Saturday, April 3, 2021

The April/May Selection: Honeysuckle Season by Mary Ellen Taylor

The pandemic has caused or rather allowed me to pick up some books I normally wouldn't have read.  One of these is Honeysuckle Season by Mary Ellen Taylor.  There was so much food mentioned in the book I decided to use it for the April/May edition for Cook the Books.   

From the Publisher:

From bestselling author Mary Ellen Taylor comes a story about profound loss, hard truths, and an overgrown greenhouse full of old secrets.

Adrift in the wake of her father’s death, a failed marriage, and multiple miscarriages, Libby McKenzie feels truly alone. Though her new life as a wedding photographer provides a semblance of purpose, it’s also a distraction from her profound pain.

When asked to photograph a wedding at the historic Woodmont estate, Libby meets the owner, Elaine Grant. Hoping to open Woodmont to the public, Elaine has employed young widower Colton Reese to help restore the grounds and asks Libby to photograph the process. Libby is immediately drawn to the old greenhouse shrouded in honeysuckle vines.

As Libby forms relationships and explores the overgrown—yet hauntingly beautiful—Woodmont estate, she finds the emotional courage to sort through her father’s office. There she discovers a letter that changes everything she knows about her parents, herself, and the estate. Beneath the vines of the old greenhouse lie generations of secrets, and it’s up to Libby to tend to the fruits born of long-buried seeds.

About the author:

A southerner by birth, Mary Ellen Taylor’s love of her home state, Virginia, is evident in her contemporary women’s fiction, including Winter Cottage, Spring House and her latest Honeysuckle Season and The Words We Whisper. She’s also celebrated the city of Alexandria and its storied history in her books The Union Street BakerySweet Expectations,  At the Corner of King Street and The View from Prince Street.

As do so many people, her protagonists search for their place in the world, exploring issues of family, home, love and belonging. Inevitably, Mary Ellen’s stories entwine with those of the places in which they’re set, and the mysteries at their core span past and present.

Mary Ellen is also known nationally as New York Times and USA Today bestselling suspense novelist Mary Burton. Together, they have published forty-five novels and five novellas. Mary Burton’s latest, Near You, debuts April 2021.

When not traveling or holed up writing, Mary Ellen spends time with her husband enjoying their empty nest and spoiling their miniature dachshunds, Buddy, Bella and Tiki.

 As always, Cook the Books is open to anyone.  Just pick up the latest selection, read and get inspired.  Whip up a dish sparked by your reading and post during April or May.  For more information and guidelines, click here.

Note that there are recipes listed at the end of the novel for Buttermilk Pie, Chess Pie, Honeysuckle Syrup, and Lemon Cake.   There's a huge amount of food mentioned in the book, too, everything from scrambled eggs to home baked goodness.   The e-book is free if you have Kindle Unlimited or only $4.99 to purchase on Amazon.  (Or, you can be like me and rediscover your library and their curbside pick-up options.)

Deadline for contributing is May 31, 2021.  Just leave a comment with your link below OR email me at prior to the deadline.  I can't wait to see what Southern favorites or floral concoctions are posted.

Happy Spring!


Thursday, April 1, 2021

Where I Come From: The Round-up

Our latest Cook the Books Club selection for February/March, a memoir, Where I Come From - Life Lessons from a Latino Chef, has been a truly spicy ride with Aaron Sanchez.  Also a sometimes rocky ride, as his life has had its share of ups and downs. He is a chef, well known TV personality and the author of several cookbooks.  Everyone seemed to get into the spirit of the occasion, and we are now looking at a wonderful feast of delectable inspirations gleaned from our reading.  Come along and enjoy the fiesta, as there is something for everyone here.  

First in this time was Cathy of Delaware Girl Eats, who put together two versions of Swiss Chard and Beans, one from her grandfather and one from our book. Actually, they both sound excellent.  Cathy quoted a passage from the memoir she found interesting, Aaron says, “When I come up with a new dish, a combination of hand-picked ingredients that I’d invented and written down, researched and painstakingly put together with meticulous care, or even something I’d come up with on the fly – and it worked perfectly in the plate and on the palate - every single one of those memories is a moment of magic. Of fulfilment. Of pride and of purpose.” Perhaps this is what drives him to continue to pursue cooking even as a nationally-known TV figure. " She had mixed feelings about the book though, saying that it "contained interesting tidbits but also lots of swearing and trivial information."

