12/13/2018

Jump Down The Alley Way for Lemon Crunch Cake and Oxtail Soup

There is a little restaurant, in a bowling alley in Aiea, on Oahu, called The Alley.  This place is what you might call a hole in the wall, or a hidden gem.  Most local people do know about the place, but it took Marg the Intrepid, in Australia to clue me in.  She wanted to come to Hawaii to see the Arizona Memorial and partly for the Alley's Lemon Crunch Cake.  Now we don't hop over to Oahu all that often, and when we do go, it is not to Aiea.  However, Bob had his Kaiser eye surgery not too far away.  And we were taking advantage of Uber, so no worries about finding it. Our driver was an older Filipino gentleman who asked us how we knew about The Alley:)


I wanted their famous Oxtail Soup, but just mentioned the cake to Bob.  That was enough (especially after his fasting pre-op).  We took our cake back to the hotel for later, and it was quite good, though Marg's version actually sounded better (isn't home made always?). However, the Oxtail soup was TO DIE FOR.  Thus today's post, wherein I attempt to duplicate their soup.  Luckily, Chef Glen was interviewed on a local program, and shared his secrets (handed down from his mother).  Nothing written out, but he demonstrated pretty clearly, and there were a few versions online that purported to be authentic.  I am transcribing as best I can what he, and I did here. I felt good about the beef, which was from a local rancher, hard hit by the recent volcanic eruption.


OXTAIL SOUP – THE ALLEY RESTAURANT

INGREDIENTS
  • 2 lbs oxtails
  • 1 strip dried lemon peel (zest, not the pith)
  • 2 star anise
  • 2 tablespoons chopped dates
  • ¼ lb. dry shitake mushrooms (fresh are ok)
  • 1-inch piece of fresh ginger, thinly sliced (?) he didn’t add it in the video
  • Salt, at least a tablespoon, more to taste
  • 1/2 cup of shelled, skinned, raw peanuts (can sub roasted unsalted peanuts)
  • 1/8 teaspoon chili pepper flakes (or more to taste)
  • A handful of fresh mustard greens, baby bok choy or watercress, coarsely chopped (about 2 cups, loosely packed) I used both bok choy and watercress.
 Garnishes
  • Fresh cilantro, chopped
  • Green onions, white and green parts, sliced on diagonal
  • Freshly grated ginger

METHOD
1  In a large pot, add the oxtails and cover with cold water. Bring to slow boil. Parboil for 30 minutes. Drain the pot. Rinse the oxtails in water, and trim off any excess fat.

2  Return the oxtails to the pot. Cover with water by an inch. Add the shitake mushrooms, lemon peel, star anise, ginger, and salt. Bring to a boil, reduce to a simmer. Cover and let simmer for one hour.

3  Add the peanuts and simmer for 2-3 more hours, until the oxtail meat is tender and falling off the bone.

4  At this point, you can either skim the fat off the soup and proceed to the next step, or let the soup cool, and chill it overnight in the refrigerator. The next day the fat will have solidified and will be easy to pull up from the top of the soup. The flavors will also have had more of a chance to blend and be absorbed by the oxtails if you let the soup sit overnight.




5  Bring soup to a simmer. Add the chili pepper flakes and greens of choice. Cook for 5 more minutes, or until the greens are tender.

6  Serve with garnishes of chopped fresh cilantro, green onions, and freshly grated ginger.

If you want, you can strip the meat off the bones before serving. If served bone-in, you will want to provide a bowl for the bones. Serve with ponzu sauce and rice.  I however, served it with some of my fresh baked, sourdough bread.

Ponzu Sauce  (Supposed to be his mother's secret recipe from years and years and years ago.)
Ingredients
  • 1/2 cup soy sauce
  • 1/4 cup fresh orange juice
  • 2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
  • 1 tablespoon water
  • 1 tablespoon mirin (sweet rice wine)
  • 1 teas. Sesame oil
  • 1 teas. Sugar
  • 1 teas. grated ginger
  • 1 clove crushed garlic
  • 1/8 teaspoon crushed red pepper
Mix ingredients together and chill. An excellent adjunct.

