Thursday, October 20, 2016

Announcing the Next Four Picks

How many foodie memoirs have been written in the last twenty years?   Probably too many to count.   In fact, I would classify this style of writing as a new genre unto itself.  For the next four books, our hosts all picked a food-centric memoir.  We hope you enjoy these selections: one by a young woman trying to regain her health, one from an award-winning journalist, one from a food blogger, and one from a food writer and cookbook author.

Stir: My Broken Brain and the Meals That Brought Me Home (2015) hosted by Deb at Kahakai Kitchen for December/January.

Jessica Fechtor was on a treadmill in a hotel gym at a graduate student conference when an aneurysm burst in her brain. Jessica was 28, newly married, and healthy, when she collapsed and nearly died. Luckily, she was rushed to the hospital quickly, but between the aneurysm and subsequent infection she lost her sense of smell, the sight in her left eye, had to have numerous surgeries, and needed to wear a helmet to protect her head for nearly two years. The impact on her career and her life was devastating. Some might give up, but with the support of her family and friends and the healing power of the food and cooking, Jessica found a new normal.

From the book jacket: “Jessica’s journey to recovery began in the kitchen as soon as she was able to stand at the stovetop and stir. There, she drew strength from the restorative power of cooking and baking. Written with intelligence, humor, and warmth, Stir is a heartfelt examination of what it means to nourish and be nourished. 

After reading a review of Stir on Beth Fish Reads blog, I borrowed the audio book from the library and was immediately caught up in Jessica’s often moving, sometimes humorous, and always inspiring story. Her wit and warmth pour through the pages as she shares food-laden memories of growing up, her family, courtship with her husband, and her recovery--interwoven with twenty-seven recipes that helped her on her journey. Although the audio book gave a link to the recipes and many of them can be found on her food blog Sweet Amandine, I found myself compelled to buy my own print copy of the book. I hope you enjoy her story and her recipes as much as I did.


Deadline for Stir posts is January 31, 2017.

Dinner with Edward, A Story of Unexpected Friendship by Isabel Vincent (2016) hosted by Claudia at Honey from Rock for February/March.

Isabel Vincent, author of four previous books, investigative journalist, reporter for the New York Post, and previously a foreign correspondent, is the recipient of numerous journalism honors.  In this well-crafted, charming memoir Vincent uses the evocative language of a novelist and the economy of a reporter, with food as a metaphor for love.

Though struggling with her crumbling marriage, a recent move and demanding new job, Isabel opens her life to Edward, a 93-year-old widower, the father of a good friend (currently out of the country).  He is depressed and ready to give up on life after the death of his much loved wife, when Vincent agrees, at her friend's request, to check in on him once in a while.

What began as an occasional dinner meant to keep an old man company soon develops into a rich friendship, giving both Edward and Isabel reasons to reconsider why they’re alive, while encouraging her to appreciate the fine art of living as she begins to create a life that's more rewarding and full for herself.

As Vincent writes, “I believed in the magic of Edward,” and readers begin to believe along with her.  He turns out to be a very wise old/young at heart individual, and it is in his kitchen and at the dinner table that his character and wisdom are revealed.  Every chapter title is a small dinner menu – and Vincent goes out of her way to punctuate her writing with tempting descriptions of these meals. Between melting Gruyere cheese, delicious entrees and fine wines, it is easy to succumb to the overcoming optimism of a man determined to live exactly the way he wants. Isabel invests her memoir with a real sense of gratitude for Edward's presence and influence in her life.

Though she did wheedle him into writing down some of his recipes for her, one of the things that really amazed me about Edward, was that he actually used no recipes.  He wrote them out for her, remembering what he did as he went along.  I loved his spontaneous, intuitive, and creative yet collected approach to cooking.  No rush, no worries.  This is how I want to be with my own cooking.  So inspiring.


Deadline for Dinner with Edward posts is March 31, 2017.

Life from Scratch:  A Memoir of Food, Family, and Forgiveness by Sasha Martin (2015) hosted by Debra at Eliot's Eats for April/May.

Some of you may be familiar with Sasha Martin from her food blog, Global Table Adventure.   Although I have not been following her blog per se, I was made aware of her through our local paper and some local appearances.

