Tuesday, June 7, 2016

Our June/July Book Pick," Scarlet Feather" by Maeve Binchy

Our selection for this next round of Cook the Books Club is Scarlet Feather by Maeve Binchy,  one of my all-time favorite authors, though sadly no longer with us.  Acch!!  No more new books.  Having read all of them, mostly in order, I decided to start over, beginning with our current selection, as it promised more culinary potential, and which upon re-reading, seemed totally new to me.  There was so much that I didn't remember, and most all great writers can be re-read with enjoyment, I'm sure.

Binchy is an Irish novelist, short story writer, playwright, columnist, and public speaker, known for her sympathetic and frequently humorous portrayal of both Dublin and small-town life in Ireland, her unique and descriptive characters, her interest in human nature, and her often clever surprise endings.  Her novels, which were translated into 37 languages, sold more than 40 million copies worldwide, and her death at age 73, announced by Vincent Browne on Irish television late on July 30th 2012, was mourned as the death of Ireland's best-loved and most recognizable writer.  

Scarlet Feather portrays a pair of ambitious young chefs, friends from cooking school, who are set on opening their own catering company in Dublin.  The book focuses more on the various relationships between Tom and Cathy, their significant others, family and  friends; and how the main characters deal with extreme adversity, than on food in particular, though enough mentions are present throughout to give us all cooking inspiration.  Apologies, for those who dislike longish books, but trust me, Binchy delivers a totally absorbing read.

Just to encourage you, they are successful, and though tragedy strikes the culinary pair, they pull through, surviving, changing and growing along the way. 

Submissions for this round of Cook The Books are due by end-of-the-day, Sunday, July 31, 2016.  Anyone can join in by reading the current selection, preparing a dish inspired by its contents, and writing about it.  Let me know when your entry post is up by commenting on this post and/or sending me an email to: claudiariley@yahoo.com

New to Cook the Books? Check out our About and Guidelines pages or leave a question in the comments on this post. 

Aloha, Claudia

Thursday, June 2, 2016

"Burnt Toast Makes You Sing Good"... The Roundup

It's time to roundup the entries for April/May's Cook the Books selection, Burnt Toast Makes You Sing Good: A Memoir with Recipes from an American Family by Kathleen Flinn. (Here's the announcement post with a summary of the book and why I picked it in case you missed it.)  

Overall, this book and its many recipes proved to be pretty popular with most of the group--but even if it wasn't a favorite for everyone, it still managed to conjure up some wonderful memories of family and growing up, and it inspired some delicious homey, comfort food dishes. Here is the roundup with some thoughts on the book and on the dishes that everyone made. For more details and some terrific recipes, click on the links to go visit the respective posts. (Have some napkins at the ready to wipe away the drool!) 

Amy of Amy's Cooking Adventures was our first entry for this round, saying, "This was a slow, meandering story, intertwining the food and stories from her family. It almost felt like going home for a family reunion! ...The memoir follows Kathleen Flinn’s family through several generations with stories, anecdotes and recipes. I loved this book! I also grew up in the Midwest (though a different part than the author), so I was able to relate to her and her history. Plus the recipes all sounded amazing and (again) many of them were foods I also grew up eating (with a few variations)." Amy found herself very intrigued by the Beef Stew Served With Egg Noodles from the book. Visit her post to see what she thought about the stew and the unusual noodle pairing! 

Wendy of A Day in the Life on the Farm was next and said, "This funny and poignant memoir takes place in my home state of Michigan during the same era in which I was raised so many of our memories are similar if not exact." Wendy made Fried Smelt and remembered times in the kitchen with her mom, saying, "One of Kathleen's memories that I also shared was of smelt dipping. Each spring my Pops would go smelt fishing and bring home bucket loads of the tiny little fish.  My Mom and I would pour them into the sink, grab her scissors and start cleaning. There isn't much to cleaning smelt, cut off their heads, snip across their belly and rinse. No removing scales, no cutting into fillets, no deboning...heck you don't even remove the tails. You simply dredge the entire thing in seasoned flour and fry them to a crisp. Soooooooooooo delicious and even more special this year because they remind me of spending time with a wonderful lady."

