I have wanted to make pickled shrimp for a while now, so when I was perusing the amazing cookbook Texas Eats to find inspiration for something to make inspired by Houston, Texas, these shrimp jumped out at me. Pickled shrimp are not mentioned in Attica Locke's Black Water Rising, but they seemed somewhat appropriate since the book is set in Houston and the gulf and bayous of the city are a strong presence in the story. The book is about Jay Porter, a young struggling attorney, and the mess he gets himself into by being in the wrong place at the wrong time. On the night of his anniversary, Jay takes his pregnant wife Bernadine on a boat ride on the Houston bayou that was a half-hearted attempt at romance. The couple and their boat captain run into trouble when they hear screaming and gun shots, and then pick up a woman in the bayou who is fully dressed and shoeless. By rescuing the woman and not reporting what happened to the police, Jay sets off on a path that will cause him immense stress and put his family in danger. Neither Jay nor the reader knows what happened that night on the bayou or how the woman he rescued is involved, and it is the quest for answers to these questions that drives the plot forward. This novel felt like a departure from what I usually read - it felt like a Grisham novel with more depth and less law. I didn't love this book, but do plan on trying one of Attica Locke's other novels. More about the book and shrimp after the jump.
One last cocktail for 2012, a simple pear and ginger cocktail with the sparkling wine of your choice 0 champagne, cava, prosecco, sparkling grape juice - whatever works for you. I went with prosecco. I love champagne, but when I am mixing it with something else, I think cheaper alternatives make sense, and I think a decent prosecco is way better than a cheap champagne - I am a sucker for the good stuff. I think pear and ginger are a great combination, and perfectly seasonal for a winter cocktail. The recipe below makes 1 cup of ginger syrup - more than you will need for a few of these cocktails, but it is very versatile and would be great in other cocktails, drizzled in tea of stirred into yogurt. However you are celebrating, I wish all of you a happy and healthy new year!
One last gasp before Christmas, an easy lighter version of eggnog, made with light coconut milk instead of milk. I say lighter, cause this version is still full of egg yolks, but I really liked what the coconut milk brought to the party - instant flavoring and a great combo with the dark rum. This came together quickly and could be a real wow if you are still looking for a wow to serve guests during the holiday. It also is the perfect treat for just you, even a treat you could indulge in after Christmas, especially as, at least for me here in Boston, a long winter stretches out before you. For those of you that celebrate Christmas, I hope you have a wonderful holiday. For those of you that don't, I hope you have restful day off and some delicious Chinese food!
Vegan Cheese is definitely not my thing, but I knew I had to use it when I finished reading Lauren Groff's incredible Arcadia. The book is about a commune called Arcadia in upstate New York, and specifically a little boy who grows up in the middle of it - Bit Stone. I was really happy to see the book make a few Best of the Year lists, because I really really loved it. Through the eyes of young Bit, Groff depicts the ups and downs of commune life. B While living on the commune can be a challenge, Bit is surrounded by nature, by other kids (the "kid herd"), and by people who love him. The book is essentially divided in thirds - the first part is when Bit is a young child and then a teenager, the second part when he is an adult living in New York City with a child of his own, and last, Groff fast forwards to the future of 2018, where the world is a much bleaker and more dangerous place. Each of these three parts are really different. The most transportive section is the first, where the narrative is not quite straight and as a reader you really feel you are seeing the world from little Bit's perspective. Bit is a vegan, and dinner in his family trailer with his father Abe, and mother, Hannah, was often Abe's soy cheese enchiladas. I knew I couldn't make soy cheese the centerpiece of these enchiladas, so instead these are filled with a wonderful vegetable medley of onion, corn, shitakes and butternut squash. I kept the soy cheese to a minimum, sprinkling a but on the top - and I must admit, while it wasn't great, it wasn't so bad either.
Here is a festive, fun cocktail that would be great for Christmas or New Years or after a long day of work. I love anything with crushed ice, so when a picture of this cocktail came through on my phone through Flipboard, I was instantly smitten. My version is a tinsey bit more snow cone than the original version, but the ice paired great with the pomegranate and melted into the alcohol to make the drink pleasantly weaker. Rather than slowing down because of the holiday, work has been crazy busy as the end of year approaches (and for me a January trial date) so I have been posting a lot less than I had hoped. I did make a bunch of holiday cookies, but I unfortunately feel it may be too late to share them on the blog. I also wanted to share my family's latke's, but alas the moment for that has passed as well. Instead of lots of holiday stuff, from here on out to the end of the year I will focus on blogging about all the books that I have read and have not yet blogged about! I have a major backlog and will try to remedy that over the next week or so and start the new year fresh!
I have not read a Stephen King book since Stand by Me in middle school. I have never read many of the scary books he is most famous for like Salem's Lot, Pet Cemetery, Cujo. Part of the reason for this is that I had nightmares for years as a kid based on the one or two scenes of the movie Salem's Lot I must have caught while my older siblings were watching it - I was convinced there was a kid vampire hanging outside my bedroom window for years... Anyway, as readers of my blog know, I tend to read contemporary literary fiction, and candidly, while I respected his success, I did not consider Stephen King a writer of literary fiction. That perception changed with 11/22/63, a monster of a novel about history and time travel. The book imagines what would happen if someone was able to go back in time and prevent the assassination of JFK. There is no gory horror in this book, but there is a subtle spookiness that is always there, giving the entire novel a sense of uneasiness - this endeavor could all go wrong at any moment, with ramification that we cannot foresee. The novel starts off in Maine, a familiar King stomping ground, with Jake Epping, a middle aged, divorced teacher who seems to be going through his life aimlessly. That all changes when Al, the owner of the diner that Jake frequents shares with him a portal to the past - 1958 to be precise. By simply walking down a set of stairs in the back room of Al's diner, Jake is transported to a sunny afternoon in 1958 and soon is swept up into Al's mission to try to use the time travel portal to change the course of history. All of this seems rather fantastic, but King writes the story in a very matter of fact and detailed way, that to me it all seemed perfectly possible. 11/22/63 is a book you can really sink your teeth into (it weights in at over 800 pages), just like this pound cake, which in the novel served as a romantic euphemism for hanky panky for two of the main characters, which I will explain after the jump.
The bark at the center of Ann Patchett's State of Wonder is a lot more mysterious and powerful than my simple chocolate, fruit and nut bark above. The book is sort of a female version of the classic Joseph Conrad Heart of Darkness story. A single, childless forty year old woman who works for a pharmaceutical company, Dr. Marina Singh, is asked to travel deep into the Amazon to try to track down her old professor, Annick Swenson, who has shut herself off from the rest of the world doing research concerning the powerful effects of an Amazonian tree bark. This book was immediately compelling to me, after all, I also am a single, childless, though not yet! forty year old woman who works for a pharmaceutical company. But here's the kicker - what is so amazing about this tree bark Dr. Swenson is studying ? The village women who munch on it every day in the Amazon - they are able to have babies into their seventies. Yeah, that grabbed my attention pretty quick, and I was drawn into the story just as Dr. Singh was irresistibly drawn into the jungle to find Dr. Swenson and see if this bark really had such miraculous effects. I read the book a couple of months ago, and had some trouble with my first version of this bark. It is OK that it took so long for me to try it out again, since this chocolate bark is a great holiday hostess gift or solution to an addition to a cookie swap when you don't have the time or inclination to turn on the oven. More about the fascinating story and simple bark after the jump.
