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."

That's my review, as per usual, I don't go in for lengthy ones, just short recommendations, maybe a quote or two. But, here's a bit more from the Publishers:

"Three women, three lives, and one chance to become a family…whether they want to or not.
Newly orphaned, recently divorced, and semi adrift, Nina Popkin is on a search for her birth mother. She’s spent her life looking into strangers’ faces, fantasizing they’re related to her, and now, at thirty-five, she’s ready for answers.
Meanwhile, the last thing Lindy McIntyre wants is someone like Nina bursting into her life, announcing that they’re sisters and campaigning to track down their mother. She’s too busy with her successful salon, three children, beautiful home, and…oh yes, some pesky little anxiety attacks."


That's the book , which I do think is worthwhile, enjoyable reading.  As for my recipe of the day, it's also a tale of taking what's available, and using it creatively.  The Pacific spinach which I've posted about before, with its huge, heart-shaped leaves, does well here, and being a perennial, you don't need to keep re-planting.  My collards are like that.  They just keep going, so collard leaves or cabbage leaves could also be used in this recipe.  Just blanched a bit longer at the start. This is served in a reduced braising sauce over noodles (or potatoes if you like) and topped with a sauce of yogurt, garlic and mint.



Stuffed Pacific Spinach Leaves

Ingredients (for 2-3 servings)

6-7 large leaves of Pacific spinach, cabbage or collards, washed and thick stems trimmed off
Stuffing:
1/2 lb. ground beef or lamb
1 teas. garlic, finely minced
1/2 medium onion, chopped
1/2 medium tomato, rinsed and roughly chopped
1 teas. ground coriander
5 or so sprigs cilantro (or parsley) chopped
2 tablespoon lemon juice
1/2 teas. salt
1/2 teas. harissa )or seasonings you prefer
black pepper to taste
1/2 cup dried bread crumbs or left-over cooked rice (I've also used quinoa)
1 egg


Sauce:
2 cups chicken or beef broth
1./2 cup white wine
2 tablespoons butter
Topping: (Just mix it all together)
1 cup yogurt, kefir or sour cream
1 tablespoon mint, minced
1 small clove garlic, crushed
1/4 teas. salt



Preheat oven to 350F
Bring a pot of water to boil add 1 tablespoon salt (don't dump it out after, as you can use it to boil the noodles later) and blanch the leaves for about 1 minute (Collards or cabbage for 3-4 minutes).  If using Pacific Spinach, add 1 teas. vinegar or lemon juice to the water.  Then drain well and let rest on some clean kitchen towels until ready to stuff.


Mix the stuffing ingredients together well in a bowl, then put about 1/4 cup of the meat mixture on the bottom portion of each leaf,  roll forward, tucking in the sides, and place in a baking dish.  If you have extra, smaller ones, they can be used to round out any uneven parts. When finished, pour over the broth, cover and bake for 30 minutes.  While it's cooking, you can whip together the Yogurt Garlic Mint Sauce and put aside for serving.


Carefully drain the broth off into a saucepan.  Cover the rolls and set aside in a warm place.  Add the wine to the cooking broth and reduce until it starts to thicken.  You might cook your noodles while that's happening.  Turn off heat, then stir in the butter, a bit at a time, then pour over the rolls and serve over noodles with the Yogurt Mint Sauce to top.

We enjoyed this meal, I just had some sliced, fresh tomatoes with salt and olive oil as a side.  Perfect!  A great combination altogether.  This post will be linked over at Beth Fish Reads for her Weekend Cooking event, where you are all invited to join in, or to browse for good food and book ideas.


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.