Cathy of Delaware Girl Eats said, "I recognized many stories of Midwest life from my growing-up days. Even though the memoir takes place on a farm in Michigan rather than the suburbs of Northeast Ohio where I lived, the book by Kathleen Flinn perfectly catches the stories of that era of self-reliant life." Although she found the author's other books more evocative, Cathy enjoyed the many recipes like Midwest Beef & Beans Chili, saying, "I particularly liked her comment that chili, which I love, was exotic in her growing up era. She highlights her grandfather Charles’ recipe included a quote from her four-year old brother Mike from that time saying in response to his grandfather’s question “Is it too spicy for you?”. To which he replied, “I like it. It tastes like firecrackers.” While the recipe needn’t be prepared so hot, it benefits from all the bean varieties that her grandpa included..."

CTB co-host Simona of briciole couldn't quite relate to Flinn's stories saying, "I can see how American readers may enjoy her stories and recipes. I grew up in Italy in a family that had nothing in common with Flinn's family. It was interesting to notice how much her experiences differed from mine." Simona did find inspiration for her Gluten-Free Seeded Crackers from the picture on the book's hardcover edition, “Below the title, there is a car with parents in front and five children in the back. Though our car was very different, it reminded me of my family car trips—mostly visits to family members or, in the summer, to the seaside, no camping trips. Sometimes my mother would carry a box of Ritz crackers in the car: both my brother and I loved them. Having very low carbohydrates as requirement for what I prepare these days made me scan various recipes for seed crackers. Using only seeds sounded fascinating: it works beautifully."

Terri of Our Good Life loved the book and said, “This family history is "peppered" with memories and family favorite recipes. What I loved about this book is that it did for me what comfort foods do: it put me in a wonderful place, feeling good from tip to toe. If there is such a genre of comfort books, this would be in it! Her parents were such a steady influence on her and her siblings. As a midwestern girl myself, I could easily place myself in her setting.  Canning, making do, stretching, eating what was in season was the same pattern in my family. My grandmothers were excellent cooks and took advantage of when there was plenty. There were belly laughs and tears in this bookI chose to recreate Ms. Flinn's Farmers Eggs recipes because, as she said, every family had their version. She was right and here is ours…”

CTB co-host Claudia of Honey From Rock said, "The memoir was touching, often sad, occasionally humorous, a poignant remembrance of Flinn's childhood and some of her parents' and grandparents', with historical background, mostly taking place in Michigan, though with brief sojourns in California and Florida.  Totally making me happy to be in Hawaii. Sorry, but to be impoverished would be bad enough without freezing weather to top it all off."  Claudia took inspiration for her Perfect Pizza from when Flinn's parents worked at her uncle's San Francisco pizzeria, saying, "At that time pizza was a truly novel food for Mid-Westerners, and these people were not Italians or experienced pizza makers. Thus my food inspiration from the book came about. After years of my own pizza experiments, I have found what some (not just me) consider to be the perfect formula." Check out her post for the recipe for pizza perfection. ;-)

CTB co-host Debra of Eliot's Eats said, Burnt toast makes you sing good,” is a saying that Flinn’s grandmother would use.  It exemplifies the hardships of Flinn’s family and the practicality of a grandmother who didn’t waste anything. Flinn’s memoir is full of practical recipes (some that could be leveraged to feed an army) along with an honest telling of her family and her own formative years." Debra found her inspiration in the Grilled Cheese with Bread and Butter Pickles, saying, "When Flinn mentioned the very strange combination (and family favorite) of grilled cheese with bread and butter pickles, she definitely had my attention. ... I’m not really presenting a recipe here, but let me tell you how good these sandwiches are. I used some good sourdough bread, rubbed the outside slices with olive oil, slapped on a slab of Velveeta (yes Velveeta), and sprinkled on a good quantity of bread and butter pickles. I totally recognize that Velveeta is a artery-clogging man-made cheese-like product and definitely not a superfood, but let me tell you that ooey-gooey warm cheese will make you nostalgic for comfort food of your youth."