 However the soup didn't have that robust flavor I was expecting, as at The Alley, so I added some "Better than Bouillon" au jus concentrate and a bit of bone broth to amp it up (2 tablespoons each). That did it nicely.


I'll send this over to Beth Fish Reads for her Weekend Cooking event, and to Deb at Kahakai Kitchen for her Souper Sundays link-up. Check out both for lots of good food and cooking ideas.

11/27/2018

Collard Greens and Ribs for The Cooking Gene

Our latest Cook the Books Club selection, The Cooking Gene, by Michael W. Twitty, was quite a ride, "A journey through African Culinary History in the Old South," as the sub-title states. Though it is much more than that, being also personal history, a memoir of the author and his family, from the time of their arrival as slaves to the present day.  From the Publishers:

"A renowned culinary historian offers a fresh perspective on our most divisive cultural issue, race, in this illuminating memoir of Southern cuisine and food culture that traces his ancestry—both black and white—through food, from Africa to America and slavery to freedom....
From the tobacco and rice farms of colonial times to plantation kitchens and backbreaking cotton fields, Twitty tells his family story through the foods that enabled his ancestors’ survival across three centuries. He sifts through stories, recipes, genetic tests, and historical documents, and travels from Civil War battlefields in Virginia to synagogues in Alabama to Black-owned organic farms in Georgia."

11/22/2018

Thanksgiving Drink to Cure the Shudders

This debut novel by Ellen Byron, Plantation Shudders, refers to the sense of deja vu or impending doom, either one or the other, which may attack a person of sensitive spirits.  Apparently this is common in the South (and in Celtic countries). I can't speak from experience.  Several characters were getting those shudders at the beginning of the book, so we had a definite feeling that something gruesome would be occurring shortly.  Well, it's a "Cajun Country Mystery", so what you would expect. Murder and mayhem. More from the Publishers:

"Check in for some Southern hospitality in Plantation Shudders, the Cajun Country series debut from Ellen Byron.
It's the end of the summer and Prodigal Daughter Maggie Crozat has returned home to her family's plantation-turned-bed-and-breakfast in Louisiana. The Crozats have an inn full of guests for the local food festival--elderly honeymooners, the Cajun Cuties, a mysterious stranger from Texas, a couple of hipster lovebirds, and a trio of Georgia frat boys. But when the elderly couple keels over dead within minutes of each other--one from very unnatural causes-- Maggie and the others suddenly become suspects in a murder.

11/08/2018

Pear, Pistachio and Rose Cake At My Table

Some one of you out there mentioned this cookbook, At My Table, by Nigella Lawson.  Who can be blamed??  I checked it out of the library, then was forced to buy my own copy.  Me, who had earlier determined that there was a surfeit of cookbooks around here. It was just kismet I suppose.  The too lovely photographs and too delicious sounding meals.  Wonderful concoctions I needed to try for myself.  One of which was this Pear, Pistachio and Rose cake.  And another, her Indian-Spiced Chicken and Potato Traybake.  Both turned out so scrumptious.

Now I have all the rest of Nigella's book to have fun experimenting with.  Because, of course, as must be admitted, and along with many of you, I actually get inspiration more than anything else from a good cookbook; it's a take-off point.

10/19/2018

The Algerian Couscous Connection

Don't you love finding terrific new authors?  Often I'll read the review for a brand new book, not even out yet, (which can be frustrating), but will go find what other books that author has written, read those reviews and perhaps check  one out.  Here's an enjoyable read by Juliet Blackwell, The Paris Key. first of a new series.   I noticed she had other books in series that didn't appeal (witches, ghosts and paranormal fiction), but this one definitely did, and I've already reserved her follow up to it.

A young American woman, Genevieve, with family ties to France, and even to Algeria, returns to Paris after the breakup of her marriage.  The city was where she spent some happy time as a troubled adolescent, with her loving aunt and uncle.  When he dies, she returns to find solace there once more, wearing around her neck an unusual key she inherited from her mother.  I loved all the connections, between family lost and found, secrets kept and finally revealed, past and present.  From the publishers:

"As a girl, Genevieve Martin spent the happiest summer of her life in Paris, learning the delicate art of locksmithing at her uncle’s side. But since then, living back in the States, she has become more private, more subdued. She has been an observer of life rather than an active participant, holding herself back from those around her, including her soon-to-be-ex-husband.