Holiday season is here, and it is time to start banging out some cocktails, cookies, latkes and other goodies. I'll kick off the season with a cocktail - a copy of a cocktail a friend recently had at a local bar here in Boston. It is deadly simple but perfectly seasonal - the winter mojito. Instead of white rum, dark rum is used (spiced rum would be even better). Muddled with the mint and sugar are some cranberries, and I made a cranberry simple syrup as well. This absolutely makes the mojito feel right for the holidays (hello, red and green and can easily be multiplied for a crowd.
I was so excited to, simultaneous with the unveiling of my new blog design, give you all a complete solution to the problem of what to make for Thanksgiving dessert that will please everyone but not take days to make. As you can see from the photo above, I had a major fail in unmolding Dorie Greenspan's "all in one" cake, and could not throw another one together because of cross country travel for a friend's wedding. While the cake, above, did not come out looking like a pretty bundt cake, it was delicious even in its uneven cake chunks form. My conclusion from this particular cake baking disaster is that for me, silicone bundt cake pans just don't work that well. The cake is great idea - a pumpkin cake filled with apples, cranberries and pecans. If it had come out nicely, I would have drizzled with a maple glaze, and voila, all your Thanksgiving baking headaches are gone. As for the blog design, I hope you guys like it! I worked with Julie at Blogger Boutique and highly recommend her for you bloggers out there! Happy Thanksgiving to all!
I struggled with what to make for Jeffrey Eugenides' The Marriage Plot. The book is about the difficulty and aimlessness of three Brown seniors upon their graduation. The food in the book is minimal and not good (cafeteria food, maybe some ramen, some cheap vegetarian food experienced on a trip to India). In the end what I came up with was an imagined impromptu cocktail hour with the three characters - Madeleine, Leonard and Mitchell. I made something to represent each character - the classic crisp gin martini for the waspy Madeleine, Parmesan cheese crisps to represent the depressed but brilliant Leonard and Indian spiced nuts to represent the soul searching Mitchell. To some extent, each of these ideas was a stretch, nevertheless I think each element brings a little bit of a character to the table. Eugenides is the author of two previous well known novels - The Virgin Suicides and Middlesex. These two books and The Marriage Plot are totally distinct from each other - it is actually hard to believe they were written by the same author. The Virgin Suicides is a dreamy, yet edgy novel about teen desire, while Middlesex is an epic story of a hermaphrodite. The Marriage Plot is different still, though it is perhaps somewhere between these two - the story is somewhat small - focused on the three characters - seniors at Brown in 1982 - and their flailing attempts at early adulthood. The book is a bit autobiographical - Eugenides graduated Brown at the same time and followed a similar path as one of the main characters, the fellow Greek Mitchell Grammaticus. While the characters are a bit grating in the way smart, precocious Ivy leaguers can be, the book is absorbing and it is easy to identify with their struggles to find themselves and to find themselves on solid ground.
The pumpkin party continues, with breakfast the focus today. On a cold rainy morning (perhaps while you hunker down before the power goes out during a hurricane?) these rich, lightly spiced pancakes do the trick. When you add pumpkin to pancakes, there is no doubt that you must let go of any hope that your pancakes will be light and fluffy - pumpkin inevitably brings some denseness to the pancake party. But while you lose some of that elusive pancake fluffiness, you gain a real depth of flavor. After all, aren't plain ol pancakes not much more than a vehicle for maple syrup? Not these things, while they are light on the sugar, the pumpkin flavor really comes through, as does the pumpkin pie spice. And about that pumpkin pie spice, I usually am against using "pumpkin pie spice" and like to carefully put together the right amounts of each of the key spices - nutmeg, allspice, cinnamon, etc... but with these pancakes and some other recipes I made for pumpkin week I took the shortcut and used a good quality pumpkin pie spice (penzeys), but when it comes time to make my thanksgiving pies, I will go back to the old fashioned way of a pinch of this and a pinch of that.
These pancakes I adapted from Nigella Lawson, who, strangely, didn't include any spices whatsoever in her recipe! That just seemed strange to me, as the best part of any pumpkin sweet, in my opinion, are the spices. So I added some. For me, pancakes are a little too much effort (and carbs and calories) for everyday, but these are a great fall weekend treat!
It has taken me a little longer than I would have liked to start my pumpkin party, but better late than never! Part of the delay is that I was crippled by indecision - there are so many wonderful things to make, how would I ever decide! I was particularly stumped on what to choose to make on the sweet, side, so I am kicking off this week or so of many pumpkin recipes on the savory side. Without further delay, I give you Dorie Greenspan's pumpkin stuffed with everything good, and this really is a gift. This pumpkin, oh boy, let me tell you about it - it is filled with beautiful french bread cubes, lots and lots of Gruyere and cheddar cheese, garlic, oh yes, lots of garlic, and you know what else? bacon, yup. Oh, and how is this lovely pumpkin finished off? with a little glug of heavy cream. Yes! This pumpkin is pretty insane, obviously over the top rich. I tried to make it a little less guilty by adding a whole bunch of steamed swiss chard, and it added a nice counterpoint to the richness loaded on richness. Without the bacon, this would be a great vegetarian main for thanksgiving, truth be told, I would probably rather eat this than turkey, and I love turkey. If the pumpkin a bit of an afterthought in light of all that goodness? Perhaps, but the right way to eat this is to dig into the sides and mix the soft pumpkin immediately into the stuffing. If it weren't for the bacon, cream, bread and cheese, I would eat this every week during the fall. Alas, this dish is so good I can't let myself eat it more than once a year, and I am already thinking about next year...
With this maple apple upside down cake, the time has come to say goodbye to apple fest. Never fear, up next is a pumpkin party, which will hopefully provide inspiration for all of your pumpkin cravings! Although this is the last post in apple fest, I cannot guarantee that apples will not continue to pop up here throughout the rest of the fall, as they are most certainly one of my favorite ingredients, and something I eat every day (though usually not gussied up in recipes). I found this case recipe (a sign from my brain that I should be working rather than blogging right now) on Food and Wine's website and it is by Joanne Chang, the owner of one of my favorite bakeries here in Boston - Flour. While I love, love, love Flour's baked goods in store, I have found that recipes from the Flour cookbook don't always work that well. I am sad to say that there was a pretty big error in the Food and Wine recipe for this cake too (a 1 and half hour baking time) which I luckily discovered by reading the comments (unluckily I didn't read the comments until I had already baked the cake 1 hour!). I have adjusted the baking time in the recipe below, and the only other change was the addition of some cinnamon. I have a hard time staying away from the cinnamon when apples are around. This is a dessert that is is really beautiful, so can be special occasion, but it also feels just right with a cup of coffee in the afternoon. Now we are ready move on to some pumpkin.
