Tuesday, August 4, 2020

Our August/September Selection: Recipe for a Perfect Wife by Karma Brown

Since March and our 2020 safer-at-home experience, I have read over twenty books.   Recipe for a Perfect Wife by Karma Brown is number twenty-one and the August-September  selection for Cook the Books.  

From the Publisher:
In this captivating dual narrative novel, a modern-day woman finds inspiration in hidden notes left by her home’s previous owner, a quintessential 1950s housewife. As she discovers remarkable parallels between this woman’s life and her own, it causes her to question the foundation of her own relationship with her husband--and what it means to be a wife fighting for her place in a patriarchal society.

When Alice Hale leaves a career in publicity to become a writer and follows her husband to the New York suburbs, she is unaccustomed to filling her days alone in a big, empty house. But when she finds a vintage cookbook buried in a box in the old home's basement, she becomes captivated by the cookbook’s previous owner--1950s housewife Nellie Murdoch. As Alice cooks her way through the past, she realizes that within the cookbook’s pages Nellie left clues about her life--including a mysterious series of unsent letters penned to her mother.

Soon Alice learns that while baked Alaska and meatloaf five ways may seem harmless, Nellie's secrets may have been anything but. When Alice uncovers a more sinister--even dangerous--side to Nellie’s marriage, and has become increasingly dissatisfied with the mounting pressures in her own relationship, she begins to take control of her life and protect herself with a few secrets of her own.

About the Author:
Karma Brown is an award-winning journalist and bestselling author of the novels Come Away With Me, The Choices We MakeIn This Moment, and The Life Lucy Knew. In addition to her novels, Brown's writing has appeared in publications such as Self, Redbook, Canadian Living, Today's Parent, and Chatelaine.

The premise of the novel had me captivated from the beginning.  There are recipes included in the book, all with vintage roots mostly in the category of comfort food:  meatloaf, chocolate chip cookies, tuna casserole.  But, there are some more interesting ones as well like rose caramels.  (And perhaps some that you should never, ever make.)  The recipes fall as precursors to Nellie's chapters.  As the narration jumps from a 1950s housewife's POV to that of a modern "homemaker," some startling similarities may arise.  

Please join our merry band of epicurean bibliophiles for this round.  Get a copy of Recipe for a Perfect Wife and read along.  Get inspired by an old classic family recipe from the 1950s or create something new inspired from your reading.  Anyone can participate in Cook the Books and new participants are always welcome!  (Leave a comment here or check out our Guidelines page if you have any questions.)

Deadline for contributing your post is Wednesday, September 30, 2020  Leave a comment below with a link or email me at eliotseats@gmail.com.  

Happy reading!


Sunday, August 2, 2020

Kitchen Chinese: The Roundup

It's Roundup time again in the Cook the Books Club corral. I think we've pretty much all enjoyed our light-hearted  immersion into Chinese culture and food, via Ann Mah's Kitchen Chinese

I hope you'll all forgive me, but since Google just changed the formatting of blogger.com,  I am having a hard time navigating the posting operation.  Definitely not so user friendly any more.  So, in the interest of personal sanity, I'll let you look at each site on your own for the full reviews, comments and recipes of our participants.

First up posting was Camilla of Culinary Adventures with Camilla.  She brought us a dish of Pork Won Ton with Chives.  Oh Boy!  I'd like some of that immediately. Don't those precious dumplings look good?


Elizabeth of Culinursa was up next with a very delicious looking  pot of Mapo Tofu, an all time favorite of mine, and with several of our other posters here as well.

Next Wendy of A Day in the Life on the Farm brought in some wonderful Pork Tenderloin Char Sui. Always a treat!  And very versatile to have any on hand for use in other dishes.

Claudia, (moi) of Homey from Rock, prepared a tasty bowl of Cold Spicy Noodles with Beef Slivers, which I thought would be good for this hot summer weather.

Next, Debra of Eliot's Eats arrived with a very delicious sounding dessert, Chili Infused Brownies with a Mango Sorbet.  So cooling and scrumptious with all the flavor contrasts!

Then we had a very yummy looking dish of Stir Fried Peking Pork from Amy of Amy's Kitchen Adventures.  Doesn't that picture make you want to immediately scoop some up?

Simona of Briciole arrived with her special creation of Konjac Noodles - two types of noodles in a perfect and very intriguing summer dish, or actually for any season..

And finally, in at the end, Deb of Kahakai Kitchen, brought us a vegan version of Mapo Tofu with Tomatoes!  Sounds like a great variation on a dish that I'm sure has nearly as many takes as there are Chinese people.

