Wednesday, April 1, 2020

Pomegranate Soup: The Roundup

It's time for the roundup of Cook the Books' Club February-March 2020 edition for which we read the novel Pomegranate Soup by Marsha Mehran (2005).

The three Aminpour sisters, protagonists of the story, move to Ballinacroagh, County Mayo, Ireland and open the Babylon Café in the location that used to house an Italian bakery. In honor of the sisters' Persian food eatery, I will present our club's contributions as a menu, with the dishes in each section ordered alphabetically. For each, I will give you the official information (author, blog name and post title) and a quote from it — a taste: follow the link and read the author's take of the book and how the reading inspired the cooking.

Cook the Books Club's Pomegranate Soup-Inspired Menu

First Course:
Red Lentil Soup à la Tina
Red Lentil Soup à la Cathy

Second Course:
Fesenjoon (Chicken Stew with Walnut and Pomegranate Sauce)
Kabob Koobideh (Ground Meat Kebabs)
Kuku Sabzi à la Claudia (vegetarian)
Kuku Sabzi à la Simona (vegetarian)
One Skillet Cabbage
Torshi Tareh (Persian Sour Herb Stew With Marbled Eggs)

Lavash Bread

Elephant Ears
Persian Drizzle Cake

Make yourself comfortable, then enjoy the meal.

"You could substitute any middle eastern family trying to run a cafe in any small town, in Ireland or the U.S. for this plot... The plot plays out predictably with the women and their Irish neighbors, the cultural differences accepted. Well, by most people. Definitely a foodie book with over a dozen recipes included throughout. There were so many interesting dishes served up in this book but the recipe for lentil soup grabbed me right away. I had been wanting to make red lentil soup for a long time."

Cathy of Delaware Girl Eats prepared Red Lentil Soup

"Did you know that lentils are super healthy? I didn't but learned this in researching them for this post. In fact, this humble legume has shot up to the number 1 slot for healthy foods... Author Mehran writes about lentil soup: 'Red lentil soup, although quite seductive in scent, is as simple to make as its name suggests. In the recipe book filed away in her head, Marjan aways made sure to place particular emphasis on this soup's spices. Cumin added the aroma of afternoon lovemaking to the mixture for instance'. Now that's quite a statement... I cut this recipe in half from what was published in the book... This was totally enough to feed more than a few people."

Elizabeth of CulinUrsa cooked Fesenjoon (Social distance-adapted)

"As I was reading this novel, there was a scene in a crowded pub, and the thought went through my head, 'Why are all these people out in a group together?' Already the fears of viral spread had become ingrained in my thinking, and I have wondered when and how will I feel comfortable being with people again, touching the door handle of a store again?... There was not a single [recipe] for which I had all the ingredients at home, and, trying to minimize shopping trips, I didn’t want to venture out for anything. But I felt I could improvise enough for the fesenjoon. I have read many times about this iconic chicken stew with walnuts and pomegranates, and always wanted to make it. Despite all the changes and substitutions I made, it was fantastic!... It is often spelled fesenjan."

Camilla of Culinary Adventures with Camilla
prepared Kabob Koobideh (Ground Meat Kebabs)

"Though Mehran doesn't shy away from the traumas that can occur during political upheaval, she achieves a delicate balance of reality and sensitivity. It's quite a remarkable book that has me longing to read more about the Iranian revolution... I'm sharing my version of Iranian Kubideh or Koobideh, ground meat kebabs... Though this wasn't specifically mentioned in the book, it is something that I envision Layla packing on a picnic to go meet Malachy. And because I remember eating fresh herb salads at my Iranian friend's table, I decided to serve my kebabs with a thick herb paste, similar to Argentinian chimichurri."

Claudia of Honey from Rock prepared Kuku Sabzi (Persian herb frittata)

"In contrast to local descriptions, the background on the Iranian women, who are all of course beautiful, was interesting, their preparations to open The Babylon Cafe absorbing, together with accounts of their food and cooking, lovingly rendered, tantalizing, and well-written... Kuku Sabzi made a lovely, light evening meal with some steamed sweet potato (fresh bread or toast would also be good) and a glass of white wine. I discovered that at room temperature, the next day for lunch, the herbal flavors all came through beautifully."

