Friday, June 30, 2017

Announcement: Our Next Four Selections

The last round of Cook the Books found us in a memoir-palooza (Stir, Dinner with Edward, Life from Scratch and Mastering the Art of Soviet Cooking). 

This round has us going back in time a bit and incorporating a few history lessons perhaps along the way.  Our next four selections include a novel set in the time of Cortés in The New World, a cherished remembrance from Laura Ingalls Wilder, and a historical novel of ancient Rome. We've thrown in a mystery set in the French countryside for good measure.  

Deb (Kahakai Kitchen) is sparking a lot of memories for some of us, I'm sure, with her pick of Farmer Boy by Laura Ingalls Wilder.  The Little House on the Prairie books by Laura Ingalls Wilder have been read and beloved by children and adults for decades. Published from 1932 to 1943, the nine Little House books were based on the author’s life growing up as a pioneer from childhood through adulthood and they spawned the popular television series that ran from the mid 70s through the early 80s.
Farmer Boy is the second book of the series and was published in 1933. It’s the story of Laura’s husband Almanzo Wilder, who grew up on a farm in upstate New York, far from the little house Laura grew up in. I was inspired to pick it for my round because of an online discussion of foodie books where someone mentioned how much food was in it. I didn’t remember the food being so prominent, so I decided to read it again and thought it would be great to do it in the company of my Cook the Books friends. Since Cook the Books began in the fall of 2008, we have only read two children’s books--The Little White Horse in 2009 and Charlie and the Chocolate Factory in 2012, so I think it’s time to go back to our childhoods for this classic book.

Whether you are reading Farmer Boy for the first time, or revisiting it with your foodie goggles on, I hope you join us for a fun round. 

Deadline for this selection is Saturday, September 30, 2017.

Claudia's (Honey from Rock) pick for October/November is The Patriarch by Martin Walker. Martin Walker has written an engaging series of mysteries set in the Dordogne region of France, into which he manages to fold political and social issues, with romance, fine wines from the area and enticing food, all are international best-sellers.  I have been enjoying his books for a few years now, and wanted to share at least one with Cook the Books, for all the fabulous food and wine included.
The Patriarch is one of his best and a more recent addition to the oeuvre. Benoit Courreges, known popularly as Bruno, is Walker's charming protagonist.  Chief of Police in the small French town of St. Denis, he is a true Renaissance man, gourmet cook, wine enthusiast, gardener, including his orchard of truffle oaks, a hunter and forager, able to produce his own jams, confits, pâté, sausages, ham, etc.  All that and solve the area's crime, settle domestic disputes, ride his horse with lovely ladies and more.  What a guy! I find him quite inspiring.

In this novel, Marco Desaix is known as "The Patriarch", an iconic hero of the French Resistance, fulfills a boyhood dream of Bruno's, inviting him to a lavish birthday celebration being held in his honor.  Of course there is a murder connected with the event, which has political overtones, intrigue, mysterious parentage and inheritances.  Then there is the animal rights activism going on, with outraged hunters and pâté producers.  Politics on a local French level.  

Deadline for contributing your post is Thursday, November 30, 2017.

Debra (Eliot's Eats) chose The Feast of Sorrow by Crystal King for December/January.  Set in ancient Rome, the plot revolves around Thrasius, a slave that is coveted by many masters because of his culinary prowess.   This is a tale of intrigue, power, and obsession as Thrasius' master, Apicius, is determined to become the culinary adviser for Caesar.   He sees his new slave as the key to his success.   (Apicius is a historical figure that lived during the First Century AD.  He was known as a gourmand and epicurean.)
I read the first two chapters as a sample on my Kindle and was hooked.  I ordered the entire book right away.  For an interesting discussion of this book and ancient Rome, you might want to listen to "What Did Ancient Romans Eat? New Novel Serves Up Meals and Intrigue" (The Salt, April 28, 2017).  

The deadline for Feast of Sorrow is January 31, 2018.

Simona (bricriole) is hosting The Discovery of Chocolate by James Runcie.  Fans of the fascinating Sidney Chambers know Runcie as the author of six volumes of stories featuring the Vicar of Grantchester (who then becomes Archdeacon). The Discovery of Chocolate (2001) is the first novel published by the British author, who started his career as screenwriter, director and producer.
In this historical novel, love sets young Diego on a journey to the New World with the conquistador Cortés. In Mexico, Diego discovers the delights of chocolate, which was then a beverage. Drinking chocolate has a "funny" effect on Diego, which allows the novel to span not only continents but also centuries.