Amy of Amy's Cooking Adventures, arrived next bringing a batch of tasty looking Chicken Wings. She was going to make Aaron's version, but remembered having her mom's recipe, which she had never tried, so went with that.  She enjoyed the book and says, that after reading it, "I was impressed. The memoir was well-written and gave a lot of insight into Sanchez’s past. It gave the chef I’d seen on Chopped a lot more dimension. I feel like I will watch old episodes of that show with fresh eyes."

Camilla, of Culinary Adventures with Camilla, whipped up a fantastic sounding batch of Fire and Ice Ceviche, her version of Aaron's recipe.  She clearly enjoyed the book, saying "his story was absolutely wonderful." And that his writing "blends together culinary history, food commentary, and personal experience just as he would blend together a multitude of ingredients to create a delicious dish."

I Claudia, of Honey from Rock, got inspired right from the get go, and came in fairly early with Aaron's Hominy Stew, a tasty pot of  Sautéed Hominy with Pico de Gallo and Oregano.  The book was certainly inspiring from a cooking standpoint, even though some of his ups and downs in life, like many of our lives, were sad and mistakes were undoubtedly made. A truly honest memoir.  But the FOOD!!  And, the creative, innovative restaurants where he worked and later owned.  To die for!

Wendy of A Day in the Life on the Farm made us a spicy Butternut Squash and Brussels Sprouts Salad also from Aaron's memoir. She says, "... you don't know the real Aaron Sanchez until you hear his story in his own words. I have always liked Aaron and the way he interacted with others, always being kind and gentle in a world where yelling and screaming obscenities is often the norm. Reading his story makes me wish I could have an opportunity to meet him in person and chat over a glass of rose which seems to be his preferred wine."

Next up was Debra of Eliot's Eats with a batch of really incredible sounding burritos -  Uncle Tio’s Famous Chile Con Carne Colorado-Style Burritos. Oh Yes!!  She says, "Sánchez doesn’t romanticize the trials and tribulations of working in and owning restaurants or his Food Network celebrity rise. In fact, he attributes the financial fluidity of some of his restaurants to the extra income coming in from his FN gigs.  I also appreciated his honest narration."

Deb of Kahakai Kitchen arrived with an unusual Mexican pasta dish, Sopa Seca, (dry soup) adapted from Aaron Sanchez's Food Network connection. I think this will be hitting our dinner table very soon!  A quick and easy but delicious riff.  Deb remarked that she had always liked Aaron Sanchez from his TV shows, and, with regard to the book,  "I found myself more interested in his account of the early Food Network and the early "chefs as celebrities" days and his restaurant experiences than I did his personal life--especially his teenage machismo stories, but he does spin a good story." 

And, last but not least, Simona brought us a refreshing (after all the spicy dishes)  Salad of Roasted beets, Blood Orange, Avocado and Daikon. She, along with another of our contributors, had more of a connection with Zarela, Aaron's mother, and noted  that though "It was interesting to read her story told by her son", none of his recipes were "along the lines of what I cook".

I hope you all enjoy sampling these tasty creations from our food roundup of this Cook the Books Club selection.  Next up is Honeysuckle Season by Mary Ellen Taylor, which is being hosted by Debra of Eliot's Eats.  Be sure to check out the book and join in with us.  The deadline will be May 31st.  Open to all!  For more information see the Guidlines page.

Friday, February 5, 2021

Our February/March Selection: Where I Come From - Life Lessons from a Latino Chef

There are several world cuisines I admit to favoring over all others, so okay call me biased.  Mexican, or I should say Latino food, is one of the chosen few, which brought to my notice this memoir, sounding so very intriguing, by celebrity chef, Aaron Sánchez, Where I Come From: - Life Lessons from a Latino Chef,  I'm still looking forward to actually reading the book, though now near to the top in our library wait list.  I love that it's a combination of memoir and recipes for his fabulous food.  Can't wait to get cookin', right along with you all.- Mexican, Cuban, Caribbean, etc. Oh Boy!

