Thursday, June 17, 2021

Announcement: Our Next Four Selections

This is the moment you've been waiting for: the announcement of next four selections of our book club. 

Deb (Kahakai Kitchen) opens the series with Midnight at the Blackbird Cafe by Heather Webber (July 2019) for the August / September 2021 edition

I received a copy of Midnight at the Blackbird Cafe in a book subscription box I tried out. Sadly, it has been languishing in my TBR stack for almost two years and so I thought that choosing it as our August/September selection would be a good push for me to finally read it. Plus, it sounds charming, I believe a touch of magical realism now and then is good for the soul, there's a flock of blackbirds that only sing at night, and of course, there's pie!  

From the Publisher:

Nestled in the mountain shadows of Alabama lies the little town of Wicklow. It is here that Anna Kate has returned to bury her beloved Granny Zee, owner of the Blackbird Café. 

It was supposed to be a quick trip to close the café and settle her grandmother’s estate, but despite her best intentions to avoid forming ties or even getting to know her father’s side of the family, Anna Kate finds herself inexplicably drawn to the quirky Southern town her mother ran away from so many years ago, and the mysterious blackbird pie everybody can’t stop talking about. 

As the truth about her past slowly becomes clear, Anna Kate will need to decide if this lone blackbird will finally be able to take her broken wings and fly.

I've only thumbed through the book a bit so far but it looks like there is more food inspiration than the mysterious Blackbird Pie the cafe serves so I am looking forward to seeing what this Alabama set novel inspires in our kitchens.  

Deb, Kahakai Kitchen

Deadline for contributing your post is Thursday, September 30, 2021

For the October / November edition, Claudia (Honey from Rock) chose Cinnamon and Gunpowder by Eli Brown. 

This novel was originally recommended, on our CTB suggested reading page, five years ago by Wendy of A Day in the Life on the Farm. It sounded quite intriguing and so I looked further and read some reviews. What an original concept and development of the whole idea. A bit of historical fiction, some romance on the high seas, adventure with pirates, and the food!! It looks to be a great story for us all.

Here's what the Publishers have to say:

A twist on the tale of Scheherazade—with the best food ever served aboard a pirate’s ship  The year is 1819, and the renowned chef Owen Wedgwood has been kidnapped by the ruthless pirate Mad Hannah Mabbot. He will be spared, she tells him, as long as he puts exquisite food in front of her every Sunday without fail. 
To appease the red-haired captain, Wedgwood gets cracking with the meager supplies on board. His first triumph at sea is actual bread, made from a sourdough starter that he leavens in a tin under his shirt throughout a roaring battle, as men are cutlassed all around him. Soon he’s making tea-smoked eel and brewing pineapple-banana cider.

But Mabbot—who exerts a curious draw on the chef—is under siege. Hunted by a deadly privateer and plagued by a saboteur hidden on her ship, she pushes her crew past exhaustion in her search for the notorious Brass Fox. As Wedgwood begins to sense a method to Mabbot’s madness, he must rely on the bizarre crewmembers he once feared: Mr. Apples, the fearsome giant who loves to knit; Feng and Bai, martial arts masters sworn to defend their captain; and Joshua, the deaf cabin boy who becomes the son Wedgwood never had.
Sounds like a fun read, with lots of food inspiration.

Claudia, Honey From Rock

Deadline for contributing your post is Tuesday, November 30, 2021

For the December 2021 / January 2022 edition, Debra (Eliot's Eats) has chosen Midnight Chicken by Ella Risbridger (June 2019)

On a recent week’s vacation, I ran across a quick blurb for Midnight Chicken in a magazine. I was intrigued. I then found an NPR review which made me even more determined to pick this "book of hope" for my hosting gig. This review describes Risbridger writing as echoing “Bridget Jones' self-effacing wittiness, Julia Child's companionable forgiveness and Sylvia Plath's poetic prose.”  What a combination and such high praise! 

