Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Our December/January Cook the Books Pick: Sustenance and Desire

We've read 36 books so far in the history of Cook the Books. Most have been memoirs or novels, though a few mysteries, essays and children's books have spiced up the mix. I thought it would be fun to try a food-themed anthology for our next book selection, with the twin aims of letting us all stop and start our reading during the busy holiday season and introducing us to some new authors.

Bascove's compilation "Sustenance and Desire: A Food Lover's Anthology of Sensuality and Humor" is our next Cook the Books selection, and it features poems, excerpts from novels and autobiographies, short stories and essays that are grouped according to the editor's themes of Nourishment, Desire, Hunger and Sustenance.

Perhaps you will be entranced by a poem by Billy Collins, Natasha Saje or Richard Wilbur. Perhaps Colette's lush prose will entice you. Maybe the siren song stylings of Nabokov and memories of mushroom picking with his mother will lead you to the kitchen. (I am a little worried about whether one of our participants will be inspired by Margaret Visser's essay "The Artificial Cannibal")

Whatever selection you choose from this book, I look forward to receiving your posts about the book and what dish(es) you were inspired to make by the deadline of February 2, 2015. As always, anyone is welcome to join our regular participants here at Cook the Books.

Rachel, The Crispy Cook

Friday, December 5, 2014

That Old Ace in the Hole: the roundup

It's time for the roundup of Cook the Books' Club October-November 2014 edition for which we read That Old Ace in the Hole by Annie Proulx.

For each contribution (given in order of publication), I will give you the official information (author, blog name and post title) and a brief quote from it — a teaser that will entice you to follow the link and read the details of the dish prepared and of how the reading inspired the activity in the  kitchen.

Now, please, make yourself comfortable, then follow me on a little literary / culinary journey to an lesser-known area of the US.

Though she had a hard time connecting with main character, Amy "absolutely loved" the fictional town of Wollybucket and all of its inhabitants "They were nutty and endearing and exactly what I’d expect from an isolated rural community!... Since I loved the town and all its wacky residents, I was inspired by some of the own home cooking that was mentioned in passing... I decided to go for the asparagus and noodles... I ended up going for a simply dressed spaghetti with asparagus.  And, of course, egg and bacon (because I love eggs and bacon…on EVERYTHING)."

Joanne was inspired by the quilters' circle: "On Tuesday afternoons the Round Robin Baptist Bible Quilt Circle gathered at the house of one of the quilters." She imagined herself as one of the quilters and started craving Apple Pie "I have always wanted to try baking an apple pie in a bag!" and she got a recipe "from an out-of-print Keepsake Quilting Cookbook published as a charitable fund-raiser in 2001. Sounded like fun and it was!"

"One thing I can say about this book is that there was no shortage of food ideas. The entire story was filled with food references... In fact, a huge part of the story took place in the "Old Dog, a buffet style restaurant with different local specialties served every night. The Old Dog often serve Chile, as it is spelled in the book. They often also ate game meat, including venison, and being down south corn bread was a staple. All of these things helped me to choose the recipes."

Rachel describes the book as "one of Proulx's trademark intensive explorations of a region, in this case the Oklahoma and Texas panhandles... After reading this book, I feel I have had an armchair tour of some of the dusty small towns, farms and landscapes that dot this sparsely populated area... I went for a porky meal, a nod to small-scale pig farming discussed so eloquently in the book.... Pernil is great served with rice and beans and a little salad on the side with a citrusy dressing."

"I was most intrigued by the mention of vinegar pie. Really. Who would have thought to put vinegar in a pie? Apparently, though, vinegar pie is a traditional recipe. With a little reading, I discovered that vinegar pies have been around since the mid-19th century; they are a very simple dessert - a custard pie flavored with apple cider vinegar. I imagine it was invented out of a lack of ingredients. And, rest assured, it tastes far better than it sounds."

