Saturday, December 15, 2012

The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins: December ('12) - January ('13) Selection

A few years ago, I remember my son reading through the three books in The Hunger Games series.  He described the premise as a sort of post-apocalyptic story in which poor districts outlying a rich and extravagant capitol have to send one boy and one girl between the ages of 12 & 18 each year to fight to the death in a live television broadcast.  This is their punishment...their retribution...for an uprise against the capitol that happened many years ago.  I thought it sounded pretty intense, but seeing as it was written for teens...and I'm not a fan of censoring books...I waited to hear his updates.

And then my son told me that the film adaptation was coming to theaters.  I saw the previews...and teared up a bit...and knew I'd be the one going with him to see it.  I fell hard for the film.  And I immediately came home and dug out his books.  And plowed through all three in a manner of days.  I was officially hooked.  I'm happy that I saw the film adaptation before I read the books. Why? Well, because it's almost guaranteed that if I read the book first, I will loathe the movie.  But seeing the movie first allows me to separate the two and look at them as individual projects.  The thing is, this film was extremely well done.  Probably because the filmmakers included the author, Suzanne Collins, in the process of making the film.

It shouldn't come as too much of a surprise that the book(s) are fairly foodcentric.  From the humble hunting, fishing, foraging, baking, cheese making, and cooking of the poor outlying districts to the richness and extravagance of the meals provided in and by the Capitol, food played an integral part of the book.  Sadly, I though it was sort of grazed over (if you will) in the film.  Left on the backburner.

For this reason, I chose The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins as a selection for Cook the Books Club AND Food 'n Flix.  That's right.  It's a special edition of both Cook the Books and Food 'n Flix.  We're joining forces over December and January to bring you The Hunger Games.  Of course, you are under no obligation to do both, we just thought that it would be a fun collaboration.  Read the book first and then watch the film.  Create a post for Cook the Books Club inspired by the book.  Create a post for Food 'n Flix inspired by the film, but use the book as reference and background for the food.  You can combine your two posts, if you're playing along with both.  But please don't let it scare you off if you don't want to watch the film - that part is optional for Cook the Books.

So, without further ado... "Happy Hunger Games! And may the odds be ever in your favor."

Once  your post is complete, please leave a link to it in the LINKY TOOL below.  Submissions are due by Tuesday, January 29th at noon EST.  I can't wait to see what inspires everybody this round!  An update on who our judge for this round will be posted once I figure that out...

This linky list is now closed.

Thursday, December 13, 2012

For Nora Ephron's "Heartburn" we have a winner!

Our gracious judge, Laura Lippstone, founder and editor of Planet Lippstone, enjoyed reading all the posts in the roundup of the Cook the Books edition that just ended. This is what she wrote:

Somewhere in the middle of Heartburn, unlucky-in-love Rachel Samstat is ruminating about how all the signs of her bad marriages were right under her nose and she didn't see them.

What made her especially furious was something in her first marriage. Seems while she was having a miserable time judging what she considered among the lowest of the low in the food world -- the Pillsbury Bake-Off -- her husband was doing it with her best friend in a hotel. She didn't find out until later.

But I have no doubt Rachel's alter ego, Nora Ephron would have been wowed by this contest (from what I've read about her, she didn't impress easily). Such stunning, thoughtful entries! 

As much as I idolized Nora, I have to agree about the recipes in the book. They were as dull as a school lunch. Surprising, given that she was regarded as the ultimate foodie.

Just for fun, I'm pretending she's judging your contest too. So this isn't just about what I like, it's how she might react.

After much delicious deliberation (gotta say you guys really made it tough):

First Place: Debra at Eliot's Eats and her recipe for Chocolate Chip Cookies

While this sentence was also mentioned by Tina at Squirrel Head Manor, Debra seized on it. In doing so, she seized on, IMO, one of the key ingredients in Heartburn: Rachel's love affair with New York:
I look out the window and I see the lights and the skyline and the people on the street rushing around looking for action, love, and the world’s greatest chocolate chip cookie, and my heart does a little dance.

I think out of everything in Heartburn, the Big Apple was Rachel's core. Even when she was in the basement, just thinking about returning to her beloved NYC gave her the will to pull herself out.

And the cookies! Nora apparently adored the Levain Bakery, home of these beauties. I think she would have also applauded your idea to use chopped chocolate in the knock-off recipe. That makes them look even larger than life! Are you sure they're not muffins?

Second Place: Heather of Girlichef for her Bacon Hash (both of the bacon hash entries looked great) [editor's note: Tina of Squirrel Head Manor made Bacon Hash as well]. In addition to being well-staged -- with the dish next to the recipe page -- I also savored Heather's writing.

It cracked me up when Heather thought about making something with capers, just to disprove Nora's famous axiom that "anything that tastes good with capers tastes even better without them." 

