Monday, December 10, 2018

Our December/January Pick: Island of Sweet Pies and Soldiers by Sara Ackerman

I love historical fiction, especially when it is set during World War II and even more so when it gives different perspectives of the war and snippets of life during this tragic, historic time, so I am pleased to pick Island of Sweet Pies and Soldiers by Sara Ackerman for our December/January book. 

It seems especially timely as National Pearl Harbor Remembrance Day was this past Friday and it has been 77 years since the surprise attack on Oahu by Japanese military put America into the war. The book is set in Honoka'a Hawaii, north of Hilo a few years into the war.


From the Publisher:

"Hawaii, 1944. The Pacific battles of World War II continue to threaten American soil, and on the home front, the bonds of friendship and the strength of love are tested.

Violet Iverson and her young daughter, Ella, are piecing their lives together one year after the disappearance of her husband. As rumors swirl and questions about his loyalties surface, Violet believes Ella knows something. But Ella is stubbornly silent. Something—or someone—has scared her. And with the island overrun by troops training for a secret mission, tension and suspicion between neighbors is rising.

Violet bands together with her close friends to get through the difficult days. To support themselves, they open a pie stand near the military base, offering the soldiers a little homemade comfort. Try as she might, Violet can’t ignore her attraction to the brash marine who comes to her aid when the women are accused of spying. Desperate to discover the truth behind what happened to her husband, while keeping her friends and daughter safe, Violet is torn by guilt, fear and longing as she faces losing everything. Again.
"



2019 will mark my 18th year of living in Hawaii and I've been wanting to host a book that's set in this beautiful state that's full of delicious food and that I now call my home. Author Sara Ackerman was born and raised in Hawaii. She studied journalism and earned graduate degrees in psychology and Oriental medicine and she lives on the Island of Hawai'i where this novel (her debut) is set. (Her second book, The Lieutenant's Nurse is set at Pearl Harbor on Oahu.) Check out her website and her Instagram account for more details. 

There is drama, mystery, friendship, family, romance and of course, pies and other local food in this novel and I look forward to seeing what it inspires you to create.

The deadline for submissions for this round is Thursday, January 31, 2019.

Aloha,

Deb

Saturday, December 1, 2018

The Cooking Gene: the roundup


It's time for the roundup of Cook the Books' Club October-November 2018 edition for which we read the The Cooking Gene by Michael Twitty.

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

Make yourself comfortable, then follow me on a historical literary / culinary journey. 

"Michael Twitty... says that orchard fruit was a staple of the food that was rationed out for slaves along with molasses, coffee, flour and game hunted on plantation grounds. In addition, seasonal produce from personal gardens made up the bulk of a slave’s diet... I had the opportunity to hear Twitty speak at the Smithsonian’s recent Food History Weekend... He also spoke at length about Southern food and Soul food, noting that Southern food wouldn’t be Southern food without Soul food - not the other way around, that Soul food equals memory food and that Soul derives not just from people of African descent... For the apple crumble I prepared for this post, I followed Twitty’s advice to always select multiple varieties for a perfect mix of texture, taste of tart and taste of sweet."

The book "is much more than that, being also personal history, a memoir of the author and his family, from the time of their arrival as slaves to the present day... It is the story of their sojourn in America, from enslaved times to now. Though, just my opinion, it would be both interesting and enlightening to take the story back to when that slavery actually began. The origins... From Twitty's book, I was inspired to make his BBQ Mop sauce for a batch of ribs, cooked in my pressure cooker, which gets them just to the right tenderness, perfection when you afterwards slather them with the sauce and caramelize in the oven!  Served with Sautéed Collard Greens and rice. I meant to make spoon bread, but got pushed for time and energy."


"Even before reading the book, I knew Twitty is a great story teller, whether he talks about a specific dish or is inhabiting the lives of his enslaved ancestors. I understand his need to know, his stubborn following all the threads that tie his life to those of his forebears. It as a special kind of religious pilgrimage. Whatever your specific interests, you will find the book fascinating, as it weaves foodways into the quilt of people's migration, mostly (though not all) forced... I decided to mirror the woven stories and make something that would represent my own journey... A special connection to the book is provided by fagiolina del (Lago) Trasimeno, a legume typical of my home region of Umbria, which is a cultivar of cowpea, Vigna unguiculata, closely related to black-eyed peas, one of the crops brought from Africa to America on slave ships."


