Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Garden Spells by Sarah Addison Allen: A Cook the Books Roundup

Summer in the northern hemisphere is prime gardening season and it is also a great time to loll about with a novel in hand, so reading Sarah Addison Allen’s novel, Garden Spells, seemed to hit just the right chords with the participants in this round of Cook the Books. Most readers really got into using flowers and herbs in our cooking and using food ingredients to invoke certain reactions and I think we all had a lot of fun reading and cooking and writing this time around.
We have a couple of first time CTB entrants, and I would like to extend a hearty welcome to them. The more the merrier in these interpretations of our selected foodie book selections and so first off I will present our newbies to you all:
Elizabeth is the force behind The Law Student’s Cookbook, which chronicles her adventures in her California kitchen when she is not reading constitutional law textbooks.  She notes that the main character in our book, Claire, the caterer, made up a batch of cinnamon rolls in one chapter and Elizabeth knew that Claire probably would have thrown in some of her garden herbs for flavoring and magical attributes so she spiked her batch of cinnamon rolls with Lemon Verbena.
Also joining us for the first time at Cook the Books is Danielle, The Growing Foodie, who revels in her love for reading and cooking.   She made up a batch of Fresh Mint Ice Cream with Chocolate Rose Topping and served this sassy and romantic dessert to her favorite Boston bachelor.
Another welcome is extended to Maria from A Platter of Figs, who made a delicious looking Lemon Lavender Bread. Maria loved learning about the alchemy of food and herbs in this novel and sought to brighten up the clarifying effects of the lavender with the lemon in this moist and fragrant tea bread.
We can all thank Heather the Girlichef for the nudge to pick this great novel for our June/July CTB selection.  (Thanks Heather!)  For her re-reading of Garden Spells, Heather was inspired to make a technicolor Fruit and Grains Salad with Edible Flowers and Strawberry Vinaigrette. You can also check out an earlier post Heather wrote about this book and cooking with marigolds. Spectacular!
Voluptuous Veal Piccata was on Arlene’s dinner table over at the Food of Love.  Arlene notes that capers have long been noted for their aphrodisiac powers and so she liberally added them to her dish. A tasty and sexy looking offering indeed. I think Claire would approve.
English transplant Foodycat showed off a lovely photo of her own backyard apple tree in her blog post -unlike the tree in our featured novel, it does not fling apples or show people ominous events in their lives- and used her own rosebush petals to crystallise and garnish her Rosewater and Lime Pannacotta.
Rose geraniums are in the garden and on the menu at Texas-based Eliot’s Eats, in the form of Rose Geranium Sugar Cookies.  Eliot was inspired by a passage in Garden Spells about Claire’s magical Rose Geranium Wine, which has mystical powers of remembrance for those who imbibe.
Can’tbelieveweate’s weblog was captivated by the idea of using ingredients to achieve an emotional result and was transported into her own garden to use mint flowers for the first time in her “delightfully bright” Zucchini Carpaccio. Pass the fork!
At The Crispy Cook, I was taken with the character of Evanelle, Claire’s cousin who has the gift of providing people with strange little gifts which they will find the need for after a short time. I also learned that Bachelor Buttons, which are gorgeous little cobalt blue flowers, are edible, so I used them to garnish a simple summer salad of garden lettuce, radishes and raw asparagus.
There are more edible flowers in the post and recipe from Simona of Briciole, who used chive blossoms and sprigs of flowering lemon thyme in a rye bread recipe that was a great success.
Of my two fellow Cook the Books founders and co-hosts, Deb, of Kahakai Kitchen, enjoyed her rereading of this book and used some of the herbs she grows in her Honolulu garden to make a fragrant and luscious sounding Lemon Verbena Creme Brulee.  Just be careful when caramelizing the tops of your desserts if you use a kitchen torch, as Deb knowingly advises!
While on holiday, the other CTB cofounder and cohost, Johanna of the Athens, Greece-based blog Food Junkie, Not Junk Food, enjoyed our featured book and found it captivating.  She was inspired to make an old favorite with a new twist, Spaghetti and Meatballs with a splash of cumin, oregano and cinnamon. Sounds like a great variation!
Our final submission is from Honey from Rock, Claudia’s Hawaiian blog. She enjoyed “this little gem of a novel” and was pleasantly surprised to learn that chive blossoms are edible. She used the white flowers of her own garden-grown garlic chives and some dill to garnish a cold Russian/Estonian style borscht. Look at those gorgeous colors!
And now our guest judge, Jenna, of Literature and a Lens, is going to review these posts to pick a winner that strikes her fancy, so stay tuned to see who wins the fabulous Cook the Books Winner badge for her blog.  Thanks again to Heather, the Girlichef for recommending this great read and to Sarah Addison Allen for writing it!