On his website, the author says a few words about the novel's genesis:  
I had originally planned to write a series of short stories, one for each century, connected by chocolate but with different characters and different moments in time. But then I thought that they might be able to have the same narrator, a character who travelled through history, and across all the stories...
It would be a novel about the need for readiness, and for acceptance. It would be about the need for calm, and the ability to look death in the face without fear...
So these became my basic ingredients. Life and death, love and chocolate.

If this morsel tempts you, grab your favorite chocolate bar or truffle and join us for this edition of our virtual book club, which will span the months of February and March 2018.

Deadline for contributing your post: Saturday, March 31, 2018.

Remember that membership is open to anyone and we hope you 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 as the year marches on.

To recap:

August/September:   Farmer Boy by Laura Ingalls Wilder (hosted by Deb at Kahakai Kitchen)

October/November:  The Patriarch by Martin Walker (hosted by Claudia at Honey from Rock)

December/January:  The Feast of Sorrow by Crystal King (hosted by Debra at Eliot's Eats)

February/March:  The Discovery of Chocolate by James Runcie (hosted by Simona at bricriole)

Happy reading!

Monday, June 5, 2017

Our June/July Cook the Books Pick: Mastering the Art of Soviet Cooking

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. Then, she and her mother fled Brezhnev-era Russia and arrived in Philadelphia. There, they 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 anti-myths. 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.”

In Mastering the Art of Soviet Cooking: A Memoir of Food & Longing Von Bremzen tells a fascinating story of life and foods interspersed with historical references that come from within a composite, complex country going through monumental political and social changes in a relatively short period of time. 


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.

Thursday, June 1, 2017

Life from Scratch Round Up

It was a pleasure for me to host this round of Cook the Books with Life from Scratch  by Sasha Martin.  You see, Martin is a local writer (hailing out of Tulsa, Oklahoma), she's a food blogger (Global Table Adventures), and I got to personally meet her and write with her at a food writing symposium (Pen, Paper & Fork).   I was in awe.

I do have to say that it was difficult for me to forgive Martin's mother with all the life experiences she threw at her daughter, but after meeting the author and understanding her road to forgiveness and acceptance, I have a new appreciation for Life from Scratch.   

The reviews were mixed from the CTB membership with quite a few disliking the mother or expecting a food-blogger-adventure story.   Globally though, we all took inspiration and cooked from the following countries:  Argentina, Bulgaria, Denmark, France, Georgia (the country, not the US state), Italy, Sri Lanka, and Zambia.  There were two posts inspired from Martin's own roast chicken recipe as well.  

Since Wendy from A Day in the Life on the Farm was the first to post up, I will start in reverse alphabetical order.  Here is Wendy's Ifisashi Zambian Peanut Stew. (Wendy took her recipe from  "a Lenten handout from CRS... and knew it was perfect for this memoir about cooking around the globe.")
Wendy enjoyed Life from Scratch:
I loved Sasha's story of the flawed mother that she loved unceasingly.  Of her struggles trying to adapt and accept her "new family". Of her tragic losses in life and finally of her discovering her self-worth with the assistance of a good man, the demands of motherhood and the solace of the kitchen.
CTB co-host, Deb from Kahakai Kitchen, got her post in under the wire.  I am so glad she was able to post up her delicious White Dal Curry from Sri Lanka.  (Deb found this recipe on Martin's blog.)
Deb mentions she had a hard time with the first half of the book because of the depressing subject matter.  "Martin's writing won me over in the end, and the later part of the book as she finds her place in the adult world and begins cooking her way through the recipes of the world was more enjoyable--even as she worked through her fear of abandonment and other issues of her childhood."  

