Sunday, December 1, 2019

December/January Selection: The Language of Flowers

In The Language of Flowers, Vanessa Diffenbaugh tells the tale of Victoria Jones, someone who has had to work at surviving.

From the publisher:

The Victorian language of flowers was used to convey romantic expressions: honeysuckle for devotion, asters for patience, and red roses for love. But for Victoria Jones, it’s been more useful in communicating mistrust and solitude. After a childhood spent in the foster-care system, she is unable to get close to anybody, and her only connection to the world is through flowers and their meanings. Now eighteen and emancipated from the system with nowhere to go, Victoria realizes she has a gift for helping others through the flowers she chooses for them. But an unexpected encounter with a mysterious stranger has her questioning what’s been missing in her life. And when she’s forced to confront a painful secret from her past, she must decide whether it’s worth risking everything for a second chance at happiness.

About the author:

Vanessa Diffenbaugh was born and raised in northern California. After studying creative writing, she went on to teach art and technology to youth in low-income communities. She and her husband PK have four children: Donovan, Tre'von, Graciela and Miles. Vanessa is also the co-founder of Camellia Network, whose mission is to create a nationwide movement to support youth transitioning from foster care. She and and her family live in Monterey, California.

The Language of Flowers, her first novel, was published in over forty countries, and was a Sunday Times Top Ten bestseller in the UK.

The amount of food in this novel is staggering.  Truly.  As you read, you'll notice that the "mysterious stranger" is quite the baker.  If you're like me, you will find that you are keeping two lists:  one of the food mentioned and one for the meaning of flowers.

The deadline for this round of Cook the Books is January 31, 2020.  I can't wait to see what everyone cooks up.  Leave a comment here with a link to your post or email me at  

Participating in Cook the Books is simple.  Pick up a copy of the selection from your local bookstore or library, then cook and post your inspired-by dish. We love to have new members read and cook along with us.  Everyone is welcome!!!   Be sure to check out our Guidelines page if you have any questions (or leave a comment here).  

The Temporary Bride: The Roundup

It's that time again here at Cook The Books Club - The Roundup! And what a great assortment of dishes were brought to our table.  It truly makes me wish this were a real gathering, of you all, around an actual table, and not just digital.  I wanted to taste everything!

 Klinec's memoir gave us plenty of cooking inspiration, if not actual recipes, but since all of us are more than able to get food ideas from almost everything we read, it was pretty much a breeze.  And, I think we all learned something about what it would be like to actually live in present day Iran.  Only for the brave.  Which explains why so many want to leave the place. We actually have lots to be thankful for, and I do hope you all had a wonderful Thanksgiving with family and or friends!

So, without further ado or digression, here are the contributions that were sent in for this virtual banquet!  If I have inadvertently missed anyone, please let me know.

First in, very early actually, on October 1st, was Camilla of Culinary Adventures with Camilla, with a pan of savory tomatoes and eggs, the spicy Iranian version of shakshuka, called Omlet-e Gojeh Farangi, which looks stunning, and is totally tempting me to re-create it soon.

Camilla says though she's read countless memoirs, "I have never read one and thought to myself: I'd like to do that. I even told Jake that I had a retirement plan. I think I'd like to run a cooking school out of our home. Okay, I am not sure how practical that would be...or what sorts of licensing, etc., I would need. But Klinec's cooking school intrigues me."  Camilla added that she "thoroughly enjoyed The Temporary Bride and will definitely read more books by Klinec. And, if cooking school ends up being my retirement plan, I'll let you know."

I, Claudia of Honey from Rock, was also unusually prompt this go round, with a dish of Orange Chicken Koresh, a bit on the complicated side, but worth the extra effort.  For the recipe itself, luckily, I had the perfect cookbook, The Silk Road Gourmet, by Laura Kelley, an earlier Cook the Books Club selection,

I thought this memoir was "A truly fascinating read. I especially enjoyed the account of Klinec's very unusual growing up years, which went a long way toward explaining her extreme courage and independence. Also the cooking school she ran in London sounded like my kind of fantasy class to take."  Though her book was "Probably more of the struggling love story and less of the actual cooking than I would have liked, but still quite the adventure, and enough food mentions to get inspired by."

Next, new-comer, Elizabeth of Culinursa, brought a very enticing looking Tahcheen-e Morgh, a Baked Saffron Yogurt Rice with Chicken dish to our online table. She mentioned that as there are no recipes in the book, "I feel fortunate that I own Bottom of the Pot by Naz Deravian, who left Iran with her family in 1979 when she was 8 years old." So she was able to find this authentic recipe.

