Monday, April 7, 2014

Our April/May 2014 Cook the Books Selection: Funny in Farsi

Hello Everyone! I am happy to make the formal announcement of our next Cook the Books pick: Funny in Farsi: A Memoir of Growing up Iranian in America, by Firoozeh Dumas. I have great affection for this book of autobiographical essays, since it made me repeatedly laugh out loud and bug my husband with constant interruptions so that I could read portions to him.

Dumas is a wonderful storyteller and her upbringing certainly was interesting. Born in Iran, she moved to Whittier, California with her family in 1972 when she was seven years old. Her father, Kazem, is a petroleum engineer and a constant source of amusement throughout the book. He's a bit of a dreamer, an enthusiast for American game shows, a constant dieter and someone who thoroughly baffled Albert Einstein when he had the chance to meet with him.

There is enough mention of Persian foods and Firoozeh's hilarious anecdotes about how her family encounters and experiences American ones to get us going in the kitchen, so I hope you will also enjoy this very  funny, but also touching, book as much as I have.

Submissions are due June 1, 2014. As always, anyone can join us in this round of Cook the Books buy reading and blogging about the book, including a dish that you have made which has been inspired by its contents. You can let me know that your post is up by posting a comment below or by sending me an email at: oldsaratogabooks AT gmail dot com.


P.S. Bon Appetit in Farsi : (befarma'id) بفرماييد (nooshe jan) نوش جان  

Friday, April 4, 2014

Twain's Feast: the roundup

It's time for the roundup of Cook the Books' Club February-March 2014 edition for which we read Twain's Feast: Searching for America's Lost Foods in the Footsteps of Samuel Clemens by Andrew Beahrs.

For each contribution (given in order of publication), I will give you the official information (author, blog name and post title) and a brief quote from it — a tiny morsel that will entice you to follow the link and read the details of the dish prepared and of how the reading inspired the activity in the  kitchen.

Now, please, make yourself comfortable, then follow me on a little literary / culinary journey on the footsteps of Mark Twain and Andrew Beahrs.

"I really had no clue that Mark Twain/Samuel Clemens was such a champion of American foods; while others were lauding the sophistication of European cuisines, he longed for some down-home cookin'... The Porterhouse is a composite steak. It's basically an over-sized T-Bone, thicker cut, with a lot more of the tenderloin relative to the loin portion."

"Twain often wrote about the foods of New Orleans, recalling the lands and waters that he knew as a riverboat pilot on the Mississippi... And he was fascinated by Mardi Gras.  In a letter he wrote: 'I may say that an American has not seen the United States until he has seen Mardi Gras in New Orleans'." These beignets are "an untraditional savory take" on those offered by the Café Du Monde in the French Quarter.

Alicia of Foodycat prepared Maple Bacon Popcorn

"I wanted to make something from corn...I also wanted to use maple syrup. Another food indigenous to North America and,  apparently,  one of the few mostly wild foods still popularly consumed... And,  of course,  bacon. After all,  it is the internet. Plus I have noticed that bacon is something that Americans abroad really miss. Corn,  maple syrup and bacon. These added up to a completely indulgent snack."

Debra of Eliot's Eats prepared Beignets

"I don’t think I would get too much of an argument by saying that New Orleans may be the most culinary city in the U.S. (and maybe the world)... Instead of funny looking fish, I still had beignets from Cafe du Monde in my head and I wanted to do a traditional New Orleans food. The Hubs wondered if I could make them.  Of course, I said."

"I ended up inspired by Beahrs' chapter on oysters, once so plentiful in the U.S. that they were sold by the barrel... I did end up with one container of shucked oysters from the Saratoga Springs Price Chopper which were cleverly hidden away in a refrigerated case next to the organic vegetable section, so clutching this in the crook of my arm throughout the rest of my shopping trip, I got it home and tinkered with the family recipe to make this rich and delectable side dish."

Deb of Kahakai Kitchen prepared Radish Soup and Radish-Leaf & Feta Spread

"I wanted something local,  somewhat seasonal... I ended up going back to the first item on Twain's list,  the radish. Easy to get fresh locally and something I don't cook a lot with... While I will never be a plain,  raw radish lover,  I have learned to appreciate them: roasted radishes are pretty yummy,  feta cheese is brilliant with radishes and the peppery radish greens are really quite tasty."

