Cinnamon and Gunpowder with African Yam

Cinnamon and Gunpowder, by Eli Brown, was a jolly good read for sure, and our Cook the Books Club selection for October/ November.  I am hosting this event, which is coming to a close on the 30th of November. What we do in this online group is read the current book selection, and then cook something inspired by our reading, post about it, then send your link to the host, or add in the comment line at the Cook the Books site.

I thoroughly enjoyed this very unique story, perhaps some might say an implausible one. But keep in mind the time, people and politics of the day, the places involved. There were pirates then. Life was very difficult for the poor, especially for women on their own. And, we do know from historical records that there were women pirates. Overall, what an amazing adventure!

From the Publishers:
"A gripping adventure, a seaborne romance, and a twist on the tale of Scheherazade—with the best food ever served aboard a pirate’s ship

The year is 1819, and the renowned chef Owen Wedgwood has been kidnapped by the ruthless pirate Mad Hannah Mabbot. He will be spared, she tells him, as long as he puts exquisite food in front of her every Sunday without fail.
To appease the red-haired captain, Wedgwood gets cracking with the meager supplies on board. His first triumph at sea is actual bread, made from a sourdough starter that he leavens in a tin under his shirt throughout a roaring battle, as men are cutlassed all around him. Soon he’s making tea-smoked eel and brewing pineapple-banana cider.

Cinnamon and Gunpowder is a swashbuckling epicure’s adventure simmered over a surprisingly touching love story—"

There was plenty of food inspiration here.  Everything from potato flour crusted cod on a bed of saffron rice, walnut crisp cakes with figs and shrimp in a dark, fragrant red wine reduction, to a Spanish bean stew.  At one point they capture a ship on which are barrels of pepper, and as it is off the coast of West Africa, the Ivory Coast, I am speculating there may also have been among the cargo, aside from the peppercorns and ivory, various vegetables from the area.  Perhaps some Ghana yams, aka White Gunea Yam or Puna yam, considered the most important food staple in West Africa.  Items not for eventual trade, but for their own use at sea.  Remember that "potato" crusted cod?

See above, my yam from Ghana.  A dual purpose vegetable here.  Half I cut up and cooked.  The other was put aside for planting.  And, what a surprise!  Not like any yam or sweet potato relative I know.  It is very close to potato.  Some of the cooking half (note - it was a 5 lb.  tuber) I boiled, then served with a stew.  Some was sliced and fried, the rest I boiled and mashed to have with turkey gravy.  Love this yam.

The reserved half, as per online directions, I cut into what they call "setts" a size of between 60 - 100 grams.  Dusted with wood ash and left to air dry for a day, then laid on the ground under my lychee tree, sprinkled with potting soil, then lightly covered with leaves.  Now we wait for the sprouts to come up.  Lord willing!

Here with an elk stew.

The pictures don't do it justice.  But for a tropical potato substitute I am excited.  Our fictional chef would not have been into growing it, but happily using this yam in creative ways aboard the ship.  


Time to Eat with Nadiya Hussain

After reading a review of Time to Eat by Nadiya Hussain, which sounded quite intriguing, I promptly checked it out of the library, with the test before buying idea in mind.

I noticed right off that she generally prepares large amounts of a meal with the idea of freezing a portion.  She uses her freezer A LOT! I don't know about you, but no matter the larger freezer I now have, it is always full, with barely enough room to squeeze in more stuff.  I'm trying to avoid getting a separate freezer unit as it is hard enough getting the one we have in order and under control.  

According to her Publishers:

"Nadiya Hussain knows that feeding a family and juggling a full work load can be challenging. Time to Eat solves mealtime on weeknights and busy days with quick and easy recipes that the whole family will love. Nadiya shares all her tips and tricks for making meal prep as simple as possible, including ideas for repurposing leftovers and components of dishes into new recipes, creating second meals to keep in the freezer, and using shortcuts--like frozen foods--to cut your prep time significantly."

