Sunday, August 8, 2010

“Climbing The Mango Trees” — Let’s Travel to India with Madhur Jaffrey & Cook The Books!

Time to pick up the hosting torch from Rachel and her wonderful pick of Erica Bauermeister’s “The School of Essential Ingredients.” For my selection, I am taking us on a journey to exotic India  with “Climbing The Mango Trees: A Memoir of a Childhood in India” by the multi-talented (author, cook, actress and Indian cuisine guru), Madhur Jaffrey. A huge fan of Indian food myself, I have several of Jaffrey’s cookbooks and was excited to pick up her beautifully written story of growing up in the large family compound in Delhi. I love books that allow me a glimpse into someone’s life, in another time, and in another place, and especially reading about the details of the food and culture. Jaffrey’s book transports the reader to India, in the 1930′s to the 1950′s, and what it was like being from a prosperous and large extended family there.
From the book jacket:
“Climbing mango trees in the orchard, armed with a mixture of salt, pepper, ground chilies, and roasted cumin; picnicking in the Himalayan foothills on meatballs stuffed with raisins and mint and tucked into freshly fired ‘pooris;’ sampling the heady flavors in the lunch boxes of Muslim friends; sneaking tastes of exotic street fare–these are the food memories Madhur Jaffrey draws on as a way of telling her story. … ‘Climbing the Mango Trees’ is both an enormously appealing account of an unusual childhood and a testament to the power of food to evoke memory.”
In addition to the evocative food descriptions in the book, at the back are more than 30 family recipes–each sounding more delicious than the next. Between these recipes and Jaffrey’s many cookbooks, we will have a treasure trove of recipes and ideas to choose from when deciding what dish the book inspires us to cook.
The deadline for reading “Climbing The Mango Trees” and cooking and posting a dish inspired by it is Friday, September 24th. I will post a round-up shortly after and a winner will be selected.
Anyone is eligible to join in the fun. If you are new to Cook The Books–Welcome! Please check out the tabs above (Guidelines and Books We’ve Read) to see what we have read, look at past roundups and check out some sample CTB posts.
Once you have read the book, cooked your fabulous dish and posted it, leave a comment here or email me ( so I can be sure you are included in the round-up.
Happy reading & cooking!

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Announcing a Reigning Triumvirate of Cook the Books Winners

Our Featured Author and gracious guest judge, Erica Bauermeister, has read our Cook the Books entries about her novel “The School of Essential Ingredients” and the writing teacher and word addict in her has picked three top entries.  Read on to see what she has to say in her own words:

“What a fabulous, diverse group of blog entries!   I always say that reading is an interactive sport — books are not static entities; their words lift off the page and mingle with our memories and associations and thus become a new and different book in each reader’s mind.  But I have never had the chance to see readers take their interpretations of a book and turn them into food.  Brilliant!  And in many ways so much more “essential” than any discussion of the book in a classroom…

Winners, eh?  Well, that is tricky, as every judge before me has noted.  There were bloggers who replicated and enhanced dishes from The School of Essential Ingredients, bringing their own emotions and/or ingredients to the challenge, and bloggers who roamed far and delightfully afield in their culinary choices.  There were bloggers who cooked with chocolate or veggies from their own yards, those who utilized ingredients brought to them by loved ones, those who injected color into words through food, or made new creations when ingredients weren’t to be found.  Lillian would have been thrilled with all of them.  Which dish is best?  Would it be the subtle shift from cranberries to lemon in the stuffed turkey?  The pork with apples that had me yearning for autumn?  That gorgeous tower of a white cake? The loving recreation of Isabelle’s dinner? The cool eggplant salad that had me glad for hot weather? Or the figs with Grand Marnier and whipped cream that seemed like seduction itself?
In the end, because I am as addicted to words as I am to food (and as all the dishes had me yearning for the kitchen, in any case), my top three had as much to do with voice and literary creativity as they did with food.  Forgive me.  I do love the taste of good words in my mouth.   Here they are, in no particular order…

Girlichef –  I think if you can create both a dish and a new character for a book you get double bonus points.  Girlichef’s character, Heather, took me into her kitchen and her mind and had me craving limes and chiles and the sharp crunch of radishes.  Her pozole is a thing of comfort and beauty — and I agree completely that garnishes should NOT be optional.

