Monday, February 9, 2015

Our February/March Cook the Books Selection: Comfort Me With Apples by Ruth Reichl

I have long admired Ruth Reichl--her writing, her work with the sorely missed Gourmet magazine, her PBS show Diary of a Foodie, and her guest appearances judging on Top Chef Masters. Besides being an excellent storyteller, she also just seems like a fun person to enjoy a meal or a drink with. So when longtime Cook The Books participant Claudia of Honey From Rock requested that we read a Ruth Reichl book, I jumped at the chance to host. As much as I enjoyed her foray into foodie fiction last year with the novel Delicious!, I was in a memoir-ish frame of mind and picked Reichl's 2001 memoir Comfort Me With Apples: More Adventures at the Table as our February/March 2015 reading selection.

Comfort Me With Apples tells of Reichl's journey from chef to restaurant critic and food writer from 1978 through the late 1980s. Although Comfort Me With Apples picks up right after her first book, Tender at the Bone ends, it isn't necessary to have read that book first--although it is also a fabulous read. 

Whether this is a reread, or a new-to-you book, I look forward to seeing what this funny and often moving memoir inspires you to create. There are multiple recipes in the book and a plethora of Ruth Reichl recipes online and in her other books, so there should be no shortage of wonderful dishes to be inspired by!

Submissions for this round of Cook The Books are due Monday, March 30, 2015. Anyone can join in the Cook the Books fun by reading and blogging about the book and cooking up a dish inspired by its contents. 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? Check out our About and Guidelines pages or leave a question in the comments on this post. 

Deb at Kahakai Kitchen 

Wednesday, February 4, 2015

Sustenance and Desire: The Bloggy Feast

Our featured book this time round at Cook the Books has been "Sustenance and Desire: A Food Lover's Anthology of Sensuality and Humor", edited and illustrated by Bascove. This collection brings together poetry and prose by 74 different authors and it inspired the bloggers below to concoct a multi-course feast of words, photographs and foods.

Each of us was taken with a different aspect of the works from this anthology and I present this tasting menu below:


Rachel at The Crispy Cook loved the long poem "Hot", by the late Craig Arnold. "It's a long conversation between two friends who haven't seen each other in a while and had originally bonded over a love of spicy food. When the narrator arrives at his friend's house, he finds that his passion for peppers and food with heat has consumed him. He has parched lips, a haunted look and a fridge full of condiments. Here's the final stanza:

"He stops, expressing heat from every pore
of his full face, unable to give vent
   to any more, and sits, silent,
   a whole minute.—You understand?
Of course, I tell him. As he takes my hand
I can’t help but notice the strength his grip
   has lost, as he lifts it to his lip,
presses it for a second, the torn flesh
   as soft, as tenuous, as ash,
   not in the least harsh or rough,
wreck of a mouth, that couldn’t say enough."


George Bradley's poem "La Past'asciutta con quello che c'e" issued a siren song to Wendy at A Day in the Life on the Farm. The end result on her table? A comforting bowl of BLT Pasta, with the flavors of the classic sandwich echoed in the pasta sauce. Here's a snippet from Bradley's work: 

"Dried pasta's how a cook accommodates
 the facts.  No artist makes much out of his
dreams but makes the most of what there is."

This same literary piece inspired Simona of Briciole to try a new handmade pasta shape, small concave triangles dressed in butter and Parmigiana. As Simona notes, "Panda" means "handmade" in Italian, and her new pasta shape reminds her of a sitting panda bear, hence the double title. Be sure to check out the short video that Simona made for her post to illustrate her pasta making technique.


Claudia of Honey From Rock was inspired to create her own poem and an elegant salad of pigeon peas harvested from her Hawai'ian garden. Here's her lovely writing:

"I walked out into the garden this morning,
  Sun warming my head and arms,
And the green pigeon peas. 
A breath of legume scent teased out by that sun,
   Brought them to my attention.
Picked a handful, then two.
Dropped into boiling salted water
   For 10 minutes or so, cooled in a colander,
   Shelled -  lifted from their
 Plump nurturing pods, some
   Kissed a bit brown by that sun.
Suitable now for our salad,
Or pigeon peas 'n pasta
With basil and tomato" 


Chilean Nobel Laureate Pablo Neruda was one of the three authors in this anthology given a double entry (Margaret Visser and Roy Blount, Jr. were the others)  and his poem "Ode to French Fries" captivated Amy of Amy's Cooking Adventures. She created a Crunchy Onion Chicken Finger recipe to share billing on the menu with the spuds. The following is the last bit from Neruda's ode:

in ivory suits, they fill our plates
with repeated abundance, 
and the delicious simplicity of the soil."

