Monday, February 4, 2019

Our February/March Pick: Crazy Rich Asians by Kevin Kwan

 From first hearing about Crazy Rich Asians, our new CTBC pick, I had to read it.  And, starting off at #379 on our local library reserve list did not stop me. Plus, after reading the reviews, I thought it would be a fun pick for Cook the Books Club, which I am hosting this round.  

The action is set mainly in foreign climes, South East Asia, in the present time, but with a particularly alien culture of people.  Living in Hawaii, as I do, and with the presence of a large Asian population, this book was doubly intriguing.  First, because I haven't come across any of these crazy rich people, despite having also visited Hong Kong and Malaysia and Singapore. They don't frequent the same places and are not like you or I, apparently.  Of course, I was also curious to see what their eating habits would be like, with money no object.  The book does have plenty of outrageous, sometimes strange people eating interesting and delicious sounding food. So there's lots to get inspired by. 

I truly enjoyed reading this novel, especially Kwan's sarcasm and humor, as well as for the up close glimpse of an alternative life style and tantalizing food.  Like reading about people on Mars. 
From Publishers: 
"Kwan's debut novel is a fun, over-the-top romp through the unbelievable world of the Asian jet set, where anything from this season is already passe and one's pedigree is everything. When Rachel Chu's boyfriend, Nick Young, invites her home to Singapore for the summer, she doesn't realize how much gossip she's generated among Asian socialites around the world. To Rachel, Nick is a sweet, intelligent history professor-and the first man she's imagined marrying. To the Asian billionaire set, he's the gorgeous heir apparent to one of China's most "staggeringly rich" and well-established families who virtually control the country's commerce with their ancient fortunes. As soon as she steps off the plane, Rachel is ushered into the opulent world of castle-like estates and mind-boggling luxury. As if the shock of realizing the scale of Nick's wealth is not enough, she must also contend with a troupe of cruel socialites who would absolutely die before they let Singapore's most eligible bachelor get snapped up by a no-name "ABC" (American-born Chinese). 
 A witty tongue-in-cheek frolic about what it means to be from really old money and what it's like to be crazy rich." 
For double the fun, if you'd like to participate, we are doing another tag team event, a movie tie-in with Food N' Flix, hosted by Debra of Eliot's Eats. Their deadline is February 28th for the film reviews and food inspiration.  For information on how to join in, hop over to the Food N' Flix link.

The sky is the limit where the food is concerned here.  Singapore street food, gourmet Chinese restaurant cuisine in Hong Kong. or Peranakan Straits fusion. 

 Our deadline for submissions to the reading round at Cook the Books Club is Sunday, March 31st.  Please drop a note in the comments section here with your link when complete, or email me,, so no one gets left out.  Enjoy your reading! And Happy Chinese New Year! or xīn nián kuài lè! 

Saturday, February 2, 2019

Island of Sweet Pies and Soldiers: The Round Up

It's time to round up our December/January round of Cook the Books and share the ono (delicious) spread of Hawaiian-style food that our participants made, inspired by the WWII historical novel Island of Sweet Pies and Soldiers by Sara Ackerman

We have more than enough for a Hawaiian potluck that will break da mouth, so turn up your heat to make it balmy wherever you are reading this, pull up a chair and a napkin to wipe the drool, and have a look. The links on the recipes will take you to the individual posts where you can read more about them and our participants' thoughts on the book. 

First up was Camilla of Culinary Adventures with Camilla. She said, "This was a well-written novel - well-researched and well-told - and you truly cared for the characters because Ackerman pulls you in to her story quickly and easily. She poignantly shows how quickly fear transforms people into being prejudiced and paranoid. And fear plays a huge role in Ella keeping a secret from her mom...because she knows what happened to her father. But, I will not spoil this story. Just read it. It's delicious!" Camilla used mac nuts from her parents recent trip to the islands to make a yummy Macadamia Brittle, "as a reminder that if you are too rigid - in life - you will break! I think Violet and Ella both learned to be softer throughout this novel..."

Wendy of A Day in the Life on the Farm said, "This is absolutely my genre of preference when reading books and needless to say I loved it!! ... This is a very touching and true to life novel of how people's fear, bias, and racism, affect how they treat others, especially during wartime. It is set during WWII following the attack on Pearl Harbor. It takes place on a Hawaiian Island that is predominantly inhabited by Japanese Americans." Wendy made the Hawaiian grab-and-go classic, SPAM Musubi, "The first dinner that Violet and her friend, Jean, served to some of the soldiers took a lot of planning and Violet realized afterwards that the soldiers wouldn't have minded if they had been served SPAM as long as they were having a home cooked meal and some socializing."

My co-host and fellow Hawaii-based blogger Claudia of Honey From Rock said, "Especially interesting to me as a resident on the island where this all takes place - The Big Island!  And so fascinating to visit a familiar locale at this time in the past. I don't believe I've ever read a book dealing with WWII and its impact on Hawaii, particularly The Big Island." Claudia made a Hawaiian-Themed Dinner (a veritable feast!) saying, "I had family over and prepared them a Hawaiian themed dinner. Kalua Pork, Lomi Lomi Salmon, Macaroni Salad (local style) and Coconut Cake. The Kalua pork was a first for me, and made in the pressure cooker. Traditionally, a whole pig would be slow cooked, overnight in an imu (a large rock and banana leaf lined pit in the ground, as they did in the book for their Christmas party). Much easier to start with some locally sourced, free range pork shoulder roast, a few banana leaves and some liquid smoke. Oh yes!  It totally worked."