"One night for dinner my husband made two versions of oyster soup – one with milk and the other with rice milk: after trying both soups,  Paul preferred the soup made with rice milk,  which had a nice sweetness to it that complimented the taste of the oysters... I decided to try two methods... Maybe this was overkill, but it worked out rather nicely to thicken the oyster soup into a creamy oyster chowder."

Claudia of Honey From Rock prepared Manapua

"Around 1860 a number of the Chinese who had left the plantations began to open small businesses in an area of Honolulu known as Chinatown... Sam Clemens would most likely have visited Chinatown during his stay in Honolulu,  as he was there in 1866.  Chinese food had became wildly popular by that time,  with both foreigners and the local Hawaiians,  especially dim sum,  the varied and delicious appetizers. One variety of which remains a local favorite - Manapua,  the Hawaiian word for Char Sui Bao,  tasty little buns with a filling of pork char sui."

Simona of briciole (your host) prepared Roasted Trout

"Mark Twain loved Lake Tahoe. He fell in love with it at first sight... In chapter Three of his book,  Beahrs tells the story of Twain's travel west,  his love for Lake Tahoe and for trout dinner. In our household,  we also like a trout meal (lunch or dinner) and my recipe for it is simple and flavorful — though we have to make do with farmed trout."

A great Thank you! to everyone who joined in this edition of Cook the Books.

I believe all the submissions I have received are presented in the roundup. However, mishaps are part of life, so if you find anything missing or in need of amendment anywhere in the roundup, please do let me know.

And now, I’ll turn things over to Rachel of The Crispy Cook for the April-May 2014 selection: Funny in Farsi: A Memoir of Growing Up Iranian in America by Firoozeh Dumas (2003).

Arrivederci a presto!

Saturday, February 22, 2014

The Next Four Cook the Books Selections for the 2014 Reading Season

Even as we travel through historic and contemporary America through the pages of our current CTB book selection, "Twain's Feast" by Andrew Beahrs, it is time to plan ahead for some other great reading to fill out the rest of the year.

To heighten the drama before this biblio-unveiling, I wanted to mention the changes that are happening with our Cook the Books band of bloggers. 

First, Heather of Girlichef, is regretfully leaving as a Cohost, though she notes that she will still join the group from time to time as her schedule allows.  I know I have always enjoyed Heather's writing and recipes, so I hope she can squeeze some time in for us and for some great reads in the coming months. The good news is that Debra of Eliot's Eats will be stepping up to the plate as our Fourth Cohost so we will still have a lot of "flavor and spice" represented in our foodie book selections. 

The second big change at Cook the Books is that we are doing away with the Guest Judge and winning post feature to our blog. While we have had a long line of wonderful Guest Judges and savored their comments about our posts, it is sometimes a mad scramble for the Cohost to secure a Guest Judge in cases where we've picked a very popular author that doesn't respond to our invitations (or an author who is deceased). We will still post a roundup of blog posts about our featured book, but there will be no Cook the Book winner. If an author wants to comment about our roundup, we'll pass it on. 

Now, onto the next four Cook the Books picks. 

Simona, Rachel, Deb and Debra have picked out the following books for upcoming rounds of Cook the Books. Here are what we have picked and why we chose it in the host's own words: 

April/May 2014 Round hosted by Rachel of The Crispy Cook

Funny in Farsi: A Memoir of Growing Up Iranian in America by Firoozeh Dumas (2003)

This witty memoir is by an Iranian-born author who emigrated to southern California with her family in 1972, when she was a little girl. The essays about growing up with an engineer father who thinks he knows more about America and the English language than he actually does, adjusting to cultural differences in school and at-large, and marrying into a French family are full of humor and sparkle. And of course, there are some descriptions of lots of 
luscious Persian cooking to inspire us in the kitchen.


Deadline: Sunday, June 1, 2014

June/July 2014 Round hosted by Deb of Kahakai Kitchen:

The Apprentice: My Life in the Kitchen a Memoir by Jacques Pépin (2003)

Whenever I catch an old episode of Jacques Pépin on PBS or find him on a talk show or serving as a judge on a cooking show like Top Chef, I am struck by what a class act he is. Always respectful, thoughtful and with a true passion for food and for sharing his knowledge of cooking. Now 78, Pépin is a prolific chef, teacher and author, writing over 20 cookbooks and hosting or co-hosting 13 different cooking shows over the years. Several years ago a good foodie friend gave me her copy of his memoir, "The Apprentice: My Life in the Kitchen" and I reveled in his tale of growing up in France and working in his mother's kitchens, his time spent training and cooking in Paris, and his move to the United States in 1959. 