For my applefest cocktail I knew I wanted to make something with Applejack - an apple brandy than is the base of one my favorite classic cocktails, the Jack Rose. I wanted something a little richer than that cocktail, which is made with applejack, lemon juice and grenadine. Rye Whiskey seemed like the perfect thing to mix the brandy with to make a cocktail that had some depth and gave you that warm toasty fall feeling. I also added some maple syrup and lemon juice, and topped the cocktail off with a little (nonalcoholic) sparkling cider to lighten it up a smidgen. I was really happy with this concoction and serving it in the champagne coupe made it feel like something special. This would be great for your fall holiday gatherings.
We're almost at the end of apple fest and soon will be moving on to pumpkin fest (oh yeah, and this is still a book review blog too, right? The Marriage Plot and Game of Thrones coming soon). This Apple Ricotta toast is something for the easy but indulgent breakfast/brunch hopper. I saw it on Food and Wine's website, and the recipe is from April Bloomfield, whose Spotted Pig restaurant I love in NY and whose cookbook, a Girl and Her Pig, I am also a big fan of, for the pictures at least, I have not made anything from it yet. This toast attracted be because it was different than the usual apple breakfast concoctions - muffins, breads, pancakes and because it had fresh ricotta, which is one of my favorite things to eat. The recipe calls for thickly sliced pan de mie or other fancy bakery white bread. I went with Trader Joe's Texas Toast and I must say it was a revelation. I generally don't eat white bread, so have never had this before, though I have seen it often on my sister's kitchen counter. The bread was perfect for this dish - it is a thickly sliced enriched white bread - kinda like challah but not quite as rich, making it a good base for the buttery apples and cheese. Since the bread is so thick, one piece of toast is the perfect portion per person. This is something you could whip up as a treat for yourself or as a dish for guests. And while the bread and cheese are great, in truth this is all about the sweet buttery pile of apples. Enjoy.
Here is a healthy and seasonal side dish or meal combining apples and quinoa. Whenever I eat quinoa (which is admittedly, not very often), I think that it needs a lot of help to taste really great. With some other grains, like white or brown rice, I totally love the grain itself plain, on its own, with only a little fat and salt and pepper. Quinoa does not have, for me, great flavor or texture on its own. In sum, when I eat quinoa I know I am eating something healthy. But because it is healthy, I want to try to eat quinoa more instead of rice, so I look for ways to jazz it up. For my apple week dish, I decided to make an apple quinoa salad kind of thing, adding some caramelized onions to punch up the savory flavors and some toasted pecans for some crunch. This turned out to be the perfect sweet, savory, crunchy combination, and this side dish would be perfect for someone putting together a "healthy" thanksgiving meal (I will be filling my table, or more accurately my sister's table, with mashed potatoes, stuffing and squash...) This would also be a great mixture to stuff a squash or pumpkin with, adding a little grated cheese to the top. Without further delay, my side dish contribution to Apple Fest.
I fear the name of my post really reveals my age. I am sure there are lots of you twenty somethings out there that have no idea who Peter Brady is, much less what he has to do with pork chops. For those of you readers who are generally in the vicinity of my generation (who enjoyed the Brady Bunch every night in reruns) or of the generation before mine (who enjoyed it in prime time) you may remember the Brady Bunch episode where Peter Brady became famous for utterly the phrase "pork chops and applesauce" with a funny voice and accent (I believe he was trying to imitate Humphrey Bogart? What was this episode about anyway?) Text can't do it justice check it out here. From when I saw that episode as a kid (probably 10 times!) to now, whenever I think about pork chops, I hear Peter Brady's weird voice in my head. Until recently, I was into pork chops at all. And still, to be fair, I never order them in a restaurant, never have a real craving for them. In fact, the only way I ever eat pork chops is prepared as depicted in the photo above - thin porkchops smothered in a sweet and sour apple sauce. This is my savory contribution to apple fest, boneless pork chops cooked with a shallot and apple pan sauce. Yum!
These Caramel Apples,which I made for Erin Morgenstern's The Night Circus, are the perfect vehicle for me to kick off Bookcooker fall fest! Of all the seasons, it is the produce available in fall that gets me most excited. As October begins, it is apples, squash and pumpkin everywhere! So inspired, I am hoping to embark upon a project for the blog this fall where I make a few different dishes of various sorts (cocktail, snack, breakfast, dessert, side, main dish etc...) inspired by one ingredient - starting off with apples and then probably moving to squash, pumpkin, carrots, pears, whatever inspires me that week. I say this all with the caveat that my day job often gets in the way of my big blog ideas, so I will try to keep up with this. After these classic caramel apples I will share some pork chops with apples, a quinoa apple salad and hopefully an apple cocktail, breakfast and another dessert. But first, these luscious, messy, caramel apples. Erin Morgenstern's The Night Circus is a book filled with real magic, star-crossed lovers and carnival food. Sounds good, right? The star of the book is the Cirque de Reves (also known as The Night Circus), a fantastical traveling circus that opens at dusk and closes at dawn andfeatures some performers that are able to perform real magic (create a starry night sky in a tent a la Harry Potter, create jars that when you open them transport you to the seashore, a rainy day in a forest etc...) and other performers that are the most artful, urbane circus acts imaginable. Two participants in the circus - Celia, a performer, and Marco, the assistant to the Circus creator, also happen to be involved in a secret magical duel. They are simply the pawns of their respective mentors - for Celia, her father, Prospero, an old vaudevillian magician and for Marcus a mysterious man dressed in a grey suit that picked him up one day from an orphanage. These two old guys have been engaged in this magical battle for years, they pick two young magicians, pit them against each other and whoever is still living at the end wins. With The Night Circus, Morgenstern spared no detail in describing this enchanted but dangerous world. This is another book for the pile of adult books that obsessive Harry Potter fans would like (I seem to read these a lot... and I hate to tell you that next up is The Game of Thrones, I will have to throw in something more realistic in between!) More about the book and apples after the jump.