"Creation Story" by American poet Natasha Saje sent Camilla of Culinary Adventures with Camilla to her kitchen stove, where this sensual excerpt produced a vanilla-infused sauce for some beautiful braised duck:

Green pods are cured dark walnut brown.
Sliced open lengthwise: infinitesimal seeds,
printer's ink. Their black flecks ice cream
or a sauce for pheasant...
...From the Spanish vainilla,
diminutive of Latin, vagina,
the term for sheath."


Carol Weston's "My Life in Cookies" fueled Debra of Eliot's Eats' desire to try out the easy recipe for chocolate chip cookies included in this essay. It concludes with these sage lines:

"Mes amis, la vie est belle. And one of the great things about being a grown-up is that you can reach into the cookie jar and savor what's there"

Delaware Girl Eats also found inspiration in Weston's cookie essay and baked up a batch of Oatmeal Crispies. She agrees with Weston that cookies are like kittens, making people smile with their diminutive size and delightfulness.

The End of the Meal

Our culinary and literary sampling continues with a warm cup of Ana's Cinnamon Mocha Coffee, inspired by Langston Hughes' "Harlem Sweeties" poem. As Ana notes more fully on her blog Sweet Almond Tree, "Hughes is offering a hymn of praise to African Americans, and by extension to all people who show their courage by embracing their difference." Here's a Hughes extract:
"Glow of the quince   
To blush of the rose.   
Persimmon bronze   
To cinnamon toes.   
Blackberry cordial,   
Virginia Dare wine—
All those sweet colors   
Flavor Harlem of mine!"


Herbed Poached Egg and Tea 

Wrapping things up the next day, Deb of Kahakai Kitchen gives us a light morning meal based on Diane Wakoski's poem "Breakfast". This excerpt framed the creation of her repast:

"Alone, at the big table
  with my plate, my single
  herbed egg, a goblet of 
  iced water with a fresh sprig of mint
 also from the window garden,
  and my china cup of hot tea I sit
  in my morning kingdom."

That concludes this chapter of Cook the Books. Please note that this post was just a tasting menu and that the full feast of words and images is to be found back at each blogger's headquarters, so be sure to visit them all.

Deb of Kahakai Kitchen will be hosting the discussion of our February/March 2015 book selection, Ruth Reichl's memoir "Comfort Me with Apples". Hope to have you all back with us to dive into this tasty book!

Rachel, The Crispy Cook

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Our December/January Cook the Books Pick: Sustenance and Desire

We've read 36 books so far in the history of Cook the Books. Most have been memoirs or novels, though a few mysteries, essays and children's books have spiced up the mix. I thought it would be fun to try a food-themed anthology for our next book selection, with the twin aims of letting us all stop and start our reading during the busy holiday season and introducing us to some new authors.

Bascove's compilation "Sustenance and Desire: A Food Lover's Anthology of Sensuality and Humor" is our next Cook the Books selection, and it features poems, excerpts from novels and autobiographies, short stories and essays that are grouped according to the editor's themes of Nourishment, Desire, Hunger and Sustenance.

Perhaps you will be entranced by a poem by Billy Collins, Natasha Saje or Richard Wilbur. Perhaps Colette's lush prose will entice you. Maybe the siren song stylings of Nabokov and memories of mushroom picking with his mother will lead you to the kitchen. (I am a little worried about whether one of our participants will be inspired by Margaret Visser's essay "The Artificial Cannibal")

Whatever selection you choose from this book, I look forward to receiving your posts about the book and what dish(es) you were inspired to make by the deadline of February 2, 2015. As always, anyone is welcome to join our regular participants here at Cook the Books.

Rachel, The Crispy Cook

Friday, December 5, 2014

That Old Ace in the Hole: the roundup

It's time for the roundup of Cook the Books' Club October-November 2014 edition for which we read That Old Ace in the Hole by Annie Proulx.