10/10/2018

Panellets de Pinyons for Dia de los Muertos


For this month's round of our Eat the World Recipe Challenge we are visiting Spain.  At least I am.  Actually, the theme is meant to be Halloween in a country of our choice.  And I picked Spain, partly due to a nephew recently moved there and another, his brother, visiting at the moment.  Instead of the American traditional  Halloween, Spain celebrates with a three day holiday honoring deceased relatives.  It is a time when family members come home to pay their respects to the dead, decorate tombstones with flowers, prepare meals together and attend church.  The festivities kick off on October 31st with Dia de las Brujas (Day of the Witches), continues with Dia de Todas los Santos (All Saints Day) on November 1st, and finishes off with Dia de los Muertos (Day of the Dead) on Nov. 2nd.  To discover what all is happening for the holiday in Spain, go to Halloween in Spain for a ton of celebrations and attractions.

9/27/2018

My Own Spicy Soup for Sourdough

Our latest Cook the Books Club read has been Sourdough by Robin Sloan.  And what a fun, often wacky, and very entertaining one it has been!  I loved this book, even reading it the second time, picked up stuff missed on the earlier go round.

Basically, Lois, a young computer nerd, software programmer, recently graduated, is working at a moderately interesting job, until being recruited at a much higher salary.  Lois moves from her home in the Midwest, to a new job in San Francisco.  She becomes absorbed into the Silicone Valley culture at a large robotics corporation, is soon feeling dysfunctional, over worked and unhealthy, with a permanently clenched stomach.

Then Lois encounters a pair of strange foreign, "fast food" marketers, near her apartment, who feature 2 items on their delivery menu.  The Spicy Soup and a Spicy Sandwich, or the Combo (the Double Spicy). Near magical items, as it turns out, which restore her body and mind.

9/10/2018

Argentinean Tamales for Eat the World

This month at Eat the World we are featuring Argentina. Just the name makes me want to sing along with "Don't Cry for Me Argentina".  Madonna did a fantastic job as Eva Peron in Evita.  I loved that movie.  Though I meant to review a book connected with the country to go along with my post, it didn't happen, so the film trailer link will have to do.

 I found the perfect recipe for Argentina, with some history, posted a few years back by Rebecca at From Argentina with LoveHumitas en Chala.

9/04/2018

Spicy Chicken from The Dollhouse

I just finished The Dollhouse by Fiona Davis, a fine tale, blending the old with the new.  A present day reporter begins researching the lives of women who had lived at a New York City women's hotel, the Barbizon, after hearing the poignant story of an older woman, still living there, while she is herself in residence. I loved this book - a terrific story with mystery, romance, history and some food as well.

From the Publishers:
"Fiona Davis's stunning debut novel pulls readers into the lush world of New York City's glamorous Barbizon Hotel for Women, where in the 1950s a generation of aspiring models, secretaries, and editors lived side by side while attempting to claw their way to fairy-tale success, and where a present-day journalist becomes consumed with uncovering a dark secret buried deep within the Barbizon's glitzy past.
 
When she arrives at the famed Barbizon Hotel in 1952, secretarial school enrollment in hand, Darby McLaughlin is everything her modeling agency hall mates aren't: plain, self-conscious, homesick, and utterly convinced she doesn't belong—a notion the models do nothing to disabuse. Yet when Darby befriends Esme, a Barbizon maid, she's introduced to an entirely new side of New York City: seedy downtown jazz clubs where the music is as addictive as the heroin that's used there, the startling sounds of bebop, and even the possibility of romance.
 
Over half a century later, the Barbizon's gone condo and most of its long-ago guests are forgotten. But rumors of Darby's involvement in a deadly skirmish with a hotel maid back in 1952 haunt the halls of the building as surely as the melancholy music that floats from the elderly woman's rent-controlled apartment. It's a combination too intoxicating for journalist Rose Lewin, Darby's upstairs neighbor, to resist—not to mention the perfect distraction from her own imploding personal life. Yet as Rose's obsession deepens, the ethics of her investigation become increasingly murky, and neither woman will remain unchanged when the shocking truth is finally revealed."