I'm also a great one for "repurposing leftovers" things that I shove in the fridge rather than freeze.  At the same time, she uses more prepared foods than I do, which actually I try to avoid, such as canned corned beef, fish pie mix, store bought crepe pancakes (I would use any extra I had from making crepes), precooked rice, etc., and difficult to locate items. Maybe I'll be able to find some canned, pressed cod roe one day, don't know.  I've checked several stores to no avail.  Guess it's Amazon for the truly serious.   All in all, fine for those with big time constraints.  If you discount the search for unusual ingredients.

To try the recipes out, the first thing I made was from the front section, her Avocado Pesto, thinking to use some of our current abundance.  The recipe also called for "a handful of frozen spinach" (?) :) for which I substituted a handful of my garden Brazilian spinach.  It was a nice smooth type of guacamole, good with little crackers or chips and to top cheese on toast.  

Next, I wanted to give Nadiya's Watercress Quinoa Kedgeree a go, which would be an excellent use of some red quinoa lurking in the bottom of my Rice Etc. container.  Normally a kedgeree would feature leftover rice, and I did add in some when the liquids didn't evaporate, as per the time given in her recipe, and whilst we were waiting on dinner.  Also I didn't have any cans of smoked trout on hand.  Though did try to find it at my usual natural foods market, as well as at the supermarket, but no go.  Subbed out with a can of sardines.  In addition, the recipe called for Bengali spice mix, for which I prepared her recipe at the back.  Wonderful, as it incorporated quite a few miscellaneous seeds that don't get used as often as they should.  Now I have extra of an amazing spice.  However, the time indicated for the total meal prep was quite a bit off.

 So, it's all good, though you couldn't call this an easily put together meal.  She adds quartered, hard boiled eggs on the side, and I think a poached egg on top would also be lovely. We had some chopped tomato in avocado halves as a side. 

Ms. Hussain also included an interesting slow cooker lasagne preparation, for which I had some reservations, due to the indicated relatively short time on low setting.  Checking other recipes, they all called for longer cook times.  However. being game to try things, and by then running short of time, we went ahead with good results.  I did add a dash of white wine, and used one can Crimini mushrooms along with a cup or so of fresh button mushrooms.  Also, cut the whole thing in half, as I was not making the extra freezer prep. (which actually made following her directions somewhat confusing).  Sometimes it's hard for me to keep from fiddling with things.

From Time to Eat, by Nadiya Hussain

With a side salad, this lasagne made for a perfect meal, and fairly easy to put together.  I'll be linking this post up to Weekend Cooking, hosted by the Intrepid Reader, Marge, and with Heather at the November edition of her Foodies Read Challenge.  Be sure to check out both sites for good book and cooking ideas.


Persimmons for Desert and Transient Desires


Don't you hate it when you've just read the last of a wonderfully written series.  Donna Leon's Transient Desires is such a one.  Now I've got to wait for her next novel, along with all the other fans.  

A depressing subject perhaps, yet written with compassion and objectivity, as Commissario Brunetti seeks to find the truth and see that justice is served. Why so many of us love mysteries.  We have that same hope. The aging policeman is going through a period of melancholy, brought on in part by the overwhelming number of tourists and huge ships wrecking havoc in his precious city, frustrated with many of his retired friends who are only interested in their grandchildren.  Then there is always the corruption in high places. But, he has the consolation of a wise and loving wife, challenging children and supportive colleagues, all set in the beauty that is Venice.. 

From the Publishers:

"In the landmark thirtieth installment of the bestselling series the New Yorker has called “an unusually potent cocktail of atmosphere and event,” Guido Brunetti is forced to confront an unimaginable crime.


Southern Cooking Inspired by Midnight at the Blackbird Cafe

It's time at Cook the Books Club to report on our current read.  Which, right at this moment would be  Midnight at the Blackbird Cafe, by Heather Webber.  We are reading and posting cooking inspiration gleaned from the book. This round being hosted by fellow Hawaiian blogger, Deb of Kahakai Kitchen.  

I enjoyed this book, the sometimes wacky characters who visit the cafe, the strange occurrences with neighborhood blackbirds, and the development of the protagonists and antagonists as they finally are able to forgive long held bitterness and preconceptions about one another.  A little romance adds a nice dollop to the overall picture.