Finally, over at Kahakai Kitchen, Flinn has become one of my favorite food writers for her ability to no matter where the setting (Le Cordon Blue in Paris, teaching cooking classes in Seattle, or growing up in the Midwest), make me feel as though I am right in the story with her. Burnt Toast had me "feeling all the feels" while thinking of my own family and formative years. I made a vegan, slow cooker version of the "All-Afternoon Bean Soup"-- the first meal Flinn's mother made when the family moved from California to the farm in Michigan. I added mixed greens and fennel to the mix and to support frugality, I used carrot tops and fennel fronds to make pesto to top my soup. The soup had great flavor on its own and the pesto (was fabulous and) elevated the soup with its bright taste

Thanks to everyone who joined me for this CTB round. I enjoyed hearing what you thought of the book, some of your family memories, and the delicious dishes that it inspired! 

If you missed out on this round and like books, food, and foodie books, consider joining us for June/July when my fellow Hawaiian-Island dweller, Claudia of Honey from Rock will be hosting with the novel Scarlet Feather by Maeve Binchy. Hope you join us! 



Monday, April 11, 2016

Our April/May Book Pick: "Burnt Toast Makes You Sing Good" by Kathleen Flinn

I went to an all-day writing workshop this weekend, a fun way to spend a Saturday and very inspiring. As I was listening to the keynote speaker, an author who in addition to penning two books, wrote a column about life and family for the local paper a few years ago. She called her column "Small Moments" and spoke about how writing is all about those small, sometimes ordinary moments, woven together to create a story. It made me think of our April/May Cook the Books selection, Burnt Toast Makes You Sing Good: A Memoir with Recipes from an American Family by Kathleen Flinn, a book made up of small moments--happy, sad, humorous, embarrassing, touching, and even annoying, that make up the story of a family. 

I had stumbled across Flinn's The Sharper Your Knife The Less You Cry (about attending Le Cordon Blue in Paris) a few years ago and then I reviewed her second book, The Kitchen Counter Cooking School (her experiences teaching a group of novice cooks how to make good healthy meals on a tight budget), shortly after. I loved both books and have been wanting to read this one to discover the food and memories that shaped Flinn and how she found her passion for cooking. I am only about a third of the way into the story (I'll be reading along with everyone) but am already enjoying Flinn's family stories--maybe because I can relate to being the youngest "trust me" baby in a large, crazy family without a lot of money growing up in the 70s in America. I hope you enjoy the book, along with the many recipes it contains and that it inspires you to head to the kitchen and cook something delicious. 

Submissions for this round of Cook The Books are due by end-of-the-day Tuesday, May 31, 2016. Anyone can join in by reading the current selection, preparing a dish inspired by its contents, and writing about it. Let me know when your entry post is up by commenting on this post and/or sending me an email at: debinhawaii@gmail.com 

New to Cook the Books? Check out our About and Guidelines pages or leave a question in the comments on this post.

Saturday, April 2, 2016

The Unprejudiced Palate: the roundup

It's time for the roundup of Cook the Books' Club February-March 2016 edition for which we read The Unprejudiced Palate: Classic Thoughts on Food and the Good Life, by Angelo Pellegrini (1948).

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 how the reading inspired the activity in the  kitchen.

Now, please, make yourself comfortable, then follow me on a little literary / culinary journey.

"I decided to make my mom vegetable soup for a whole host of reasons... it’s a family recipe - the generational ties felt important while cooking from this book... [The] author wrote briefly (and unenthusiastically) about cabbage soup over polenta (a dish served before moving to America). He also mentioned the diet of the immigrant or country folk being big on vegetables (especially leafy greens), low on meat, and able to stretch to feed a crowd. He also impresses the importance of fresh, homegrown (when possible) herbs, vegetables, and fruits for optimal flavor. This vegetable soup hits all those points."

Wendy did not care for Pellegrini at all. However, "I did find  parts of the book interesting and enjoyed hearing his preparation of different foods. I especially liked the recipes using parts of animals or vegetables not commonly eaten here in the USA except by people, like me, who were taught how by their grandparents or parents who immigrated to this country... I decided that I was making homemade pasta and that I was doing it in the most American way I could." 

Terri from Our Good Life prepared Radishes with ricotta

"This gentle book on the reminders of fine living was written nearly 60 years ago!  When I picked up my copy, it had a foreword by Mario Batali and was edited by Ruth Riechl, so I didn't know that when I started.  The advice given within the book is still very relevant today. This will be a book I return to to make simple delicious meals!" Pellegrini inspired Terri not only in the kitchen, but also in the garden: "This book inspired me to grow radishes this spring."