Simona of briciole (your host) prepared Kuku Sabzi (Persian herb frittata)

"I was particularly intrigued by the description of 'a good apple khoresh, a stew made from tart apples, chicken and split peas' (page 60 of the hardback edition), but while I was searching for a recipe for that, I read about Kuku Sabzi, a kind of herb frittata traditionally prepared for Nowruz, the Iranian New Year that is celebrated on the spring equinox... The idea is that you can use greens and herbs you like and have available. A different combination means a different flavor, so this is a recipe that can be repeated without becoming boring."

"You get to know each of the residents as well as the back story of the Aminpour Sisters.  You will love some and you will hate some but you will, definitely become involved with all of them and their lives. I enjoyed this novel very much and the food descriptions of the meals prepared in this restaurant were heavenly... I absolutely adore Persian food but as I read a common thread that ran through this small town was that all the residents were sick and tired of eating cabbage for dinner.  As luck would have it, I had planned on having this Skillet Cabbage Dinner during the week I was reading this novel and it fit in so perfectly that I had to share it."

Deb of Kahakai Kitchen
prepared Torshi Tareh (Persian Sour Herb Stew with Marbled Eggs)

"There are delicious recipes woven into the chapters of book (why I am so disappointed that I couldn't find my copy) so the overall feeling is like a mix of Like Water For Chocolate and Chocolat, only with the clash of Irish and Iranian culture. I recommend it to foodies who don't mind a touch of magic in their books... I love everything about this stew--the exotic herby flavor, the acidity, and the touch of lime 'sourness' and the jammy eggs and creamy spinach. At first, I thought the smoked fish accompaniment was a little odd but it rounded out the flavors nicely."

"I prefer that authors stay realistic... or go full on Harry Potter magic... Despite my criticism, the book was good enough and I loved that the author included recipes at the end of each chapter. I decided to make a Lavash, using the recipe directly from the book.  The Lavash was delicious... The kids went crazy over the Lavash, begging me to make more. I used my favorite spice mix in this recipe (Everything Bagel), because I knew my family would love it. This bread is best enjoyed hot and fresh from the oven."

"The amount of food in this book is staggering... There’s so many herbs and spices, Persian food, Italian food and Irish food, I just couldn’t keep up... I decided on a sweeter recipe: Elephant Ears... They were interesting. I did not roll mine thin enough so they were more doughy (read donut) than a thinly fried treat... I would recommend this book to friends (and will).  It would make a great beach read (not that there’s anything wrong with that).  Mehran’s writing style is descriptive and sometimes romantic. (I mean that in a good way.)"

"I loved all the food content, the descriptions of the way that Marjan in particular nurtured those around her through her food. I liked that there were a number of recipes included in the book, and enjoyed the almost magical realism feel to it, focusing on the power of food to change the way that you are feeling. I guess I would call it magical realism lite for want of a better term... Overall, it's a readable book, without being amazing... I chose to top my cake with Turkish Delight Easter eggs rather than rose petals."

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 April-May edition in which we are reading the Hippie Food by Jonathan Kauffman.

Arrivederci a presto!

Simona, of briciole

Friday, February 14, 2020

Announcing Our Next Four Selections

Are you ready? Here are the next four selections of our book club, with which we will keep each other's company during the year 2020:

Deb (Kahakai Kitchen) opens the series with Hippie Food by Jonathan Kauffman (published January 2018) for the April/May edition

For our April/May 2020 pick, I had to go with the book that was just edged out by The Food Explorer as my choice or the last round: Hippie Food: How Back-to-the-Landers, Longhairs, and Revolutionaries Changed the Way We Eat by Jonathan Kauffman. Food history fascinates me and I want to learn more about how tofu, brown rice, and veggie burgers made their way into the mainstream. It's also a good excuse to hit up my Moosewood Collective cookbook collection for some hippie fare.  

