Monday, August 12, 2019

August/September Selection: The Food Explorer

Happy Summer Cook the Booksters!


I am very happy to be hosting our August/September pick, The Food Explorer:The True Adventures of the Globe-Trotting Botanist Who Transformed What America Eats by Daniel Stone. (published February 2018). I was stuck on picking out a book, but the description of this one immediately caught my eye: 

The true adventures of David Fairchild, a late-nineteenth-century food explorer who traveled the globe and introduced diverse crops like avocados, mangoes, seedless grapes—and thousands more—to the American plate.

In the nineteenth century, American meals were about subsistence, not enjoyment. But as a new century approached, appetites broadened, and David Fairchild, a young botanist with an insatiable lust to explore and experience the world, set out in search of foods that would enrich the American farmer and enchant the American eater.

Kale from Croatia, mangoes from India, and hops from Bavaria. Peaches from China, avocados from Chile, and pomegranates from Malta. Fairchild’s finds weren’t just limited to food: From Egypt he sent back a variety of cotton that revolutionized an industry, and via Japan he introduced the cherry blossom tree, forever brightening America’s capital. Along the way, he was arrested, caught diseases, and bargained with island tribes. But his culinary ambition came during a formative era, and through him, America transformed into the most diverse food system ever created.

David Fairchild in 1889, courtesy of Wikipedia

How could I resist the story of the person who introduced three of my favorite foods (the avocado, the mango, and seedless grapes) to America? We have such a diverse food culture here and I am looking forward to reading about David Fairchild's travels and adventures along with all of you. I think this will offer us so many ways to go for our bookish dishes. 

The deadline for this round of Cook the Books is Monday, September 30th. I can't wait to see what you all make!

If you are new to Cook the Books and want to join in 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.

Aloha,

Deb
Kahakai Kitchen

Friday, August 2, 2019

Blood Bones and Butter: The Roundup


It's time for the roundup of Cook the Books' Club June-July 2019 edition for which we read the memoir Blood, Bones & Butter by Gabrielle Hamilton.

Inspired by the fact that Hamilton is chef / owner of the NYC restaurant Prune, I decided to present our club's contribution as a menu. For each, 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 author's take of the book and how the reading inspired the cooking.

Cook the Books Club's BB&B-Inspired Menu

Apéritif: Negroni

Appetizers:
Herbed Olives, Hummus and Whole-Grain Spicy Mustard
Celery Toasts

First Courses:
Orecchiette with Pesto 
Pastitsio (Greek Lasagna)

Second Courses:
Roasted Rack of Lamb  
Harissa Roasted Eggplant and Shrimp 
Eggplant Parmesan
Abruzzo Style Swiss Chard & Cannellini Beans

Side Dish:
Green Bean and Torpedo Onion Salad

Make yourself comfortable, then enjoy the meal.


Claudia of Honey from Rock mixed a Negroni

"I loved this book, found it a truly enjoyable read!... Gabrielle carries us along with her, from the beginning of her interest and contact with food prep, watching her French mother,  through years of camp cooking and catering, to the opening of her own unique little restaurant in New York City.  Her stint with various catering companies would certainly put one off ordering from them, by the way... There was also a drink mentioned frequently, in various places throughout the book, a Negroni, for which Hamilton does give a recipe... [which echoes] the sweet, the bitter and the sadness of their marriage."


"It’s funny revisiting a book seven years later, a book you once professed to love. Age will do that. My reexamination only left me liking the book this go around... Images of Hamilton rooting through her mother’s pantry as she was trying to fend for herself in her early teens also stayed with me. One weekend morning, I found myself preparing three recipes that I thought would pair nicely with this book:  Herbed Olives and Hummus and homemade Dijon mustard.  It just hit me that perhaps through foraging in the fields around the mill and hungrily searching through leftovers in the home larder that maybe Hamilton might have found some sustenance making something similar."