Although I want to cling to summer, there is no denying, on the eve of the first day of autumn, that fall is upon us. It is my favorite season, but I always have a sense of melancholy when it begins, which is quickly quashed when the leaves start to change, I start to wear my favorite leather boots and tweedy jackets again, apples and apple cider are everywhere, and I contemplate whether I should have a pumpkin spice latte. I love fall flavors of both the sweet and savory varieties, and am just starting to see beautiful fall produce in the stores. I was perusing the produce at Trader Joe's recently and one the store employees enthusiastically recommended the ThomCord seedless grapes. These are some sort of grape hybrid, they are like dark concord grapes but were touted as "seedless." After trying them, while I enjoyed the rich grape flavor, richer and more intense than the usual grapes I buy, I would argue they were not really seedless. The seed in the middle was definitely smaller and less dense than the seeds in normal Concord grapes, so they were chewable, but chewing them is not that pleasant an experience. So I figured I would grind them up and use them in a drink. I found this cocktail by googling "concord grape cocktail" and found lots of raves for a cocktail from the NYC restaurant Gramercy Tavern. Oprah.com had a recipe for it and it was the perfect alternative use for these flavorful grapes, since they are pureed and strained before being added to the cocktail, so no chewing seeds! I consider this a slightly cooler, more alternative fall cocktail - everything is all about apples, pears, pumpkins as fall hits, the concord grape is a more under the radar seasonal pick. (Don't worry, I will be going full force into all those "conventional" fall flavors all season).
Gillian Flynn's Gone Girl is another good e-reader choice. I kept reading about this book all spring and summer - a breakout hit that occupied the best seller lists and was generally considered the "it" book of the summer. Rather than wait for the paperback as is my normal practice, I downloaded the book late in the summer and read it, feverishly, over a couple of days. Since it was such a hot book, there is a lot of talk on the internet about the book and to some extent a bit of a mixed bag review-wise - some people really liked it and other thought it was a bit of a letdown. I was surprised by the negativity - I really liked the book - it was a great addictive summer read (though I admit the ending was not as stellar as the rest of the book) - though nothing more than that. One thing is for certain - this book, which paints the picture of a truly horrible, scary marriage of two truly horrible, scary people, made me wonder - what is underneath the surface in all the seemingly normal and happy marriages out there?
Shadow of Night by Deborah Harkness is the first book I have read electronically rather in paper form, which is my usual preference. I recently got an ipad but did not immediately switch over to reading on my ipad, because I am a traditionalist and like the feel of a book in my hands. In addition to being a traditionalist, I also sometimes have attention span trouble, I am easily distracted, especially when it comes to the internet, so I was worried that I would read a lot slower on the ipad because I would be constantly switching reading, checking facebook, and buying sweaters on J.Crew.com. I put these concerns aside with Shadow of Night, the second book in Harkness's All Souls Trilogy, because I simply could not wait to go to the store and buy the book, I was so excited for the book I wanted to read it as soon as it was released. For me, it was the perfect ipad choice, since I was engrossed in the book and was not distracted by other ipad features, mainly the internet! Regular readers of the blog may recall that earlier this year I reviewed the first book in the All Souls Trilogy, A Discovery of Witches. I loved the book, though admitted it was a tad on the cheesy romance side. I also loved Shadow of Night, and found that either I was used to the cheesiness or it had subsided a bit. The second book picks up just moments after the first book ends, with the two main characters, Mathew de Clermont (the vampire) and Diana Bishop (the witch) plunged back in time to Elizabethan England. The story picks up with Mathew and Diana searching for the mysterious Ashmole manuscript and struggling to manage their volatile love affair. As with the first book in the series, what is fun about Shadow of Night for me is the rich historical references and detail. Here, the book is set in the past and it is thrilling to read about a present day character getting to interact with historical figures like Christopher Marlowe. Second books in trilogies are often placeholders - we know that all the real action will be saved for the concluding book, but Shadow of Night was engrossing even if it did not advance the ball, suspense-wise, too much. More about the book and these currant buns after the jump.
For me, J. Courtney Sullivan's Maine was a particularly well suited summer read. The book is about a family house in Cape Neddick, Maine and the trials and tribulations of four of the women who are part of the dysfunctional family, the Kellehers, that own the house. As it turns out, my family owns a summer house a stone's throw from Cape Neddick, Maine, and I must admit that our family, like all families, has its share of dysfunction. With that background, I was understandably excited about the book, and while I liked it a lot, it did not totally live up to my expectations. My real complaint is that the book took too long for all the characters to get up to Maine - once they were there and interacting I really enjoyed the book, but I think Sullivan took too long to tell us everyone's back stories. More about the book after the jump. The seafood salad pictured above is my go to dish for when I have friends visit me in Maine. It is both fancy, because of the lobster, but very easy and down to earth as well, and it screams Maine in the summer. At least in the Northeast, lobster prices are low this summer, so for your labor day weekend, make this dish as a goodbye kiss to summer.
One problem I have always had with bellinis is that they are too small! As soon as I start to sip one, whoosh, it is gone. This week, I really needed a big cocktail. I spent the last three weeks on a highly stressful project at work which had me jittery during the day and sleepless at night. The case I was working on ended (for now) yesterday, with a really great result. So I deserve more than a smidge of champagne, I deserve a jug of champagne. I was originally going to use fresh peach puree for my bellini, but saw some beautiful fresh apricots at the market and went with those to make this drink a little more esoteric and fancy. The St. Germain adds a touch more of sweetness (I didn't add any sugar to the apricot puree). All in all, this was just the kind of girly, bubbly drink I needed. Now that this project is over I hope to have more room in my brain for blogging!
I am sorry I have been so MIA from bookcooker the last few weeks. August has been quite a month so far. I have really been put through the ringer at work and that, combined with weekends away have made it difficult for me to get my act together and post! I have a real backlog of books, after The Cat's Table I will be hoping to turn out posts on J. Courtney Sullivan's Maine (Lobster!), Chris Bohjalian's The Sandcastle Girls (with an Armenian Feast!), Deborah Harkness' Shadow of Night (current buns) and Jesymn Ward's Salvage the Bones (haven't decided yet). Without further adieu, here is some Sri Lankan Milk Toffee which was inspired by Michael Ondaatje's playful and soulful The Cat's Table. While this candy does not appear in the book at all, the main character of the book, Michael (nicknamed Mynah), is a young Sri Lankan boy who is sent half way around the world on a big ship on his own, from his Aunt and Uncle's house in Sri Lanka to his long absent mother in London. On the ship he meets two other boys his own age who are traveling alone, Cassius and Ramadhin. The three quickly form a mischievous threesome who spend their days and nights running around the ship and getting into trouble. The three first meet at "The Cat's Table" the opposite of the luxurious ship's Captain's Table, which is filled with important and wealthy guests. The Cat's Table is filled with the nobodies, including three unaccompanied children. While food does not take a big part of the book (despite the fact that many scenes take place at the dinner table), this traditional Sri Lankan sweet is something I could picture the three boys nibbling on as they explored the ship, spying on people and learning about life. More about the engaging adventures of Mynah, Cassius and Ramadhin after the jump.
This cocktail was inspired by both the heat and what I got in my CSA this week. I fretted a bit over grinding up such beautiful local blueberries, but this is the third week I received them, so I went for it. Since I had such an abundance of basil and was too lazy to make pesto, I threw in a handful of basil leaves for a nice green touch. When it came to the booze I went girly, indulging with vanilla vodka and also some lillet wine. The result was a sophisticated slushy. It is delicious eaten with a spoon or slurped after it has melted it a bit.
