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 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.)   

Friday, August 3, 2018

Sourdough Announcement

I'm excited to announce the August/September selection: Sourdough by Robin Sloan (September 2017). An NPR review by Jason Sheehan describes the novel in this way: 
Think of it like Candide without the pirates. And set in San Francisco. Wait, that's not quite right. It's like Fight Club meets The Great British Bake Off. It's like Fight Club if no one got punched. It's like Fight Club if Fight Club was written by someone concerned with a different, quieter kind of revolution, and if Fight Club was all about bread.    
I had to host Sourdough for this round if not only for Sheehan's goofily spot-on review.  That leads me to the following question:   Do you like quirky?

I hope so because the August/September round is quirky galore!

Sourdough by Robin Sloan starts out, honestly, very believable.

The plot revolves around a young coder, robots, food, sourdough (obviously), farmers markets, geeky foodies, and mysterious strangers.

Sounds good, right?

Sloan riffs on the whole foodie angle with a plot that borders on a sci-fi mystery.

OK, if you are not intrigued and pulled in by now, I don't know what to do.    As the end of summer nears, pick up this book for your final day on the beach or your last lazy day.  You'll be glad you did.

Robin Sloan is also the author of Mr. Penumbra’s 24‑Hour Bookstore (which I am currently devouring---it's kind of an upbeat Club Dumas).    

Publisher blurb bio:

Robin Sloan grew up near Detroit and went to school at Michigan State, where he studied economics and co-founded a literary magazine called Oats. After college, he worked at the intersection of media and technology, first at the Poynter (pronunciation: pointer) Institute in St. Petersburg, Florida, and then at Current TV and Twitter, both in San Francisco. 
His first novel, Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore, was a New York Times Best Seller, translated into more than twenty languages. George Saunders called the book “a tour-de-force” and Robin kindly requests that no one say anything else about any of his writing, ever. We are done here. 
With his partner Kathryn Tomajan (pronunciation: TOM-uh-jun), Robin manages a leased three-acre grove of olive trees in the San Francisco Bay Area. Their first batch of extra virgin olive oil will be available in 2018. 

I do hope you join in the fun and pick up Sourdough  for the August/September round.  The deadline for Sourdough is September 30, 2018.  Anyone can join in by reading the current selection, preparing a dish inspired by its contents, and writing about it. Let me know when your entry post is up by commenting on this post and/or sending me an email at  

New to Cook the Books? Welcome to all!  Check out our About and Guidelines pages or leave a question in the comments on this post.


P.S.  I hope there are lots of yeasty things to post up for this round.  As for me, I have killed two sourdough starters thus far.

Wednesday, August 1, 2018

Garlic and Sapphires -- The Roundup

Once again we at Cook the Books Club are aligned at the corral gate, with a rousing Roundup of all the participants in our selection, Garlic and Sapphires by Ruth Reichl. And, what an adventuresome ride it's been!  Reichl is such a gifted writer, unusually able to not only distinguish, but to vividly communicate the subtle nuances of flavor in food, distinguishing obscure tastes and seasonings. This facility is combined here with her wacky sense of humor, and ability to illuminate personalities, and, adopt them when necessary in the course of her work!  It's been such fun, and the appreciation seems to have been almost unanimous.  Please take the time to read and enjoy all of the posts.  I've included just a short snippet from each to whet your appetites.  Thanks so much everyone for joining in.

First up was Camilla of Culinary Adventures with Camilla, who made us a tasty batch of Afghani Scallion Dumplings.  She enjoyed reading about the various disguises Reichl used in the course of her job as a critic for the NY Times, and writes: "And when I write 'exploits' I mean fully costumed escapades in which Reichl adopted different personae in order to get an unbiased take on a restaurant."  And sums up by saying: "Needless to say, I thoroughly enjoyed this book. Reichl is not only a culinary powerhouse, but she has an appealing prose that makes her vibrant personality shine."

Next in was Debra of Eliot's Eats who made us a lovely dish of Strozzapreti with Tomatoes, Olives and Herbed Goat Cheese, Oh Yum!  She said: "I have every single one of Reichl’s books along with the aforementioned Gourmet Today and the huge yellow The Gourmet Cookbook.   If I were ever to do a “Julie/Julia” type project, I would cook my way through every single one of her books.  Love her! ... one of our true food treasures."

Wendy of A Day in the Life on the Farm came to the party with sassy, tangy Roasted Rhubarb.  She says that she "was extremely excited when another of her (Ruth's) memoirs was chosen this time.
Did I love it as much as the previous mentioned memoir? I daresay, I loved it even more. This is a laugh out loud, very interesting picture of what life is like to be a restaurant critic. It had never occurred to me that if you were a restaurant critic you needed to be able to dine in restaurants without being recognized. Otherwise, you will only know the service and food you are given as a celebrity instead of a normal Joe, like you and me."  

