Sunday, June 25, 2023

Announcement: Our Next Four Selections

It's that time of our virtual book club's cycle when we unveil the next four selections, books selected by the co-hosts to (hopefully) delight and inspire you. Ready? Let's go!

Deb (Kahakai Kitchen) opens the series with Love & Saffron: A Novel of Friendship, Food and Love by Kim Fay (February 2022) for the August / September 2023 edition

I am so busy lately that picking a short book for our August / September selection seemed like a great idea, and at 240 pages, Love & Saffron: A Novel of Friendship, Food, and Love fits that description. But what really sold me on it was all the great reviews I have been seeing and that it is told in letters. I do love a good epistolary novel!

From the Publisher:
In the vein of the classic 84, Charing Cross Road, this witty and tender novel follows two women in 1960s America as they discover that food really does connect us all, and that friendship and laughter are the best medicine.

When twenty-seven-year-old Joan Bergstrom sends a fan letter—as well as a gift of saffron—to fifty-nine-year-old Imogen Fortier, a life-changing friendship begins. Joan lives in Los Angeles and is just starting out as a writer for the newspaper food pages. Imogen lives on Camano Island outside Seattle, writing a monthly column for a Pacific Northwest magazine, and while she can hunt elk and dig for clams, she’s never tasted fresh garlic--exotic fare in the Northwest of the sixties. As the two women commune through their letters, they build a closeness that sustains them through the Cuban Missile Crisis, the assassination of President Kennedy, and the unexpected in their own lives.

Food and a good life—they can’t be separated. It is a discovery the women share, not only with each other, but with the men in their lives. Because of her correspondence with Joan, Imogen’s decades-long marriage blossoms into something new and exciting, and in turn, Joan learns that true love does not always come in the form we expect it to. Into this beautiful, intimate world comes the ultimate test of Joan and Imogen’s friendship—a test that summons their unconditional trust in each other. A brief respite from our chaotic world, Love & Saffron is a gem of a novel, a reminder that food and friendship are the antidote to most any heartache and that human connection will always be worth creating. 
With inspiration like Creamy risotto alla Milanese. Mussels in a hot, buttery broth. Chicken spiced with cinnamon and cloves. Joan Bergstrom and Imogen Fortier understand the key to a savored life—delicious food.
I look forward to seeing what we can create from this one!

Deb, Kahakai Kitchen

Deadline for contributing your post is Saturday, September 30, 2023

For the October / November 2023 edition, Claudia (Honey from Rock) chose The City Baker's Guide to Country Living by Louise Miller (February 2021)

I just heard about this novel so haven't read it yet, but am looking forward to getting into the book along with you all. From the reviews, it sounded the double horn, foodie fiction, with good plot and character driven writing. 

From the Publishers Weekly: 
At the outset of Miller's endearing debut, 32-year-old pastry chef Olivia Rawlings loses her job after she drops a tray of baked Alaska and starts a fire at the prestigious Boston club where she works. In need of comfort, she heads to Guthrie, Vt., to visit her best friend, Hannah Doyle, who lands her a job at the nearby Sugar Maple, a picturesque inn owned by the stern yet protective Margaret Hurley. As Olivia adjusts to her new life, her growing attachment to Margaret's friends, the McCrackens-especially Martin, the fiddle-playing son-prompts her return to banjo and folk music. But even as she settles in and joins a contra dance band, she struggles to navigate the secrets, gossip, and long-held animosities that animate the town. 
Miller, a pastry chef herself, writes about food with vivid detail, but her rhythmic prose is even crisper when her interests converge: "From the stage you could see the lattice pattern the dances made, the couples weaving in and out like fluted strips of piecrust." Miller also excels at characterization, revealing her protagonist's complex pasts in subtle ways. Even minor characters such as Alfred, Olivia's coworker at the Sugar Maple, and Henry, the ailing McCracken patriarch, are sharply drawn and memorable. Throughout, the novel's empathetic spirit and unhurried pace allow it to grapple with grief, family, and belonging, while keeping the focus on Olivia's difficult decisions.