From the publisher:
An enlightening narrative history—an entertaining fusion of Tom Wolfe and Michael Pollan—that traces the colorful origins of once unconventional foods and the diverse fringe movements, charismatic gurus, and counterculture elements that brought them to the mainstream and created a distinctly American cuisine. 
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. 
From the mystical rock-and-roll cult known as the Source Family and its legendary vegetarian restaurant in Hollywood to the Diggers’ brown bread in the Summer of Love to the rise of the co-op and the origins of the organic food craze, Kauffman reveals how today’s quotidian whole-foods staples—including sprouts, tofu, yogurt, brown rice, and whole-grain bread—were introduced and eventually became part of our diets. From coast to coast, through Oregon, Texas, Tennessee, Minnesota, Michigan, Massachusetts, and Vermont, Kauffman tracks hippie food’s journey from niche oddity to a cuisine that hit every corner of this country. 
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.  
And how can you resist that cover?!? 


Deadline for contributing your post is Sunday, May 31, 2020

For the June/July edition, Claudia (Honey from Rock) chose Kitchen Chinese by Ann Mah (published February 2010)

I read Kitchen Chinese last year, loved it, and immediately thought it would be a great pick for our Cook the Books Club. Though fiction, it resonates with the author’s real life experience. Not quite memoir, though the novel is loosely based upon her own experiences in China, when her husband was posted there. Mah says, “My husband’s diplomatic career brings frequent international moves, as well as lots of fresh material (and occasional angst) to write about, and we always have another relocation on the horizon.” 

Ann Mah's funny and poignant first novel about a young Chinese-American woman who travels to Beijing and in the process discovers 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. 

Her tale of clashing cultures, rival siblings, and fine dining is also the story of one woman's search for identity and purpose in an exotic and faraway land. After her magazine career comes to a halt, Isabelle Lee, the author’s protagonist, leaves New York, wanting change, and 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'. 

Isabelle lands a job at a magazine for the expatriate community in Beijing and finds a circle of friends. However, her relationship with her big-shot attorney sister, Claire, who's lived in China for a while, gets off to a rocky start, with the two not knowing quite what to make of each other. Isabelle's Beijing immersion provides a refreshing and fun narrative, with insights into modern China and the expatriate experience, making for an enjoyably intriguing read.


Deadline for contributing your post is Friday, July 31, 2020

For the August/September edition, Debra (Eliot's Eats) has chosen Recipe for a Perfect Wife by Karma Brown (December 2019)

I am always on the lookout for a new Cook the Books suggestion. I was rambling through a book store recently and saw a table devoted solely to Recipe for a Perfect Wife by Karma Brown. 

The blurb on the inside cover had me. This tale of two women in two different times (yet in the same house) had me. I figured that if the book had "recipe" in the title (and with at least one reference to meatloaf in the first few chapters), I decided I would choose Recipe for a Perfect Wife for my turn at hosting. 

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.

Deadline for contributing your post is Wednesday, September 30, 2020

To round up the list of selections, for the October/November edition Simona (briciole) picked the novel The Secret, Book and Scone Society by Ellery Adams (October 2017)

This book caught my attention first because of the words "book" and "scone" in the title, then because it revolves around a bookstore, whose owner, Nora, having once been healed by books, has chosen to do the same to other people. And finally, because it is a mystery.

Besides Nora, the society of the title includes three other women, quite different from each other, each with a secret to share, a story to tell. One of them is a baker, one with a special gift (which you will find out about when you read the novel). There are no recipes in the book, but food plays an important role and I hope the story will inspire you. 


Deadline for contributing your post: Monday, November 30, 2020.

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 at the beginning of each two-month period and the current selection is always shown on the right side of the homepage.

To recap:

April/May: Hippie Food by Jonathan Kauffman (hosted by Deb at Kahakai Kitchen)

June/July: Kitchen Chinese by Ann Mah (hosted by Claudia at Honey from Rock)

August/September: Recipe for a Perfect Wife by Karma Brown (hosted by Debra at Eliot's Eats)

October/November:The Secret, Book & Scone Society by Ellery Adams (hosted by Simona at briciole)

Happy reading and cooking!