"I applaud Twitty in his journey and his suggestion that perhaps healing our nation may come from understanding the tribulations and terrors that others have experienced along with the merging of food into one shared experience. Since I was short on time (with Thanksgiving and all of that) and I am constantly on the lookout for possible gifts from the kitchen this time of year, I decided to make Twitty’s Kitchen Pepper... This is a great spice mix. As I savored the grilled pork chop sprinkled with these warming flavors, I also was struck by just how much blood and enslaved toil may have gone into the history of the spices in this recipe. An entire island was conquered and enslaved due to the high value of nutmeg. How many enslaved people died in the delivery of some of these spices?"


Lynda of Reviews, Chews & How-Tos prepared Persimmon Molasses Gingerbread

"A book that was both riveting and very difficult to read without flinching. Go ahead and flinch - our history is extremely uncomfortable - and then keep reading. You will know much more when you finish this book than you knew before you started, and you'll find yourself thinking about it long after you've put it down... I was totally overwhelmed when it came to choosing what to cook as my inspiration from it. SO. MANY. POSSIBILITIES... I decided to take my inspiration from a passage about time spent visiting his Southern relatives as a young man.  In The Cooking Gene, this story includes a passage about persimmons, and it occurred to me that I had never had a persimmon... This time of year is just an excellent time for sweet quickbreads, so that's what I've done here - I have no idea if this is anything at all like Michael Twitty's grandmother's, but we enjoyed it quite a bit."



She had a difficult time getting through the book: "There are so many avenues that I thought Twitty would take this this book... delve into the social aspects and dynamics of food in the African American community... look at how food defines a regional identity. He didn't... And I think I could have gotten over my disappointments in what I expected to read had I enjoyed his writing style. But, sadly, I didn't... I wanted to love this book, but it wasn't a winner for me. Still, I was inspired to create a Jewish-inspired dish as Twitty converted to Judaism in his early 20s. There's not much of a tie to Southern cuisine with this, but I had beef brisket on my to-do list... Also, I wanted to make something with fresh horseradish. So, I made a gremolata with freshly grated horseradish."



"At moments he made hungry, next making me squirm uncomfortably at the uglier moments of our not-so-distant history, then teaching me something new about food before getting me chuckling over his family moments--that while completely different from my own cultural upbringing, often ring with complete familiarity. I love books that give me information--especially when it is related to the history and origins of food and Twitty does it in such an engaging way that had me completely caught up in his journey, and even though I dipped into the book in bits and pieces over the past several weeks, he made the 400+ pages easy to digest (pun intended)."

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 Deb of Kahakai Kitchen who is hosting the December-January edition in which we are reading the novel Island of Sweet Pies and Soldiers by Sara Ackerman.

Arrivederci a presto!

Simona, of briciole

Monday, November 19, 2018

Announcing Our Next Four Selections

Just in time for the Holidays, here are the next four selections of our book club:

Deb (Kahakai Kitchen) opens the series with Island of Sweet Pies and Soldiers by Sara Ackerman (published February 2018) for the December 2018 / January 2019 edition

Island of Sweet Pies and Soldiers by [Ackerman, Sara]

I have long wanted to host a Hawaii-set book for Cook the Books and so I’m excited to pick this historical fiction set during WWII on the Big Island. 

From the Publisher: 
Hawaii, 1944. The Pacific battles of World War II continue to threaten American soil, and on the home front, the bonds of friendship and the strength of love are tested.
Violet Iverson and her young daughter, Ella, are piecing their lives together one year after the disappearance of her husband. As rumors swirl and questions about his loyalties surface, Violet believes Ella knows something. But Ella is stubbornly silent. Something—or someone—has scared her. And with the island overrun by troops training for a secret mission, tension and suspicion between neighbors is rising. 
Violet bands together with her close friends to get through the difficult days. To support themselves, they open a pie stand near the military base, offering the soldiers a little homemade comfort. Try as she might, Violet can’t ignore her attraction to the brash marine who comes to her aid when the women are accused of spying. Desperate to discover the truth behind what happened to her husband, while keeping her friends and daughter safe, Violet is torn by guilt, fear and longing as she faces losing everything. Again.
Author Sara Ackerman was born and raised in Hawaii and studied journalism, earning graduate degrees in psychology and Oriental medicine. When she's not writing or practicing acupuncture, you'll find her in the mountains or in the ocean. Here are links to her website and to her Instagram account where she posts lovely photos of Hawaii and books. 

Deadline for contributing your post is Thursday, January 31, 2019

For the February/March edition, Claudia (Honey from Rock) chose Crazy Rich Asians by Kevin Kwan


As I am currently at number 184 on the library list, and have no personal reportage to present, we will go with clips from the Publisher Weekly Review and the NY Times. Needless to say, the novel has plenty of people eating interesting food. 