8/17/2018

Big Lou's Butteries or Bacon Rolls


If any of you are familiar with the novels of Alexander McCall Smith, particularly the 44 Scotland Street series, you will have heard of Big Lou.  She is a delightful character, proprietor of a little Edinburgh coffee shop.  All of his characters are well drawn and unique, some uniquely annoying, some just charming and others fascinating.  Big Lou is an autodidact with a heart as big as herself.  

This particular book, A Time of Love and Tartan, is 12th in his series. As per McCall Smith's style, it is a humorous, even comic, delightfully  thought provoking, ramble between the lives of his various recurring characters, couples and families, living at 44 Scotland Street, in their various flats.  Some others are featured as well who have moved on, but remain a part of things.  Of course, I would recommend you begin the series with the first novel, 44 Scotland Street.  Such enjoyable reading, all of them.  From the Publishers:
 "When Pat accepts her narcissistic ex-boyfriend Bruce's invitation for coffee, she has no idea of the complications in her romantic and professional life that will follow. Meanwhile, Matthew, her boss at the art gallery, attracts the attention of the police after a misunderstanding at the local bookstore.
Whether caused by small things such as a cup of coffee and a book, or major events such as Stuart's application for promotion and his wife Irene's decision to pursue a PhD in Aberdeen, change is coming to Scotland Street. But for three seven-year-old boys--Bertie Pollock, Ranald, and Big Lou's foster son, Finlay--it also means getting a glimpse of perfect happiness..
Alexander McCall Smith's delightfully witty, wise and sometimes surreal comedy spirals out in surprising ways in this new installment, but its heart remains where it has always been, at the center of life in Edinburgh's New Town."

So, back to Big Lou, who was preparing bacon rolls when I had to stop reading, and make a note to do some foodie research.  Before moving to Edinburgh, Lou's first job was a long term stint in an Aberdeen Nursing Home.  Here we had a background clue to the type of roll she might have been making.  It seems Aberdeen is known for a particular breakfast treat - rolls known as butteries, due to the high fat content. These needed to be made and tried.  As it turns out they're quite tasty, a sort of cross between roll and Croissant, good with jam as well as bacon.  An egg might also be sandwiched in there.




Aberdeen Butteries
250g butter
125g lard (or all butter, which is what I did)
1 tablespoon soft brown sugar
500g flour
2 teaspoons of dried yeast
450ml warm water
Pinch of salt

This Aberdeen buttery recipe should make about 16. (I cut mine in half, so as not to eat too many.)

1. Make a paste from the yeast, sugar and a wee bit of the warm water and set aside. (Note - I don't know about the "wee" bit, I used about 1/4 cup, then added the rest of the water with the flour, as I didn't think a "paste" would bubble properly, but what do I know?)

2. Mix the flour and the salt together. Once the yeast has bubbled up add this and mix well to a dough and leave to rise.

3. Cream the butter and lard and divide into three portions.

4. Once the dough has doubled in size give it a good knead then roll into a rectangle about 1/2 " thick.

5. Then spread one portion of the butter mixture over two thirds of the dough.


 6. Fold the remaining third of the dough over onto the butter mixture and fold the other bit over - giving three layers. Roll this back to the original size.

7. Allow to cool for 40 minutes. I chilled in the fridge. (it's warm here)

8. Repeat stages 5-7  twice more.

9. Cut the dough into 16 pieces and shape each to a rough circle (another note - I wanted more of a roll shape and made balls) and place on lightly floured baking sheet, leaving 2 inches between each piece to allow for expansion of dough.
10. Cover and let dough rise again until doubled or about 45 minutes.

Bake in a preheated 375°F (160°C) oven for about 15-20 minutes or until golden brown.