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 teaser 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 to an lesser-known area of the US.

Though she had a hard time connecting with main character, Amy "absolutely loved" the fictional town of Wollybucket and all of its inhabitants "They were nutty and endearing and exactly what I’d expect from an isolated rural community!... Since I loved the town and all its wacky residents, I was inspired by some of the own home cooking that was mentioned in passing... I decided to go for the asparagus and noodles... I ended up going for a simply dressed spaghetti with asparagus.  And, of course, egg and bacon (because I love eggs and bacon…on EVERYTHING)."

Joanne was inspired by the quilters' circle: "On Tuesday afternoons the Round Robin Baptist Bible Quilt Circle gathered at the house of one of the quilters." She imagined herself as one of the quilters and started craving Apple Pie "I have always wanted to try baking an apple pie in a bag!" and she got a recipe "from an out-of-print Keepsake Quilting Cookbook published as a charitable fund-raiser in 2001. Sounded like fun and it was!"

"One thing I can say about this book is that there was no shortage of food ideas. The entire story was filled with food references... In fact, a huge part of the story took place in the "Old Dog, a buffet style restaurant with different local specialties served every night. The Old Dog often serve Chile, as it is spelled in the book. They often also ate game meat, including venison, and being down south corn bread was a staple. All of these things helped me to choose the recipes."

Rachel describes the book as "one of Proulx's trademark intensive explorations of a region, in this case the Oklahoma and Texas panhandles... After reading this book, I feel I have had an armchair tour of some of the dusty small towns, farms and landscapes that dot this sparsely populated area... I went for a porky meal, a nod to small-scale pig farming discussed so eloquently in the book.... Pernil is great served with rice and beans and a little salad on the side with a citrusy dressing."

"I was most intrigued by the mention of vinegar pie. Really. Who would have thought to put vinegar in a pie? Apparently, though, vinegar pie is a traditional recipe. With a little reading, I discovered that vinegar pies have been around since the mid-19th century; they are a very simple dessert - a custard pie flavored with apple cider vinegar. I imagine it was invented out of a lack of ingredients. And, rest assured, it tastes far better than it sounds."

"The author paints a vivid picture of the panhandles of Texas and Oklahoma, the people who live there, and their love of and pride in the land--despite all of the rough conditions... I grew attached to Bob Dollar and the interesting people he encounters and befriends and enjoyed the humor that Proulx infuses the novel with. I knew I had to make a curry chili and the addition of the sweet potatoes came about from the mention of a small bag of yams that pioneer Martin Merton Fronk took with him on his journey from Kansas to Woolybucket to find dry air and a doctor to cure his breathing issues."

Debra of Eliot's Eats prepared Onion Pie

Debra's mother grew up almost in the Oklahoma panhandle, so she has a first-hand experience of the environment described so vividly in the novel. "I still remember the arid dustiness of that time, huge grasshoppers that would rub your legs like sandpaper when you disturbed them, and always being aware and on the lookout for snakes. I also remember the colorful community members. This is a saga and worthy of the vastness of the barren prairie." Debra was attracted to Cy's Onion Pie, not quiche: "the guys here would not eat if I called it that, but if I say onion pie they like it.  It’s the word pie."

Simona of briciole (your host) prepared Vinegar Tart

Simona was intrigued by an item on the Old Dog Cafe's menu: vinegar pie. "The name seemed to describe a paradox, so I looked for more information and some recipes and then created my own version, which is not a pie, but a crostata (Italian tart), whose crust is made of pasta frolla (tart dough) and whose filling, the part where I kept closer to the tradition, is a vinegar-flavored cream... The result is a tart that tastes like nothing else."

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 December 2014-January 2015 selection: Sustenance and Desire: A Food Lover's Anthology of Sensuality and Humor by Bascove  (2004).

Arrivederci a presto!

Monday, November 24, 2014

Announcing: The Next Four Cook the Books Selections!

Hello Cook the Books Friends!

Here are our next round of Cook the Books selections to kick off 2015 reading and cooking season. Your hosts Rachel, Deb, Simona, and Debra have picked out the following books for your inspiration and we can't wait to see what delectable dishes they inspire.  