Claudia, Honey From Rock

Deadline for contributing your post is Thursday, November 30, 2023

For the December 2023 / January 2024 edition, Debra (Eliot's Eats) has chosen Undercooked: How I Let Food Become My Life Navigator and How Maybe That's a Dumb Way to Live by Dan Ahdoot (March 2023)

While I was traveling recently, I heard the “Eating with Funny People” episode of Splendid Table. Comedian Dan Ahdoot and his new book were featured. Ahdoot’s book is a compilation of essays regarding his connection with food and his family and his relationships. In the Splendid Table episode he relates the time he visited a 5-star Michelin restaurant and sent the risotto back. I’ve read everything that was available in the sample preview and have enjoyed it thus far! In the introduction Ahdoot sets the premise:
When most people say they have an unhealthy relationship with food, they mean they eat too much of it or too little. When I say I have an unhealthy relationship with food, I mean it’s what gives my life meaning. That’s a really dumb way to live your life, as the stories in this book will attest to.

I have never heard of Ahdoot, but apparently he is mildly famous. Besides being  a comic headliner, he is a frequent guest on The Tonight Show, and is currently acting on Netflix’s Cobra Kai. Ahdoot also hosted Food Network’s Raid the Fridge.   

Debra, Eliot's Eats

Deadline for contributing your post is Wednesday, January 31, 2024

To round up the list of selections, for the February / March 2024 edition Simona (briciole) chose the graphic novel Relish: My Life in the Kitchen by Lucy Knisley (April 2013)

A recent comment on our Suggested Reading page written by Deb of Readerbuzz included a title that caught my attention. When I checked the details, I saw that it is a graphic novel, so something a bit different. 

From the author's website:
In her forthright, thoughtful, and funny memoir, Lucy traces key episodes in her life thus far, framed by what she was eating at the time and lessons learned about food, cooking, and life. Each chapter is bookended with an illustrated recipe—many of them treasured family dishes, and a few of them Lucy's original inventions. 
A welcome read for anyone who ever felt more passion for a sandwich than is strictly speaking proper, Relish is a graphic novel for our time: it invites the reader to celebrate food as a connection to our bodies and a connection to the earth, rather than an enemy, a compulsion, or a consumer product. 
I'm looking forward to reading outside my habits' boundaries. 

Simona, briciole

Deadline for contributing your post: Sunday, March 31, 2024.

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 2023: Love & Saffron by Kim Fay
 (hosted by Deb at Kahakai Kitchen)

October / November 2023The City Baker's Guide to Country Living by Louise Miller (hosted by Claudia at Honey from Rock)
December 2023 / January 2024
 by Dan Ahdoot (hosted by Debra at Eliot's Eats)
February / March 2024
 Relish by Lucy Knisley (hosted by Simona at briciole)

Happy reading and cooking!


Monday, June 5, 2023

June/July selection: Food Americana

For the June / July 2023 edition I chose Food Americana by David Page (May 2021) based on the book's intriguing subtitle "The Remarkable People and Incredible Stories behind America’s Favorite Dishes."

The subtitle reminded me of an earlier choice I made for the club, Twain's Feast by Andrew Beahrs, which looked at foods popular in Twain's time. I thought Food Americana would be a way to jump forward to the present and look at foods popular today. 

From the publisher: 
The remarkable history of American food. What is American cuisine, what national menu do we share, what dishes have we chosen, how did they become “American,” and how are they likely to evolve from here? David Page answers all these questions and more.

From a review of the book by Ann Beman:

A reflection of the nation’s character, most of the highlighted foods immigrated to the U.S. from other countries. Page, a former network news producer and the creator of TV’s “Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives,” flexes his journalism chops to capture local vernacular as well as the flavors, scents, and imagery of the foods’ cultures as they have evolved. Readers who enjoy microhistories will savor the tidbits of interesting facts and trivia peppered throughout the book. 

I'm looking forward to reading stories of foods that are common around me but weren't a short while ago. 


Deadline for contributing your post: Monday, July 31, 2023

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

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. New participants are always welcome and so are returning ones. For more information about participating, click here.  

Thursday, June 1, 2023

Lessons In Chemistry Round-up

Welcome the the recap of recipes posted for Lessons in Chemistry by Bonnie Garmus.  This novel was my pick for the April/May edition of Cook the Books.  

Image from Barnes & Noble.

To recap the novel, Elizabeth Zott is a brilliant and beautiful chemist in the 1960s* and has to fight for the right to pursue her career and passion.  Instead of a lab, she finds herself in a television studio hosting Supper at Six.  There she doles out mini-chemistry lessons and challenges children to help their mothers.   While the book tackles some heavy themes of sexism, sexual harassment and abuse, and domestic violence, it also has a fantastical feel.  Garmus creates not only strong female characters (in Zott, her friend Harriet, and even her one time nemesis, Miss Frask), but also showcases an empathetic dog and a genius 5-year-old.  There's a lot going on in this novel.  