Since she resides in Tulsa, I was anxious to read her memoir.   I will let her book trailer be the blurb for this selection.  

As Martin states in the above video, her adventures through the world's cuisines led her to examine her own origins.   How did she get to her life in Oklahoma with a loving husband and child, far from her unorthodox childhood in Boston and her troubled teenage years in Europe?

Although this is more of a traditional memoir than what I would classify as the recent trend of recipe-laden-"foodie" ones, I think that we all will find some inspiration, whether its from Martin's childhood memories or her adventures with international flavors.  


Deadline: May 30, 2017.

Winner of three James Beard awards, a contributing editor at Travel + Leisure magazine and the author of five acclaimed cookbooks, Anya Von Bremzen grew up in a communal Moscow apartment where eighteen families shared one kitchen. When Anya was ten years old, she and her mother fled Brezhnev-era Russia and arrived in Philadelphia. The contrast between the two places created a nostalgic longing for the food of home: she immediately missed the celebration of food that was taken for granted in America. 

"Mom and I both grew up within a triumphalist, scarlet-blazed fairy tale of socialist abundance and glorious harvests. Our experiences, though, featured no happy kitchens enveloped in an idyllic haze of vanilla, no kindly matriarchs setting golden holiday roasts on the table. Tea cakes rich in bourgeois butter? I do have such a memory ... It's of Mom reading Proust aloud in our Khrushchevian slum; me utterly bored by the Frenchman's sensory reveries but besotted with the idea of the real, edible cookie. What did it taste like, that exotic capitalist madeleine? I desperately wanted to know."

"It was my mother, my frequent coconspirator in the kitchen and my conduit to our past, who suggested the means to convey this epic disjunction, this unruly collision of collectivist myths and personal antimyths. We would reconstruct every decade of Soviet history — from the prequel 1910s to the postscript present day — through the prism of food. Together, we'd embark on a yearlong journey unlike any other: eating and cooking our way through decade after decade of Soviet life, using her kitchen and dining room as a time machine and an incubator of memories. Memories of wartime rationing cards and grotesque shared kitchens in communal apartments. Of Lenin's bloody grain requisitioning and Stalin's table manners. Of Khrushchev's kitchen debates and Gorbachev's disastrous antialcohol policies. Of food as the focal point of our everyday lives, and — despite all the deprivations and shortages — of compulsive hospitality and poignant, improbable feasts.”


Deadline: Monday July 31, 2017

Remember that anyone can participate in Cook the Books, simply pick up a copy of the selections from your local bookstore or library, take inspiration from said reading, cook and post an inspired dish. We look forward to having you read and cook along with us in 2017. New participants are always welcomed with open arms! (Leave a comment here or check out our Guidelines page if you have any questions.

Happy Reading!
Deb, Simona, Debra, and Claudia 

Sunday, October 2, 2016

Our October/November Pick: Tomorrow There Will Be Apricots

Tomorrow There Will Be Apricots is a title that invited me to take a closer look at the book. Reading a brief description of the novel by Jessica Soffer made me choose it as my selection for Cook the Books. 

Lorca, the troubled teenage girl who is one of the novel’s protagonists, sets out to find a recipe for Masgouf, an Iraqi dish that her mother, a chef, once said was the most delicious thing she had ever tasted. Lorca’s quest leads her to Victoria, a widowed Iraqi-Jewish immigrant who can teach her how to make the dish. The two bond over the simple act of cooking together. 

I don't want to tell you more about the novel. Through its cast of characters, the story talks about immigration, parenting, teenage angst, and, of course, food. 

I found this interview with the author particularly interesting. At the beginning, she says:
For the most part, I am inspired by characters and by images. The story was born from Lorca (a teenage pain addict, whom I’d written a story about while I was in graduate school) and an image that suddenly came to me and persisted: two people—an old woman and a young girl—cooking together in a kitchen. What grew out of that, around that, was a way of situating those elements.
Don’t you want to find out what Masgouf is, what Lorca and Victoria cook together and how it all unfolds? I hope so. Join us then in this edition of our very special book club.

"Bukra fil mish mish," the Arabic saying goes. Tomorrow, apricots may bloom."