From the Library Journal:  "In this memoir by celebrity chef Sánchez (Simple Food, Big Flavor), the author shares stories about his early years living with his mother, Zarela Martinez-Gabilondo, a celebrated chef-restaurateur in her own right. Following in Zarela's footsteps, Sánchez knew at a young age that he wanted to be a chef. After getting into some trouble, he was sent to New Orleans for a summer, where he learned the basics and grunt work of cooking in the kitchen of famed chef Paul Prudhomme. Through this experience, Sánchez fell in love with cooking and started out in the kitchens of some of New York's famed restaurants. Sánchez credits many of the chefs and restaurateurs of these establishments with influencing his culinary style and career. He explains the ups and downs of trying to open a successful restaurant while also trying to sustain personal relationships. Some of the triumphs touched on include moving to New Orleans to open his restaurant, Johnny Sánchez. In addition, the book contains several delicious recipes, including one for seafood étouffée."

Posting deadline for this selection is Wednesday, March 31st to read and post your inspired dish.  Something else I'm absolutely looking forward to -  seeing what everyone comes up with.  My mouth is watering already!

You can leave a comment below with a link to your post and/or email me at

New participants are very welcome to join in here at Cook the Books: just pick up a copy of the selection from your local bookstore or library, find inspiration from your reading, then cook and post about the book and your dish.  Be sure to check out our Guidelines page if you have any questions.

Enjoy your reading and cooking!


Honey from Rock


Thursday, February 4, 2021

Eat Joy: The Roundup

It's roundup time for our December/January pick Eat Joy: Stories & Comfort Food From 31 Celebrated Writers, Edited by Natalie Eve Garrett (2019)

Whether our Cook the Books participants loved, liked or disliked the book, for sure it inspired some delicious comfort food dishes. Let's dig in!  

Camilla of Culinary Adventures with Camilla was our first entry, saying "December is a good time to read a collection of short stories or essays. With the mayhem of the season, it's nice to be able to digest something standalone instead of having to keep track of a story over a period of days punctuated by not picking up a book at all! This one was a delight." Camilla found lots of recipe inspiration but selected one to make, "However, for this event, it was Lev Grossman's passage about General Tso's Tofu that actually sent me into the kitchen. Grossman is living in his divorce apartment and living on take-out. ... Over dinner I read the passages about my inspiration. The family commented: we were wondering why you were frying things. And, my favorite feedback, "This tastes like it could have come from a Chinese restaurant!" I'll take it." 

Wendy of A Day in the Life on a Farm enjoyed the book saying "Thirty one different authors, all with their own writing style share a memory with us and talk about the food or foods involved with that memory. I, personally, love food memories. There is something about preparing and sharing food with loved ones that make you feel secure and loved when thinking back on them." For her dish, Wendy made Cuban Batidos, inspired by one of  the essays and memories of her childhood,saying "Sweet and frothy this fruity Cuban drink reminds me of the Orange Julius' that used to be in stands in the center of every mall in America. Not quite as thick as a smoothie but just as delicious."

Simona of briciole felt that Eat Joy "is a pleasant read, a reminder of our deep connection with food which crosses nationalities and cultures and brings us together as humans." For her dish, Simona turned turned to Romanesco Broccoli Soup saying, "Seeing as winter is here and storms lash out at the Northern California coast, soup is the food that right now brings me most comfort. I am actually a year-round soup eater ... but in the winter months, soup becomes a constant. My mother would make minestrone fairly regularly but only rarely would she purée vegetables to make passato di verdure. I loved the latter, smooth and silky. It's a familiar story: we crave what is unusual, rarely tasted. I carried this hankering for smooth soups to adulthood and even now, the last step, when the immersion blender does its magic, is the most satisfying."

Amy of Amy's Cooking Adventures didn't find the book to be her cup of tea, finding it "Just awful. For a book with "Joy" in the title, this book was sure a downer. The stories ranged from melancholy (at best) to depressing to self absorbed and self-congratulatory." On a brighter note, it did inspire her to make a fabulous Chicken Alfredo Tortellini Soup. Amy says, "Is there anything better than soup in the winter? This one has it all.  Chicken, cheese tortellini, and the broth tastes just like alfredo sauce! It is divine!" (So much so I ended up making a vegetarian version--accidentally copying Amy's recipe idea. Sorry Amy! An apology for you is below).