From the Publishers: 

"THE USA TODAY BESTSELLER Heather Webber's Midnight at the Blackbird Café is a captivating blend of magical realism, heartwarming romance, and small-town Southern charm.
Nestled in the mountain shadows of Alabama lies the little town of Wicklow. It is here that Anna Kate has returned to bury her beloved Granny Zee, owner of the Blackbird Café.

It was supposed to be a quick trip to close the café and settle her grandmother’s estate, but despite her best intentions to avoid forming ties or even getting to know her father’s side of the family, Anna Kate finds herself inexplicably drawn to the quirky Southern town her mother ran away from so many years ago, and the mysterious blackbird pie everybody can’t stop talking about.

As the truth about her past slowly becomes clear, Anna Kate will need to decide if this lone blackbird will finally be able to take her broken wings and fly."


Capellini al Pomodoro Fresco for The Venice Sketchbook

I've been reading some great books this summer, a few no finishes, and others merely okay.  This novel merits one of my lately infrequent posts with recipe, as recently there doesn't seem to be enough time or energy in my life for more blogging. You do what you can.  A great book here, and can you really go wrong with Rhys Bowen?  Don't believe I have.  Her novels are usually winners and The Venice Sketchbook is no exception.

A tale of star crossed lovers, mystery with romance, of course delectable Italian food, art and history.  Juliet Browning visits Venice as a young lady on tour with her elderly aunt along as guide and chaperone. Despite whose oversight, she meets up with a charming young Venetian on that first trip. Then on later trips, she serendipitously encounters him again. In La Serenissima, a love that's meant to be.  There are severe obstacles however, or we wouldn't have a story.  Alternating with her pre war and wartime experiences we have her great niece Caroline's  POV, many years later, when she receives a strange legacy from her Aunt Lettie.   A lovely story within a story. 


Latkes from 97 Orchard St.

We have been reading, or in my case browsing and sampling, 97 Orchard, by Jane Ziegelman our current, soon to be past, Cook the Books Club selection.  Jumping here and there in the book.  No excuse other than I found it hard to focus, with such a wealth of  factoids and history to absorb.  The book is sub-titled An Edible History of Five Immigrant Families in One New York Tenement, and is being hosted this round by Simona of Bricole.

 Lots of amazing information, things I never knew about our immigrant forebears, their lives and times.  For an example, were you aware that at one time, circa 1842, about 10,000 pigs were roaming the streets of New York?  Finding what forage they could, garbage, etc. Just imagine....?  Or that folks were raising geese in their basements?  The noise! Not to mention the smell.  But those folks were industrious, inventive and struggling to survive, frequently in the face of cruel discrimination.. This book is about so much more than the food, covering as it does the lives of the immigrants as a whole. An excellent book for history teachers to assign.  Take note teachers!  We have too much revisionist history circulating at present.  Not my usual reading path, but I really enjoyed this look at our ancestors' traditions, lives and the times they lived through.  
From the Publishers: 
“Social history is, most elementally, food history. Jane Ziegelman had the great idea to zero in on one Lower East Side tenement building, and through it she has crafted a unique and aromatic narrative of New York’s immigrant culture: with bread in the oven, steam rising from pots, and the family gathering round.” — Russell Shorto, author of The Island at the Center of the World. 


Bacon Biscuits and Honeysuckle Season

Our latest Cook the Books Club selection was Honeysuckle Season, by Mary Ellen Taylor, this round hosted by Debra of Eliot's Eats.  The novel was a truly absorbing and enjoyable read, romantic with a mystery, at times heartbreaking, yet uplifting. I didn't find a lot of food inspiration, though was maybe reading too fast?  Hey,  but we Cook the Bookers are ready for that eventuality.  We can get inspired by atmosphere, location and any little off the cuff mention of items from the plant or animal worlds.  Sometimes a stretch, but we're generally able to come up with something.  

Our library never came through with my request for the book, and after more than a month on the list, I ordered at the last minute from Kindle.  Which is why I'm sailing in under the deadline bar here.