Amy of Amy's Cooking Adventures said, "Though my typical genre is high fantasy, I do love a great historical fiction – especially if it deals with WWII! I could not put this book down! I was enthralled the whole time (even if I did guess the ending before the “big reveal”)" She made a homemade version of the ever popular Hawaiian Rolls saying, "I started looking more closely at Hawaiian food and I was having trouble finding something authentic that I wanted to make (I really didn’t want to use spam!) Finally, I decided to make copycat Hawaiian Rolls. Fun fact – on our Disney vacation, we had a dinner at the Polynesian Resort and the bread on the table was remarkably similar to this recipe! These rolls are super soft, quite sweet, and include pineapple juice for that Hawaiian flare!"

Cathy of Delaware Girl Eats said, "I was captivated by the entwined narratives of Violet and her daughter Ella that carry this story. Violet describes her apprehension as she seeks to learn what happened to her husband and her uncertainty as she senses the possibility of renewal in a budding relationship. Ella’s focuses on a troubling secret while she comments on the adults and their behaviors." Cathy found her inspiration in a recipe from a popular Hawaii chef, saying, "We got hooked on these Szechuan Baby Back Ribs when TV’s Emeril Lagasse prepared them for us as members of his studio audience based on his Hawaiian friend Roy Yamaguchi’s recipe. At the time, chef Yamaguchi was among the vanguard of young Hawaiian chefs transforming Island cuisine into one where East meets West in the middle of the Pacific. In doing so they combined California cooking with the Islands' Chinese, Filipino, Korean, Japanese, Southeast Asian, Portuguese and native Hawaiian inhabitants for a sort of fusion."

Co-host Debra of Eliot's Eats said, "This was a quick read and  the plot was intriguing but the writing and dialogue left me wanting. I felt like I was reading a YA book at times (not that there’s anything wring with that). ... Strong female characters are abundant in this novel. Along with Violet and Ella are Jean (Violet’s roommate and colleague) and Setsuko, another teacher. I won’t give away any of the plot, but Ackerman throws in some hunky soldiers and a lion cub for cuteness." Debra found her inspiration for a Healthy Hawaiian Meal in a magazine, saying, "I was perusing through Eating Well‘s latest edition and the article “Maui’s Greener Side.” I knew exactly what I wanted to make:  a Hawaiian meal of Kula Pickled Beet Salad and Huli Huli Chicken with Pineapple-Ginger Sauce.  (These recipes actually replaced the Sweet Potato Pie with Bourbon cream that I was going to make.  Healthier and all that…)"

Co-host Simona of briciole said, "...the story is interesting, at the level both of the individual characters and of the historical background. To the tragedies of World War II and of the internment of Japanese-Americans, the novel, set on the Big Island of Hawaii, adds the personal tragedies of Violet, whose husband disappeared a year before the story starts, and of their daughter, Ella, whose distress hints at a devastating secret she cannot share." Simona found her inspiration for Pan-Fried Banana with Macadamia Nuts in one of her favorite places; "When I think about my visits to the Big Island, one vivid memory is that of tropical fruit (frutta tropicale). A tray of it, including a bunch of small ripe bananas, always awaits us in the kitchen of the place where we stay. ... A steady supply of apple bananas and macadamia nuts made me think about a possible dessert combining the two. A minimal kitchen made sure I kept it simple. On the mainland I replicated the recipe with regular bananas (Cavendish) and roasted Hawaiian macadamia nuts with a touch of sea salt that I found at the local store. I close my eyes and as I eat, I dream of the Big Island."

Terri of Our Good Life said, "I love historical fiction, so this book is right up my family.  I love how the story bounces between Ella and her mother, Violet. As a retired school principal, I was taken in by Ella and her story. I eagerly read about her big secret she was keeping from her mother, which caused her great emotional harm." Terri made banana-filled Flaky Mini Pies, saying, "I have a dear friend who moved to our neighborhood who makes pies. She regularly brings pie to our book club and instantly I have a sense of family when she serves it up. It was easy to be inspired to make a pie with all the talk of pie and thinking of my friend, Christie. I wanted to try to make individual pies, but I don't have any pie tins for that. I decided to try a drape of pie crust over the bottoms of oversized muffin tins. ... For my family, I made a simple filling of low-fat sugar-free pudding and sliced bananas. Banana cream pie is my daughter's favorite and this was a wonderful way to serve up a portioned controlled piece of pie.

At Kahakai Kitchen, I enjoyed my second read-through of the book. It was fun to be able to host a book set on the islands. I was tempted to make a version of the dinner of papio (fish), taro, and watercress (slightly steamed and sprinkled with sea salt) that Violet and Parker share with moonshiner Bernard in the valley or whip up some sugarcane lemonade, but pie won out for me in the end. Inspired by Mr. Macadangdang's trucks full of coconuts and the mentions of pineapples in the book, I tried a Tropical Pineapple Pie with a toasted coconut crust (which ended up being my favorite part) from a Hawaiian cookbook I was recently given.

Thank you to everyone who joined in and made such tasty dishes!  

Now, I'm going to turn things over to Claudia of Honey From Rock, host of our next book, Crazy Rich Asians, by Kevin Kwan, our February/March CTB pick.