If we can say anything about Martin's mother, I think we can say that she did the best she could with what she had.  Obviously, she tried to feed her children as well as she could with as much food culture as she could manage.   Delaware Girl Eats recreated Martin's mother's recipe for Torta di Riso (or rice cakes).
I love that Cathleen used mini bundt pans for her rice cakes.   She presents this dish by writing:  
This is a simple dish prepared by the author’s mother and grandmother, both practical and economical as it uses readily available ingredients. Author Sasha said that she found the recipe for grandma's torta di riso, carefully penned in blue, green and purple ink.  Her mother's handwriting was neat, legible and determined.  It inspired her I think.
Culinary Adventures with Camilla was already familar with Martin and her blog.  In fact Global Table Adventures was the catalyst for Camilla and her own family starting Culinary Adventures.  Camilla and her kitchen elves whipped up Khachapuri , a cheese bread from the country of Georgia.  Her family likes this dish on a heavily herbed dough and topped with an egg.
Camilla was also struck by the forgiveness theme and writes, " I think, for Sasha, forgiveness is more about acceptance."  She does recommend the book to others though.
There were times when the memoir was tough to read, difficult in its rawness. Sasha cracks open her life and the reader's heart is wrenched right along with hers. But it's also a wonderful story. I hope you'll read it.
Claudia, another CTB co-host from Honey from Rock, was a bit annoyed by the mother as well:  "one would have thought that a woman with 'Mom's' independence of mind, and spirited personality would have tucked her kids into their car, with all essentials and split for the West Coast or somewhere in between, rather than give up her precious children."  Claudia chose to focus on Martin's time in France and whipped up some Mango Crepes.  
Despite her displeasure with Martin's mother, Claudia writes:  
All that aside, and two thirds of the book in, we come to a point of, "Forgetting the past and looking forward to what lies ahead,"  I loved the whole concept of  her Global Table Adventures, cooking right through the countries of the world, alphabetically.    I would like to give that a try myself, maybe take the remainder of my life, certainly no rush if you're not planning a book from it.
Next up, let's travel to Denmark for (wait for it) Danish!  And, welcome to a new member with Reviews, Chews & How-tos.  Lynda creates a recipe from her own mother's archives:  Almond Pastries.  

I thought Lynda was spot-on with her summation of this book:
At times, this memoir was very painful to read, but I appreciated  the ambivalence that didn't attempt to make her mother's choices sound better than they were, or to write her off as merely the villain of the story. Others in her life are also depicted fairly - the pain they caused is described, but through her words, those that might be offered compassion are granted it.
Bulgaria is our next stop with Evelyne at Cultureatz.  She made a batch of Kompot, a drink that is "common in most of the Central and Eastern European countries, as well Central Asia. And no, it has nothing to do with apple compote (a.k.a applesauce). In fact kompot is something you drink! It is a sweet beverage that can be served hot or cold."

Evelyne was excited about this book and the international food blogging experience which is right up her alley.  She points out, however, that "the writing process of the author took her down a very emotional path resulting from her less the typical family nucleus upbringing. But honestly the book was way more about her therapeutic process then about recipes from around the world. As a matter of fact only 13% of the book is really dedicated to her world cooking blog project. "

A good roast chicken recipe is evident in most cultures and Amy's Cooking Adventures recreated Orange and Herbed Roasted Chicken, a dish that Martin makes for her future husband.
Amy concisely and perfectly sums up the book's theme:  
Her past eventually brought her on a mission to cook across the world from a-z and chronicle her adventures on her blog.  It’s an amazing story of perseverance in many ways, from overcoming the struggles of her childhood to the huge cooking a-z project she undertook (with an infant, no less!)
Fellow CTB co-host, Simona from briciole, was also inspired by Martin's roast chicken recipe.  She whipped up her take on the recipe (using herbs from her own garden and Meyer lemons instead of oranges) and then combined the chicken with fresh asparagus to create Roasted Chicken, Asparagus and Avocado Salad.

Although the writing didn't shine for Simona, I am glad she treated us to this inspired salad.
The recipe I am sharing is the result of a combination of events: I had leftovers asparagus, besides leftovers from the roast chicken described above and I was by myself. The result was so good that I made the salad again the following day, grateful that the chicken had been large enough to provide me leftovers for another salad.
Of course, even as the host of this round, I was almost the absolute last to post.   Since we are still on our healthy eating kick, I went with a salad-like dish, an Argentinian recipe from the book.  Martin based her recipe on Chef Francis Mallmann's.  Here is my take on Roasted Acorn Squash Salad with Arugla and Chèvre.  

Martin had me on the first page with her T.S. Eliot quote from "The Little Gidding,"  Since forgiveness was the connection for most of us (or the lack of forgiveness), I will end this round with another bit of Eliot wisdom.
After such knowledge, what forgiveness? ("Gerontion"---T.S.Eliot)

Thanks for everyone who participated and thank you for the globally inspired recipes.

Cook the Books will complete this grouping of books with yet another memoir.  Simona at briciole is hosting the June/July selection, Mastering the Art of Soviet Cooking: A Memoir of Food and Longing by Anya Von Bremzen.