Submissions for this round of Cook The Books are due by end-of-the day Wednesday, November 30, 2016. Anyone can join by reading the current selection, preparing a dish inspired by its contents and writing about it. Let me know when your entry post is up by commenting on this post and/or sending me an email at: simosite AT mac DOT com. 

New to Cook the Books? Check out our About and Guidelines pages or leave a question in the comments on this post. 

Simona of briciole

Saturday, October 1, 2016

August/September Round-Up: The Secret Book of Frida Kahlo

Welcome Frida-philes!   Cook the Books partnered with  Food 'n Flix this month for a Fridafest!  

I hosted The Secret Book of Frida Kahlo by F.G. Haghenbeck, a book which takes Frida's life and weaves it into a magical, mystical and surrealistic work of fiction.  Some loved the book and some not so much.  I think the same is true for Frida's works of art---they either speak to you or not.
Here's the round up for the August/September edition of Cook the Books with lots of Mexican inspired dishes.

Amy from Amy's Cooking Adventures was first to post up with a delicious and practical Slow Cooker Chcken Mole.  
loved the story and found Frida incredibly fascinating.  It also got me curious about Frida Kahlo and sent me fact searching all over the internet and library (I watched the movie (recipe coming up next month), grabbed a recipe book (I made Squash Blossom Quesadillas), and picked up a copy of her biography).  Fact of fiction, Frida Kahlo lead a very interesting life.
Congratulations, Amy, on now being a Frida-phile.

Camilla from Culinary Adventures was next up with Mole Poblano.  
While Camilla didn't love the book itself, she "immensely enjoyed the recipes in the book. Whether they were her actual recipes, or not, they sounded delicious."   She was able to make this a family affair.  "And out of pure serendipity, during the month when this book was assigned for Cook the Books, I attended a mole cooking class with several of our friends. This is the recipe we learned and not one of the ones included in the book. But I thought it was still timely and wanted to share it."

I concur with some other readers that was too much food to keep track of in the novel but I was star-struck by all the famous people Frida and Diego interacted with in the novel (and in real life). Nelson Rockefeller, Georgia O'Keeffe, Leon Trotsky, Dali, Picasso, Breton, and Nickolas Muray all make appearances (just to name a few).   I was taken with Frida's meeting with Picasso as depicted in the novel:
Picasso’s singing was pleasant.  
Frida loved his serenade.

‘If you teach that to me, I’ll sing you Mexican songs.  The kind in which pain bubbles up from the soul. And if we’re still up at dawn, I’ll prepare you a Mexican breakfast.  I’ll make enchiladas and yellow beans,’ Frida said, and Picasso agreed with a nod of the head.
Actually, the recipe that went along with this chapter was not enchiladas and yellow beans but Huevo Rancheros.  I decided to use the base recipe and made Huevo Rancheros with Chorizo.  

Wendy and  Claudia both posted on September 8 so I am listing you two in alphabetical order.  

Claudia, from Honey From Rock, thought the book was a bit odd.
In spite of the awkwardness of  the writing (due partly to translation?) and fictionalized bits, dream sequences, etc., it seems to be a true enough rendering, at least in spirit, of Frida's life, according to her more accurate biography, Frida by Hayden Herrera, upon which the movie was based.
I totally agree that Herrera's biography is a must read if you are interested in a more realistic view of her life.    That being said, Frida inspired Claudia to revisit a mole recipe from Frida's Fiestas.  Here's her recipe for Pork Medallions in Dark Chocolate Sauce.

Wendy from A Day in the Life on the Farm did a combined post for CTB and FnF.   She confessed she did not know a lot about Kahlo before these two events.   The book left her wanting to know more about the "true Frida."    

She was inspired by a scene early in the book from Frida's childhood:
I had chosen the recipe I was going to make early in the reading of the novel.  The novel did contain recipes in the body of the story as well as recipes recreated to be user friendly at the back of the book. This recipe was not one of those reproduced by the author, however it spoke to me as it was Frida's childhood favorite....before the accident, before her marriage, before life turned south on her.
Wendy contributed Polyvorones de naranja (Orange Shortbreads), treats left for Frida by her older sister, Matilde.  

