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.