That's it folks, and I certainly hope you'll visit each and every one of our contributors to catch the full comments, reviews and recipe descriptions on their posts.

Next we'll be reading Recipe for a Perfect Wife by Karma Brown, our August/September selection, and hosted by Debra of Eliots Eats.  You have until Sept. 30th to participate in this round.  Hope to see you there!

Tuesday, June 2, 2020

Our June/July Selection: Kitchen Chinese

After the past two months of negative press on China, here's something positive!  The food!  When I read Kitchen Chinese, by Ann Mah, last year, her writing impressed me, the food was inspiring and her story quite intriguing, so of course it had to be my Cook the Books Club pick.

As the Publishers say: "Kitchen Chinese, Ann Mah’s funny and poignant first novel about a young Chinese-American woman who travels to Beijing to discover food, family, and herself is a delight—complete with mouth-watering descriptions of Asian culinary delicacies, from Peking duck and Mongolian hot pot to the colorful, lesser known Ants in a Tree that will delight foodies everywhere. Reminiscent of Elizabeth Gilbert’s runaway bestseller Eat, Pray, Love, Mah’s tale of clashing cultures, rival siblings, and fine dining is an unforgettable, unexpectedly sensual reading experience—the story of one woman’s search for identity and purpose in an exotic and faraway land."

The star of the tale is Isabelle Lee, who after her magazine career comes to a halt, finds herself at loose ends and wanting change.  She leaves New York, hoping also to reconnect with her family roots in China. Her older sister is an attorney living there, so she has a place to stay. However, her familiarity with the language and culture is limited to 'kitchen Chinese'.  Luckily, after arriving she is able to land a job at a magazine for the expatriate community in Beijing and find a circle of friends. Isabelle's Beijing immersion provides a refreshing and fun narrative, with insights into modern China and the expatriate experience, making for a truly enjoyable read.  I hope you'll find it inspires your cooking as well!

Anyone can participate in Cook the Books by simply reading our selection, taking inspiration from the book, then cooking and posting about your inspired dish. We look forward to having you read and cook along with us this round. New participants are always welcome! (Leave a comment here or check out our Guidelines page if you have any questions.)

Deadline for contributing your post is Friday, July 31, 2020  Leave a comment below with a link to your post or email me at claudiariley@yahoo.com.

Honey from Rock

Monday, June 1, 2020

Hippie Food: The Roundup

It's time to roundup all the happy hippie-ish dishes our participants made for our Cook the Books May/June pick, Hippie Food: How Back-to-the-Landers, Longhairs, and Revolutionaries Changed the Way We Eat. Yes, there was a lot of brown rice involved but there was also bread and veggies and a yummy apple crisp! ;-)

Wendy from A Day in the Life On the Farm was first in, finding the book timely, saying "I thought it was quite coincidental that this book was chosen to be read during this time in our history. The book is all about the Hippie Movement of the 60's and 70's when they were flocking to communes and trying to live off the land with what they had on hand and with very little money." 

Wendy made White Whole Wheat Tassajera Bread saying, "One of the things that "Hippie Food" brought to us was the awareness of the natural goodness and health benefits of whole grains. Tassajara Bread starts with whole wheat flour. There are recipes that also add in additional seeds and grains but I did not add anything to my version that I started with a bag of white whole wheat flour that I had in my pantry."

Camilla of Culinary Adventures with Camilla was right behind Wendy with her entry. She said, "On one hand, I loved this book as food history. On the other hand, it's not about hippie food; it's just food you should eat once you learn about the merits of a less-processed diet. Then, again, the boys' friends do call me a 'hippie food witch. So, maybe it is hippie food and I'm just a hippie.

Camilla tried her hand at sourdough saying, "… a friend gifted me some of her sourdough starter. And with time on my hands as we all shelter in place to help flatten the curve of the coronavirus, I was inspired to give sourdough bread baking a try. After more than a half dozen sourdough bricks, I finally moved to weight measurements versus volume. Plus I started using the Tartine Bakery method of folding versus kneading. Those two adjustments made a world of difference and I finally started to enjoy the bread I was baking. This Boule with Fresh Garlic, Fresh Rosemary and Pitted Green Olives was my twelfth loaf and - by far - my favorite! So, I'm sharing it today to go with Hippie Food."

Next was Claudia of Honey from Rock who related to parts of the book before it got too historical in areas, saying, "I lived this darn book, some of it anyway. Caught up in the world directly around us as we were, much of what Kauffman recorded was part of the "Mainland" story or only hearsay. We were hippies, Bob and I, of a sort, back-to-the-landers (if you can go back to where you never were in the first place) in rural Hawaii. Building a basic, simple home, planting trees, a garden and etc.

