1/24/2017

Crispy Rice and Eggs for Stir

 Lots of reviews going on for this book, Stir - My Broken Brain and the Meals That Brought Me Home, by Jessica Fechtor, and due to it being our current Cook the Books Club selection, I'm joining the crowd, and delighted to do so. It was a book I hadn't thought to really enjoy. As Fechtor herself says:
"When I tell people that I am writing the story of a blocked and broken brain --- and oh, by the way, there will be recipes, too --- I get some strange looks.  Food is not supposed to top the list of things you think about, apparently, when you're recovering from a near-fatal brain explosion."
Surprisingly, to me anyway, it was a terrific read, due to the author's straightforward account, evocative writing, and her ability to keep a sense of perspective, objectivity and (gallows?) humor through a truly horrific time.  All that and the fact that we know she does get better in the end.

1/19/2017

Spinach and Mushroom Quiche Served up With Mystery


 I've just finished another of the marvelous Peculiar Crimes Unit novels by Christopher Fowler, The Memory of Blood.  Books like this one are what keep me reading!  Wit, comic relief, craziness, wit, entertaining, outstanding characters, mysteries, wit, you get the idea.  Very well written and yes, witty, original writing.  Plus, the murderer gets caught.  Not too long ago I reviewed another of their adventures, The Water Room.

Arthur Bryant and John May, a partnership of elderly detectives, along with their quirky, team of investigators, form what is known as the Peculiar Crimes Unit, an off-shoot of the Metropolitan Police, of which the affix 'peculiar' originally was meant in the sense of 'particular', in order to handle politically sensitive cases, or those with the possibility of causing panics or general public malaise.

Here, the cast party for a shocking new play ends with an even more shocking murder.  As the daughter of a prominent government official is involved, the case gets referred to the PCU.

The book begins with a prologue of the close-of-play party, (theater folks do enjoy parties) which is completed at the very end, revealing the solve.  And, since food is involved, I'll share with you the opening paragraph:
"Arthur Bryant stood there pretending not to shiver.  He was tightly wrapped in a 1951 Festival of Britain scarf, with a Bloody Mary in one hand and a ketchup-crusted cocktail sausage in the other.  Above his head, a withered yellow corpse hung inside a rusting gibbet iron.
     'Well,' he said, 'this is nice, isn't it?'"
I like this bit as well, which gives you an idea of Bryant's unique persona:
"Arthur Bryant couldn't handle cases that required an understanding of human relationships, and would take off into lunatic new directions if left unchecked.  Someone had to keep an eye on him.
     May peered around the door of his partner's office and watched Bryant knocking the contents of his pipe into the brain-pan of the Tibetan skull on his desk.  Half of the bookcase had been emptied, and two immense stacks towered on either side of the desk, framing the old man with playscripts, manuals, comics, art books, histories, encyclopedias, miscellanies and a number of surprisingly sleazy pulp thrillers.
     'I knew it,' May said with a sigh,  'You've been thinking again.'
     Bryant widened his watery blue eyes in surprise.  'Ah, there you are,' he said.  'Now that you've finished holding your little chats, (referring to the suspect interviews) we can talk.  Do come in, and shut the door behind you.'"


Early in the novel, the partners meet at a tea shop that had just opened downstairs from the Unit, The Ladykillers Cafe.  On offer were: Battenburg cake, quiche Lorraine, Bath and Banbury buns under glass.  So, having just made a Pacific spinach and mushroom quiche, I thought to serve it up here.  Based on an Elizabeth David recipe, it called for heavy cream and egg yolks.  Quite good, though next time, I think I'll lighten it up a bit by using at least half kefir and maybe whole eggs.


Pacific spinach is a perennial tropical green I've been growing for awhile, without knowing exactly what it was.  So, a Google search just revealed the true name for what I'd been mistakenly referring to as Malabar spinach or New Zealand spinach, or??  Doesn't look like either one of those. With our survival project going on, I'm trying to propagate more food perennials happy in the climate conditions we have going.  Since this Pacific spinach is very nutritious, I've got those (above) cuttings to plant some more.  One of the beauties of tropical perennials is that they keep on going (duh) no dying back in winter, re-sowing and waiting again and again for your spinach or what have you.