Deb of Kahakai Kitchen prepared Celery Toasts

"[Hamilton's] stories, descriptive writing and appreciation for good food and the craft of cooking make for an entertaining memoir that, although a bit uneven in places, had me readily following along on her journey... I went for the celery toasts. They sounded fun, and retro and perfect with a glass of wine. Plus, I didn't want to make/use blood or bones in a recipe, so that left butter from the book's title 😉 ... I thought that I would like these based on the ingredients list alone as I like celery and love blue cheese, toast with butter, lemon and garlic but I wasn’t prepared for how good these little toasts are."



"Hamilton can write... I enjoyed the clarity of the details as well as the vivid imagery she creates. She is also candid about herself and food industry... But, as much as I found her short-tempered and self-absorbed, she is certainly a strong person and I can honor her successes. Finishing the book raised a third question in my mind: given the opportunity, would I eat in her restaurant, Prune? I think I would. Though I wonder how hard it is to get a reservation there. The parts of the book that appealed to me the most were the descriptions of her trips to Italy and cooking with her in-laws."



Amy was definitely not impressed by the book. "However, there was no shortage for foodie inspiration.  I was more inspired by a food mentioned very early on in the book (like the first chapter – I almost quit reading right then and there, but decided to see this one through).  She mentioned the Pastitso she enjoyed on those rare occasions when the family got to go out to eat.  Having never heard of pastitso, I quickly googled it and found a fascinating Greek version of lasagna. As much as I didn’t love the book, I did love the pastitso! It was amazing!"



"I had never heard of Gabrielle Hamilton before this memoir was assigned.  I loved her honesty and transparency throughout the book.  I enjoyed her writing style and I love the vision of her American restaurant based on the warmth and comfort she found in various places during her time in Europe.
There is TONS of food inspiration but the first is roasted lamb.  Her parents would roast a whole lamb once a year and have a huge party.  It is one of Gabrielle's fond memories of a childhood before her family was turned upside down and scattered.  Lamb is mentioned several more times in the book in different aspects. Dinner doesn't get much easier than roasted rack of lamb."


"Hamilton’s book is a disjointed memoir. She brings us through her life and references food throughout, from childhood to adolescence to adulthood – showing us how she became the chef she is today. I have no doubt that Hamilton is a great chef. I did not think she was a great writer. While I am always intrigued in learning about a person, learning how they tick, Hamilton did a poor job getting me to care at all about her story... The only part of the book I really enjoyed was the part where Gabrielle spends time in Italy with her now ex-husband’s family... I decided to make something inspired by the eggplant with harissa and caraway she described. "


Tina of Novel Meals prepared Eggplant Parmesan

"Reading this memoir by Gabrielle Hamilton, a fellow Pennsylvanian, was a treat... Some of my favorite chapters were her interactions with her mother-in-law, Alda. It was clear Alda was beloved by her Italian family and Gabrielle fell in love with her too... As she studied her mother-in-law, and cooked beside her (cooking being a common language of its own) Gabrielle knew she needed to teach her young sons, Marco and Leone, about their Italian side. About kindness and respect... I was inspired to prepare... a rich meaty eggplant dish with the appropriate accompaniments."



"Reading the book, and particularly the pages devoted to her in-law family, I was reminded of my grandmother Amalia from Abruzzo, Italy... [Hamilton's] description of Alda's cooking particularly rang true. She writes: 'Her food is so simple and prepared with such dispatch that it is almost unnecessary to speak of recipes, and wrangling one from her is more of a poetic than a didactic encounter.'... Sounds exactly like my own experience in collecting grandmother's recipes, but in her case, by dint of persistence I persuaded her to go back and measure after putting out her ingredients so now I have many of them for passing on to family."


