Monday, December 10, 2018

Our December/January Pick: Island of Sweet Pies and Soldiers by Sara Ackerman

I love historical fiction, especially when it is set during World War II and even more so when it gives different perspectives of the war and snippets of life during this tragic, historic time, so I am pleased to pick Island of Sweet Pies and Soldiers by Sara Ackerman for our December/January book. 

It seems especially timely as National Pearl Harbor Remembrance Day was this past Friday and it has been 77 years since the surprise attack on Oahu by Japanese military put America into the war. The book is set in Honoka'a Hawaii, north of Hilo a few years into the war.

From the Publisher:

"Hawaii, 1944. The Pacific battles of World War II continue to threaten American soil, and on the home front, the bonds of friendship and the strength of love are tested.

Violet Iverson and her young daughter, Ella, are piecing their lives together one year after the disappearance of her husband. As rumors swirl and questions about his loyalties surface, Violet believes Ella knows something. But Ella is stubbornly silent. Something—or someone—has scared her. And with the island overrun by troops training for a secret mission, tension and suspicion between neighbors is rising.

Violet bands together with her close friends to get through the difficult days. To support themselves, they open a pie stand near the military base, offering the soldiers a little homemade comfort. Try as she might, Violet can’t ignore her attraction to the brash marine who comes to her aid when the women are accused of spying. Desperate to discover the truth behind what happened to her husband, while keeping her friends and daughter safe, Violet is torn by guilt, fear and longing as she faces losing everything. Again.

2019 will mark my 18th year of living in Hawaii and I've been wanting to host a book that's set in this beautiful state that's full of delicious food and that I now call my home. Author Sara Ackerman was born and raised in Hawaii. She studied journalism and earned graduate degrees in psychology and Oriental medicine and she lives on the Island of Hawai'i where this novel (her debut) is set. (Her second book, The Lieutenant's Nurse is set at Pearl Harbor on Oahu.) Check out her website and her Instagram account for more details. 

There is drama, mystery, friendship, family, romance and of course, pies and other local food in this novel and I look forward to seeing what it inspires you to create.

The deadline for submissions for this round is Thursday, January 31, 2019.



Saturday, December 1, 2018

The Cooking Gene: the roundup

It's time for the roundup of Cook the Books' Club October-November 2018 edition for which we read the The Cooking Gene by Michael Twitty.

For each contribution (given in order of publication), I will give you the official information (author, blog name and post title) and a quote from it — a taste that will entice you to follow the link and read the details of how the reading inspired the cooking.

Make yourself comfortable, then follow me on a historical literary / culinary journey. 

"Michael Twitty... says that orchard fruit was a staple of the food that was rationed out for slaves along with molasses, coffee, flour and game hunted on plantation grounds. In addition, seasonal produce from personal gardens made up the bulk of a slave’s diet... I had the opportunity to hear Twitty speak at the Smithsonian’s recent Food History Weekend... He also spoke at length about Southern food and Soul food, noting that Southern food wouldn’t be Southern food without Soul food - not the other way around, that Soul food equals memory food and that Soul derives not just from people of African descent... For the apple crumble I prepared for this post, I followed Twitty’s advice to always select multiple varieties for a perfect mix of texture, taste of tart and taste of sweet."

The book "is much more than that, being also personal history, a memoir of the author and his family, from the time of their arrival as slaves to the present day... It is the story of their sojourn in America, from enslaved times to now. Though, just my opinion, it would be both interesting and enlightening to take the story back to when that slavery actually began. The origins... From Twitty's book, I was inspired to make his BBQ Mop sauce for a batch of ribs, cooked in my pressure cooker, which gets them just to the right tenderness, perfection when you afterwards slather them with the sauce and caramelize in the oven!  Served with Sautéed Collard Greens and rice. I meant to make spoon bread, but got pushed for time and energy."

"Even before reading the book, I knew Twitty is a great story teller, whether he talks about a specific dish or is inhabiting the lives of his enslaved ancestors. I understand his need to know, his stubborn following all the threads that tie his life to those of his forebears. It as a special kind of religious pilgrimage. Whatever your specific interests, you will find the book fascinating, as it weaves foodways into the quilt of people's migration, mostly (though not all) forced... I decided to mirror the woven stories and make something that would represent my own journey... A special connection to the book is provided by fagiolina del (Lago) Trasimeno, a legume typical of my home region of Umbria, which is a cultivar of cowpea, Vigna unguiculata, closely related to black-eyed peas, one of the crops brought from Africa to America on slave ships."

"I applaud Twitty in his journey and his suggestion that perhaps healing our nation may come from understanding the tribulations and terrors that others have experienced along with the merging of food into one shared experience. Since I was short on time (with Thanksgiving and all of that) and I am constantly on the lookout for possible gifts from the kitchen this time of year, I decided to make Twitty’s Kitchen Pepper... This is a great spice mix. As I savored the grilled pork chop sprinkled with these warming flavors, I also was struck by just how much blood and enslaved toil may have gone into the history of the spices in this recipe. An entire island was conquered and enslaved due to the high value of nutmeg. How many enslaved people died in the delivery of some of these spices?"

Lynda of Reviews, Chews & How-Tos prepared Persimmon Molasses Gingerbread

"A book that was both riveting and very difficult to read without flinching. Go ahead and flinch - our history is extremely uncomfortable - and then keep reading. You will know much more when you finish this book than you knew before you started, and you'll find yourself thinking about it long after you've put it down... I was totally overwhelmed when it came to choosing what to cook as my inspiration from it. SO. MANY. POSSIBILITIES... I decided to take my inspiration from a passage about time spent visiting his Southern relatives as a young man.  In The Cooking Gene, this story includes a passage about persimmons, and it occurred to me that I had never had a persimmon... This time of year is just an excellent time for sweet quickbreads, so that's what I've done here - I have no idea if this is anything at all like Michael Twitty's grandmother's, but we enjoyed it quite a bit."

She had a difficult time getting through the book: "There are so many avenues that I thought Twitty would take this this book... delve into the social aspects and dynamics of food in the African American community... look at how food defines a regional identity. He didn't... And I think I could have gotten over my disappointments in what I expected to read had I enjoyed his writing style. But, sadly, I didn't... I wanted to love this book, but it wasn't a winner for me. Still, I was inspired to create a Jewish-inspired dish as Twitty converted to Judaism in his early 20s. There's not much of a tie to Southern cuisine with this, but I had beef brisket on my to-do list... Also, I wanted to make something with fresh horseradish. So, I made a gremolata with freshly grated horseradish."

"At moments he made hungry, next making me squirm uncomfortably at the uglier moments of our not-so-distant history, then teaching me something new about food before getting me chuckling over his family moments--that while completely different from my own cultural upbringing, often ring with complete familiarity. I love books that give me information--especially when it is related to the history and origins of food and Twitty does it in such an engaging way that had me completely caught up in his journey, and even though I dipped into the book in bits and pieces over the past several weeks, he made the 400+ pages easy to digest (pun intended)."

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.

And now, I’ll turn things over to Deb of Kahakai Kitchen who is hosting the December-January edition in which we are reading the novel Island of Sweet Pies and Soldiers by Sara Ackerman.

Arrivederci a presto!

Simona, of briciole