Spinach and Mushroom Quiche
     loosely adapted from the Leek and Cream Pie in At Elizabeth David's Table

1 8" pastry crust
2 cups spinach, thick stems removed
2 tablespoons vinegar
3 or 4 mushrooms, sliced
3 medium shallots, peeled and sliced
2 oz. lean ham or prosciutto, diced (optional)
1 - 2 tablespoons butter (depending on how many mushrooms)
3 eggs
1 cup cream (or use 1/2 buttermilk or kefir)
nutmeg
salt & pepper

Preheat oven to 375F

Line an 8-inch pie tin with pastry (your own favorite or a prepared crust).  Wash, then remove any thick stems from the spinach.  Drop for a moment into boiling salted water, to which the vinegar has been added, just enough to wilt.  Remove and let cool before squeezing out excess water, and chopping up.

Melt the butter and saute the shallots til soft, then add the mushrooms and saute briefly.  Add in the spinach and ham or prosciutto and stir.  Spread mixture over the pie crust.

Beat eggs  and cream; season with nutmeg, salt and pepper; then pour over the spinach mushroom mixture.

Bake for 30-40 minutes  --  Serves 4 - So I had a piece for lunch next day.  Lovely.
 

We ate most before I remembered to take a picture of the whole pie.  This post will be shared over at Beth Fish Reads for her Weekend Cooking event.  You can visit and also add your own link if you like, on what you're eating or cooking up.
    

1/12/2017

Very Bad Food, Very Funny Book

Stephanie Plum, in this latest novel, Turbo Twenty-Three, by Janet Evanovich, is not eating any better than usual.  She is in fact, the Queen of Fast Foods, an often inept bounty hunter for her cousin Vinnie in Trenton, N.J., and occasional undercover for a security company.  When she does eat good it's her mother's or boyfriend's mother's cooking, or sometimes tasty neighborhood deli take-out, like cannoli and a Jersey hot dog.

Evanovich's Stephanie Plum novels are pretty much all hysterically funny.  The plots, the scrapes she gets into, her goofy sidekick, friends,  family members, co-workers, hot boyfriends, and other assorted characters are so over-the-top, I just laugh my way through the books.  This one is no exception.  Love it, though perhaps you may need a rude, crude and sexy warning.  Keep in mind though that laughter is good medicine. :)

Turbo Twenty-Three involves murder at the local ice cream plant, requiring Stephanie to go undercover on the factory line, on the loading dock and in an ice cream truck.  Among other things.  There is a comment at one point, by her partner: "It's sad to see a broken-down ice cream truck full of bullet holes," Lula said, "What's this country coming to?"  And, on top of all the humor, they actually catch bad guys and help solve mysteries.

One of Stephanie and Lula's favorite stops on the job is their local Cluck-in-a-Bucket, where Plum might get a Hot and Crunchy Clucky Meal and Lula a Supersized Bucket of Cluck with the Works, which includes mashed potatoes and gravy, biscuits, coleslaw, fried okra and an apple turnover.  After ordering, Lula remarked, looking back up at the menu, "I might need some ice cream as a palate cleanser."


Some nights Stephanie's fiance, Joe, will do BBQ.  So, in honor of the grill, I've served up some grilled steak and mash, which I mentioned in an earlier post.  I love that mixed mash and am adding some cassava root to the parsnips, celery root and sweet potato for this batch.  So, despite the post title, this is not bad food.  That is in the book.


You all know how to grill steaks, nothing new here.  I used only a bit of marinade on them, a few tablespoons of shoyu, garlic, a dash of vinegar and a tablespoon of olive oil.

Will share with Beth Fish Reads for her Weekend Cooking event and with the Foodies Read Challenge.