Elizabeth says this about the book: "Among the many wonderful parts of Klinec’s memoir, the most meaningful for me was how she brings her reader right into an average Iranian family kitchen. It’s a difficult balance, though. We gain a view into a culture, a society, that relegates women to a very narrowly defined paradigm, and reading about that bristles, as does the rigidity of the society, and the strictures placed on citizens by the government for men and women alike, so antithetical to freedoms we take for granted. And yet even in such an environment, people live and love and eat, and through this, Klinec makes sure we see their humanity."

Next, Wendy, of A Day in the Life on the Farm, arrived with a some true comfort food,  Khorake-Loobia-Sabz, or Green Bean Stew, which she updated by using her Instant Pot. Wendy first had this dish in a restaurant, before even reading the book, so when we picked an Iranian memoir, knew ahead what she wanted to make. After a bit of  research she able to recreate Loobia at home.

As far as her take on the memoir, she noted; "This was disappointing to me because I really was hoping for more information on the food and what I got was a lesson about how to get through all the red tape and become a Temporary Bride so you can have sex in Iran without being killed for doing so."

Next up, Debra of Eliot's Eats brought a tempting pot of Ash-e Reshteh, a Persian Noodle Soup to the table. Something all of us will appreciate in this cooler weather.  She found the recipe by Googling "Persian food" online.

Debra says "I was intrigued by Klinec from the beginning of this memoir. Klinec comes from a hard working immigrant family that settles in Canada. Klinec is driven and fearless and maintains that hard working spirit. I was really rooting for her as she sets off on her cooking school adventure. I was still cheering her on as she trekked to exotic places in search of exotic recipes. I still found her fearlessness intriguing as she travels to Iran but I began to become fearful for her... I did still enjoy the book and her story, but I guess I lost a bit of respect for her as she pursued the temporary bride tradition."

And, to go with everything else on the banquet table, Amy of Amy's Cooking Adventures, brought us some  scrumptious sounding, and looking, Nan-e Barbari, a Persian flatbread.  Boy!  I want some right now!

Amy says about the memoir that she's "not completely clear why Klinec chose to go to Iran when she needed a break from her totally awesome (yet exhausting) job teaching cooking classes (very successfully) out of her home, after leaving her other successful corporate career."  I think a lot of us were unclear about that move. But, it did give us some exotic cooking inspiration.

Next to last Deb, my fellow Hawaiian CTB co-host, from Kahakai Kitchen, brought Whole Roasted Cauliflower with Warm Harissa Hummus, to our banquet, which I'm thinking would be perfect with that bread of Amy's, and what a beautiful and festive looking dish it is!  Deb noted that: "Since I love Persian food and a good foodie memoir, this book was a hit with me..."

She said, "I look at Klinec with admiration for her courage but shake my head a bit at the chances she took with Vahid--even after receiving a "temporary marriage" status. I guess you can't help loving who you love, but as for me I'll stick to armchair travel to Iran."

Arriving last for the dinner party was Simona of Briciole, bringing an Eggplant and Yellow Split Pea Stew. With all those lovely spices and fresh vegetables I'm sure it's delicious.  She notes: "While traditional Persian dishes feature in the book, there are no recipes. So, I did some reading, focusing on eggplant, a favorite vegetable that I can still find at the farmers' market here. I also wanted a vegetarian dish, so ended up on a vegetarian version of Khoresht gheymeh bademjan, a stew of split peas (gheymeh) and eggplant (bademjan)." 

Simona says I "found the first part of the story more interesting. Once Klinec arrives in Iran, the book could not hold my attention."

And that's it!  So many different takes on the book itself.  Altogether though, I think we had a very representative selection of Persian dishes, for a fabulous virtual feast!  Be sure to visit everyone to check out their recipes and reviews.  Thanks to all of you for participating 

I hope you will all join us for the CTB December/January pick, The Language of Flowers by Vanessa Diffenbaugh and hosted by Debra of Eliot's Eats.  Her announcement will be posted soon.