I recently returned from a too brief mini-vacation to the South of France. I friend and I traveled to Nice, with trips to Cannes, Eze and Monaco thrown in for good measure. We had some great food while we were there, and lots and lots of Rose! The food highlight was a trip to a three Michelin star restaurant in Monaco - Alain Ducasse's Louis XV, which is at the very ritzy Hotel de Paris right next to the Monte Carlo casino. I have never had a Michelin star experience before and I must say this one really met, if not exceeded my expectations. We went at lunch, which takes some of the financial pressure off, sat on the beautiful veranda, and were treated to the most attentive service and exceptional food. I have documented most of it, in pictures after the jump. The meal started with an adorable amuse, a mini-pan bagnant sandwich with only the best ingredients - the most perfect tiny vegetables, delicious bread, a white anchovy, olive oil poached tuna belly and a quail egg. The Pan Bagnat is the official sandwich of the south of France - round french bread is filled with beautiful vegetables, including radishes, layered with tuna, olives, hard-boiled egg and an anchovy. The bread is drizzled (or doused) with olive oil and pressed together vigorously. We had a mediocre version in Eze, a beautiful medieval village on a very high cliff, but the version at Louis XV was really special and a perfect start to the meal. My most amazing bite was dessert though, I had a Strawberry Vacherin - which included fresh strawberries, a coulis type sauce, meringue, strawberry and vanilla ice cream and a rich a vanilla flecked whipped cream. The dish had those perfect tiny fraises du bois (strawberries of the forest or something like that) and really was the most delicious thing I have ever tasted - it truly was the perfect ideal of what you imagine a strawberry to taste like. OK, enough about the meal. After the jump I will share some pictures of the trip, some food we ate, as well as my version of a Pan Bagnat. I apologize for the volume of photos, it was just too hard to narrow down!
Although the title of Geraldine Brooks' Caleb's Crossing implies that the book is about a character named Caleb, the star of the book is Bethia Mayfield, a pious young woman living with her family on Martha's Vineyard in 1660. Bethia is a minister's daughter whose curious, sharp mind makes her feel constricted by the traditional role she is expected to take as a woman. She listens to her father's lessons to her older brother of Latin and Greek and absorbs them well, reaching a level of understanding that her distracted and disinterested brother is unable to achieve. Out wandering the island one day she meets a young Native American boy of the local Wampanoag tribe who eventually becomes known as Caleb. After some misgivings at first, Bethia (whom Caleb names Storm Eyes) and Caleb, who is the son of the chief of the tribe and the nephew of the tribe's medicine man, become good friends and teach each other about their worlds. Bethia teaches Caleb to speak and read English and about Christianity, Caleb teaches Bethia the Wampanoag language and culture, and shares with her everything he knows about the nature on the island. While Bethia enjoys her time with Caleb, she is wracked with guilt because by spending time with him, alone, she is breaking every rule she has been taught. The book is told from Bethia's perspective, through her journal entries starting as a young girl on the island, through her time as a scullery maid at Harvard and eventually as an old woman, on her death bed. The book transported me completely to late 17th century New England and Bethia joins the pantheon of inspiring young women heroines in literature (Jane Eyre, Elizabeth Bennett) whose intelligence and disposition isolate them from their time.
When I flipped open the paperback version of Chad Harbach's The Art of Fielding I found a several paragraph blurb from a glowing review by tough New York Times critic Michiko Kakitani. The book was also listed on multiple best books of the year lists, making it to the number one spot in some instances. Needless to say, I had high expectations for this book. I had first read about The Art of Fielding about a year ago in a Vanity Fair article. The article is written by one of Harbach's friends and it chronicles the long and winding road Harbach endured to get The Art of Fielding published. Harbach worked on the book for ten years. The book was rejected by many agents, but eventually it became the subject of a bidding war by the big publishers and after his years of toil, Harbach is now a well paid literary darling. Well I am happy to report that for me, the book truly lived up to the hype. I loved it and Harbach has created a group of lovable and indelible characters that to some extent are extraordinary for their ordinariness. Some may describe this as a book about baseball, but for me this book was a loving portrait of a small liberal arts college - here, called Westish. Having gone to (and loved!) such a college, the book really struck a cord with me. I was surprised to read that Harbach went to Harvard undergrad, since he creates such a realistic and detailed depiction of the small liberal arts college experience. Baseball is a big part of the book though - it follows the story of a young South Dakotan baseball phenom who becomes the unlikely star of the Westish team. The baseball theme of the book led me to attempt to make homemade crackerjacks. More about the popcorn and book after the jump.
Here is my requisite red, white and blue post for Fourth of July! And the good news is, these are so easy to make that you can run out and get the ingredients now and they will be ready with ample time to spare for your Fourth of July barbecue. They are also great if you are on a diet, as they contain a relatively modest amount of sugar and no fat. As with everything I make, these are not as totally perfect gorgeous as Martha Stewart or some of the more particular food bloggers out there, but even with my messy swirls I think they look quite fetching!
Cherry Iced Tea, Strawberry Lemonade? It sounds like summer around here! Another scorcher of a day has made me thirsty. This strawberry lemonade is a snap to make and can be enjoyed either with vodka or without or still or bubbly. I went sans vodka and still today, in this heat, the vodka would knock me out! I am playing around with another editing program that will allow me to insert text into my photos more easily. I am hoping to add a little feature for the summer concerning what to do with the veggies you may get in your CSA, and want to insert text labeling the veggies into the photos (a suggestion of my brilliant sister). I have not figured out this other editing program yet, but hopefully will soon, so bear with me.
I have had a hard time finding the time to sit down and write my book reviews lately! A big part of the reason is that I am having a bit of a tech overload - I finally got an iphone (I have used a blackberry for years and still do for work) and then a couple of days later I decided I needed an ipad too. As a result, I have been distracted by apps, apps and more apps - the exact reason I resisted getting an ipad for so long - I didn't want it to take away from my reading time! Oh well. I have put the ipad and iphone aside this evening so I can finally write about The Kitchen House, which I read in a three day frenzy a few weeks ago. If you are looking for an engrossing book that will really engage you, The Kitchen House is it. The book follows the story of a young (white) Irish girl who becomes an indentured servant on a Virginia plantation circa 1791. She lives with the slaves who work in the "Big House"of the plantation owner, the Pyke family, works with the slaves and becomes part of their family. A white girl who will eventually gain her freedom living amongst slaves is clearly a situation that will cause drama and strife and the book chronicles the troubles of the Irish girl, Lavinia, the slaves of the Pyke plantation and the dysfunctional, destructive Pyke family itself. Once I got into the book, it was hard to put down - it is filled with dramatic turns and moments where the characters make such bad decisions you find yourself screaming at the book. The cornbread above was an easy choice for a dish - even though this book is called The Kitchen House, in light of the extreme poor conditions slaves were forced to endure, food was not plentiful. But good food was celebrated, and this simple cornbread is surely something that Belle, the cook and Lavinia's surrogate mother, would have made. I have heard The Kitchen House compared a lot to The Help, I see the similarities and will speak more about this after the jump.