From Publisher Weekly Review: 
Kwan's debut novel is a fun, over-the-top romp through the unbelievable world of the Asian jet set, where anything from this season is already passe and one's pedigree is everything. When Rachel Chu's boyfriend, Nick Young, invites her home to Singapore for the summer, she doesn't realize how much gossip she's generated among Asian socialites around the world. To Rachel, Nick is a sweet, intelligent history professor-and the first man she's imagined marrying. To the Asian billionaire set, he's the gorgeous heir apparent to one of China's most "staggeringly rich" and well-established families who virtually control the country's commerce with their ancient fortunes. As soon as she steps off the plane, Rachel is ushered into the opulent world of castle-like estates and mind-boggling luxury. As if the shock of realizing the scale of Nick's wealth is not enough, she must also contend with a troupe of cruel socialites who would absolutely die before they let Singapore's most eligible bachelor get snapped up by a no-name "ABC" (American-born Chinese). There is also Nick's family: his imposing mother, Eleanor, who has exact ideas about who Nick should be dating; his beautiful cousin Astrid, who the younger girls dub "the Goddess" for her stunning fashion sense (she was "the first to pair a vintage Saint Laurent Le Smoking jacket with three-dollar batik shorts"); and Nick's cousin, the flamboyant Oliver, who helps Rachel navigate this strange new world. A witty tongue-in-cheek frolic about what it means to be from really old money and what it's like to be crazy rich. 
From the NY Times: 
Mr. Kwan knows how to deliver guilty pleasures. He keeps the repartee nicely outrageous, the excess wretched and the details wickedly delectable. Who knew that an Asian menu might boast of “Giant South Sea Scallop Consommé With Washington State Ginseng Vapors and Black Mushrooms?” (“Go figure,” writes Mr. Kwan, in a footnote about why the ginseng is imported.) Who knew that an Asian socialite might include Save the Shahtoosh among her favored fashionable causes? 
This should be a fun and food inspiring selection.

Deadline for contributing your post is Sunday, March 31, 2019

For the April/May edition, Debra (Eliot's Eats) has chosen Buttermilk Graffiti by Edward Lee
  

Buttermilk Graffiti by Edward Lee is a good companion piece coming off our reading of The Cooking Gene by Michael Twitty. Lee not only traces his own food comforts and influences, but also all Americans as he travels the country looking for a national cuisine — ”that tension between two vastly different cultures creates something new” (Kindle location 129). Even the title talks about the melding of Edward:
The title of this book, Buttermilk Graffiti, is poetic shorthand for my life. Buttermilk is the iconic ingredient of the American South, one that I not only learned to cook with, but grew to love. Graffiti is the art form that first inspired my identity, the thing that connects me to the memories of my youth in Brooklyn in the 1980s. (Kindle location 102) 
I devoured this book in record time and I am confident the CTB members will as well. (Lee was an English major and I think it’s evident in his writing and style.) Lee travels on his quest to Louisiana, Massachusetts, Brooklyn, Michigan, Florida, Appalachia (with Ronni Lundy), the Mississippi Delta, Alabama, Connecticut, Washington, Texas, New Jersey, Kentucky, Wisconsin, and Illinois. I’ve listed the states/regions he visits here, but Lee is journeying to each area for specific cuisines in specific cities (like the slaw dog and or food of specific cultures). 

Edward Lee is the author of Smoke & Pickles and Buttermilk Graffiti. He is the chef/owner/culinary director of numerous restaurants in Kentucky, Maryland, and D.C.. I first became aware of Lee through his role in the Emmy Award-winning series The Mind of a Chef. Fermented, a feature-length documentary is another recent project (2017). He splits his time between Louisville, KY and Washington, DC.

Deadline for contributing your post is Friday, May 31, 2019

To round up the list of selections, for the June / July edition Simona (briciole) picked Blood, Bones & Butter by Gabrielle Hamilton 



This book was suggested to me recently and I am excited to read it with you all and see how the reading inspires us.

Before Gabrielle Hamilton opened her acclaimed New York restaurant Prune, she spent twenty hard-living years trying to find purpose and meaning in her life. Blood, Bones & Butter follows an unconventional journey through the many kitchens Hamilton has inhabited through the years: the rural kitchen of her childhood, where her adored mother stood over the six-burner with an oily wooden spoon in hand; the kitchens of France, Greece, and Turkey, where she was often fed by complete strangers and learned the essence of hospitality; Hamilton’s own kitchen at Prune, with its many unexpected challenges; and the kitchen of her Italian mother-in-law, who serves as the link between Hamilton’s idyllic past and her own future family—the result of a prickly marriage that nonetheless yields lasting dividends. By turns epic and intimate, Gabrielle Hamilton’s story is told with uncommon honesty, grit, humor, and passion.
Deadline for contributing your post: Wednesday, July 31, 2019.