Cathy of Delaware Eats is back with us for this round and chose her dish from Bake Your Fear by Rakesh Satyal finding, "Rakesh’s premise is that baking is therapeutic. While the piece is about pie, the same theory applies to baking a torte.I certainly find that the mixing of ingredients, handling the dough and then tasting the delicious outcome provides that peace." Cathy baked a gorgeous Blueberry Torte saying, "I chose to make a dish that my grandmother often prepared, a blueberry torte. Blueberries are perennial plants and a relative of cranberries and huckleberries.  Not only being highly delicious, they are also highly nutritious.Isn’t it great that you can achieve a double win from a single fruit?"

Claudia of Honey From Rock liked the book overall, "Of course, with any compilation of essays, by various authors, there are going to be some you love, some you really like, a few you don't get all that excited about, and some you might skip over, if not actually dislike. There were enough here to make for an enjoyable read, to open up a door of understanding with uncomfortable subjects, some new information, and a bit of just good humor." For her bookish dish, Claudia said found the recipe she "finally decided to post, based on the last suggestion in the book, a yummy pot of Gumbo, from The Boudin Trail by Natalie Baszile. Mine is a Gumbo Z'herbes,more greens and herbs than meat, loosely based on the recipe in Jubilee by Toni Tipton-Martin.


Debra of Eliot's Eats says "We continue to need a lot of joy so this was a great selection.The first essay that resonated with me was “Comfort with Eggs” by Laura Van Den Berg. I was drawn to it just because, I mean, eggs are comforting." Debra made a Spinach & Feta Frittata saying, "Van Den Berg was anorexic as a teenager and had a difficult time seeing eggs as more than “seventy-five calories. She’s also a self-admitted non-cooker. As she moves home as an adult to help her mom recover from knee surgery, she’s reminded of a frittata a friend made upon learning her father had had a stroke. Van Den Berg remembers an “adult goal” she had written years before: “learn to offer sustenance to yourself and others in a time of crisis or really any time” (10). She connects with the unconditional love that can be conveyed in cooking and sharing meals as she looks at her mother and husband enjoying this simple dish. Here’s a slightly adapted version of what she made." 

So Debra actually read two books when she picked up the editor's other book, The Artists' and Writers' Cookbook first, thinking it was our CTB pick. I think it's worth including both dishes, especially since this book edged out Eat Joy for her. She says, "This book was a joy to read (even though I was supposed to be reading Eat Joy). I’m anxious to cook more from it. The recipe reading is as good as or better in some cases as the actual essay.The illustrations were clever, too." For this book, Debra made Potato Soup based on Alice Hoffman's "My Grandmother's Recipe for Life."

Rahda of The Magical Ingredients for a Wholesome Life From the Heart of My Home joins us this round. Welcome! She enjoyed the book saying, "Food brings everyone together. It helps enjoy your happiness, overcome your fears, and comforts loss. This book is about that. When I read the authors describing their experiences, every time my mind connected everything with my mom." Rahda made a dish with her mom's favorite, eggplant, and said, "I decided to share the recipe of Bhagara Baingan as this gives me comfort and happiness. Food helps us enjoy happier times as well as cope up with difficult times. Sharing this recipe makes a lot of sense to me.."

Finally, at Kahakai Kitchen, I must apologize to Amy that I absentmindedly made a meat-free version of the same Tortellini Alfredo Soup that she made! I hadn't looked at her post since she sent it and in a crazy month it totally slipped my mind (but must have been in the back of it somewhere) because when it came to making a comfort soup, I thought it would be clever to combine the Alfredo Sauce and Tortellini Soup mentioned in an essay. It was clever ,but it was Amy's Cooking Adventures clever. I have gone back and noted that fact in my post. It was unintended recipe idea stealing, I promise, and we took different recipes and routes to get there but the only reason I am not completely sorry it that it is...REALLY GOOD SOUP!

Mahalo to all who joined in for this round of Cook the Books! I think I got everyone who submitted, either through comments or by emailing me but if I missed you, please let me know.

I'm handing over the reins to my fellow Hawaii co-host, Claudia of Honey From Rock who is hosting our February/March pick, Where I Come From: Life Lessons from a Latino Chef by Aaron Sanchez. Submissions are due by Wednesday, March 31. 

Aloha and happy reading and eating!

Kahakai Kitchen