My original plan this week was to make an old fashioned muddled with fresh cherries rather than the fluorescent kind, but with the steaming hot weather in Boston, I needed a cocktail that was more refreshing! I decided on a bourbon spiked iced tea, mixed with a muddled cherries and cherry syrup. This came together quickly after a long day at work and cooled me down quicker than my hulking air conditioner. Bourbon and cherries are a great combination, and I brewed a very strong PG Tips tea to make the iced tea portion, so the bourbon was kind of hidden in this drink, which of course can be dangerous! If you are not a drinker, you should absolutely still make this iced tea anyway and don't add the bourbon, and do it quickly while it is still cherry season!
Here is a great, easy recipe for Rhubarb that is a little different than the typical strawberry rhubarb concoctions (not that I don't love those, I will be posting some hand pies of that ilk soon!) If you are out west or down South, perhaps rhubarb season has already passed you by, but we are still in the midst of it here in the Northeast, though I will say as a general matter I have seen less rhubarb around this year.
This "fool" is basically a rich vanilla custard, lightened with whipped cream and then swirled with sugar poached rhubarb and the delicious syrup that sugar poaching rhubarb produces. That syrup is incredibly versatile, and next time I make this I will make more rhubarb than I need so I can play around with the syrup - it would be great in a cocktail or non-alcoholic refresher, great with yogurt or ice cream, even pancakes! Rhubarb season is so short, it makes sense to make at least one dish where the rhubarb, tangy just slightly sweet, is the star.
When you read a book set in Tuscany, it is difficult to choose one dish to make! While food is certainly not the focus of Olaf Olafsson's Restoration, I could not resit making a few simple, fresh and hearty Tuscan dishes this week. The book is set on at a Tuscan villa and farm owned by a British expat - Alice, and her Italian husband during World War Two. As Italy became a battle zone, Alice turned the villa into a hospital of sorts, and then a school and home for refugee children from the north. One day, a mysterious Icelandic woman, Kristin, shows up at the villa severely injured from a train bombing. Kristin is a struggling artist and has a connection to Alice that Alice is unaware of. The book alternates between two stories - Alice's and Kristin's. Alice's story is about life on the farm, her grief the loss of her young son, her careless affair, and the difficulties in her relationship with her husband Claudio. Kristin's story is about art, about her struggle to become an artist, her obsessive love affair with her boss, and about a dangerous forgery. To me, Kristin's story was much more engaging and believable while Alice's story, told through diary entries that are written as a letter to her missing husband, were cliche and less interesting, perhaps because I found Alice kind of boring and unlikable. More about the book and the Tuscan feast after the jump.
This post and little cake should go into the category of cooking inspired by ingredients that are on sale at Whole Foods. For a few weeks now, blackberries have been on sale for something like 2 packages for 3 bucks, and when it comes to summer fruit, I cannot turn down a deal like that! (Consequently in coming days you will see the ubiquitous spring rhubarb post, strawberry post, and cherry post - though there were no deals to be had on those cherries). Once I bought the blackberries I knew I wanted to put them into a rich yellow pound cake. I took a Martha Stewart recipe for a blueberry cake and adapted that and also added some cornmeal, to give it a nuttier flavor. The cake turned out wonderfully and is it is a very versatile snacking cake - it feels appropriate at breakfast, an afternoon snack, and for dessert. I used sour cream in this because I had some extra from the borscht I made recently, but Greek yogurt would also work great (though I would recommend at least low fat if not full fat). Besides switching the fat, this would work with so many fruits, including all the wonderful berries etc... that are coming soon to a farmers market near you. The other great thing I discovered about this cake was by accident. I had just poured the batter into the pan and was sliding into the oven when my date for the evening showed up unexpectedly early. I ended up taking it out of the oven, covering it with plastic and shoving it in the fridge since I would not be able to bake it until the next day. I was sure it would be ruined, but I just let the cake come up to room temperature and then baked it as I had planned and it was perfect. So this would be great to put together the night before you want to serve it at brunch if you want to serve it warm right out of the oven.
Jan-Phillipp Sendker's The Art of Hearing Heartbeats is a poetic, mythical novel about a women's search for her father after he disappears from their Manhattan life and her returns to his birthplace, Burma. This novel was first published in German in 2002, which I didn't know when I ordered the book. I don't usually like to read translations because I feel like I will be missing something, that I won't be reading the real thing. I was blown away by the beautiful and lyrical storytelling of this book - whoever did the translation did an exceptional job. Most of the book tells a fairy tale of a love story between Tin Win, a blind Burmese boy, and Mi Mi a Burmese girl with a deformed leg. It seems impossible that Tin Win, who started out in a small rural Burmese town, ended up as a successful entertainment lawyer in New York. But he did, and one day he left his family, including his grown daughter Julia, also a lawyer, and disappeared. Julia heads to Burma to find him, and this is where she discovers the real story of her father's first 20 years. Since the majority of the action takes place in Burma, I was excited to find some Burmese recipes on the internet. In the book, the only real mention of Burmese food is various curries and rice. There is not a lot out there in the States about Burmese food, likely because it's political situation has made it so difficult to travel there over the past few years. One of my favorite cookbook authors (Naomi Duguid) is coming out with a Burmese cookbook this fall. For now I googled around and came upon a recipe in a San Francisco newspaper for a Burmese fish curry. It is made with salmon which of course they don't have in Burma, but the sauce is hopefully at least a little authentic.
I have been in a bit of a cocktail rut - lacking inspiration, I have just skipped cocktail posts lately. That all ended yesterday when Dale Degroff's The Craft of Cocktail arrived in my mailbox. A few folks have recommended this book to me once I started posting cocktails. It is like an inspired Joy of Cooking for drinks - every classic cocktail is in here, and many variations too. It is organized alphabetically, rather than by type of drink or type of alcohol, and the drinks include both very fancy classy stuff and some cheesy classics (can't wait to make a "Suffering Bastard" which I remember reading on Chinese food menus as a kid!) When I started flipping through the book yesterday I became overwhelmed, there are 200 pages of cocktail recipes in here! I decided to go with something that I have enjoyed at restaurants, that is a little unusual and cool but not too hipster (that is another great thing about the book, although I like the movement for ultra homemade, special, farm to glass cocktails, this book is more about cocktails you would get a beautiful hotel bar rather than served in an ironic bar in Brooklyn). Without further ado, I give the Aviation - just three ingredients and a perfect slow sipped cocktail to get your summer going.