Stumbling over a copy the other day, I wanted to revisit this book myself and share it with all of you. Spanning several decades, his stories of how today's cooking scene evolved and his friendships with some of the greats like Julia Child, Craig Claiborne and James Beard make this book a charming and engrossing read for any foodie. (Anthony Bourdain called it "an instant classic!") The book itself includes some of Pépin's favorite recipes, and along with his array of cookbooks and online recipes, there should be plenty of inspiration and dishes to choose from. 


Deadline: Thursday, July 31, 2014

August/September 2014 Round hosted by Debra of EliotsEats

A Thousand Days in Venice, by Marlena De Blasi

I cannot remember why I picked up A Thousand Days in Venice by Marlena De Blasi.  I am sure it had something to do with the books tagline of “An Unexpected Romance” and obviously because it was set in Venice.   But, I soon became intrigued with the life De Blasi begins in Venice.  The thousand days of the title include her moving from St. Louis to Venice to start a life with a new and unexpected love.  It chronicles her spontaneous decision to live life and share her heart with Fernando (“the stranger”) and immerse herself in the food, culture and people of the city that is to be her new home.  Thousand Days in Venice is a love story between a man, a woman and a truly beautiful city.  Rest assured there are some authentic recipes included such as Prugne Addormentate (Sleeping Pears), Pappa al Pomodoro, and  Porcini Brasati con Moscato (Wild Mushrooms Braised in Late-Harvest Wine).  It has been a number of years since I have read this book so I am looking forward to rereading it.   Please note that De Blasi continues her adventures with Fernando in A Thousand Days in Tuscany and The Lady in the Palazzo:  An Umbrian Love Story. She also writes about other’s loves in That Summer in Sicily and Antonia and Her Daughters. These books are all full of food, bittersweet tales, love, and beautiful descriptions of Italy and its people.    

De Blasi is also the author of two cookbooks:  Regional Foods of Northern Italy (a James Beard Foundation Award finalist) and Regional Foods of Southern Italy.
I hope everyone enjoys this trip to “The Floating City.”

Deadline: Tuesday, September 30, 2014


October/November 2013 Round hosted by Simona of Briciole

That Old Ace in the Hole, a novel by Annie Proulx (2002)

Although set very far away from the Newfoundland of The Shipping News, this novel shows some parallel to Proulx's earlier novel.The protagonist is a shy man confused about his place in the world, who finds himself transplanted into a new environment full of interesting characters and rich in local customs.

Adding to his clumsiness there is the fact that he is on a mission — to buy land to establish a hog farm— opposed by many of the people who also show him kindness.There are no recipes in the novel, but many dishes are mentioned and I hope that some elements of the story will inspire you. Above all, I hope that you will enjoy following Bob Dollar's adventure in the Texas Panhandle.


Deadline: Tuesday, December 2, 2014

As always, we welcome everyone to join us for one or more of these Cook the Book rounds. The only requirement to join in the fun is to read the book and blog about it, including making a dish inspired by its pages.  Please join us.


Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Our February/March Book Pick: Twain's Feast by Andrew Beahrs

What foods do Americans miss when they are abroad? Mark Twain's autobiographical book, A Tramp Abroad, written in 1879 while on an extended stay in Europe, includes a scathing assessment of the cuisine offered by European hotels. After negative reviews of pretty much everything he has eaten during his stay, Twain sees the light at the end of the tunnel, since he is getting ready to travel back home, where he is planning to eat: 
Radishes. Baked apples, with cream.
Fried oysters; stewed oysters. Frogs.
American coffee, with real cream. 
He goes on to mention about 80 more American foods from buckwheat cakes to squash pie. On first reading, the list made me think about the menu of a Baroque banquet. In Twain's Feast: Searching for America's Lost Foods in the Footsteps of Samuel Clemens, Andrew Beahrs "tracked down a number of these American classics, discovering what Twain's experience of them was, what's become of them today, and what's being done to bring them back" (source

In the book, Beahrs tells us stories about both the man and the country, both the past and the present, stories about trout and oyster, terrapin, raccoon and more. The chapters include old recipes and references to food that I hope will inspire us, including the full list penned by Twain (see the Introduction). 