Butteries are named after their high butter content. They are also known as morning rolls and rowies and are a traditional Aberdeen roll. The best way to describe their look and taste is a saltier, flatter and greasier Croissant. Which doesnae sound nice, but rowies are really delicious and filling for breakfast. Aberdeen butteries can be eaten cold and many shops, garages etc sell them pre-buttered for anyone snatching an on the go breakfast. 
Legend has it that the buttery was made for the fishermen sailing from Aberdeen's harbour. The theory is that they needed a bread that would not become stale during the two weeks or more that they were at sea. The high fat content meant the bread also provided an immediate energy source.[1]
(1) "Aberdeen butteries". Information Britain.


As if you'd need any extra butter? What a lovely breakfast treat, and at our house anyway, there's enough for several days. This post will go over to the August Foodies Read Challenge, and to Beth Fish Reads for her Weekend Cooking event, hosted this week by Deb at Kahakai Kitchen.  Be sure to visit both for lots of good food and books.

8/10/2018

Bifteck Hache a La Lyonnaise! for Eat the World - France

So, I have joined a new Challenge group, called Eat the World!  This month the group is virtually visiting France, and every month, under the direction of Evelyne of CulturEatz, we visit a new country. Since I love exploring other countries and especially food, this should be a fine adventure.

On the subject of books (don't worry, things will connect eventually) I've been working my way through the wonderful novels of Nevil Shute, and finally decided it was about time I reviewed one.  This most recent read, The Far Country, is as well written as his other books, but with the added very interesting context of England and France as compared to Australia, in the years following WWII.

Up to now, I had no idea of the horribly impoverished state England and Europe were reduced to post WWII.  Probably a result of reading too many "cozy" mystery novels set in England. The end of the war did not mark the beginning of better times at all.  In fact, things got worse for quite awhile.  Probably due as much to the "new era of Socialism" as to the loss of all those young men. This novel takes place in the Korean War years of the '50s, and taxes are rising continually, rationing is even more strict, and meat almost totally unavailable. People are starving to death (usually the elderly who don't ask in the right places for help or are ashamed to) in both England and France -  Italy as well from what I've read in other books.

8/02/2018

The Language of Bees and a Drink to That!


There are a number of authors I go back to again and again, but have never posted about.  We need to remedy that situation. Immediately.  A favorite of mine has been Laurie R. King, with her Mary Russell series, a woman in partnership with Sherlock Holmes (yes:)), solving mysteries and raising bees.  This one I've just finished, The Language of Bees, is ninth in King's series.  I do recommend beginning at the beginning with the first, The Beekeeper's Apprentice, or On the Segregation of the Queen. Also a totally excellent read.

From the Publishers, on The Language of Bees:: 
"For Mary Russell and her husband, Sherlock Holmes, returning to the Sussex coast after seven months abroad was especially sweet. There was even a mystery to solve—the unexplained disappearance of an entire colony of bees from one of Holmes’s beloved hives.But the anticipated sweetness of their homecoming is quickly tempered by a galling memory from the past. Mary had met Damian Adler only once before, when the surrealist painter had been charged with—and exonerated from—murder. Now the troubled young man is enlisting the Holmeses’ help again, this time in a desperate search for his missing wife and child.
Mary has often observed that there are many kinds of madness, and before this case yields its shattering solution she’ll come into dangerous contact with a fair number of them. From suicides at Stonehenge to the dark secrets of a young woman’s past on the streets of Shanghai, Mary will find herself on the trail of a killer more dangerous than any she’s ever faced—a killer Sherlock Holmes himself may be protecting for reasons near and dear to his heart."

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.

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.

4/07/2018

Tuna Veggie Pancit


My current house guest and friend doesn't consider herself in any way a cook. She is single, travels a lot on missions all over the world, and has no real permanent kitchen.  I pressed her into making a traditional dish from her home - the Philippines - just because I knew she could do it and I wanted something from there.  And guess what? - It was totally excellent, so flavorful and authentic!  Here is Olga at work:

3/30/2018

Lamingtons for The Pearl Sister

 The Pearl Sister by Lucinda Riley, and fourth in her Seven Sisters series, is one of the best she's written yet.  But, of course, I thought that after each one.  I've absolutely loved them all.  She has a way of telling a truly mesmerizing story, that draws you into a place you don't really want to leave.  What a fantastic writer!