This borscht is way more virtuous than what A.D. Miller's decadent, morally suspect Snowdrops called for. The book is set in Moscow after the fall of communism, in the Putin era, when everyone was out to get rich and there were no truly "legitimate" businesses. In this setting Miller puts Nick Platt, a British attorney in his late 30's who meets two beautiful Russian women on the subway platform and is quickly pulled into a deadly scam. Nick knows that these women are using him, but he lets himself be used - because they are so beautiful, because he is so lonely. The book is written as a confessional by Nick to his fiance in London years after his time in Moscow. In order for her to really know him, he figures, she needs to know the worst of him. The book starts with Nick describing a "snowdrop" which in wintry Moscow is a dead body found when a pile of snow melts as winter thaws. From here Nick moves backward to tell the story of who the snowdrop was and how Nick lost himself completely once he met Masha. More about the book and borscht after the jump.
This quirky cocktail (with the dizzy picture) was inspired by the fact that I had a bunch of dill and cucumbers around (they will appear again in my Borscht post coming this weekend). Dill and cucumber is such a great combination when it comes to eating, I wanted to find a way to make it work in a cocktail Gin seemed like the perfect match for both cucumber and dill so I just made a simple gin and tonic and added some muddled cucumber and dill. The result was a refreshing gin and tonic that tasted a tad like pickles, one of my favorite foods. I am obviously obsessed with green/herb cocktails lately, but they are so perfect this time of year! I promise next week I will make something brown or fruity...For now, enjoy this cocktail that tastes as green as at it looks.
Although today is mother's day, I am sharing with you the recipe for my Dad's favorite cookies. We lost my Dad a year ago today, so it seemed fitting to make something in tribute to him this week. My Dad was what you would call a good eater - while I wouldn't consider him a foodie (that term was before his time anyway), he certainly loved to eat and I feel that he passed his love for certain foods down to me. These hermit cookies are one of those foods that he loved that I now love too. It seems like hermit cookies are hard to find now - if you haven't had them they are a brown sugar molasses bar cookie, highly spiced, filled with raisins and walnuts, and deliciously chewy. They are an old fashioned humble New England cookie without much flash, but carry a lot of flavor. When I was thinking of what to make this week for my Dad, hermits were the first thing that came to mind, because we always had them in the house growing up since my Dad loved them. Every week my mom would load up with treats at the bakery, paying special attention to the things my Dad loved - hermits, poppy seed bagels, bulky rolls (not that she would neglect us kids, there were always loaves of challah, half moon cookies and gingerbread men for us). Obviously, we were not one of those houses with no sugar cereal and no dessert! Luckily, even though they were his favorite, my Dad was willing to share his hermits with me, and I developed a taste for them! Talking to my sister on the phone this week, the other foods we immediately came up with when thinking about Dad were pickled herring and borscht. Unfortunately, his love for those foods was not passed down to me! I will not go near the herring, but in a couple of days I will share with you some borscht I made - the cold kind, which is what my Dad had for lunch most Saturdays. Borscht conveniently fits in with the book I just finished - Snowdrop, which takes place in Moscow. For now, please enjoy these hermits. I will be thinking about my wonderful father as I eat them.
Cocktail hour this week was a bit of a dilemma, with the Kentucky Derby and Cinco de Mayo falling on the same day! I love bourbon, but I cannot say I am a big fan of Mint Juleps. Perhaps it is because my enduring memory of them comes from a version a friend from college made at an impromptu derby party my senior year in college. Lord only knows what kind of bourbon we used, though it likely came in a plastic jug or whether we used fresh mint. I can't imagine that we did. So, when it came time to choose which coktail to make this week I went with a margarita, but brought the Derby day mint to the party. I did this by making a simple mint syrup and adding some of that and fresh mint to a simple classic margarita. The result was a slightly herby, sweet version of the classic margarita. I may even make my margaritas this way all the time (not that I make them that much, I also have some enduring, bad memories of tequila from a plastic jug from college which sadly prevents me from really loving tequila drinks the way I should). If you are also facing a similar cocktail dilemma this weekend, try this hybrid Julep/Margarita!
Wow. That is the first word that came to mind when I finished the last page of Esi Edugyan's wonderful novel Half-Blood Blues. While I really like most of the books I read (the last one notwithstanding) it has been a while since I have read since a unique, moving and enjoyable book. The novel toggles between the present day (or close to it) and 1930's Europe. The narrator of the novel is Sidney Griffiths, who in the 30's was a bassist who traveled from Baltimore to Berlin with his best friend, a drummer, Chip Jones, to play jazz with the Hot Time Swingers, a motley of crew of German and American musicians. Berlin before the Nazi's had a thriving jazz scene which attracted African-American musicians from the States. The novel is both an upbeat memoir of the swinging lifestyle of these musicians and guilt ridden tale of jealousy and war. At the heart of the story is Hieronymus Falk, a German musician of mixed race who is younger than the other band members (he is 20) and a blazing, world class talent on the trumpet. The novel starts with Hiero being arrested by Nazi soldiers in a Paris cafe as Sidney stands by and does nothing to stop it. The novel then moves both forward in time to the present, where Sidney is asked to travel to Berlin for a Hieronymus Falk jazz festival, and backwards, telling the story of the Hot Time Swingers and how Hiero ended up arrested. The language and tempo of the novel are jazz-like - with generous use of the jazz hipster slang of the time. It is a novel more about friendship than it is about jazz, though jazz is as an important character. A struggled with a dish for the book since these cats don't spend a lot of time eating, both because of their lifestyle and the food shortages in war time Europe. They spend most of their time drinking really cheap and brutal liquor they call "the Czech." While they are in Paris there is a reference to "onion broth" so I seized on that and decided on a recipe for classic Onion Soup I found in a neat "Paris Cafe" cookbook. The ingredients are so simple, perhaps they couldn't have gotten their hands on the bread and cheese during the occupation, but this soup is all about the onions.
More on the book and soup after the jump.
I wish I could say I loved Teju Cole's Open City, because it got rave reviews and seemed promising when I picked it up. Unfortunately, I found the book very hard to get through and when I did get finally get through it, I did not really feel like the work was worth it. Perhaps it is because I just need a little more plot to push me through a book. I read a lot of dry stuff for a living - as a lawyer I pretty much read all day, so when I read for fun I want a little escapism and storytelling. What Open City basically is is a narrative of what is going on in the main character Julius' head as he walks around New York. Just like the thoughts in your own head - sometimes this stuff is interesting and sometimes it is a total snooze. Julius is a doctor of Nigerian and German descent who is living in New York and finishing up his residency in psychiatry at what I assume is the hospital associated with Columbia University. Julius is what you would call a lost soul - he does not have strong connections to any people or community in New York. There are things in life he loves - such as an old professor and classical music - but even these things he seems to treat in a detached manner. I think it is this detachment that really made it hard for me to dig into Open City because the book felt aimless and without any real emotion. The book reads this way because this is how Julius' thoughts are - but for me this made for a tough read. These Akara fritters were more successful for me - they are not inspired by the book in any way other than that Julius grew up in Nigeria and this is a Nigerian dish. They are made with black eyed peas and a small amount of habanero chile that delivers a nice amount of heat. Paired with a red pepper dipping sauce, they were a winner.