Friday, October 4, 2019

October/November Selection: The Temporary Bride

I am very excited as well as curious to be introducing our October/November selection: The Temporary Bride by Jennifer Klinec, published February 14, 2014.  Curious because I have't even read the book as yet, or had much experience with books set in Iran or with Persian cuisine.  This should be a real adventure - for all of us!  Right up our food alley anyway.  After reading various reviews, I thought it would give us an intriguing and meaningful look at a culture we hear about in the news, but don't really know up close; and this one with food, wrapped around some romance, a delicious combination.   Here's the Publisher's take on the book: 
"A true story of forbidden love set against the rich cultural and political backdrop of modern-day Iran. 
Jennifer Klinec is fearless. In her thirties, she abandons her bland corporate job to launch a cooking school from her London apartment and travel the world in search of delicious recipes and obscure culinary traditions. Her journey takes her to Iran, where she seeks out a local woman to learn the secrets of Persian cuisine.  
Vahid is suspicious of the strange foreigner who turns up in his mother's kitchen. Unused to such a bold and independent woman, he is frustrated to find himself, the prized only son of the house, largely ignored for the first time. But when the two are thrown together on an unexpected adventure, they discover a mutual attraction that draws them irresistibly toward each other--but also pits them against harsh Iranian laws and customs, which soon threaten to tear the unlikely lovers apart. 
Getting under the skin of one of the most complex and fascinating nations on earth, The Temporary Bride is a soaring, intricately woven story of being loved, being fed, and struggling to belong."

Oh boy, we'll be cooking up Persian food during a time when Iran is under an almost constant wave of negative opinion and troubles.  Perhaps we'll all gain something, new insights at least, through Klinec's novel of culinary learning and true life experience.

The deadline for this round of Cook the Books is Saturday, November 30th.  I look forward to seeing what everyone thinks about the memoir and is inspired to cook up.

If you are new to Cook the Books and want to join in simply pick up a copy of the selection from your local bookstore or library, then cook and post your inspired dish. We look forward to having you read and cook along with us for this selection period and beyond. New participants are always welcomed with open arms! (Leave a comment here with your link, and be sure to  check out our Guidelines page if you have any questions.

Honey from Rock

Thursday, October 3, 2019

The Food Explorer: The Round Up

Thank you to everyone who joined in our exploration of Daniel Stone's The Food Explorer. We have a tasty selection of dishes assembled featuring many of David Fairchild's finds, so let's have a look at the entries.

First in with her dish was CTB co-host Debra of Eliot's Eats saying, "I was struck by the non-diversity of American agriculture during the late 19th Century. If it weren’t for Farichild’s Office of Plant and Seed Introduction, the U.S., and the western world in many cases, would not know the taste of mangoes, pistachios, many citruses, quinoa, zucchini, chayote, avocados, broccoli, seedless grapes, sesame seeds, chickpeas, kale…(this list would go to infinity and beyond). In the later chapters when Fairchild became more of a bureaucrat and turned the exploring over to Frank Meyer, I was more than intrigued.  I would love to read a biography of this man who walked Asia on a solitary journey.  He is probably most famous for the lemon that bears his name." Debra made a Kale-Quinoa Salad with Pistachios and Raisins and Meyer Lemon Vinaigrette saying, "Because of the kale, quinoa, pistachios and raisins that Fairchild “discovered” along with wanting to give a nod to Meyer, I decided to make a salad combining all these flavors."

Next it was Camilla of Culinary Adventures of Camilla who found she didn't like the book as much as she thought, saying "...the book's pacing was a little slow and fell flat in my mind. Still, I did learn a lot...but it was a little like reading a textbook at times. And with over seventy pages as a bibliography and footnotes, it might actually be considered a textbook of sorts!" Camilla tried making Kale Chips for her bookish dish and said, "I have never like kale chips despite liking most other kinds of chips, but I decided to take the plunge this past weekend - just to say that I had done it - and because it fit into a passage from this edition of Cook the Books. I don't think I'll be making these again. I much prefer to use kale for a sauteed side dish, folded into airy malfatti, or baked into a frittata. But this is an easy snack! Though, as I thought, my boys really did think that it was a waste of perfectly good kale. I have to agree."

Wendy of A Day in the Life on the Farm found the book  dry at times saying, "This was an interesting, if somewhat textbook like, read. I guess I never really gave much thought as to how certain foods were brought here to be farmed. I guess I just thought the people who emigrated from other countries brought them with them but that, I found out, was not the case." For her dish Wendy used what she learned about zucchini for her Zoodle Slaw, "Nature's real intent was for zucchini to be eaten small, before its blossoms fell--it's name is Italian for "little squash". She said, "So save those giant zucchini for making breads, jam, cakes and muffins but when serving this slaw or cooking to eat by itself or in enchiladas, breakfast casseroles, or stand alone dishes like these zoodles with Thai peanut sauce, you want to use flavorful, small squash."