Remember that membership in our book club is open to anyone and we hope you will join us by reading these selections and creating inspired recipes.  For more information about participating, click here.  

As always, specific announcement posts can be found at Cook the Books as the current year ends and the new one marches on.

To recap:

Island of Sweet Pies and Soldiers by [Ackerman, Sara]
December/January: Island of Sweet Pies and Soldiers by Sara Ackerman (hosted by Deb at Kahakai Kitchen)






February/March: Crazy Rich Asians by Kevin Kwan (hosted by Claudia at Honey from Rock)




April/May: Buttermilk Graffiti by Edward Lee (hosted by Debra at Eliot's Eats)







June/July: Blood, Bones & Butter by Gabrielle Hamilton (hosted by Simona at briciole)







Happy reading and cooking!



Wednesday, October 3, 2018

October/November selection The Cooking Gene

I was glad to see  The Cooking Gene, A Journey Through African American Culinary History in the Old South by Michael Twitty mentioned on our suggestion page, as it was already on my to-be-reading list. I have had the pleasure to meet Michael Twitty in person and listen to him: he is an engaging speaker. I am thrilled to read his book and share the experience with others.


The Cooking Gene is "Michael’s personal mission to document the connection between food history and family history from Africa to America, from slavery to freedom." (source)

The Cooking Gene has won the 2018 James Beard Foundation's Book Of The Year Award.

A renowned culinary historian offers a fresh perspective on our most divisive cultural issue, race, in this illuminating memoir of Southern cuisine and food culture that traces his ancestry—both black and white—through food, from Africa to America and slavery to freedom... 
As he takes us through his ancestral culinary history, Twitty suggests that healing may come from embracing the discomfort of the Southern past. Along the way, he reveals a truth that is more than skin deep—the power that food has to bring the kin of the enslaved and their former slaveholders to the table, where they can discover the real America together.
A quote from Twitty can be seen on the walls of the Sweet Home Café at the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture (you can see it and read the details in this post).


Deadline for contributing your post: Friday, November 30, 2018.

Remember that anyone can participate in Cook the Books: simply pick up a copy of the selection from your local bookstore or library, take inspiration from said reading, cook and post the inspired dish. We look forward to having you read and cook along with in this selection period and beyond. New participants are always welcomed with open arms! (Leave a comment here or check out our Guidelines page if you have any questions.

This selection brings to a close the current set of four: be on the lookout for a post where we announce the next four selections.

Monday, October 1, 2018

Sourdough Roundup

It seems like just last week that I posted the announcement for Sourdough by Robin Sloan as the August/September Cook the Books selection.  I cannot believe it is now October and time to post the roundup. 

Some loved the novel about robots, sourdough, mysterious immigrants, and farmers market.   Some found it a bit weird.  Regardless, I hope everyone had fun making yeasty or bready or spicy dishes. 

Wendy (A Day in the Life on the Farm)  was the first to post up with a delicious appetizer.   Wendy thought it wasn't the best book she's ever read, nor was it the worst.   :)  She pulled her inspiration from the Lois Club, a group of women who basically only get together because they share the same name.  "I reached back to when Lois presented her first loaf of bread to her Lois club. ( I wonder if there is a Wendy club?)  and served it up slathered with goat cheese and figs."   

Wendy, if you form your own club I would love to crash the party, especially if you are serving these appetizers.  


Amy's Cooking Adventures was next up with her own homemade sourdough bread.   Amy found the book "…shall we say…interesting?"

She "really had a lot of trouble relating to the main character, Lois, and the whole Mzag storyline.  But the sourdough bread – now that was inspiring!"

Yep, Amy, your sourdough is inspirational and beautiful!    (You really went on a sourdough odyssey!)

Cathy from Delaware Girl Eats went in a totally different direction with a rustic peach and nectarine tart.  How did she get that from Sourdough?
The lead character in the novel Sourdough, named Lois Clary, encounters the character Charlotte Clingstone in her search for the roots of her Mazg sourdough starter. In fact, this lovely novel is all about searching - for true self as well as true starter.  Clingstone clearly is modeled after Waters - from her California wild-child past, to her eponymous Berkeley restaurant Café Candide, to her devotion to garden fresh food. Not to miss either is her name, synonymous with a type of peach. So the connection between Alice Waters, the Sourdough character and peaches isn’t much of a stretch at all.


