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.

One of the women, Camille, is an artist, rediscovering her talent after burying it for years, while she took care of others.  Another, Julia, just divorced, is a very enthusiastic cook, and wants to learn the Italian way, and the third, Susan, is an avid gardener and decorator.  All of them are able to bloom in their new environment, to relax and enjoy life more, doing things they love. Interestingly, Mayes notes that no Italian word exists for stress - it's imported from English - lo stress.

 I made a note when Julia, who was attending a local cooking class, learned to properly prepare wild boar, by soaking first overnight in a vinegar water solution.  I had been semi-avoiding a package of pork in the freezer, given me by my hunter friend, due to fear of gameyness, which has happened cooking wild boar in my past.  This particular pig had the nerve to invade a hunter's garden.  Ha. So, pork was on the menu for my book inspired meal.  Pulled then served with it's special braising sauce over polenta, which is mentioned several times in the book - once with sausage and mushrooms. 

This was a whiz of a stew in the slow cooker. My side was slaw of overnight pickled cabbage and carrot, with kim chee and some parsley added before serving.

Pulled Pork on Polenta
I just threw a few things together in the slow cooker with the pork.

2.5 lb. pork butt (not a lot of fat in a wild one) brined with 1/4 cup vinegar and 1/4 cup Kosher salt in 4 cups water in a large zip lock bag, overnight, then rinsed well
1/2 cup tomato sauce
1/2 cup BBQ sauce
1 onion, chopped
1/2 (or more) Jalapeno chili pepper, chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
1/2 teaspoon cumin
1 teas. fresh thyme
1/4 cup red wine vinegar
1 teaspoon hickory liquid smoke
5 or so kumquats, cut in quarters, seeds removed
1/4 teas. ground black pepper

Stir together the ingredients and add pork, turn to coat the meat and cook on low for 8 hours.

Remove the pork and pull apart with two large forks.  Mash up the sauce ingredients, or blend and add the meat back in.  Serve over polenta, noodles or on buns with slaw, or both as you'll have a good amount.

Pickled Cabbage and Carrot Slaw
  (serves 4)
4 cups cabbage, shredded
1 carrot, peeled and grated
1 tablespoon Kosher salt
10 tablespoons apple cider vinegar
1/2 cup sugar
1 cup kim chee, sliced
2 tablespoons fresh parsley, chopped

In a large mixing bowl, toss the cabbage and carrot with the salt and let sit for 20 minutes.

Meanwhile, add the vinegar and sugar to a small saucepan and bring to a quick simmer, about 1 minute.  Remove from the heat and pour over the cabbage.  Toss to combine, cover and refrigerate overnight to pickle.  Drain the pickled cabbage mix and combine with the kim chee and parsley.  Mix well. A nice and tart contrast to the meat.

I'll be linking over to Beth Fish Reads for her Weekend cooking event, with Simona over at Novel Food, and with the Foodies Read Challenge for May, sliding in at the end!  Check them out for good book and food recommendations.


jama said...

Both recipes look and sound delicious. The Mayes book would make a perfect summer read. Thanks for featuring it. :)

Mae Travels said...

You have a very interesting way to use Kim Chee! Your slaw sounds perfect for accompanying pork. And the book ... well, maybe.

best... mae at maefood.blogspot.com

Beth F said...

I loved that book!! And I too noted that passage about soaking the boar. I haven't had good kim chee since I moved east.

gluten Free A_Z Blog said...

Sounds like an enjoyable read. Thanks for the reveiw

Claudia said...

Beth, for some reason, our local Natural Foods grocery has so many varieties of kim chi and variants (a lot made by people here) I found myself standing in front of the cooler trying to decide which one to try next:) hard choices!

Carole said...

I need to try polenta again. Up to now iv'e been underwhelmed. Have a great week. Cheers from Carole's Chatter

Deb in Hawaii said...

Great review. I have been wondering what this one was like. Thanks for sharing. Your slaw looks delicious too. ;-)

Tina said...

I'd been on the fence about that book but now I want it! Sounds like good ex-pat literature and I do like that. Great recipes. Oooooo, I love poolenta.

Debra Eliotseats said...

Your plot "in a nutshell" still sounds very interesting. I am a sucker for anything expat and set in Italy.

Simona Carini said...

Your post reminded me of a memorable meal of boar and polenta in a restaurant just off Piazza del Campo, Siena's main square, during my first visit there. I applaud your choice of recipe wholeheartedly. Thank you for contributing to Novel Food :)

Delaware Girl Eats said...

I didn't think Mayes had another book in her, so surprised to see this one. I just adore polenta and pork as well. Will save in my recipe file for cooler weather here on the East Coast