This being one of a series, I would suggest you start with her first novel in the progression, if you haven't already,  The Seven Sisters, which is a totally engrossing and excellent read.

The Pearl Sister story follows CeCe, the artist of her family, struggling with dyslexia, and with fitting into the London art world.  Unsuccessfully trying to find her personal metier, she finally drops out, feeling a like a failure.

3/20/2018

The Discovery of Chocolate, Taste of Mexico Stew

Our current Cook the Books Club selection, hosted by Simona of Briciole, is The Discovery of Chocolate, by James Runcie.

In this fantastical tale, chocolate is indeed discovered, by Europeans anyway. Based on historical events, this is the very inventive, and frequently implausibly fleshed-out, tale of one, Diego de Godoy, a young Spaniard who joins up with a ship bound from Spain for the exploration and plunder of the New World with Hernan Cortes. Diego embarks on the journey, to impress and hopefully, win the right to marry his young and rather superficial Spanish sweetheart, despite his low class. She will wait for him to return with a treasure from the New World, something fabulous and worthy of her beauty and love.

Though Diego’s treasure turns out to be chocolate, he also finds true love when he meets Ignacia, a native woman in Mexico. This meeting leads him on an incredible, five hundred year journey, due to an "elixir of life" she mixes into his cocoa drink.



3/16/2018

Lavender Scones In The Apple Orchard

I've just finished another terrific Susan Wiggs novel, The Apple Orchard.  It is like many of her books, setting permeated throughout.  And, happily for me, recipes sprinkled here and there as well.

Tess Delaney, in this book is  is a driven, ambitious, and stressed out provenance authenticator for a major auction house.  She loves her job, travels frequently and has no personal or home life to speak of.  Tess gets some dramatic news while dashing to a meeting, and basically flips out with a full-blown nervous breakdown.  From the Publisher:

"Tess Delaney loves illuminating history; returning stolen treasures to their rightful owners and filling the spaces in people's hearts with stories of their family legacies. But Tess's own history is filled with gaps: a father she never met, and a mother who spent more time traveling than with her daughter.  
Then the enigmatic Dominic Rossi arrives on her San Francisco doorstep with the news that the grandfather she's never met is in a coma and that she's destined to inherit half of a hundred-acre apple orchard estate called Bella Vista. The rest is willed to Isabel Johansen, the half sister she never knew she had. Isabel is everything Tess isn't, but against the rich landscape of Bella Vista, with Isabel and Dominic by her side, Tess begins to discover a world where family comes first and the roots of history run deep."
A lovely book with nuance and meaning, plus family reconciliation and love.  Highly recommended.

3/01/2018

Roast Stuffed Pumpkin and The Art of Mending

I just finished The Art of Mending, by Elizabeth Berg.  A novel and fine allegory on mending things rather than throwing them out.  Family members and friends particularly.  The woman makes quilts, and uses both new and old materials for her commissions.  She discovers the idea might also be transferred to seemingly hopeless people.  Berg delivers a well done bit of personal character growth, along with her story of a family coming together for an annual event, where tragedy faces them.  From the Publishers:

"It begins with the sudden revelation of astonishing secrets—secrets that have shaped the personalities and fates of three siblings, and now threaten to tear them apart. In renowned author Elizabeth Berg’s moving new novel, unearthed truths force one seemingly ordinary family to reexamine their disparate lives and to ask themselves: Is it too late to mend the hurts of the past?
Laura Bartone anticipates her annual family reunion in Minnesota with a mixture of excitement and wariness. Yet this year’s gathering will prove to be much more trying than either she or her siblings imagined. As soon as she arrives, Laura realizes that something is not right with her sister. Forever wrapped up in events of long ago, Caroline is the family’s restless black sheep. When Caroline confronts Laura and their brother, Steve, with devastating allegations about their mother, the three have a difficult time reconciling their varying experiences in the same house. But a sudden misfortune will lead them all to face the past, their own culpability, and their common need for love and forgiveness."