1/06/2017

Herb Crusted Rack of Lamb for The Girl in the Glass

The Girl in the Glass, which I've just finished, is the first book by Susan Meissner I've yet read.  But not the last.  I certainly enjoyed her blending of past and present, some history of 16th century Florence and the fabulous art of that city with the lives of her central characters.  Meg has been devastated by the divorce of her parents, and when her beloved grandmother, dies, even more so.  She had been promised a trip to Florence, first by her nonna, whose home city it is, and then by her father. She  kept putting off going by herself, expecting him to take her, always trusting that eventually he would, despite his history of being unreliable.

Meg does finally get there, though not according to plan, to find her dream city all she had expected and more.  Meg is an editor for a publishing house and is able to combine work with the thrill of finally visiting Florence.  She meets a woman, she had corresponded with through the publishing company, who is writing a memoir type travel book, and who hears messages from a long dead Medici princess. Romance is involved as well as some mystery and ultimately, Meg's discovery that what we can imagine is real.

 This blend of fantasy with a character others view as slightly unhinged, is a veer off my usual type of read, so I'm thinking it qualifies as my read for the Monthly Motifs Challenge.  The motif for January being "to read a book with a character (or written by an author) of a race, religion, or sexual orientation other than your own."  As well the slightly quirky character is also Catholic, so different from me in that way.

1/03/2017

2017 Library Love Challenge

The goal here is to support our local libraries and I do love libraries, having used them all my life, most especially our State Library system, here in Hawaii.  Hosted by Bea's Book Nook and Angel's Guilty Pleasures, you can  find out more or sign up, by clicking on either of those host links.  Participants will read a minimum of 12 library (audio or print) books in the year.  Pick your own challenge level.  Library Card on Fire: read 50+ books is my challenge selection.   Though, truth be told, not a tough one.  There should be a category, Book Addicted.  I read way more than 50 in any given year.

 However, not keeping any sort of records, my New Year's resolution was to actually write down all the books read. This is one way of doing it, and I'll be adding to the list here.  I do check out a lot, but don't read them all.  If a book doesn't grab me, there's no need to finish, it goes back in the bag for return.  Which is one of the great things about reading library books.  You only need to read what you enjoy, without feeling guilty about wasting money.

Sometimes I post a recipe inspired by the book, or have a little more in depth review, and will add a link, in that event.  So, without further ado, here are my ongoing reads:

January Reading
1.  Angel Landing, by Alice Hoffman.  Not my favorite of her books, but an enjoyable and absorbing read all the same.  Unique, sympathetic characters, though the motivation of Finn, a major protagonist, was unclear.  I kept wanting someone to ask him, "why did you do it?" We were never told, so just assumed it was a radical reaction to his upbringing.

2.  The Girl in the Glass, by Susan Meissner.  A beautiful story, set partially in 16th century Florence with a Medici princess, but mostly in the present with a young woman who has longed all her life to visit Florence, and how one life impacts the other through another woman she meets there.  I loved the converging stories of  three women,  romance found and the realization that we can be what we imagine.  The importance of imagination balanced by reality.  More posted here.

3.  Mrs. Jeffries & the Silent Knight, by Emily Brightwell.  I do enjoy her Victorian mystery series, of which this is #21. Lightweight, English cozies, but usually with a good plots and enjoyable characters.  The Inspector's housekeeper and staff conspire to help solve his cases, without his being aware of their sleuthing.

 4. Turbo Twenty-Three, by Janet Evanovich.  Another of her hysterically funny Stephanie Plum novels.  Plum is an often inept bounty hunter for her cousin Vinnie in Trenton, N.J.  The whole plot, the scrapes she gets into, her sidekicks, family, co-workers, boyfriends, and assorted other characters are so over-the-top, I just laugh my way through the books, and this is no exception.  Love it, though perhaps it needs a rude, crude and sexy warning.  Further review and food here.

5. The Dark Enquiry, by Deanna Raybourn is in her Lady Julia Grey series.  I keep hoping for Lady Julia to be a bit more pro-active and less dependent upon others for rescue.  After all she knows how to shoot, and has now had boxing lessons.  Let's have a little more initiative if you want to be an investigator with your husband.

