipped over however, at the start of each chapter, unless you're interested in that sort of thing.


I don't even make desserts very often, unless expecting guests.   My solution to all this sweetness?  Something savory of course.   I saw these ham and cheese puffs in our supermarket flyer and couldn't resist.  And, they're perfect for guests. I used three instead of two types of cheese here: Gruyere, cheddar and Pecorino Romano.


This was the first batch, and they didn't stay puffed up as I'd like, but tasty.  The post is linked over at Beth Fish Reads for her Weekend Cooking scene, as well as with the April Foodies Read Challenge.  Be sure to join in with what you're cooking, or just to visit for some good food and books.


As a P.S. - here is a shot inside our local "Sweetshop", in Hilo Hawaii.

4/12/2018

Toad in the Hole, with Perils of the Night

Toad in the Hole - don't you just love the name?  I have long wanted an excuse to make this dish, without even knowing what it was or having tasted it.  Why, you might say?  Who needs an excuse?  However, be that as it may, whilst reading Sidney Chambers and The Perils of the Night, by James Runcie, Toad in the Hole was mentioned.  That was the trigger, or excuse for making it. Canon Sidney and his friend, Inspector Geordie Keating were frequently having a pint and a pub meal, perhaps Spotted Dick or Toad in the Hole, before one of their weekly backgammon games, often discussing the latest murder.

This book is 356 pages, similar to his other four Grantchester books, and consisting of six longish short stories, connected by the place, the characters and approximate, sequential time.  They follow the adventures of full-time priest, and part-time detective Canon Sidney Chambers, in late 1950s Cambridge.

I love Runcie's thoughtful, intelligent writing as the occasionally absent minded priest goes about his parish business, unable to resist helping out his detective friend with solving various mysteries.