Saturday, February 1, 2020

February/March selection: Pomegranate Soup

I saw the novel Pomegranate Soup by Marsha Mehran (2005) at the annual Berkeley Library sale last year (a great chance to stock up on books). I remembered reading good reviews about it, so I added it to my purchases.

Pomegranate Soup is a story of people who have fled from their country of origin and recreated their lives in a different one. In the case of the three Aminpour sisters, the first country is Iran, the second Ireland. From the kitchen of an old pastry shop in the village of Ballinacroagh, County Mayo, the sisters share foods of their native country, like red lentil soup, abgusht stew, rosewater baklava. Not everybody like the "wafts of cardamom, cinnamon, and saffron float through the streets," though, and therefore, as you can imagine, adventures ensue.

From the publisher's website:
Infused with the textures and scents, trials and triumphs of two distinct cultures, Pomegranate Soup is an infectious novel of magical realism. This richly detailed story, highlighted with delicious recipes, is a delectable journey into the heart of Persian cooking and Irish living.
Ms. Mehran died in Ireland in 2014, aged 37, while she was working on the third book of the Aminpour sisters' series (the second, Rosewater and Soda Bread, was published in 2008). I am even gladder to feature Pomegranate Soup as our selection: reading what she wrote and shared with the world is, in my view, the best way to honor her memory.


Deadline for contributing your post: Tuesday, March 31, 2020.
Leave a comment below with a link to your post or email me at simosite AT mac DOT com.

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.

Friday, January 31, 2020

Language of Flowers Round Up

I read this book three years ago and was struck just how much food was mentioned in the novel. At the time I thought it would be a great recommendation for Cook the Books.

Here's my Good Reads review from 2017:

I did love this book...even with all the coincidence...even with all the improbability...even with the sometimes dark themes. The Language of Flowers is a cross between White Oleander (because of the foster care system depiction) and Garden Spells (because of the power of the flowers). 
Victoria has aged-out of the foster care system and finds herself homeless and without any job prospects. But, she has the "language of flowers" to fall back on. Her gift lands her a job with a local florist and allows her to reconnect with her past while visiting the flower market. Victoria's "gift" with the language of flowers is more of her education and knowledge versus a mystical talent. I don't know if I would have enjoyed the book as much if Diffenbaugh had gone over to the mystical side.
I didn't like Part 4 as much as the first three sections of the book. To discuss it further would be a spoiler. Just suffice it to say that Victoria has to work through some "mommy issues." 

While rereading for this event, I was struck with just how much of the plot I had forgotten. In my head, I remembered a happy ending early on. I had totally forgotten the pain and emotion of Part 4. (Maybe that's why I state I did not enjoy it.) On my second reading of the novel, I could not get past the outrageous pain, danger, and psychological issues that Victoria deals with. How did she survive and even thrive (though some would argue that last point)?

How many Victorias are out there that do not thrive or survive? I can't even fathom it.

Even though this novel had some dark themes, I think everyone enjoyed the read.

Cam from Culinary Adventures with Camilla was first up on December 2 with her post.   She knows the author!   (Or, sort of as she writes.)    Another connection with the book is that Cam used to be a florist!  Who knew?  

I'm so glad that somebody did a riff on the donut theme running through the book.  Check out this hilarious box that Camilla purchased from a school-run culinary program.
Cam loved the book and I love that she points out that Victoria  "ends up with a whole tribe of people who care for her."

Wendy from A Day in the Life on the Farm was next up with a chicken recipe.   (There are at least two significant roasted chicken dishes mentioned on the pages.)  Here's her Apple Cider Brined Chicken

Wendy had a special connection to the story-line:  "My regular readers know that my husband and I adopted a teenager last April.  This lovely young lady had been in the foster care system for many years and was living in a residential group home when we learned of her."