6.  The Dark Vineyard, by Martin Walker in his Chief of Police Bruno series.  Another terrific mystery with so much added goodness in terms of the food Bruno prepares, and the wines sampled and described.   Complex characters, with a helping of romance.  I especially like that the hero, Bruno, is one I can admire, with his gardening, hunting, cooking, truffle raising and wine appreciation.

7. Not My Blood, by Barbara Cleverly in her mystery series starring Joe Sandilands, a Scotland Yard detective .  These novels are set in the 1930s, sometimes in England, India or France.  In this book Sandilands must get to the bottom of a number of disappearances in an English boys' boarding school.  Eugenics and euthanasia are issues involved here.

8.  The Thirty-Nine Steps, by John Buchan, is a classic mystery of the old English adventurous spy school, taking place just before the outbreak of WWI..  Our hero, unasked and unprepared, finds himself at the heart of international intrigue, trying to stave off a grave threat to Britain and France, whilst fleeing pursuit from London and through the wilds of the Scottish highlands.

The Memory of Blood, by Christopher Fowler, one of my very favorite authors.  Yes I do have favorites.  He is the author of a series of wacky mysteries, featuring The Peculiar Crimes Unit, an off-shoot of MI5, or something like it, in London.  Starring an eccentric lead duo, entertaining cast of characters, and as with this one, a confounding, seemingly impossible case, they need to be read for full appreciation.  Further review with food here.

10.  Stir, My Broken Brain and the Meals That Brought Me Home, by Jessica Fechtor.  This was a truly excellent book.  Good, evocative writing, humor and so many recipes that I'm looking forward to trying.  My complete review is here.

11.  Jane and the Man of the Cloth, by Stephanie Barron, the second in her Jane Austen Mystery series.  It seemed to drag on a bit, bogged down I think by the language and customs of the time, not brought sufficiently to life.  Not really a very satisfying conclusion either.  Why build up a romance with Jane, when the author knows, and we know it won't go anywhere?

12.  Love Story, with Murders, by Harry Bingham was all right as far as murder mysteries go, and I liked that the heroine was able to hold her own and take down criminals using some martial arts skills (would like to see more like her) though a lot of her life was fairly problematic, due to psychological issues, and smoking weed all the time would certainly not help in the real world with overcoming mental problems. Other characters were well done however.

13.  A Fall of Marigolds, by Susan Meissner - I enjoyed this blend of times and the events surrounding two NYC catastrophes, a devastating factory fire in September of 1911 and the World Trade Center attacks in September of 2011, with connections between two women and a beautiful scarf, passed down through them.  Good characterizations and a well-crafted story-line.

February Reading

1.  The Seven Sisters, by Lucinda Riley - a favorite author of mine, her the first of a new series.  This opening novel is the story of six adopted girls, with the main focus here on the eldest, Maia.  All six are named after the stars of the Pleiades, though the seventh is missing, to be revealed eventually we hope.  I enjoyed the settings, in Switzerland and then in Brazil, as Maia discovers her background before adoption, the individual characters and plot.

2.  City of Jasmine, by Deanna Raybourn - another by a favorite author.  I do enjoy her Lady Julia Grey series.  This one is an enjoyable stand alone about a 1920s aviatrix, who after losing her husband on the Lusitania, takes up flying.  A grand travel adventure, set in various colonial outposts, with treasure hunting, romance and a bit of  thrill thrown in.  What more could you ask for?  Well, maybe deep thoughts.

3.  Strangers in Company, by Jane Aiken Hodge - a new author to me, but one who's been around for quite awhile apparently.  It was okay, though I didn't identify much with the heroine.  She seemed to spend most of her time being tired.  Which is tiring to read about.  The plot was a bit implausible as well.

4.  Persuasion, by Jane Austen - which if I had ever read previously, did not remember.  It takes a bit of concentration, getting past the dated language, cultural expectations and expressions, such as "under-hung" :)
But once in the swing of it all, I enjoyed the story, and characters.