Simona of briciole (your host) prepared Green Bean and Torpedo Onion Salad

"Hamilton's writing and storytelling style makes for an easy reading and the events she narrates with more details are well chosen... My favorite part is when she describes her boss and mentor Misty for which she worked while in graduate school in Ann Arbour, MI... Once the book moves to Italy, a lot of what Hamilton recounts sounded familiar... I remembered my first vacation away from my family... in Calabria. A lot of the foods I ate were either new or prepared differently from the way my mother prepared them. The latter group included green beans, which my friend's mother boiled and dressed like a salad, but with the addition of red onion from Tropea."

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 August-September edition in which we are reading the The Food Explorer by Daniel Stone.

Arrivederci a presto!

Simona, of briciole

Sunday, July 21, 2019

Announcing Our Next Four Selections

Are you ready? Here are the next four selections of our book club:

Deb (Kahakai Kitchen) opens the series with The Food Explorer:The True Adventures of the Globe-Trotting Botanist Who Transformed What America Eats by Daniel Stone (published February 2018) for the August/September 2019 edition


I’ll admit that I was the delay in the new book selection posting because I just couldn’t come up with a book I felt that strongly about hosting. Thankfully, Simona had a couple of great suggestions and I got very excited about The Food Explorer. Although I have a brown thumb for growing plants, I find botany incredibly interesting and combining it with the origins of food is even better. I read a sample on Amazon and was sold because there seems to be plenty of action mixed into the history.  

From the publisher:
The true adventures of David Fairchild, a late-nineteenth-century food explorer who traveled the globe and introduced diverse crops like avocados, mangoes, seedless grapes—and thousands more—to the American plate. 
In the nineteenth century, American meals were about subsistence, not enjoyment. But as a new century approached, appetites broadened, and David Fairchild, a young botanist with an insatiable lust to explore and experience the world, set out in search of foods that would enrich the American farmer and enchant the American eater. 
Kale from Croatia, mangoes from India, and hops from Bavaria. Peaches from China, avocados from Chile, and pomegranates from Malta. Fairchild’s finds weren’t just limited to food: From Egypt he sent back a variety of cotton that revolutionized an industry, and via Japan he introduced the cherry blossom tree, forever brightening America’s capital. Along the way, he was arrested, caught diseases, and bargained with island tribes. But his culinary ambition came during a formative era, and through him, America transformed into the most diverse food system ever created.
I think we'll have fun learning with and cooking with this one!
Aloha,
Deb

Deadline for contributing your post is Monday, September 30, 2019

For the October/November edition, Claudia (Honey from Rock) chose The Temporary Bride - A Memoir of Love and Food in Iran by Jennifer Klinec (published February 2017)


I have't much experience with Persian food, so it should be an adventure, right up our food alley anyway. Here's the Publisher's take on the book: 
A true story of forbidden love set against the rich cultural and political backdrop of modern-day Iran. 
Jennifer Klinec is fearless. In her thirties, she abandons her bland corporate job to launch a cooking school from her London apartment and travel the world in search of delicious recipes and obscure culinary traditions. Her journey takes her to Iran, where she seeks out a local woman to learn the secrets of Persian cuisine.  
Vahid is suspicious of the strange foreigner who turns up in his mother's kitchen. Unused to such a bold and independent woman, he is frustrated to find himself, the prized only son of the house, largely ignored for the first time. But when the two are thrown together on an unexpected adventure, they discover a mutual attraction that draws them irresistibly toward each other--but also pits them against harsh Iranian laws and customs, which soon threaten to tear the unlikely lovers apart. 
Getting under the skin of one of the most complex and fascinating nations on earth, The Temporary Bride is a soaring, intricately woven story of being loved, being fed, and struggling to belong.

Aloha,
Claudia

Deadline for contributing your post is Saturday, November 30, 2019

For the December 2019 / January 2020 edition, Debra (Eliot's Eats) has chosen the novel The Language of Flowers by Vanessa Diffenbaugh (April 2012)
  

I remember reading this book a few years ago and mentally making notes about all the food in the novel. At that time, I thought The Language of Flowers by Vanessa Diffenbaugh would make a good selection for Cook the Books. For some reason, the novel has languished inside my Kindle.  