From the Publishers: 

"Adrift in the wake of her father’s death, a failed marriage, and multiple miscarriages, Libby McKenzie feels truly alone. Though her new life as a wedding photographer provides a semblance of purpose, it’s also a distraction from her profound pain.

When asked to photograph a wedding at the historic Woodmont estate, Libby meets the owner, Elaine Grant. Hoping to open Woodmont to the public, Elaine has employed young widower Colton Reese to help restore the grounds and asks Libby to photograph the estate.  From bestselling author Mary Ellen Taylor comes a story about profound loss, hard truths, and an overgrown greenhouse full of old secrets. Libby is immediately drawn to the old greenhouse shrouded in honeysuckle vines.

As Libby forms relationships and explores the overgrown—yet hauntingly beautiful—Woodmont estate, she finds the emotional courage to finally sort through her father’s office. There she discovers a letter that changes everything she knows about her parents, herself, and the estate. Beneath the vines of the old greenhouse lie generations of secrets, and it’s up to Libby to tend to the fruits born of long-buried seeds."


Paella for The Princess Spy

 The Princess Spy, by Larry Loftis, is an excellent biography, which reads like a fiction thriller, full of famous people, adventure and romance. The true story of World War II spy, Aline Griffith, a young American girl, a fashion model, who became a spy and then the Countess of Romanones.  I found the book by happy accident, while looking for another title, which I've now forgotten.  Biography is not my usual reading, so I was very enjoyably surprised by the book, and will be checking out his previous titles.

From The Publisher's Weekly:

"Historian Loftis (Code Name: Lise) delivers an entertaining biography of American fashion model--turned--spy Aline Griffith (1923--2017). Born in the small town of Pearl River, N.Y., Griffith moved to Manhattan after graduating from a Catholic women's college and found work as a model for fashion designer Hattie Carnegie. Griffith's life took a turn after a chance meeting with an Office of Strategic Services operative at a dinner party in 1943. Griffith joined the OSS and, following her training, was sent to Spain in 1944 to search for Nazi supporters among the region's social elites. Amid her information-gathering activities, she met and married a Spanish nobleman and became a countess. She quit spying in 1947 to focus on raising a family, but resumed clandestine activities for the CIA in 1956, though those missions remain classified. Loftis's fast-moving narrative includes plenty of colorful details about Griffith's social life, including lavish cocktail parties and her friendship with bullfighter Juanito Belmonte , and he sketches the battles between German, American, and British spies for influence over the Spanish government with precision. Espionage buffs will be enthralled."


The Shooting at Chateau Rock - It Wasn't the Duck


I've just finished the latest (for me anyway) of Martin Walker's Bruno, Chief of Police, series - The Shooting at Chateau Rock.  What a delightful read, an exciting storyline, evocative and full of inspiring food and drink!  A good summary here from the Publishers:

"In Walker's outstanding 13th outing for St. Denis, France, chief of police Benoît "Bruno" Courrèges (after 2019's The Body in the Castle Well), 70ish retired rock star Rod Macrae, his much younger wife, and their college-age children, Jamie and Kirsty, are spending a last summer together at their country house, Château Rock, before the parents amicably divorce. Jamie is joined by his girlfriend, Galina, a Russian oligarch's daughter. When a sheep farmer dies and his children learn that they've been disinherited, Bruno investigates. He soon suspects there's a connection between the farmer's suspicious death and Galina's father, whose shadowy shell businesses may be a cover for illicit activity throughout the Mediterranean and the E.U. Meanwhile, the obliging Bruno helps plan and prepare meals, teaches children to swim, and considers breeding his pedigree hunting dog. Francophiles will relish the evocative descriptions of the Périgord region and its cuisine."

It's like old home week, reading a new novel in Walker's series.  The familiar characters once again come to life, joined by some very interesting newcomers.  His books are always especially inspiring in the gardening, food and wine departments.  Sometimes it's just hard to know where to start. I take notes on the meals and wines. For today, we'll begin with gardening.  Bruno always spends some time caring for his fruit trees and vegetable patch.  I can use encouragement in that area. You can see below that weeds need to be pulled.