What all this has to do with pumpkins is your guess.  Well, the big family get together was at the State Fair, where of course, pumpkins are displayed, usually monstrous prize-winners .  And then I ran into this beautiful, though wee specimen.  Couldn't resist taking him home.  And finding a good recipe to stuff the little prize with.

2/15/2018

Family Tree and A Sweetheart Dinner

An engrossing, romantic novel, packed full of good food ideas.  What more could you ask for a Valentine's Day read? Family Tree, by Susan Wiggs is all of that and more.  It's about Annie, an independent minded cook, with vision and ambition.  However the career push takes her away from her home, her roots and from the love of her life.  I loved this book.

From the Publishers:

"Sometimes the greatest dream starts with the smallest element. A single cell, joining with another. And then dividing. And just like that, the world changes. Annie Harlow knows how lucky she is. The producer of a popular television cooking show, she loves her handsome husband and the beautiful Los Angeles home they share. And now, she’s pregnant with their first child. But in an instant, her life is shattered. And when Annie awakes from a yearlong coma, she discovers that time isn’t the only thing she’s lost.Grieving and wounded, Annie retreats to her old family home in Switchback, Vermont, a maple farm generations old. There, surrounded by her free-spirited brother, their divorced mother, and four young nieces and nephews, Annie slowly emerges into a world she left behind years ago: the town where she grew up, the people she knew before, the high-school boyfriend turned judge....Family Tree is the story of one woman’s triumph over betrayal, and how she eventually comes to terms with her past."

2/08/2018

Chocolate Liqueur via Sous-Vide or Not


Happy Valentine's Day!  At the back of Lisa Q. Fetterman's Sous-Vide at Home book, I noticed she was making her own bitters and liqueurs and it occurred to me that my cacao nibs would make a lovely home-crafted Creme de Cacao. Some research pulled up a number of articles on the subject: Supercall has a good recipe, for which you don't need a sous-vide appliance.  Then there's Making cacao nib infused liquor, and a great lesson on video for using sous vide to infuse cocktails.

1/29/2018

Polenta with Garlicky Greens and Poached Egg for SPQR


 This has been a TRULY Roman season for me.  First there was Feast of Sorrows, for our Cook the Books Club, then I read Pompeii by Robert Harris, a very interesting and enjoyable book, which I didn't review however, and now The Year of Confusion by John Maddox Roberts. All accompanied by my various ancient Roman cooking experiments, with some help from the excellent little handbook on that subject, Cooking Apicius, Roman recipes for Today by Sally Grainger.

 This novel (which stands alone fine) is in Roberts' series of mysteries, entitled SPQR*, in which the investigator, is a Senator in the years 45-46 BC.  The reason for it being the year of confusion, is partly due to Julius Caesar's decision to change the old calendar out for a new one.  Yes, the Julian calendar.  General unrest as a result, political scheming and various murders, connected with Cleopatra who is present in Rome with her own complications and agenda.  A well developed tale, entertaining characters, and fascinating history, with a helpful glossary of relevant terms at the back. Can't wait to read more in this series.

1/24/2018

Cooking for Picasso, A Daube de Boeuf Provencal


I must say, Cooking for Picasso, by Camille Aubray, was a particularly enjoyable novel.  As Margaret Atwood says, "A tasty blend of romance, mystery and French cooking.  There's Picasso exposed, the French Rivera, food, passion and love, difficulties overcome by terrific characters.  What more could you ask? 

 From the Publishers:
"This captivating novel is inspired by a little-known interlude in the artist’s life.
The French Riviera, spring 1936: It’s off-season in the lovely seaside village of Juan-les-Pins, where seventeen-year-old Ondine cooks with her mother in the kitchen of their family-owned Café Paradis. A mysterious new patron who’s slipped out of Paris and is traveling under a different name has made an unusual request—to have his lunch served to him at the nearby villa he’s secretly rented, where he wishes to remain incognito.
Pablo Picasso is at a momentous crossroads in his personal and professional life—and for him, art and women are always entwined. The spirited Ondine, chafing under her family’s authority and nursing a broken heart, is just beginning to discover her own talents and appetites. Her encounter with Picasso will continue to affect her life for many decades onward, as the great artist and the talented young chef each pursue their own passions and destiny.