Glad you went in this direction, Cathy,  and it is not much of a stretch at all!

Culinary Adventures with Camilla did one of my new found favorites, Sourdough Avocado Toasts.   Camilla read the book twice, trying to like it each time.  
So, it is worth reading? I would say that it started off as an adventure that ended up feeling flat and unsatisfying in the end. It was a cute premise that just didn't work for me. But I have read some nice reviews of Mr. Penumbra's 24-Hour Bookstore: A Novel, Sloan's first book. So, I might pick that one up eventually.
I'm glad she was inspired to make these toasts.

 
Terri from Our Good Life found the book a bit odd.  "The food is magical, and thus the book digs into the land of fantasy, starting slowly and then jumping off the cliff talking about bacteria and other tiny creatures."

That didn't keep her from creating these delicious bites, Nut Butter Stuffed Bahri Dates.
Terri, these nutritional bites would be much better than Sloan's slurry!


I posted up next with a yeasty element, Sourdough Pizza with Local Toppings.  I wanted to keep it local in honor of the farmers market angle.   I was also super excited that I was able to keep my sourdough starter alive!
I was struck by Clingstone’s challenge to Lois regarding her robot making pizza dough.   I know it’s not exactly a robotic arm, but I was glad to use my stand mixer and the dough hook to knead the dough.

 
CTB co-host Simona at bricriole warns us not to think our sourdough will behave like Lois' (at least we hope not).  Simona whipped up some elegant Sourdough Whole Wheat Crackers. 
Simona is no stranger to sourdough.  
I have baked various types of sourdough bread (pane al lievito naturale) and this time what got me scouting for recipes was the idea of using the starter in between feedings that would otherwise be wasted. I found inspiration on the King Arthur Flour website which has a recipe for Sourdough Crackers, made particularly appealing for the inclusion of whole-wheat flour (farina integrale). 
Your  resourcefulness would be appreciated by those at the Marrow Fair.  

 
Lynda at Reviews, Chew, & How-Tos went in another fermented direction with Simple Sauerkraut.    

 Lynda started out thinking that Sloan's novel might be "a cozy little novel about some wholesome baker experiencing the joys of breadbaking."   I thought her description of the novel to be spot-on:
It has strong magical realism elements, a bit of Old Country fable, a lot of Silicon Valley weirdness of both the high-tech variety and the obsessive foodie variety.  There are robots.  There's a whiff of Little Shop of Horrors. It's fun in parts, strange in others...
I'm glad that she made this sauerkraut, part of the Great council of fermentation:  “Beer. Sauerkraut. Kimchi!” (210).

 
I was so hoping that someone would tackle the Double Spicy from the brother's illegal pop-up restaurant.  Co-host Claudia at Honey From Rock did just that.  
 I was intrigued by that idea, of making my own Spicy Soup, using tangy ingredients from our garden. Maybe kaffir lime leavesgalangal gingercurry leaves and basil, along with others of the usual suspects: garlic, onion, chili peppers. I started by tossing spices into a pot to temper, then added ghee and sauteed, an onion, tossed in garlic, then the leafy herbs and galangal, all minced well. Now some veggies went in: a carrot, shitake mushrooms, and later in the game, sweet potato greens and Pacific spinach (you could use your favorite greens).  Just toss a few minutes over medium heat. Finally added in my homemade stock, and simmered until all vegetables were done.  I added about a cup of coconut cream, salt, pepper. More chili. Got to Taste. Taste Taste. This was a culinary experiment with a theme. 
After a few more tweaks, here's the result:
 

 
Another CTB co-host, Deb at Kahakai Kitchen, did her take on the Double Spicy with her  Combo (Double Spicy): Spicy Red Pepper-Tomato Soup and Grilled Veggie Sandwich with "Secret Spicy" Sauce & Burrata.  

Deb listened to the audio book as well as read the novel.   She found herself immersed in the novel's "unique premise that combines and explores bread making, finding your passion, and the San Francisco food and high-tech scenes."
Sloan's vivid writing made me want to smell the bananas in the Clement Street Starter, taste the green Slurry nutrition drink, and hang out in the mushroom grotto at the Marrow Fair. Overall, an entertaining book that slyly looks at food--and food crafting and food automation from the perspectives of those who live to eat and those who eat to live.

Thanks to all for participating and for these inspired recipes.  For the October/November round, Simona is taking us back to reality with The Cooking Gene  by Michael Twitty.   Look for an announcement post here soon.  

(If anyone does venture on to reading Mr. Penumbra's 24-Hour Book Store, please let me know what you think.  I enjoyed Sourdough much more.)