"The memoir sections, from his young life in Italy and early years in America were very moving, especially the evocative cultural and economic contrasts. I had no idea of the extreme poverty in rural Italy at that time. He was so overwhelmed by the contrast in America, that I think it just broke his heart to see waste and carelessness with the precious gifts of abundance here. Corning your beef brisket from scratch would be right up his frugal little alley." 

"I love the Italian way of cooking and looking at food: nurture a garden, share well-cooked meals family and friends, and have a passion for ingredients and cooking that nourish the body and the soul. But, simultaneously, I felt more than a little disdain in the author's voice. Like the Anthony Bourdain of his time - remember this book is over half a century old! - Pellegrini struck me as condescending to the audience and critical of this land of plenty. Both of those left me with a sour taste in my mouth. This was a book that I both loved and loathed."

"[Pellegrini's] philosophy is that the home garden should be the source of the food we cook and an essential connection to fresh, local and seasonal. Imagine this being written in the 1940's, far before today's food trends. Humble ingredients transformed... the fruit of our own labors brought to the table. My Italian grandparents cooked this way even after coming to the US, so I know these practices well. What I really liked were Signor Pellegrini's suggestions (not recipes mind you), such as clear broth soups to start a meal... I really enjoyed his discourse on clams caught fresh from the sea."

"Although Pellegrini’s tone borders on smugness, I can say that I felt educated by the time I finished the book.  First, published in 1948, this book is still relevant today as we should all strive to plant our gardens, make our wine, and eat with gusto... I did not forage for the mushrooms or pluck the carrots from the garden; I did, however,  clip the thyme and rosemary from our herb plot. And, this made a big pot, perfect for those impromptu guests that seemed to always be on his doorstep."

"The best parts of the book for me were his descriptions of an immigrant's life in America and the rise of ingredients like olive oil, garlic, and pasta that we take for granted today, but were once either exotic and hard to find or unpopular in this country. Pellegrini's recipe for the now ubiquitous pesto was published in Sunset magazine in 1946, the first major publication of a pesto recipe recipe... [There] are so many great little recipe ideas and cooking tips tucked into the pages of this little book that it makes the frustration in getting there worth it. Pellegrini was a master, just not someone I would have wanted to hang out with. ;-)"

"It's a curious book. It seems both to be extremely contemporary and from such an ancient past as to be completely alien. His writing is very dated, with a verbosity that most food writers wouldn't get away with now, but his concerns for eating fresh food, locally obtained and simply prepared are bang up to date. His bisection of humanity into civilised people and barbarians based on whether they ate macaroni salad would cause a twitter storm today that would only be eclipsed by his taste for eating songbirds."

Simona of briciole (your host) prepared Broccoli al Parmigiano-Reggiano

"Though it contains no detailed recipes, Pellegrini's book describes a lot of dishes. One that caught my attention is a simple side dish of broccoli boiled, then sautéed in olive oil and finally gratinéed with Parmigiano-Reggiano... There are a few things about which I am opinionated: Parmigiano-Reggiano is one of them. I buy a chunk and grate it as needed, right before it is needed. I am happy to report that Angelo Pellegrini and I are in perfect agreement on this topic."

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 Deb of Kahakai Kitchen who will host the April-May edition in which we will read Burnt Toast Makes You Sing Good by Kathleen Flinn.

Arrivederci a presto!

Simona, of Briciole

Wednesday, February 17, 2016

Announcements! The Next 4 Book Selections and Other Cook The Books News!

Hello Cook the Books Members!

We hope you are enjoying our current book selection, The Unprejudiced Palate: Classic Thoughts on Food and the Good Life, by Angelo Pellegrini. It's time to announce our next four book selections, but first we have some hosting announcements.

It is with a heavy heart that we announce that Rachel, The Crispy Cook, co-host and one of the original founders of Cook the Books has taken a break from blogging and is stepping down from hosting. Rachel says, "We are in a transition in life right now with trying to sell the shop and then just sell books online and at fairs and do more book reviews. And maybe a bookseller memoir..."  Rachel's passion and talent will be sorely missed but we wish her well and look forward to hopefully being able to feature that memoir here at CTB someday.

We are excited to announce that long-time Cook the Books participant Claudia of Honey From Rock will be taking up the hosting mantle and joining Deb, Simona, and Debra as your hosting team. Welcome to hosting Claudia! 