Next up is Cook the Books co-host, Claudia from Honey From Rock.  She enjoyed the book but had some difficulties with the main character.  As a former foster parent, she had a hard time connecting with Victoria.  (Her own experiences with her foster child were wonderful.)  As for the food, she was inspired by the setting of California (for avocados) and flowers.  
Here's her version of Party Time Guacamole with "lemon for the zest, allium (garlic and onion) for prosperity, dandelions for their rustic oracle touch and parsley for a festive contribution."

Amy's Cooking Adventures was inspired by the flower symbolism as well.   

I really wanted to make something with flowers, especially one with meaning, but I live in the North and fresh flowers are very limited up here in the winter.  So I had to work with what I had.  And what I had were the blue butterfly pea flowers and they have no meaning in the Victorian language of flowers (sad).
Blue butterfly pea flowers are super fun for science experiments (they change color when you add acid).  I also used the blue butterfly pea flowers to make tea that I did not like at all.
I love that Amy used a natural coloring for her lovely Butter Mints.  

Believe it or not, I was not the last one to post.  (It was touch and go there that I would even get a post done.)   From my first reading of the novel, I remembered banana-peach pancakes that Elizabeth makes for Victoria to make her feel at home.   I totally morphed that into Banana-Mango Nut Muffins.

Simona from briciole (and another co-host) was able to focus on the flower symbolism in the novel.  
The book includes a dictionary associating flowers to their meaning. At the farmers' market I saw some beautiful fennel, a plant that blooms tall with flowers similar to those of parsley (both plants are umbellifers, they have umbrella-shaped flowers). According to the dictionary, the meaning of fennel is strength. I like that!

She created a delicious Bean, Fennel, and Mushroom Stew.  

Our last (but not least) co-host who posted up just in time is Deb at Kahakai Kitchen.

Deb states it was hard to find the happy in this book, but she did like "how Grant taught himself to cook and how he fed the always ravenous Victoria. Food is love, after all."

I'm glad she made this recipe of Stuffed Baquette with Cheese and Herbs.  

Thanks to all who read The Language of Flowers and took part in this round.    

Please stay tuned as I know Simona is working on the announcement post for February/March:
Pomegranate Soup: A Novel.  

-----Debra (Eliot's Eats)

Sunday, December 1, 2019

December/January Selection: The Language of Flowers

In The Language of Flowers, Vanessa Diffenbaugh tells the tale of Victoria Jones, someone who has had to work at surviving.

From the publisher:

The Victorian language of flowers was used to convey romantic expressions: honeysuckle for devotion, asters for patience, and red roses for love. But for Victoria Jones, it’s been more useful in communicating mistrust and solitude. After a childhood spent in the foster-care system, she is unable to get close to anybody, and her only connection to the world is through flowers and their meanings. Now eighteen and emancipated from the system with nowhere to go, Victoria realizes she has a gift for helping others through the flowers she chooses for them. But an unexpected encounter with a mysterious stranger has her questioning what’s been missing in her life. And when she’s forced to confront a painful secret from her past, she must decide whether it’s worth risking everything for a second chance at happiness.

About the author:

Vanessa Diffenbaugh was born and raised in northern California. After studying creative writing, she went on to teach art and technology to youth in low-income communities. She and her husband PK have four children: Donovan, Tre'von, Graciela and Miles. Vanessa is also the co-founder of Camellia Network, whose mission is to create a nationwide movement to support youth transitioning from foster care. She and and her family live in Monterey, California.

The Language of Flowers, her first novel, was published in over forty countries, and was a Sunday Times Top Ten bestseller in the UK.

The amount of food in this novel is staggering.  Truly.  As you read, you'll notice that the "mysterious stranger" is quite the baker.  If you're like me, you will find that you are keeping two lists:  one of the food mentioned and one for the meaning of flowers.

The deadline for this round of Cook the Books is January 31, 2020.  I can't wait to see what everyone cooks up.  Leave a comment here with a link to your post or email me at  

Participating in Cook the Books is simple.  Pick up a copy of the selection from your local bookstore or library, then cook and post your inspired-by dish. We love to have new members read and cook along with us.  Everyone is welcome!!!   Be sure to check out our Guidelines page if you have any questions (or leave a comment here).