The novel revolves around the character of Victoria. She's had a sad life and has aged-out of the foster care system. Victoria finds herself homeless and without any job prospects. But, she has the "language of flowers." Her gift lands her a job with a local florist and allows her to reconnect with her past while visiting the flower market.

The Language of Flowers is a cross between White Oleander by Janet Fitch (because of the foster care system depiction) and Garden Spells by Sarah Addison Allen (because of the power of the flowers; however, Victoria's "gift" with the language of flowers is more her education and knowledge versus a mystical talent).  

Besides many food references in the novel, you will find an education of the power and language of flowers (hearkening back to Victorian times) within the pages.

Debra

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

To round up the list of selections, for the February / March edition Simona (briciole) picked the novel Pomegranate Soup by Marsha Mehran


I saw this book at the annual Berkeley Library sale and as I remember reading good reviews about it, 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.

As I was preparing for presenting the novel to our Cook the Books Club, I read that 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.

Simona

Deadline for contributing your post: Tuesday, March 31, 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:

August/September: The Food Explorer by Daniel Stone (hosted by Deb at Kahakai Kitchen)







October/November: The Temporary Bride by Jennifer Klinec (hosted by Claudia at Honey from Rock)




December/January: The Language of Flowers by Vanessa Diffenbaugh (hosted by Debra at Eliot's Eats)







February/March: Pomegranate Soup by Marsha Mehran (hosted by Simona at briciole)









Happy reading and cooking!

Thursday, June 6, 2019

Buttermilk Graffiti Round Up

I apologize for my tardiness in posting up the April/May roundup for Buttermilk Graffiti by Edward Lee.    It seemed like this was a popular read for the CTB group.  I know that I enjoyed it and am a big enough Lee fan (read almost-stalker) that I read Smoke & Pickles while I reread this book.  I would also love to travel to Kentucky now!   
As Lee writes on his website, we met lots of amazing people and traveled many miles with him on his "Chef's Journey."  He also explains that although there are no accompanying photos for his recipes, you can see the people, places and foods in a photo gallery here.  (It's even organized by chapter.)

Without further adieu, let's get to Culinary Adventures with Camilla.   Cam is almost always the first one up with her post and this time was no different!  She writes:
Although a few regionally inspired recipes are located in each chapter, this is not cookbook per se. It is, as Lee writes, "the story of American foods. It is a recollection of people and places that help paint an image of where we came from and where we're heading. ...The story of American food is one of transformation. Any international cuisine changes once it lands on the shores of America" (pg. 5).
The transformational recipe that she chose was Matcha Beignets from Lee's New Orleans travels.


Beignets were a popular choice and Wendy at A Day in the Life on the Farm also fried up some NOLA sweet treats.  Wendy used her own recipe for beignets for her own Mardi Gras party.  
Wendy loved the book.  
The book is written by States and Cities visited by Lee, who traveled the USA searching for food from different cultures that have become part of our American lifestyle.  He writes with humor and tenderness.  I found him to be caring, generous, respectful and kind.  Lee is the kind of person that I would love to sit down with and share a meal and some conversation.
 Amy's Cooking Adventures posted up next.  Amy also enjoyed the book and sums up Lee's food philosophy nicely.  


Lee’s specialty is fusion cuisine, but not in the “break all the rules” trendy way.  No.  Lee believes that our experiences change and shape us.  And those experiences, those twists on a recipe because we can’t get those ingredients in our area, that is what makes fusion cuisine. It’s about the heart and the memories, that’s what makes good food.

Although she loves Lee's take on melding cuisines, she did not love the recipes in the book.  She ended up adapting one of Lee's recipes:  Pollo a la Brasa.  