"The author paints a vivid picture of the panhandles of Texas and Oklahoma, the people who live there, and their love of and pride in the land--despite all of the rough conditions... I grew attached to Bob Dollar and the interesting people he encounters and befriends and enjoyed the humor that Proulx infuses the novel with. I knew I had to make a curry chili and the addition of the sweet potatoes came about from the mention of a small bag of yams that pioneer Martin Merton Fronk took with him on his journey from Kansas to Woolybucket to find dry air and a doctor to cure his breathing issues."

Debra of Eliot's Eats prepared Onion Pie

Debra's mother grew up almost in the Oklahoma panhandle, so she has a first-hand experience of the environment described so vividly in the novel. "I still remember the arid dustiness of that time, huge grasshoppers that would rub your legs like sandpaper when you disturbed them, and always being aware and on the lookout for snakes. I also remember the colorful community members. This is a saga and worthy of the vastness of the barren prairie." Debra was attracted to Cy's Onion Pie, not quiche: "the guys here would not eat if I called it that, but if I say onion pie they like it.  It’s the word pie."

Simona of briciole (your host) prepared Vinegar Tart

Simona was intrigued by an item on the Old Dog Cafe's menu: vinegar pie. "The name seemed to describe a paradox, so I looked for more information and some recipes and then created my own version, which is not a pie, but a crostata (Italian tart), whose crust is made of pasta frolla (tart dough) and whose filling, the part where I kept closer to the tradition, is a vinegar-flavored cream... The result is a tart that tastes like nothing else."

A great Thank you! to everyone who joined in this edition of Cook the Books.

I believe all the submissions I have received are presented in the roundup. However, mishaps are part of life, so if you find anything missing or in need of amendment anywhere in the roundup, please do let me know.

And now, I’ll turn things over to Rachel of The Crispy Cook for the December 2014-January 2015 selection: Sustenance and Desire: A Food Lover's Anthology of Sensuality and Humor by Bascove  (2004).

Arrivederci a presto!

Monday, November 24, 2014

Announcing: The Next Four Cook the Books Selections!

Hello Cook the Books Friends!

Here are our next round of Cook the Books selections to kick off 2015 reading and cooking season. Your hosts Rachel, Deb, Simona, and Debra have picked out the following books for your inspiration and we can't wait to see what delectable dishes they inspire.  

Here are the titles we have picked and why we chose them in each host's own words:

December 2014 / January 2015 Round, hosted by Rachel of The Crispy Cook

Sustenance and Desire: A Food Lover's Anthology of Sensuality and Humor by Bascove. (2004) 

"As a bookseller and reader, I have long admired the dust jacket art of Bascove, whose
most familiar illustrations are to be seen on the covers of Ellis Peters' wonderful Brother
Cadfael mystery series and the novels of Robertson Davies. I did not know that this singularly named artist was also an anthologist, and so I am pleased to invite you all to join me in reading and cooking from: Sustenance and Desire: A Food Lover's Anthology of Sensuality and Humor. This collection of poetry, short fiction and essays is adorned with some of her luminous paintings. We can all look forward to savoring the writings she has gathered from various classic and contemporary authors during the chilly months of December and January (our Hawaiian CTB members may not be so chilled as we are in the North Country!)."


Deadline for this selection is Monday, February 2nd.


February / March 2015 Round, hosted by Deb of Kahakai Kitchen: 

Comfort Me With Apples: More Adventures at the Table by Ruth Reichl (2001)

"Longtime Cook the Books participant and my fellow Hawaii dweller Claudia of Honey From Rock requested we read a Ruth Reichl book a while back and so my pick this round is dedicated to Claudia. It was not difficult to choose Ruth Reichl, but picking just one of her books to read was a bit harder. I read and reviewed her first fiction book 'Delicious!' this year and enjoyed it but it made me really want to go back and reread one of her memoirs. I love learning how people get to their chosen dream foodie career and so I finally selected 'Comfort Me With Apples'--which tells of her journey from chef to food writer. Although this book takes up after her first book, 'Tender at the Bone' it isn't necessary to have read that one first (although it is wonderful too). This may be a reread for many of you too, but I look forward to seeing what this both funny and moving memoir inspires you to create."