It’s A Food Life did a gorgeous job of digging into the book and pulling out the quote or two that epitomized each chapter – but even better, she took the essence of the book and created her own dish, a lush and sensual gift to her husband in the form of a wine reduction sauce.  That last paragraph (“Notes”), with its descriptions of why she included each ingredient, was full of insight about the connection between emotion, memories, meaning and food.

Eats Well With Others — Truly, I am impressed by any medical student who takes the time to make pasta from scratch.  And I agree with some of the comments that suggested Joanne should consider a career in writing.  What an incredible voice!  ”Buy locally.  If you will.”  Just wonderful, and the pasta was perfect for this time of year, the zing of lemon playing off the saltiness of the capers, the sun-dried tomatoes and pine nuts and pasta holding steady underneath.  It could almost make you glad that it’s August and zucchinis are about to start exploding in gardens everywhere.

So thank you all — for reading, for cooking, for being so creative.  My next novel will be out next spring and is about seven women who all challenge one another to do one thing in the next year that is new or difficult or scary (and yes, one of the challenges involves food).   Perhaps you all could start a new blog club for challenges, culinary and otherwise? :) “

Congratulations to our three Winners!  Girlichef and Eats Well With Others have already received their culinary laurels in previous Cook the Books rounds, and now It’s A Food Life will win the coveted badge of honor (winging its way to your blog after I type this up).

Deb of Kahakai Kitchen will now take up the hosting reins as we explore the pages of Madhur Jaffrey’s book, “Climbing the Mango Trees: A Memoir of a Childhood in India”.