Here are the titles we have picked and why we chose them in each host's own words:

December 2014 / January 2015 Round, hosted by Rachel of The Crispy Cook

Sustenance and Desire: A Food Lover's Anthology of Sensuality and Humor by Bascove. (2004) 

"As a bookseller and reader, I have long admired the dust jacket art of Bascove, whose
most familiar illustrations are to be seen on the covers of Ellis Peters' wonderful Brother
Cadfael mystery series and the novels of Robertson Davies. I did not know that this singularly named artist was also an anthologist, and so I am pleased to invite you all to join me in reading and cooking from: Sustenance and Desire: A Food Lover's Anthology of Sensuality and Humor. This collection of poetry, short fiction and essays is adorned with some of her luminous paintings. We can all look forward to savoring the writings she has gathered from various classic and contemporary authors during the chilly months of December and January (our Hawaiian CTB members may not be so chilled as we are in the North Country!)."


Deadline for this selection is Monday, February 2nd.


February / March 2015 Round, hosted by Deb of Kahakai Kitchen: 

Comfort Me With Apples: More Adventures at the Table by Ruth Reichl (2001)

"Longtime Cook the Books participant and my fellow Hawaii dweller Claudia of Honey From Rock requested we read a Ruth Reichl book a while back and so my pick this round is dedicated to Claudia. It was not difficult to choose Ruth Reichl, but picking just one of her books to read was a bit harder. I read and reviewed her first fiction book 'Delicious!' this year and enjoyed it but it made me really want to go back and reread one of her memoirs. I love learning how people get to their chosen dream foodie career and so I finally selected 'Comfort Me With Apples'--which tells of her journey from chef to food writer. Although this book takes up after her first book, 'Tender at the Bone' it isn't necessary to have read that one first (although it is wonderful too). This may be a reread for many of you too, but I look forward to seeing what this both funny and moving memoir inspires you to create."


Deadline for this selection is Monday, March 30th.

April / May 2015 Round, hosted by Debra of EliotsEats

The Feast Nearby: How I lost my job, buried a marriage, and found my way by keeping chickens, foraging, preserving, bartering, and eating locally (all on $40 a week) by Robin Mather. (2011)

"Imagine this: Your husband wants a divorce and you lose your job. What would you do? This scenario actually happened to Robin Mather so she packed up, moved out of the city into a small cabin by the lake, and embraced a simpler life. Mather writes of  her journey in The Feast Nearby, a book of essays and recipes. In the author's words, it is a chronicle of "How I lost my job, buried a marriage, and found my way by keeping chickens, foraging, preserving, bartering and eating locally (all on forty dollars a week)." I will qualify this pick by saying it isn't a preachy locavore treatise. Instead, it is a book about living simply, quietly, and fully while reevaluating life. The Feast Nearby is a simple read that I hope you all enjoy. Although Mather’s essays are not necessarily strung together, there is a flow to the book as she chronicles her life from spring to winter on the lake. And, there are some spectacular recipes here!"


Deadline for this selection is Monday, June 1st.


June / July 2015 Round hosted by Simona of Briciole 

The Wedding Bees: A Novel of Honey, Love, and Manners by Sarah-Kate Lynch (2014)

"A few years ago, I read 'Blessed Are the Cheesemakers' by Sarah-Kate Lynch and quite enjoyed it. In fact, I featured it in a post. I therefore grabbed on to Betty's suggestion (link to our suggested reading page) to read another novel by Sarah-Kate Lynch, The Wedding Bees. 'Sugar Wallace has been running from her past for years, but in the nicest possible way.' Me: is there really a nice way of running from one's past? If so, I want to hear about it. 'Every spring she moves somewhere new and lightens the lives of whoever she meets using her magic weapons: good manners and honey.' Me: that sounds like a great plan. I want to read Sugar's secret. This is enough for me to want to learn more about Sugar and her honey. I was already a cheese maker when I read Blessed Are the Cheesemakers: who knows, maybe reading The Wedding Bees will get me interested in becoming a beekeper. Sweet reading!"


Deadline for this selection is Monday, August 3rd.

We hope you join us for some great reading, cooking and community. As always, we welcome everyone to join in. The only requirement to join in the Cook the Books fun is to read the book and blog about it, including making a dish inspired by its pages.