Deadline for this selection is Monday, March 30th.

April / May 2015 Round, hosted by Debra of EliotsEats

The Feast Nearby: How I lost my job, buried a marriage, and found my way by keeping chickens, foraging, preserving, bartering, and eating locally (all on $40 a week) by Robin Mather. (2011)

"Imagine this: Your husband wants a divorce and you lose your job. What would you do? This scenario actually happened to Robin Mather so she packed up, moved out of the city into a small cabin by the lake, and embraced a simpler life. Mather writes of  her journey in The Feast Nearby, a book of essays and recipes. In the author's words, it is a chronicle of "How I lost my job, buried a marriage, and found my way by keeping chickens, foraging, preserving, bartering and eating locally (all on forty dollars a week)." I will qualify this pick by saying it isn't a preachy locavore treatise. Instead, it is a book about living simply, quietly, and fully while reevaluating life. The Feast Nearby is a simple read that I hope you all enjoy. Although Mather’s essays are not necessarily strung together, there is a flow to the book as she chronicles her life from spring to winter on the lake. And, there are some spectacular recipes here!"


Deadline for this selection is Monday, June 1st.


June / July 2015 Round hosted by Simona of Briciole 

The Wedding Bees: A Novel of Honey, Love, and Manners by Sarah-Kate Lynch (2014)

"A few years ago, I read 'Blessed Are the Cheesemakers' by Sarah-Kate Lynch and quite enjoyed it. In fact, I featured it in a post. I therefore grabbed on to Betty's suggestion (link to our suggested reading page) to read another novel by Sarah-Kate Lynch, The Wedding Bees. 'Sugar Wallace has been running from her past for years, but in the nicest possible way.' Me: is there really a nice way of running from one's past? If so, I want to hear about it. 'Every spring she moves somewhere new and lightens the lives of whoever she meets using her magic weapons: good manners and honey.' Me: that sounds like a great plan. I want to read Sugar's secret. This is enough for me to want to learn more about Sugar and her honey. I was already a cheese maker when I read Blessed Are the Cheesemakers: who knows, maybe reading The Wedding Bees will get me interested in becoming a beekeper. Sweet reading!"


Deadline for this selection is Monday, August 3rd.

We hope you join us for some great reading, cooking and community. As always, we welcome everyone to join in. The only requirement to join in the Cook the Books fun is to read the book and blog about it, including making a dish inspired by its pages. 


Friday, October 24, 2014

Our October/November Book Pick: That Old Ace in the Hole by Annie Proulx

Although set very far away from the Newfoundland of The Shipping News, the book that introduced me to Annie Proulx's sparkling prose and engaging storytelling, That Old Ace in the Hole (2002) shows some parallel to the earlier novel. The protagonist, Bob Dollar, is a shy man confused about his place in the world, who finds himself transplanted into a new environment full of interesting characters and rich in local customs and stories.

Adding to his clumsiness there is the fact that he is on a mission — to buy land to establish a hog farm— opposed by many of the same people that also show him kindness. Bob settles in a rough bunkhouse in Woolybucket and helps out at the Old Dog Cafe. There are no recipes in the novel, but many dishes are mentioned and I hope that some elements of the story will inspire you. 

Above all, I hope that you will enjoy following Bob Dollar's adventure in the Texas Panhandle.

The deadline for publishing your post inspired by That Old Ace in the Hole is Tuesday, December 2nd

When you publish your post (or posts), you can leave a comment to this post or email me at simosite AT mac DOT com. Feel free to write a comment or email message, should you have any questions.

Buon divertimento (have fun)!

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

A Round Up of Venetian Inspired Dishes: A Thousand Days in Venice by Marlena De Blasi (August/September 2014 Selection)

Thanks to all who participated in the August/September round of Cook the Books.  This was my first hosting gig and I appreciate you all reading A Thousand Days in Venice by Marlena de Blasi with me.   I was awed by the cuisine that was created.