Hello everyone! Sorry for being so remiss in my blogging of late. It has been a combination of my new job, passover, and the fact that it has taken me over a month to read a 250 page book that has kept me from bookcooker for so long! I finally finished that book (Open City by Teju Cole) yesterday and will be posting about it this weekend. But in the interim I will share with you this pretty asparagus tart. As the seasons change, I am always looking for that ultimate recipe for certain produce that only really shines once a year. Spring in particular is great for these things - asparagus, rhubarb, strawberries, spinach - and at this time I year I feel like I am constantly eating asparagus. In a few weeks we will all be sick of it though, so hopefully this post catches you when you are still enamored of it. It is a rich tart that really lets the asparagus shine. It has a dramatic look to it that would look even cooler with a square or rectangle tart pan, but you can also make do with a round pan, as I did above. I thought the filo dough would mean making this tart is more weeknight friendly, but to be honest I found the filo just as fussy, if not more, as tart dough. But it adds a real lightness to the tart. This was an ambitious but doable weeknight meal for me but it also really screams brunch as it is basically a quiche. The recipe after the jump.
Happy almost passover. In the next couple of days I hope to squeeze in a few passover recipes, starting with this classic matzo ball soup. This is often referred to as Jewish penicillin and is just a very simple but rich chicken soup of matzo dumplings. The recipe I made is from Ina Garten (aka the Barefoot Contessa). Matzo ball soup has always intimidated me, as it is so hard to get the matzo ball just right. It is a fairly simple thing - just a dumpling made with matzo meal instead of flour, but when a matzo ball is good it is heavenly - light and airy but rich with chicken flavor. Conversely, when a matzo ball is bad it is like a hockey puck made of paste. So there is a lot of pressure there to get it right. Growing up, I would say at least half the time my mom bought her matzo balls from the local deli. I remember she also had the same matzo ball anxiety that I now have. I remember some years she would come to the table after serving us frustrated with how her matzo balls turned out. I do remember always loving whatever matzo balls she serve, whether she thought they were good or not, because of course she was serving them. Unfortunately I do not have her matzo ball recipe so was forced to go to backup in the Jewish recipe department, Ina. I made this batch of soup earlier this week as a dry run for the soup I will make for my family this weekend. These matzo balls were great and the soup was fantastic, but to mimic my mothers matzo balls this weekend I will eliminate the herbs - it will make them plainer but that is what a matzo ball should be - humble and homely.
Eleanor Brown's The Weird Sisters is a wonderful novel that is at its heart about sisterly love. The novel is narrated by all three of the Andreas sisters. I don't mean that novel is divided between each sister narrating in the first person but instead they all narrate together, a collective "we." This narrative trick is just one of the things that makes this novel so charming. What is also charming is that the characters often speak to each other in Shakespearean verse. The father of the three sisters is a professor at a small but prestigious college in Ohio that has devoted his life to the study of the bard. His deep knowledge of Shakespeare was passed on to his daughters - whether they wanted it or not - and the family communicates both trivial and important things to each other through Shakespeare's words. The three sisters are named after characters in Shakespeare's plays - Rosalind (Rose) from As You Like It, Bianca (Bean) from The Taming of the Shrew (and Othello) and Cordelia (Cordy) the favored daughter from King Lear. The book follows these three very different sisters as they all come home, really for their own reasons but also to help care for their mother, who has been diagnosed with breast cancer. Each sister, while dealing with their mother's illness is also dealing with a major crossroads in her life, and it is the time the sisters spend together that helps each sister move forward. These pancakes were inspired by a meal the family had together, the first meal cooked for them by the prodigal daughter, Cordelia. I fancied up the pancakes with some fresh ricotta cheese and Meyer lemon. A wonderful easy brunch dish.
I know that as April begins, a hot toddy does not seem particularly appropriate for cocktail hour. I apologize for this, but this week's choice was compelled by the hacking cough I have had all week. I have spent the week sipping tea, sucking on cough drops and excusing myself out of meeting after meeting to go cough. Bummer. The only kind of cocktail I could interest myself in is something hot, soothing, and with a little spice to help clear my head. And after an exhausting week something with alcohol was a must. So here is this simple hot toddy with ginger, lemon and cloves. You can really use whatever brown liquor you want, I went with bourbon. I added some honey to coat my throat and presto - instant relief.
Kim Edwards' The Lake of Dreams is a little bit sleepy novel. The story follows Lucy, a young woman who has escaped the pain of her fathers sudden death by traveling the world and staying far away from her family home in the Finger Lakes region of New York. When she finds herself at a bit of a dead end in her life with her boyfriend in Japan she decides to travel home to The Lake of Dreams (the name of the town she grew up in) after her mother is in a car accident. Here Lucy must confront her past and the fact that everyone in her family has moved on from her father's death but her. Staying in her childhood bedroom, Lucy finds some old letters in a cupboard concerning a ancestor who no one in her family seems to know about. Lucy then embarks on a quest to discover more about this long lost relative - Rose - to uncover her families secrets. Lucy ends up finding a connection between Rose, who participated in the woman's suffrage movement, and a famous stained glass artist from the area - Frank Westrum. A large part of the book focuses on a series of stained glass windows that depict biblical scenes from the women's perspective. Hence, these stained glass cookies which I haven't made or even thought of since I was a kid.
Had a bad day? A tiring week? Got some bad news? Got some good news? For any of these situations, what you need is a vacation in glass. This weekend I needed a vacation in a glass. I had my last day at work at one job on Friday and on Monday I start a new job. With only two days in between, instead of a trip to the tropics I decided to take myself there with this drink. Anything with a little pink umbrella in it makes you relax! Here is my version of a Pina Colada which is always my tropical drink of choice because it is so creamy and it truly transports you to "vacationland." With this version I lightened it up a bit by using regular coconut milk instead of creme de coco, which is delicious but filled with added sugar. This Pina Colada is probably less sweet than what you would find a beach side bar in the Bahamas, but it is still yummy and still feels naughty. Now if I could just put my feet in the sand and hear the ocean I would be set... Oh well, we make do with the situation at hand.
Happy Thursday! Here is a pretty quick and easy weeknight dinner that tastes like takeout but definitely is not as greasy. I was inspired to make this when I found some fresh lo mein noodles at a local market for $1 buck. I built the dish around that, to some extent driven to the ground pork based on a truly fabulous ramen dish at local Boston place - for those of you in the area, you must get yourself to the food court in the Porter Square exchange building in Somerville, MA and have the spicy pork miso ramen at Sapporo Ramen. As you can see, this is not ramen but just stir fried noodles and, while I remembered to get the ground pork at Whole Foods, I forgot the miso! I came up with this dish nonetheless, and it has that same porky umami quality, and it took under 30 minutes to prepare, which is great for a busy weeknight.