Midnight Chicken contains recipes with categories for breakfasts, soups & breads, picnics, “Storecupboard Suppers & Midnight Feasts,” weekend cooking, and “Sweet Things.” But, it’s also a poetic tale of hope and perseverance and savoring life.

Debra, Eliot's Eats

Deadline for contributing your post is Monday, January 31, 2022

To round up the list of selections, for the February / March 2022 edition Simona (briciole) picked the novel Red Sparrow by Jason Matthews (2014)

Have you ever heard of a spy novel with recipes? I had not until I read the description of Red Sparrow (the first volume in a trilogy) written by a former officer of the CIA’s Operations Directorate.  

From the Publisher:
In contemporary Russia, state intelligence officer Dominika Egorova has been drafted to become a “Sparrow”—a spy trained in the art of seduction to elicit information from their marks. She’s been assigned to Nathaniel Nash, a CIA officer who handles the organization’s most sensitive penetration of Russian intelligence. 
The two young intelligence officers, trained in their respective spy schools, collide in a charged atmosphere of tradecraft, deception and, inevitably, a forbidden spiral of physical attraction that threatens their careers and the security of America’s valuable mole in Moscow.
The combination of espionage thriller and recipe was too intriguing to pass. You can get a taste of it in the Excerpt available on the publisher's website

Simona, briciole

Deadline for contributing your post: Thursday, March 31, 2022.

Remember that membership in our book club is open to anyone and we hope you will 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 at the beginning of each two-month period and the current selection is always shown on the right side of the homepage.

To recap:

August / September 2021: Midnight at the Blackbird Cafe by Heather Webber (hosted by Deb at Kahakai Kitchen)

October / November 2021Cinnamon and Gunpowder by Eli Brown (hosted by Claudia at Honey from Rock)
December 2021 / January 2022: Midnight Chicken by Ella Risbridger (hosted by Debra at Eliot's Eats)

February / March 2022: Red Sparrow by Jason Matthews (hosted by Simona at briciole)

Happy reading and cooking!

Friday, June 4, 2021

Honeysuckle Season Round Up

Thanks to everyone for being a bit patient and waiting for this somewhat late Round-Up post.  

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.

April and especially May just totally got away from me and June is starting out jam-packed.  So, without further adieu, let's get to the delicious posts:

Culinary Adventures with Camilla is always first to post.   Cam "was so intrigued by the dynamics in the moonshine timeline, including bribing the Sheriff to keep their business going during Prohibition."    She also found the old Southern tradition of burying moonshine in a graveyard for good wedding-day-luck humorous.   She whipped up a delicious Buttermilk Vanilla Cake with Honeysuckle Buttercream.   (Please check out this recipe and how she steeped dried honeysuckle blossoms.)

Wendy from A Day in the Life on the Farm was next with a recipe that I am going to try as soon as I am able:   Honeysuckle Tangerine Marmalade!   

I mean, seriously, this sounds delicious!   As for the novel, Wendy writes:  "There are many twists and turns and some surprises as we learn how all of these lives intertwine.  I enjoyed this novel very much and will be sharing my review over at Foodies Read as well."

Now for something savory.   Delaware Girl Eats created a Swiss Chard and Leek Gratin.  Focusing on the setting of the novel, the Blue Ridge Mountains, her recipe was  "inspired by the vegetable casseroles of this region, cheating just a little to add a meat ingredient, which is Italian sausage, to make the dish a little heartier.  While spinach can be used as the key ingredient, I chose to add Swiss Chard instead.  It's often referenced in Blue Ridge recipes and although we typically think of Swiss Chard as an Italian ingredient, it works perfectly well in this gratin."