Claudia, (moi)of Honey from Rock, prepared some of Ruth's Scalloped Potatoes for the blog party, served with salmon and a salad one night, and the next with grilled steak and some of her pureed watercress.  I mentioned that "I am a woman who goes through life seeing the comic absurdity at play all around me. Perhaps why I so appreciate her writing. The disguises she literally got into here!  And, I absolutely love her many transfixing culinary descriptions".

Cathy of Delaware Girl Eats gave us yummy Gougeres - Delicious Cheese Puffs by any namet!  She commented: "Ah but the food. What Brenda, Molly, Chloe, Emily and all the other Reichl ladies ate was mouthwatering and her descriptions of those delicious courses were so enticing that I wished fervently for the opportunity to taste just one or two of the dishes she savored."

From Amy of Amy's Cooking adventures, we have tasty Pasta Carbonara!  Amy said: "I read one of Reichl’s previous memoirs for CtBC a couple years ago (I made a twist on French Onion Soup and it was delicious) and I enjoyed reading about her then – this time I loved it even more.  It was fascinating to read about Reichl’s time as the Times Food Critic!  I loved reading about her disguises and that she included some of her reviews and recipes to go along with them.

Lynda, of Reviews, Chews & How-Tos joined our party with a "simple" Celebration meal, featuring Reichl's Garlic Roast Lamb.  She commented that: " By far the hardest part of this challenge was trying to narrow down what to make, as almost every recipe and a great many of the passing references to food stirred a longing to make that... and that... and that!  For me, that is what a food memoir should do - it should create a sense of desire and longing to commune with food and the many ways of relating to one another through the preparation and eating of food."

Tina of Novel Meals brought some delicious home cooking to the event -  Roast Chicken with Potatoes, Onions and Garlic. Yum!  She said: "This is a second time around with this book but it was my first Ruth Reichl book several years back.  I liked it quite a bit; it’s always good to revisit an excellent foodie book. I’m usually attracted to books about food and restaurants, behind the scenes stuff and recipes included are a bonus."

Fellow Hawaiian blogger, Deb of Kahakai Kitchen came in with dessert, a luscious looking Lemon Panna Cotta, that I've absolutely got to try!  She says: "Reichl's food writing--whether her books, her blog, her work at the now-defunct Gourmet Magazine (Sniff...sniff... has it really been almost a decade since it folded?! So sad...), never fails to make me hungry and happy. The descriptive passages in Garlic and Sapphires make me feel like I am hanging out with her, exploring the nineties New York restaurant scene. A very happy revisit."

Just under the wire, Simona of Briciole came in with her creative round Stuffed Zucchini, a dish I'd like to make myself, though I've never seen those little potbellied vegetables in our markets. Maybe one day.  She commented: "While reading the book, the word "stuffed" kept coming to mind, blinking like a neon sign. I took that as my inspiration and was aided in my recipe development by the appearance at the farmers' market of beautiful round zucchini that just begged to be stuffed.

I think we're all looking forward to the August/September selection: Sourdough by Robin Sloan (September 2017), hosted by Debra of Eliot's Eats.  Get yourself a copy at the library, bookstore or online and join in the fun by reading, cooking up a dish inspired by the book, and posting about it.  For newcomers, there's more about us and a how-to at our Guidelines page.  Thanks again to everyone who participated.


Sunday, June 3, 2018

Our June/July Selection - Garlic and Sapphires by Ruth Reichl: The Secret Life of a Critic in Disguise

Ruth Reichl has long been my favorite food writer, and I wanted to share Garlic and Sapphires, The Secret Life of a Critic in Disguisewith our Cook the Books Club. I think it's arguably, about the best of her memoirs. Reichl is the recipient of four James Beard awards as well as numerous other prizes, the author of five memoirs and a novel, host of TV shows and editor of several cookbooks.  Ruth Reichl is most noted for her entrancing food descriptions and delicious writing in general. At home, I frequently refer to her well edited, and comprehensive tome, Gourmet Today for everyday cooking tips and recipes

From her Publishers: 
As the New York Times's restaurant critic for most of the 1990s, Reichl had what some might consider the best job in town; among her missions were evaluating New York City's steakhouses, deciding whether Le Cirque deserved four stars and tracking down the best place for authentic Chinese cuisine in Queens. Thankfully, the rest of us can live that life vicariously through this vivacious, fascinating memoir. 
I love the way she assumed various disguises to find out how all sorts of customers were really treated —  so as not to attract any special service for a well-known critic — and Reichl pulls no punches. She can be hilarious, as well as a truly descriptive and evocative food writer.

Deadline for contributing your post is Tuesday, July 31, 2018

Remember that anyone can participate in Cook the Books. To join in the fun, just pick up a copy of our selection from your local bookstore or library, take inspiration from said reading, then cook and post with your thoughts and dish. Then, be sure to share your post link here in the comments or to my email:  New participants are always welcome! (If you have any questions, keave a comment here or check out our Guidelines page .

Enjoy your reading and cooking!
Honey from Rock