Fellow CTB host, Claudia of Honey From Rock said, "Very informative however, despite some of it being a bit dry, there's enough to keep one interested, with all his travel adventures and mishaps, the variety of seeds, cuttings and plants Fairchild, as well as his protegee, Frank Meyer, and contemporary, Walter Swingle, were able to ship back to the US, or carry themselves." For her entry, Claudia says, "As far as a dish inspired by this book, it would have to include something brought to the US by our featured explorers. I ended up making a Tagliatelle with Asparagus, Peppers, Pancetta and Asiago Cheese, based loosely on Mario Batali's recipe in Babbo (his had parsnips). The explorers sent back so many thousands of plants, among them a number of varieties of peppers. At one point, the USDA reported "more than ten new plants were arriving in America each day."  Asparagus was first introduced to America by  Fairchild's associate, Frank Meyer, who traveled extensively in China during a time Fairchild was based in Washington."

Ali of Fix Me a Little Lunch brought Easy Mango Salsa and joined us after a blogging hiatus saying, "I am celebrating getting back to blogging with an easy mango salsa.  My inspiration for this recipe comes from The Food Explorer by Daniel Stone, which is the August/September selection for Cook the Books.  Stone’s book is a fascinating dive into the life of David Fairchild – a nineteenth century botanist and explorer.  Fairchild brought to the United States a cornucopia of fruits, including mangoes, avocados, dates, and citrus.  And if you ever wondered how the Meyer lemon got its name – well, take some time to read this lovely book. ... I opted to include this as a topping for a spinach salad with smoked albacore tuna from a sustainable fishery here on the Oregon coast.  It was amazing! I encourage you to make the easy mango salsa and definitely read The Food Explorer.

Amy of Amy's Cooking Adventures said, "I started the book in plenty of time, and it was interesting.  Yet, it was a slog at the same time.  It was almost like reading a textbook - fascinating, but so slow and dry in between! I loved learning about David Fairchild and all of the other great minds of the time.  According to the book (and the ostentatiously long subtitle), David Fairchild is responsible for the introduction of literally thousands of plants (many of them edible) to the United States in the late 1800's and early 1900's." Amy made Balsamic-Thyme Roasted Carrots saying, "And here we are, with all these foods, and literally no inspiration for a recipe.  It was kinda like, "here!  All food ever, and go!"  It was too much! After I finally finished the book (with not a single inspiring food/dish written down, I stewed on it for several days. Finally, I decided to take the carrots I just harvested from my garden and roast them for dinner. I have no idea if carrots are one of the foods David Fairchild introduced to the US, but I went with it nonetheless. These carrots are a great way to spice up your garden bounty or those sad wintertime carrots in a few months!"

Simona of briciole loved the book and said, "
Before reading the book, I didn't know who David Fairchild was. Also, I didn't know who Frank Meyer was, though I am a great fan of the Meyer lemon, named after him; had never read the full story behind the Haas avocado; had no idea how Japanese cherry blossom trees had ended up blooming in Washington D.C. and wondered why a town in Southern California was called Mecca." About her Fruit Salad with Fresh Dates Simona said, "Fairchild introduced many types of fruit to the US (though his personal favorite, the mangosteen, never took hold here), so it was easy to decide to make a fruit salad (macedonia) for my breakfast (colazione) with fruit we eat because of his and his department's work and that is available now at the farmers market: Asian pear (pera asiatica), watermelon (cocomero), fig (fico), besides dates. Fairchild also tried to introduce the cashew tree, but domestic production never took hold, though consumption of cashew nuts (anacardi) did."

Finally at Kahakai Kitchen, I enjoyed learning about where our variety of food comes from and following along on Fairchild's and Meyer's journeys. I decided to go with kale or capuzzo as it was called in Austria-Hungary for my bookish ingredient. My favorite variety is Tuscan kale
(aka black or lacinato kale) and I love it in a simple Caldo Verde, a Portuguese soup with potatoes and garlic and sometimes sausage. I made a vegan version of a Nigel Slater classic recipe that really hit the spot.

I believe that I have all of the entries captured here--at least from comments and emails but if I have missed anyone, please let me know. 

Mahalo to all of you for joining in!

Our next selection will be The Temporary Bride: A Memoir of Love and Food in Iran by Jennifer Klenic and hosted by Claudia of Honey from Rock. Happy Reading and Eating