CTB Co-Host Claudia (Honey from Rock) also made a savory offering.   Her Bacon Biscuits sound absolutely heavenly.  
The very first food mention was, I believe on page 42 (Kindle version), biscuits stuffed with Virginia ham.  That was, in the end, my choice to do a riff on.  My own Scotch Irish ancestors also settled in the Virginia area and, coincidentally, this is a very traditional recipe in that region of our country.  I posted the Scottish original version a few years ago - Aberdeen Butteries - made with yeast, and remembered how delicious they were.  So now we have the Southern incarnation, in biscuits.  Mine reverts to bacon, as I cure it myself, so there's more of a connection in that homemade aspect, as well as deriving from the Scotch original.
Glad you were inspired to make these!

Simona (briciole) is another Co-Host.   She's continuing with savory and contributed a Vegan Zucchini Side dish to our Honeysuckle Season table.   

Simona was familiar with the author and featured her in a "post last year with her novel Winter Cottage2. Both novels are centered around a mansion, whose walls know secrets that the reader learns as chapter follows chapter and the story moves back and forth between present and past."

I may be picking up that book next.  

Let's end our round-up today with a couple of beverages.

Deb, from Kahakai Kitchen (and another Co-Host) stirred up some Honeysuckle Lemonade.  

Sounds lovely, sweet and refreshing.  "For my bookish dish, I decided to combine the lemonade mentioned in the book with the honeysuckle syrup used in the moonshine. Since honeysuckle flowers are not easy to come by here, I ordered some dried honeysuckle flowers from Amazon.  There's a recipe for the syrup in the book but I kind of did my own thing in terms of proportions. I also made a very tart lemonade to mix with the syrup--just so it wasn't over-sweet."

I'll end the Round Up today with my Honeysuckle Season Cocktail.  I was inspired, of course, by the honeysuckle from the title (and the moonshine) plus good Kentucky bourbon.  
I didn't use dried honeysuckle blossoms like Camilla, Wendy, and Deb.  Instead I used honeysuckle tea bags.  

Thanks to everyone who participated this round.  Simona is hosting  97 Orchard: An Edible History of Five Immigrant Families in One New York Tenement by Jane Ziegelman.   You can read the announcement post here.  

Wednesday, June 2, 2021

June/July selection: 97 Orchard by Jane Ziegelman

Among the proposals on our blog's Suggested Reading page, the title 97 Orchard: An Edible History of Five Immigrant Families in One New York Tenement by Jane Ziegelman intrigued me, so I chose it as my selection for this round. As with other titles in past editions, this book provides a historical perspective on the foods we bring on our table. Thank you, Lynda, for the suggestion.

A good part of the book's appeal is due to the fact that I am an immigrant myself and have direct experience of, and perspective on, the process of transplanting one's culinary traditions into another country's soil

Ziegelman puts a historical spin to the notion that you are what you eat by looking at five immigrant families from what she calls the "elemental perspective of the foods they ate." They are German, Italian, Irish, and Jewish (both Orthodox and Reform) from Russia and Germany—they are new Americans, and each family, sometime between 1863 and 1935, lived on Manhattan’s Lower East Side. Each represents the predicaments faced in adapting the food traditions it knew to the country it adopted. From census data, newspaper accounts, sociological studies, and cookbooks of the time, Ziegelman vividly renders a proud, diverse community learning to be American. She describes the funk of fermenting sauerkraut, the bounty of a pushcart market, the culinary versatility of a potato, as well as such treats as hamburger, spaghetti, and lager beer. Beyond the foodstuffs and recipes of the time, however, are the mores, histories, and identities that food evokes. Through food, the author records the immigrants’ struggle to reinterpret themselves in an American context and their reciprocal impact on American culture at large.

You may also find this interview with the author aired on NPR of interest. 

I am looking forward to reading this book and being inspired by it in the kitchen with all of you.

The deadline for contributing your post: Saturday, July 31, 2021.

Leave a comment below with a link to your post or email me at simosite AT mac DOT com.

Remember that anyone can participate in Cook the Books: simply pick up a copy of the selection from your local bookstore or library, take inspiration from said reading, cook and post the inspired dish. We look forward to having you read and cook along with us in this selection period and beyond. New participants are always welcome. (Leave a comment here or check out our Guidelines page if you have any questions.