Sunday, August 1, 2010

The School of Essential Ingredients Roundup

There were so many stunning and creative entries this time round for our reading of Erica Bauermeister’s novel “The School of Essential Ingredients”.  I am happy that so many other of my Cook the Books friends enjoyed reading this evocative book and found time (one the MOST essential ingredients) to think, write and cook about their impressions about it.  I always hold my breath when I select a book for our little band of readers, hoping that others will luxuriate in it as much as I have, and I was gratified to see so many other readers fall in love with this special novel and its characters.
Join me now in exploring our different reactions to Bauermeister’s writing and see how we all interpreted what we read into words and food:
The book’s Valentine’s Day fondue cooking lesson inspired Foodycat to break out her fondue pot and skewers and regale us with a nutmeg and kirchwasser-perfumed pot of hot molten cheese.  A perfect dish to inspire leaning in together and chatting with your cozy fondue partakers, as she notes.
It was fondue of a different stripe for Claudia of the Hawaii’an food blog, Honey from Rock.  She understood the lesson that using prime ingredients was one of The Essential Ingredients in cooking and taking care of our family and friends. She turned to her own tropical garden for the freshest fruit and even her own homegrown and processed chocolate (whoa!) for a Chocolate Fondue with Pineapple.
Joanne of  Eats Well With Others wrote a very funny post about the book, taking away the idea that “Everyone falls in love.  In some way. Or another.  With each other.  With themselves.  With the process of creating something from scratch and being able to say.  Here.  Yes.  I did this.”  Her take on this essential lesson was to make pasta from scratch, with Linguine with Zucchini, Capers, Lemon, Pine Nuts and Herbs.
Undaunted by sweltering temperatures over 100 degrees Fahrenheit, Glennis of  Can’t Believe We Ate was motivated to recreate the Pasta with Bolognese Sauce that Tom makes in Bauermeister’s book.  A classic!
Tina, who lives  Life in the Slow Lane at Squirrel Head Manor, was taken with the passage in the book where young Lillian manages to pry her mother away from her over-obsessive reading with the smells, coolness and taste of a newly picked apple.  Tina’s ode to this book resulted in a Pork Tenderloin cooked with Apples.
This moment in the book when Lillian’s mother reconnects with her daughter was also a favorite bit of writing for Simona of Briciole.  A mention of mascarpone in another chapter of the novel inspired her to her to make a batch of this fresh cheese in her kitchen which she used in a gorgeous Crostata Con Crema al Mascarpone e Mirtilli, or Mascarpone and Blueberry Tart.
Let’s extend a hearty welcome to It’s A Food Life, who joins us for the first time at Cook the Books, and found our present book selection charming and provocative, and like others have mentioned in their CTB posts, found so many passages in the novel to be possibilities for kitchen inspiration.  Utimately, she decided upon making a sexy red wine reduction sauce for a romantic meal with her beloved, based on the passage in the book where one student bemoans the fact that his kitchen creation will be devoured all too soon:
They’ll eat it, he said, and then it will be gone.  That’s what makes it a gift, Lillian replied.”
Over at The Seventh Level of Boredom, thinking about our CTB book pick produced the Italian-inspired Thanksgiving turkey breast prepared by cooking students Antonia, a kitchen designer, and Isabelle, an older woman whose memory is starting to fail.  Beth Anne says she was captivated by the novel and really felt connections to the various characters.
My Athens, Greece-based Cook the Books cohost, Johanna of Food Junkie, Not Junk Food, was also inspired by the Thanksgiving cooking class chapter, and made her own version of Stuffed Turkey.  Johanna found that reading our chosen book was the perfect bibliotherapy to help chase away some of the new mommy blues she is enduring, and we all wish her well in teaching her sweet baby girl to learn to sleep through the night soon.
Heather the Girlichef immersed herself inside our book pick and wrote a chapter of her own about falling in love with Mexican food and culture at an early age and finding the love of her life, who, as destiny would have it, was also from  Mexico.  It’s a magical and very personal bit of prose which finishes with a Pozole Rojo that she shared with her family and graciously with all of us.
Wendy, the brains behind Celiacs in the House, noted that she had been lucky enough to attend a writer’s workshop featuring Ms. Bauermeister and several other Seattle area food blogger/writers, and was delighted to read “The School of Essential Ingredients” anew.  She tackled a dinner of homemade gluten-free pasta with a garden-fresh sauce of homegrown tomatoes and zucchini.  How luscious is that!
My CTB cohost Deb, of the Hawaiian-based blog Kahakai Kitchen was inspired to create a dinner for Isabelle, one of the cooking club participants in Bauermeister’s novel, who is gradually suffering memory loss and shows up at the restaurant on the wrong night, when the restaurant is open.  Our heroine Lillian takes it in stride and seats her to dine on salmon over cannellini beans with some fried sage and a lemony tart for dessert.
Natashya, the mastermind behind Living in the Kitchen with Puppies, enjoyed this “magical” book and found herself ruminating about the lives of the characters in it.  When her husband showed up at home bearing two flats of fresh figs for his muse, she whipped this sensuous, book-inspired dish:  Baked Figs with Grand Marnier and Whipped Cream.   Love that sexy, anthropomorphic food photo!
We were joined by another first-time Cook the Books participant, Daphne, the Food Junkie from Texas, who showcases a lot of healthy food recipes on her delicious blog.  She took a break from being entirely a virtuous foodie (one must do so regularly, I say!) by whipping up a White on White Cake, the poignant metaphor in our novel about the longtime marriage between Carl and Helen.
Rounding things up is my own entry, an Eggplant Salad with Shallots, Lemon and Basil, (and the Essential Ingredient of Love) that I made to welcome home my hot, tired husband after a softball road trip.  The Crispy Cook really savored this book selection and was delighted to see that so many other blogger friends enjoyed the novel too.
What a splendid array of posts this was!  While no one dared attempt to cook up a pot of live crabs as I had hoped to see through a series of interesting blog photos, I think most all of the other food scenes in the book were represented here and it was a treat to see other interpretations of Bauermeister’s prose.
I would like to thank all of the bloggers who joined us this month in reading our delectable book pick and particularly welcome our first-time participants, It’s a Food Life and Food Junkie from Texas.   Welcome aboard!  I think we all have fun dipping into new books, especially ones that we might not have selected ourselves at the bookshop or library, and then using them for inspiration in the kitchen.
Thanks too to our featured author and guest judge, Erica Bauermeister, for agreeing to read through our musings.  I can’t wait to see what she thinks of all our thoughts.   I’ll be back with her judging comments as soon as I get them.  In the meantime, you can seek out a copy of our next two Cook the Books picks: Madhur Jaffrey’s memoir “Climbing the Mango Trees” and Bill Buford’s “Heat”, which will be hosted by my two dear CTB cohosts, Deb of Kahakai Kitchen and Johanna of Food Junkie, Not Junk Food.
**A little Cook the Books housekeeping note: I try to keep our “Books We’ve Read” tab above current so that first time participants can see what books we’ve dipped into and what other books are on the roster for future reading, so you can keep checking that.  Also, I add links to Cook the Books participants’ blogs once they participate at least twice in a Cook the Books roundup so let me know if I need to update this section with a link to your blog.