I have perfect timing! This week's selection is Jennifer Egan's A Visit From the Goon Squad, which earlier this week won the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction. This is far and away the best book I have read in a long time - and I usually love everything I read for this blog! I can't quite put my finger on what made this book so amazing, but it was both technically impressive and really funny and emotionally affecting. It is a fantastic book. I did the puzzle cookies cause the book has a lot going on - it is a bunch of chapters about different characters at different points in time, but all connected in some way. It should be a confusing book but it isn't, but it is still a bit of a puzzle, hence the cookies. This is a different review this week as well, I did a power point review, in tribute to a chapter of Egan's book which is entirely done in power point. I thought it was a great chapter, and man, do I hate power point!
Blood, Bones and Butter is the autobiographical book by Gabrielle Hamilton, the chef at New York City's Prune restaurant. Prune is a restaurant that is small in size but huge in success and reputation - it is pretty much universally acclaimed. I was lucky enough to go to Prune once very long ago, probably in its first year of opening and really loved it - both the food (I still remember what I ate many years later) and the comfortable and welcoming atmosphere. Hamilton has a somewhat "tough" and no-nonsense reputation, and this book certainly confirmed that for me. No question about it, she is pretty bad-ass, and to be frank, kind of a bitch (apologize for the bad language, but if you can't tolerate swears, this is not the blog for you) - but in a good way. I didn't like the book quiet as much as I thought I would - it was also widely acclaimed (Tony Bourdain called it the best chef memoir ever). I think I was looking for more about the food and running a restaurant, but this book was about Hamilton's life - the ups and downs, and really about her family - the one she came from and the unique family she formed on her own. More about the food - my version of Blood (red-wine marinated...) Bones (lamb chops...) and Butter (first sweet spring peas of the season with butter).
I have a thing for Vietnam movies - Apocalypse Now, The Deer Hunter, Born on the Fourth of July and my favorite of them all, Platoon (remember when Charlie Sheen wasn't a punch line?) The Lotus Eaters reads like a really great Vietnam movie. The book follows three war photographers from the early days of the Vietnam War in the mid-60s to the very end, as Saigon toppled on the edge of collapse. The main focus is Helen Adams - a young Californian woman who travels to Vietnam with no photography experience, but some unexplainable desire to become a war photographer. Shortly after her arrival she meets Sam Darrow, a hardened war-zone photographer who is addicted to danger and his soulful but secretive photographer's assistant, Linh. The book has both riveting accounts of the war and its horrors and captivating romantic entanglements - once it got started it was hard to put down. The clear choice for a Vietnamese dish was the classic beef pho. Helen savored many bowls of pho throughout the war, the broth serving as nourishment and as a way for her to connect to Saigon and its people.
This cake doesn't really go with Chris Bohjilian's Secrets of Eden, but it is hard to come up with an appropriate recipe for a book about domestic violence. I am a big fan of Bohjilian's books. They are mostly set in Vermont, where Bohjilian lives, and each book deals with what I would call a "hot button" issue of the day. His past books have dealt with midwives, alternative medicines, gender reassignment, gun control, and homelessness. He deals with these issues through great stories of real people dealing with difficult and dramatic things. Secrets of Eden continues this trend and tells the story of the murder of Alice Hayward, who died at the hands of her abusive husband George. It was a great Bohjilian book, with more of a suspense/murder mystery vibe than past books. Because no recipe or food is really appropriate for the subject matter, I went with something Vermontey and something I wanted to make and eat - a maple infused crumb cake which came together quite easily.