First out of the gate is Fiori di Zucca al Forno  from Culinary Adventures with Camilla.   (Camilla is always the first to post up.)   She references her year spent working in Rome during her post and I was envious. While in the country she was able to visit Venice, too.  She writes: 
I spent, though not a thousand days in Venice, time enough to understand her appeal. Yes, I wrote 'her'. Venice, the Dame. La Serenissima. The most serene. There is something magical about an entire city that exists on the water.

Camilla was one of many who questioned the “love at first site” integrity of the story but there is no questioning the deliciousness of her Fiori di Zucca al Forno.   (Also, make sure you check out her husband’s paintings inspired by Camilla’s photos from her Venetian journey which she posted.)

Wendy at A Day in the Life on the Farm loved the book and pointed out (along with others) that she enjoyed that the story revolved around a more mature couple:
 I loved how Marlena allowed the "stranger" to sweep her away.  I also loved how, being more mature, she had limited expectations of what a move to Europe would mean and was only slightly disillusioned by the whole thing.  I loved all her experiences at the market place and I felt for her trying to live without all the conveniences with which she was accustomed.

Wendy was inspired to make Porri Gratinai (Gratin of Leeks).   Wendy used onions and served this dish up with grilled steaks.

Simona from briciole (one of the other co-hosts of CTB) has also visited Venice and you must go to the post to see her wonderful photographs of the gondolas.  Simona was inspired to make pasta, but not just any pasta.   She made nodi (knotted pasta)

In Italian, to get married is sposarsi. We don't use the metaphorical expression "to tie the knot" (literally, fare un nodo). The current selection of our Cook the Books, A Thousand Days in Venice in which author Marlena de Blasi talks about her marriage to a Venetian man, brought to mind the expression. My passion for turning pasta dough into interesting shapes did the rest: I tried to tie pasta dough into small simple knots and the result was pleasing.
 Pleasing, indeed, Simona!

Amy from Amy’s Cooking Adventures is the newest member of CTB.  Welcome!  Amy was more inspired by Venice than the book.
 I loved the imagery of the story.  The descriptions of the places and the foods makes me desperately want to visit Venice and experience it for all it is.  Despite that, I had trouble connecting with Marlena.  I’m not sure if it was because I spend most of the book thinking it was a novel (versus a memoir) or just because I’m at a very different stage of life than she is (she’s older and divorced with grown children, I’m younger, married, and my kids are young.)

Nonetheless, she whipped up a keeper of a dish, Pappa al Pomodoro, putting a twist on di Blasi’s recipe and serving it up in bread bowls.   Since we are nearing soup season, I am definitely keeping this in mind.

Alicia at Foodycat made me smile.   She first sums up the book:  
An exuberant American chef with flamboyant taste in textiles falls inexplicably in love with a repressed Italian bank clerk with daddy issues, and through him falls explicably in love with Venice.
She continues:
For me, de Blasi just couldn't quite convey why she was attracted to her stranger. She herself seems like a glorious broad who I'd love to go drinking with, but he remained a mystery. But then, this is a memoir, not a romance, and other people's relationships are often a bit baffling. I never understand how people who really like food end up with people who don't much care what they eat.
Although I love the book, her statements are truly apt and I would like to share a glass of wine with de Blasi as well.

Alicia decided on Seafood Risotto, a perfect dish to celebrate a book about Venice.

Cathy from Delaware Girl Eats made Baby Clams with White Wine Reduction Abruzzo Style, a dish that reminded her of her own trip to Italy.  She remembers her own time in Venice:
When it was not raining I prowled the Rialto Market, fascinated with its glorious riot of vegetables and freshly caught seafood.  I wandered the dank callees and discovered the local wine bars, among them, Vino Vino, which is mentioned in the first pages of the book.   It was near my hotel and became my favorite place to stop by for a warming glass of red wine and nibbles of the appertivos lined up behind the glass window.  With only a dozen seats and flanking a canal, the place offered a cozy respite from the damp chill outside.