Claudia settled on a vegetarian dish, Golobki--Barley and Mushroom-Stuffed Cabbage Rolls. She said, "Thus, when he  mentioned a particular vegetarian restaurant serving Barley and Mushroom Spinach Rolls, that's what I hit on. Who knows where in the book it was?  My Kindle died, just when I'd finished reading it, so now it's not available to go back and check. Until next week when my new one arrives. All things being equal. I usually make my spinach rolls with a meat filling, so this is an homage to Kauffman's version of hippie food - vegetarian."


Cathy of Delaware Girl Eats says, "I’ll bet you didn’t know that granola was invented way back in the 1950’s by noted nutritionist Adele Davis or that it was considered “hippie food” until it went mainstream in the 1990’s. I didn’t until reading the book Hippie Food and then researching the topic. Davis was dubbed “the high priestess of nutrition” in her heyday and was at the forefront of the health food movement. She remained a groundbreaking influence on healthy eating until her death in 1974, compiling several famous books on vitamins and healthy eating including “Let’s Eat Right to Keep Fit and Let’s Cook it Right.” Author Jonathan Kauffman singes her praises in his book “Hippie Food“ which is the selection this cycle in our Cook the Books reading/cooking group.

Cathy put that granola to good use saying, "For my dish inspired by the book selection I chose to use granola to liven up a traditional recipe for Apple Crumble. This long-standing favorite is a dish that works equally well for breakfast with coffee as it does to end the dinner meal as dessert.It’s that flexible."

Debra of Eliot's Eats says she learned a lot from the book, "Can I just say “I had no idea”? I guess I have always been aware that the 60s and 70s had influenced the way we eat, especially where health food is concerned. This book goes way beyond the hippie movement and starts all the way back in the early 20th century with those finding the health benefits of raw food. Hippie Food is not however about hippies exclusively. While all the health food movements during the last century seemed to be led by colorful characters, the gamut of leaders run from Zen masters to surfers to Seventh-Day Adventists to homesteaders." 

For her dish Debra says, "From chapter two, “Brown Rice and the Macrobiotic Pioneers,” I knew that the dish I would present for this post would feature brown rice. The final paragraphs of the book reinforced this decision. The foods that the hippies, back-to-landers, longhairs and revolutionaries promoted and championed are now mainstream. These once foreign and strange ingredients are now in our pantries. “They slip into the meals we throw together after a long workday” (287). That is the scenario that led to this dish: Roasted Broccoli Brown Rice Bowls."

Simona of briciole said, "Although I have lived in California for 25 years, I spent my childhood and early adulthood in Italy, so I don't have firsthand experience of the events described in the book that predate my move. The situation in Italy was different from that in the US. For example, Italians have always been serious about their bread, buying it fresh almost daily from a neighborhood bakery. I have never experienced the "plastic bread" described in the book. I do remember, however, when whole-wheat bread (pane integrale) became more readily available, as the health benefits of whole grains became better known.

For her Carrot, Radish and Turnip Salad with Microgreens, Simona took inspiration from sprouts and farmers markets, saying, "I buy carrots, radishes and salad turnips by the bunch, then, once I get home, I cut off the greens from all of them and use those in other dishes. I admit I am still learning to appreciate carrot tops: they have a rather strong grassy flavor that I must dilute with other greens. ... One great characteristic of carrots, radishes and salad turnips is that they last a few days, unlike their greens, which wilt fairly quickly. This is particularly important for me as I am the only root vegetable eater in the household, which explains why the recipe is for one. Of course, it can be easily multiplied to nourish all the people around your table."

Amy of Amy's Cooking Adventures found the book to be a bit too much, saying "As I started reading, there were certainly some interesting tidbits, but between those tidbits, it was a slog, almost like reading a textbook. I got about halfway through the brown rice chapter when I started skimming. I read most of the brown bread chapter (as a bread baker, I thoroughly enjoyed that chapter. And after that I just lost interest. One of the most interesting things I noted as I read was that the trend of hippie food started as a pursuit for optimal health and longevity...while on copious amounts of illicit drugs. Kinda mind boggling."

Amy found that dichotomy inspiration for her unique rice dish, Arroz con Coca-Cola (Brown Rice With Coca-Cola), saying "As luck would have it, right as I decided to be finished skimming the rest of the book, I came across a brown rice recipe as I was researching for a different blog event. The fascinating part of this recipe that made me unable to turn away was the fact that the rice was cooked in coke!  I thought it was perfect for hippie food.  It reminded me of the conundrum of eating whole grains to be healthy paired with other very unhealthy aspects of their lives. The pairing of brown rice and coke, I thought, illustrated this perfectly."