The deadline for publishing your post inspired by Twain's Feast
is Monday, March 31st

When you publish your post (or posts), you can leave a comment to this post or email me at Feel free to write a comment or email message, should you have any questions.

Buon divertimento (have fun)!

Wednesday, February 5, 2014

Thoughts (And a Winner!) From Maggie Daniel Caldwell, Our Guest Judge for "Baking Cakes in Kigali"

Many thanks to writer, photographer and blogger (Life in a Skillet) Maggie Daniel Caldwell, our fabulous guest judge for the Cook the Books December/January pick "Baking Cakes in Kigali."  Maggie took much care over reading each of our entries and as a group called us "quite accomplished." It wasn't an easy decision to pick a winner but I'll let her tell you about it in her own words! ;-)

From Maggie:

Thank you so much Deb, and the others at Cook the Books Club, for inviting me to join you this month! I loved reading each of your blog posts; it was a great way to revisit the book, and you all impressed me in different ways with your observations and choices. A few thoughts from each of the entries:

Claudia of Honey From Rock: I enjoy Nancy Atherton's books, too, and am impressed that you made two different cakes. That Blackberry Mochi cake sounds delicious.

Camilla of Culinary Creations with Camilla: I'd never heard of Hummingbird Cake before and enjoyed the scan of that original recipe. It reminds me a bit of the pineapple upside down cake that Mom always makes for my dad's birthday. Your Kitchen Elves are quite accomplished at marzipan - I'm jealous!

Rossella of Ma che ti sei Mangiato?, (But you've Eaten?): You were very clever to make devil's food cake as a counterpoint to Angel's name, and I think the photograph of the slice of cake with tea that is dedicated to her is a touching gesture. 

Debra of Eliot's Eats: I've added instant pudding to boxes of cake mix but never thought about sour cream. I imagine it adds tons of moisture with a nice zing. And that frosting - wow. Those three colors are very happy, and I do think that Angel would approve. 
Simona of Briciole: Your recipe for Beans in Cashew and Tomato Curry looks fabulous and more than a little sophisticated. I'll definitely try this one out; I have a son who loves spice and beans but hates meat, so I think it will be a winner. And what a coincidence to find baskets woven in Angel's homeland - I often find, while reading a story, connections in real life that I may not have noticed. 

Rachel of The Crispy Cook: What a fantastic summary of the book! I agree that Angel is quite quotable, and in my house it is also "tea time all the time." Imigongo is an interesting art form; it reminded me of the elephant dung sculptures that were so scandalous several years ago. My kids are giggling about stumbling across the google results page for "dung art!" 

Deb at Kahakai Kitchen: I loved learning about cassava root and appreciate that you described the texture as well and the best way to prep. It's not an ingredient I've every used, but now if I ever see it I'll be inclined to try it out. I also think it was a stroke of genius the way you followed your instincts and married a traditional Rwandan dish with Marcus Samuelsson's berbere. 

With all of these great blog posts, you can see that it was difficult to choose a winner. But I awoke very early this morning, before dawn, with a very clear notion of who should be the winner: Culinary Creations with Camilla. Just like Angel, who baked cakes as a means to solve problems, Camilla baked a cake to help solve the problem of honoring a book she just didn't care for. Her Hummingbird Cake was brightly colored and the marzipan birds intricate and festive - both details of which Angel would wholeheartedly approve. Best of all, though, she involved her "kitchen elves" in its creation. For me, engaging by cooking with others - especially your children, in this case - really captured the spirit of "Baking Cakes in Kigali." 

Congratulations Camilla!  
Please share your win with the fabulous 'kitchen elves" that helped create your beautiful Hummingbird Cake.

Thanks to everyone who participated in this round and especially, a big mahalo to Maggie. We hope to have her join in with us as a participant in the  future-maybe for our February/March selection: Twain's Feast: Searching for America's Lost Foods in the Footsteps of Samuel Clemens by Andrew Beahrs, hosted by Simona of briciole.