I also liked Heather's appreciation for another recurring theme in the book: comfort food. I like that she made one of Rachel/Nora's favorites -- bacon hash -- when she was feeling "shitty" herself and wanted something easy and soothing.

Honorable mention: Hearty thanks to Glennis of Can't Believe We Ate for going to all the trouble of raiding her hen's nest so she could make Heartburn's 4-Minute Eggs. City gal Rachel/Nora would have been gaga over that one.

And a shoutout to Alicia of Foodycat for noticing that one of Heartburn's most-hilarious lines popped up again in When Harry Met Sally: "Your basic nightmare" -- referring to any rival of the female persuasion who was "thin, pretty, big t--s ..."
Rachel used to get mad at her two-timing hubby Mark for stealing everyone's ideas and using them in his columns. I'm gonna do just that with these fabulous recipes -- add 'em to my repertoire! Thank you all for such a delicious time.

A big "thank you" to Laura for a thoughtful and engaging review, and congratulations to Debra, Heather and Glennis!

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Nora Ephron's "Heartburn" Roundup

First came the announcement, then the reminder, then the deadline and now it's time for the roundup of Cook the Books' October-November 2012 edition for which we read Heartburn by Nora Ephron (1983).

For each contribution, I will give you the official information (author, blog name and post title) and a brief quote from it — a tiny morsel that will entice you to follow the link and read the details not only of the dish prepared, but also of how the reading inspired the activity in the kitchen.

Now, please, make yourself comfortable, then follow me on a little literary / culinary journey.

Glennis of Can't Believe We Ate prepared the Four-minute Egg using eggs from her chickens

Heartburn is "amusing, in a dismal sort of way…heavily dramatic.  The best part of the book for me were the recipes…although I didn’t have the greatest of luck with the 3 minute-4 minute egg.  I kept getting a 5 minute egg.  *Ü* Without regard to that…here’s my journey…"

Heather of girlichef prepared Bacon Hash

"Another of Rachel's feeling blue foods...  Because really, how can you go wrong with crispy bacon and potatoes topped off with a runny yolk?  It is pure comfort food... Ephron manages to wind wacky, yet identifiable, emotions throughout a whole story in which nobody wins.  They just make decisions and go on living."

Alicia of Foodycat prepared a Coconut Cake whose inspiration comes from Ephron's movie When Harry Met Sally

"I didn't find any of the characters particularly sympathetic. Ephron managed to write a character based on herself without making herself particularly heroic or endearing... One element I did like was the occasional line that Ephron used in later work. A rival is described as "Your basic nightmare", which is also how one of Sally's rivals is described in When Harry Met Sally.

"I reviewed my underlinings and scribblings from my dog-eared copy of the novel. I found this sentence about New York: 'I look out the window and I see the lights and the skyline and the people on the street rushing around looking for action, love, and the world’s greatest chocolate chip cookie, and my heart does a little dance.' That would be it."

"Ephron's wit and dark humor are out full-force. There is plenty of food which serves as both consolation to Rachel and to recount the story and the history of her relationship and marriage to Mark. The food engaged me more than the characters did and the descriptions and recipes were the most enjoyable part of the book."

Tina of Squirrel Head Manor prepared Bacon Hash, baked a loaf of bread and gives a famous recipe from the book: vinaigrette

"The realization her marriage is over and her acceptance of it comes at the end with the vinaigrette recipe. As Rachel put it, 'Even now, I cannot believe Mark would want to risk losing that vinaigrette. You just don't bump into vinaigrettes that good.' That must be why she saved the recipe for the end of the book. It was too good to leave. She was too good to leave."

"Dipping back into Heartburn was a nostalgic read: there was the nostalgia of seeing that great dust jacket art, the familiarity of sinking back into Ephron's words like having a cozy conversation with a great friend that one hasn't seen in a bunch of years, and nostalgia for the 1980s world that pervades its page."

Ana of Sweet Almond Tree prepared a Carrot Cake

"My advice? Add extra whipped cream if you’re throwing a Key lime pie at someone’s face... Love, cohabitation, marriage, all relationships, even friendships… they should be victim free. Easier said than done, but as Rachel Samstat says in Heartburn, when your dream dies, you are left 'with a choice: You can settle for reality, or you can go off, like a fool, and dream another dream.'"

Simona of briciole (your host) prepared Bean, Mushroom and Chard Soup

"In reading the story, I was more focused on thinking: what would I do if something like that happened to me? "That" means discovering that your husband is in love and having an affair with a woman you know, while you are pregnant with your second child and the first one is a toddler. When I am upset... I tend to cook dishes that are comforting to me, something hot and with lots of vegetables, often a soup."

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.

We will give our judge Laura some time to read the posts and come up with her decision. Then, I’ll be back with the announcement of our winner of the coveted CTB "winner’s badge." And after thatm, I’ll turn things over to Heather for our next pick The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins.

Arrivederci a presto!