It's lovely to have Terri of Our Good Life back with us for this round. Terri found the book interesting, saying "I think Mr. Kaufman did wonderful work covering the history of the food culture. New to me was the "hippie trail" which is now something I would love to do! In all this book continues to show the idealism this generation brought to the world. Thank goodness, as we all may be eating food that looks and tastes like cardboard more than we do now." 

She found easy inspiration for her dish saying, "My inspirational dish is Brown Rice and Raw Veggies Salad. With the spices I chose, it is a nod to the Hippie Trail!  This dish uses leftover brown rice and raw veggies with good oil and delicious spices. It is a great side dish for grilled pork steak (I'm a Missouri girl, loves her pork steak!) or as an awesome vegan meal."

And finally, at Kahakai Kitchen although it took me awhile to make it through because of competing review reads and life, I geeked out a little over this book and really enjoyed it. I think much of that came from how much Kauffman hit on some of my favorite classic vegetarian cookbooks, chefs and food icons. 

For my bookish dish I picked a very hippie-ish Spinach-Brown Rice Casserole from the New Moosewood Cookbook by Mollie Katzen. With sunflower seeds, eggs and cheese, and spices it was a tasty bit of nostalgia. 

Mahalo to everyone who joined in this edition of Cook the Books! I enjoyed reading your posts and drooling over your healthy and inspired dishes!
I think I managed to include everyone in roundup--at least all of the entries I recieved on the blog and by email but if I missed anyone or goofed somewhere along the way, please let me know. 

And now, I’m turning things over to Claudia of Honey From Rock who is hosting our June/July edition. We will be reading Kitchen Chinese by Ann Mah

Much Aloha,

Kahakai Kitchen

Monday, April 6, 2020

Our April/May Selection: Hippie Food

Back many (many) moons ago when I was a preteen, I earned my spending money as the neighborhood babysitter. Our next door neighbors with two young boys were vegans before I knew what that meant, and in my opinion, they weren't very good at it. On their frequent nights out I had to heat up and feed the kids dinner, and it was usually some kind of weird casserole in an unappealing shade of brown that smelled funky and tasted horrible (and did not make for good diapers for the toddler at all). The neighbor would always tell me that I should eat with the children and I would beg my mom for virtually ANYTHING to take with me so I didn't have to. Since they were a meat-free household, that meant I ate a lot of peanut butter and jelly sandwiches on my watch. Needless to say, they were not my favorite customers (those were the people down the road who always had snack food and frozen pizza available) and they gave me a deeply-rooted suspicion and disdain for anything vegetarian or vegan and foods like brown rice, tofu, seitan and sprouts. 

It took me many years to shake off my prejudices and try (some actually delicious) "hippie food" for myself. Flash forward a few decades and I leave the meat and poultry to others and eat mostly plants and fish. I've even gone through a few vegan stages although the siren call of cheese always lures me back. I cook with tofu, seitan, nutritional yeast, jackfruit, and other things I would have once turned up my nose at. These foods have become more mainstream and my local grocery stores even carry them now (although it certainly is more difficult to find some of them during a pandemic). 

Having made my own journey, and seeing how popular and even trendy these foods are is why I picked Hippie Food by Jonathan Kaufman as our April/May Cook The Books selection.

From the publisher: 
 "Food writer Jonathan Kauffman journeys back more than half a century—to the 1960s and 1970s—to tell the story of how a coterie of unusual men and women embraced an alternative lifestyle that would ultimately change how modern Americans eat. Impeccably researched, Hippie Food chronicles how the longhairs, revolutionaries, and back-to-the-landers rejected the square establishment of President Richard Nixon’s America and turned to a more idealistic and wholesome communal way of life and food. 

A slick mix of gonzo playfulness, evocative detail, skillful pacing, and elegant writing, Hippie Food is a lively, engaging, and informative read that deepens our understanding of our culture and our lives today." 

I think it will be fun to see what kind of dishes this book will inspire! I realize with everything going on with the Coronavirus, some of us may have to get creative with ingredients, and recipe ideas, but I think that actually works for this book. I plan on pulling out my Moosewood cookbooks and having some fun.

I hope everyone is taking good care out there.

Much Aloha,

Kahakai Kitchen 

The deadline for contributing your post: Sunday, May 31, 2020. 

Leave a comment below with a link to your post or email me at debinhawaii@gmail.com.

Remember that anyone can participate in Cook the Books by simply reading this selection,  taking inspiration from said reading, then cooking and posting 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.)