One of the CTB co-hosts, Claudia from Honey from Rock was next up with a melting pot meal.  Claudia found Lee to be a "very empathetic fellow" but saw his recipes as "out there."  That being said, she did find inspiration.
Though Lee puts together some unusual recipes in this melting-pot memoir, I did get a bit of cooking inspiration from him.  In the chapter entitled "Nigerian Hustle", I was drawn to a dish of spicy beef skewers.
Here's her meal of Kalbi Beef Short Ribs (using her pressure cooker) served with rice and kimchi.


Another CTB co-host was up next.   Deb from Kahakai Kitchen featured perhaps the most unusual dish:  Pickled Sweet Peppers & Pickle Juice Gravy with Biscuits.   (Doesn't this sound delicious in a weird way?)
Deb was familiar with Lee from Mind of a Chef  and his competitive TV appearances (Top Chef and Iron Chef) but she had not read any of his writings.  She may have found a new favorite author.
...his unique perspectives and passion for food and the people who cook it made it a win for me. I like his appreciation for the people he meets in his cross-country explorations and how descriptive his writing and storytelling is--it isn't surprising to read that he graduated magna cum laude from NYU with a degree in English literature before turning his skills to cooking. I really enjoy his approach to food too--with his unique combinations of cuisines and ingredients. He made me want to hang out with him in the car and in the kitchen.
I totally agree.  It looks like he could haul a few more people in that convertible.  

I was next up with two different recipes:  Mushroom Hummus and a "New Fashion" cocktail.
Since I was hosting, I had high hopes of doing a dish that truly showed a melding like matcha beignets or mango-jalapeno fries.    Or, something creative like butternut kraut.  Instead, I was intrigued with Lee’s Bourbon chapter in Smoke and Pickles (which I highly recommend as well) and Lee’s non-traditional hummus from Buttermilk Graffiti‘s “Accidental Fast” chapter.

Our fourth CTB co-host, Simona from bicriole, also enjoyed Lee's writing:
Lee is a great storyteller: he brings the readers with him in his travels, inside every eating establishment he visits, next to every person he talks to. Together with the more factual details of his 16 stories, each centered around a place with specific food traditions, he shares doses of personal opinions, memories, experiences.
His writing inspired her to make a dish that exemplifies here own background, origins, travels and  experiences:  carciofi, fave e salsiccia (artichokes, fava beans and sausage). 



Cathy from Delaware Girl Eats found a family connection with Lee's writing.  We don't typically think of West Virginia as a melting pot but Cathy's own family brought their Italian food and culture to the area.
Edward Lee highlights this in his book, Buttermilk Graffiti, in the chapter on his travels throughout that state.  He comes across a woman named Alba, who said that her family came to West Virginia generations ago to work in the factories. "And we never left", she said. 

I also liked that Cathy mentioned Lee's introspective look into food, noticing that his own biased palate might be to blame for his first bite of a pepperoni roll.  
Cathy's pepperoni rolls came from an authentic family recipe.

Since this round-up is posting at the end of the week, you will notice that the June/July announcement post for Blood, Bones & Butter by Gabrielle Hamilton is up.  Simona is hosting.  (Simona is also hosting Novel Food #36 from now until July 7.)

Thanks for hanging in there with me and being patient!   I am now off to search for my copy of BB&B.  See you all in a couple of months.  Enjoy the summer!

Monday, June 3, 2019

June/July selection: Blood, Bones & Butter

 

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

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... By turns epic and intimate, Gabrielle Hamilton’s story is told with uncommon honesty, grit, humor, and passion.
Blood, Bones and Butter traces nearly all of Hamilton’s life and career, from an unmoored childhood through her triumph at Prune, which didn’t end the search for a sense of place and peace that is the overarching theme of this autobiography, as of so many others. It’s a story of hungers specific and vague, conquered and unappeasable, and what it lacks in urgency (and even, on occasion, forthrightness) it makes up for in the shimmer of Hamilton’s best writing. 

Deadline for contributing your post: Wednesday, July 31, 2019

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.