And now, without further ado, let's talk upcoming books!

April/May 2016 Book Pick: 

Burnt Toast Makes You Sing Good by Kathleen Flinn (2014)
Hosted by Deb of Kahakai Kitchen
"Memoirs are some of my favorite foodie books because I love reading stories of how people found their passion for food and cooking. I read and really enjoyed Kathleen Flinn's two previous foodie memoirs, The Sharper Your Knife The Less You Cry (about her experiences in Paris at Le Cordon Blue) and The Kitchen Counter Cooking School (about teaching a group of novice cooks to make simple healthy meals). In Burnt Toast Makes You Sing Good: A Memoir with Recipes from an American Family, Flinn shares the stories behind how she gained her love of food and how it connects her to home, and to three generations of her family. There are family recipes peppered throughout the book so we should find plenty of cooking inspiration through Flinn's family and our own.


Submissions due: Tuesday, May 31, 2016


June/July 2016 Book Pick: 

Scarlet Feather by Maeve Binchy (2002)

Hosted by Claudia of Honey From Rock

"Scarlet Feather, a Maeve Binchy novel set in contemporary Ireland, details the lives of Cathy Scarlet and Tom Feather, cooking school friends who achieve their dream of opening a high-end catering business in Dublin. An engaging, year-long chronicle which covers their personal struggles, along with those of family and friends, in Binchy's inimitable style. I love her pacing, humor and gift for describing and developing a range of unique characters. As food lovers and cooks we can relate to the hopeful entrepreneurs and their catering venture."


Submissions due: Sunday, July 31, 2016


August/September 2016 Book Pick:

The Secret Book of Frida Kahlo by F.G. Haghenbeck (2012)
Hosted by Debra of Eliot's Eats (along with an optional crossover with Food 'N Flix)

"Frida Kahlo’s works and life have fascinated me for a long time. When I saw this novel on a bookseller’s table, I had to have it. 

In The Secret Book of Frida Kahlo, F.G. Haghenbeck writes a novel of magical realism documenting all the trials of the life that was Kahlo. (The Secret Book reminds me a great deal of Laura Esquivel’s Like Water for Chocolate, another magic realism novel.) Inspired by the real-life notebooks that were found in Kahlo’s Coyoacán home, Haghenbeck depicts the world on which Kahlo drew for her surrealistic paintings. “I suffered two great accidents in my life… One in which a streetcar knocked me down and the other was Diego.” Her marriage to the much more famous Diego Rivera is shown with all the violent love the two experienced. Throughout, her fiery and creative personality is evident   Sprinkled among the narrative are recipes, everything from Pico de Gallo to Mango Tepozteco Ice Cream.

Special Note--CTB / Food 'N Flix Crossover Event: Please join both Cook the Books and Food ‘n Flix for this optional crossover event. Frida is the September featured film for FnF. The deadline for both events will be September 30, 2016. Since Julie Taymor (of the Broadway Lion King fame) is the director, we will be treated to even more magical, mystical and fantastical visuals that pairs well with Haghenbeck’s prose."  


Submissions due: Friday, September 30, 2016

October/November 2016 Book Pick

Tomorrow There Will Be Apricots by Jessica Soffer (2013) Hosted by Simona of briciole   

"Tomorrow There Will Be Apricots is a title that invites you to take a closer look at the book. Reading a brief description of the novel by Jessica Soffer made me choose it as my selection for Cook the Books. Lorca, the troubled teenage girl who is one of the novel’s protagonists, sets out to find a recipe for Masgouf, an Iraqi dish that her mother, a chef, once said was the most delicious thing she had ever tasted. Lorca’s quest leads her to Victoria, a widowed Iraqi-Jewish immigrant who can teach her how to make the dish. The two bond over the simple act of cooking together. 

Don’t you want to find out what Masgouf is, what Lorca and Victoria cook together and how it all unfolds? I do!  "Bukra fil mish mish," the Arabic saying goes. Tomorrow, apricots may bloom."


Submissions due: Wednesday, November 30, 2016


And there you have it, four delicious books to devour, take inspiration from, and cook and post a dish inspired by your reading. We look forward to having you read and cook along with us this year. New participants are always welcome. (Leave a comment here or check out our Guidelines page if you have any questions.) 

Deb, Simona, Debra, and Claudia