Deb at Kahakai Kitchen (another co-host) was drawn in by the meal that Marlena cooked for Fernando when she visited her in The States: Talgiatelle con Salsadi Noci Arrostite (Pasta with Walnut Sauce).   Deb, I almost chose this one, too.

I truly laughed out loud when I read Deb's description of Fernando:
I liked the fact that De Blasi isn't some young thing and had lived a full life before finally finding love with her "stranger" but, I couldn't quite get the immediate appeal of a somewhat needy, slightly stalker-ish Peter Sellers. (A somewhat needy slightly stalker-ish George Clooney or Liam Neeson maybe...)
I think her description of "The Stranger" is dead on.   I also think she nailed her dish.

Joanne at What's on the List? Also made Fresh Pasta with Walnut Sauce.   Joanne loved the book and has even read it multiple times.  She says,"I am a sook (Aussie lingo for a softie in a good way) when it comes to romance.”  She does question Marlena’s  decision to fall in love and move to another country as being a bit extreme. 
If Marlena was your friend, would you think her decision was a bit strange or “as a friend,” would you be supportive of her decision each and every step of the way? 
Joanne also is dying for this book to be made into a film and asks her readers who should be cast in the title roles.  My vote is Helena Bonham Carter for Marlena.   Woody Allen for “The Stranger”???

Here is Joanne's inspired dish:  Fresh Pasta with Walnut Sauce.

Claudia from Honey from Rock was also inspired by this same recipe.    I definitely think three votes for Walnut Sauce means I must  try this dish out soon.

She also enjoyed the book, writing:
I especially appreciated it as a later-in-life love story, being later-in-life myself, as well as a sucker for lovely fairy tales come true.  And, so descriptive, so well written.  The woman is a poet. 
I, however, think Claudia might just be the poet.
Life is not completely perfect, a real fairy tale has an underside.  Melding cultures and personalities is never easy, especially for mature folks, set in their ways.  Which is actually a good thing.  A jolting out of ruts and character flaw stagnation, into something better, new and stronger, without either partner becoming diminished.  Marriage is meant to do that, and beautiful when it does. 
Here is her rendition of de Blasi's Walnut Sauce.

Rachel from The Crispy Cook enjoyed the book.

Marlena seems a larger-than-life character and has a bit of bravado, after suffering a tortuous first marriage and a "grim childhood, scattered here and there with the hideous". As a fellow romantic, I rooted for her to make things work with Fernando and sighed with pleasure when they did. It was not a shudderingly violent sort of love affair, but one that was quiet and sure: "Now all the doors are open, and there is a warm yellow light behind them." Ah.

Rachel drew inspiration from  both Southern Italy and her fall garden where she found “white eggplants, parsley, tomatoes, garlic, onions, and basil” for her caponata (or what she calls Sicilian version of Ratatouille).

As Camilla is always the first to post, I am usually the last.   

It wasn't hard for me to pick a recipe.   I love pasta.  I love mushrooms.   I love wine.   (It was just hard for me to find the time to make the recipe. It didn't help matters that I misplaced my copy of the book.  For the last two weeks, I have been searching frantically.  Of course, I had put it in a very safe place.)

I made Braised Mushrooms with Homemade Tagliatelle (based on de Blasi's "Wild Mushrooms in Late-Harvest Wine"). 

My pasta did not turn out as beautiful as Simona's nodi, but this sauce is unbelievable.

To sum up, I think some of us "more seasoned" readers identified more with de  Blasi even though we were all a little confused about the attraction.  I think we all loved her descriptions of Venice and the food references and recipes.   I leave it to you whether or not you follow the rest of Marlena and Fernando's adventures in Italy as chronicled in her other books.

Again, thank you for participating in this round of CTB.  Please join Cook the Books for the October/November selection:  That Old Ace in the Hole by Annie Proulx and hosted by Simona of briciole.  I started this book as soon as Simona announced her selection and I have to say, "I LOVE IT."   I love Proulx' writing style and the description of the scenery of the Texas and Oklahoma panhandles.    But, I have said enough.  

Ciao, until we meet again to discuss it all.