Great minds thing alike and Heather from All Roads Lead to the Kitchen was also inspired by polyvorones and used her post for both this round and the Food 'n Flix round.   Heather found it hard to connect with the book, possibly because of the translation or possibly because of the point of view of the male author.  The depiction of food in the novel was a saving grace for her.
There were really too many things mentioned for me to even list them all, but they include mole, tamales, horchata,pan de muerto, chiles en nogada, salsa, quesadillas, huevos rancheros, tequila pork loin, snapper with cilantro, mole de olla, cotton candy, apple pie, ribs, and mango ice cream to name a handful.
Here is Heather's version of Povorones de Naranja.

Welcome to Ali from Fix Me a Little Lunch for being the newest member to Cook the Books.   Ali was excited for this Frida adventure and reminisced about her first encounter with Kahlo's works on a solo road trip when she was twenty-something.   
I was transported by Kahlo’s paintings – in life, they are even more stunning than in photos.  After spending hours wandering through the exhibit, I went across the street and stumbled into a Vietnamese restaurant and ate Pho for the first time.  Different cultures, different foods, different times, but for me, soup and Kahlo are inexorably linked in my memory because of that trip.
I could relate to Ali's experience.   I can also relate to the delicious Crockpot Posole that Ali whipped up for this event.

Cathy of Delaware Girl Eats was intrigued by the focus of exotic dishes mentioned and the life of Kahlo.
It was enticing to follow the main character through several reincarnations, any number of amorous encounters and a text laced with mystic sentiments. For me the most memorable phrase in the book was “have the courage to live because anyone can die." This seemed to me to emphasize that death is incidental to life itself and shouldn’t be feared.
That quote spoke to me as well, Cathy.  Although she points out there were many, many mole dishes mentioned in the novel, she decided it was just too hot to create a mole dish.  Instead she created these delectable Mexican Chocolate Brownies.

Simona of briciole wasn't a hug fan of the book either.  She was familiar with both Kahlo and Rivera but states:
The novel didn't add to my appreciation of Kahlo or Rivera and it goes into some areas of their life where I was not eager to go. In reading what is described as "a fictional account" of Kahlo's life, it was tricky to suspend my disbelief. I found that I prefer to be either in fiction land or in biography land, not some place in between. Once again, I am thankful to be a member of our special reading club, because I would not have chosen this book on my own, and reading it stimulated some interesting thoughts and pushed me to be clear with myself about the reasons why it didn't resonate with me. 
Simona also wrote, "While I was reading the book, I thought about how in the kitchen I use ingredients a bit like a painter chooses his/her colors."  This realization inspired her to create Eggs Nested in Leafy Green Vegetables.  

Deb from Kahakai Kitchen found the book "at times sad, at times humorous, at times a bit magical."   Although she found she didn't love the writing (which as she and others point out might have been a translation issue), she did think it was a good companion piece to the film, Frida.   It was the food descriptions and recipes that kept her interest.

The recipes and food descriptions were my favorite part of the book and I will probably go back and make some of the recipes like the pico de gallo (if I ever find nopales), the pumpkin tamales, and the Mango Tepozteco Ice Cream which intrigued me with the addition of the sour cream and egg white.
Deb whipped up an entire meal.  Here are her Shrimp Tacos with an accompanying salad beans, radish and cheese.   She served this along side a Jamaica (Red Hibiscus) Vanilla-Lime Agua Fresca.  A perfect Frida Feista, Deb.

As mentioned before, along with The Secret Book for CTB I also hosted the film Frida for Food 'n FlixThe Food 'n Flix round up for all the Frida-inspired fare can be found here at Eliot's Eats.  

Please join CTB for the October/November round hosted by Simona of briciole.  Her pick is Tomorrow There Will Be Apricots by Jessica Soffer.   Simona introduces this novel in the following way:  
Lorca, the troubled teenage girl who is one of the novel’s protagonists, sets out to find a recipe for Masgouf, an Iraqi dish that her mother, a chef, once said was the most delicious thing she had ever tasted. Lorca’s quest leads her to Victoria, a widowed Iraqi-Jewish immigrant who can teach her how to make the dish. The two bond over the simple act of cooking together.
 I, along with Simona, want to find out what Masgouf is, what Lorca and Victoria cook together and how it all unfolds?   
And, isn't the cover beautiful?!

Please plan on reading, cooking, and posting!  The deadline for posting is November 30, 2016.