Wendy was first to post and was prompted to make a casserole, a staple of the 1960s kitchen. 

Casseroles were very high in popularity during the 60's and Elizabeth made many of them on her show.  However, she did not use all those convenience foods that were so popular during this time much to the chagrin of her producers who were looking to woo sponsors.

Her Chicken Broccoli Rice Casserole forgoes the canned soup and uses a homemade cream sauce.  

Next up was Amy's Cooking Adventures.   Amy took the whole chemistry thing seriously and created her own popping boba (or more specifically, she focused on spherification).
While Amy was prepared to not like the book and even went as far to say, "I mentally gird myself for a preachy, self congratulatory book," she did find it enjoyable.    Instead of a preachy book, Amy viewed the quirky Elizabeth as working to change the status quo by just authentically being herself (which encourages those around her to emulate her).    She rated the book 4 out of 5 stars.  Her boba experiment looks like it was a success!

Delaware Girl Eats posted something savory:  Goat Cheese Muffins with Rosemary.  Her recipe also features chives and is yogurt based.  LOVE.  Usually Cathy will morph a family recipe and make it fit the theme.    Instead, she branched out.

In the book, a reviewer says about her program Supper at Six, ”it’s a 30 minute, five day a week lesson in life.  And not in who we are or what we’re made of, but rather who we are capable of becoming”.  I liked the “becoming” part because clearly Elizabeth became someone she didn’t start out to be. 

So, in translating that to my cooking I chose a recipe I had never made before to prepare for a neighborhood gathering.

 Simona of briciole was up next with a Onion and Fava Bean Soup.  Simona doubts that Elizabeth would have featured this recipe on Supper at Six, but if she had "she could have explained to her audience about favism4 (favismo) a severe reaction to consumption of fava beans that occurs in people affected by deficiency of the enzyme glucose-6-phosphate dehydrogenase (G6PD), and could have expanded on the role enzymes play in chemical reactions. Once diagnosed, people affected by the genetic condition avoid ingesting fava beans."

I can totally envision Elizabeth giving this lesson.  

Claudia from Honey from Rock featured a couple of different experiments of her own.    One was for Bursting Bubbles (similar to Amy's experiment).   
Claudia is also working on extracting coconut oil.  
We have lots of coconuts here, which I'm sad to admit, have mostly just been dropping to the ground.  Opening and preparing them is a lot of work.  Somewhat like cacao, but with chocolate we have made the time and extended the energy!  So, upon engaging a bit of help (gardener and reluctant Bob) we have begun that oil project.

Deb from Kahakai Kitchen made a delicious sounding and inventive Artichoke Risotto.  
Deb gushed about the book:

I really loved this novel, it's a charming and smartly written book and a debut novel which is hard to believe, it's so good. I loved Elizabeth Zott, she is just quirky enough of a character to be endearing without overdoing it. Intelligent, strong, funny and dealing with so much making her way as a chemist and a woman in the 1950-60s. The supporting characters were fun--my absolute favorite was Six-Thirty. I could keep talking about the book, it will go down as one of my favorites for the year, but it's been a long day and really, you should just go read it (or listen to it) if you haven't already. I am also in half excitement, half fear that Apple TV+ will be doing the series but the end of the audiobook was an interview with the author and she seems to think it's in good hands, so, fingers crossed... 
I focused on CH3COOH  which is how Elizabeth refers to vinegar.   While I didn't make my own vinegar, I shared some tips for infusing vinegar and a recipe for a Spicy Italian version.   

I loved the novel and here's my summation:

This is a rambling tale about love, loss, death, extreme sexism, female empowerment, single motherhood, geniuses, the power of friendship, second (and third) chances, and dog love. I know that sounds like a lot, but Garmus makes it work. I’m not sure another author could have tackled the issues, created the quirky characters, AND have it all come together in a totally readable tale. You have no idea where the story is going but when you get to the end, you say, “Yes.  I see. That worked.”
Thanks to all that read along.

*I'm a bit confused about the time setting of this novel.  The book blurbs say the 60s.  Some searches on the "interweb" say the 50s.   I read that the television series will be set in the 1950s.  Regardless, it was a different time and place (for most things)....

I've already started the June/July edition,  Food Americana by David Page (May 2021).   Simona (briciole) is hosting.   Look for her formal announcement soon!


Eliot's Eats