Monthly Archives: January 2011
This was my first Alice Hoffman novel and I think I would like to read more of her work. I’m giving it a favorable review but not sure what genre to classify this one. It’s not a mystery. It’s not chick lit. It’s not serious literature or a classic. Just a snapshot of typical suburbia in 1959/1960 in a small community in the United States.
Seventh Heaven centers around a community on Long Island in the late 1950′s time period. The small town had been built up on a former potato field, all houses identical as if made in an assembly line. In the beginning of the book it mentioned how men would come home from work and wander into the wrong home, looking around perplexed as they clapped eyes on their neighbor’s wife and unfamiliar sofas. Then back out to find their own place and dinner waiting to be served by apron wearing stay-at-home moms. Cookie cutter perfect.
The book explores relationships in the late 50′s suburbs of several families. Nora Silk, one of the main characters, shakes things up without trying, simply by being divorced with two children and moving into the vacant house on Hemlock Street . The other wives, in their almost daily gathering to drink coffee, swap gossip and talk about their children, regard Nora from the safety of their living room gathering place. Nora is on a ladder cleaning the windows of her new home. The sharp-eyed married ladies note she isn’t wearing a wedding ring and this sets you up for how
Nora will be treated. More like how she won’t be treated as she is basically ignored. Certainly it didn’t help that Nora wore stretch pants and spike heels (not while she’s on the ladder cleaning !) – yet Nora is the kindest of the lot.
Besides the story weaving around Nora and her children being the outcasts of the neighborhood, the story revolves around other families….. such as the McCarthy boys, Ace and Jackie, and their patient father dubbed “the saint” by his sons. Jackie gets into trouble with a surprising twist to his character transformation. The Hennessy family – Ellen and her cop husband Joe, who live across the street from Nora. Joe starts reevaluating the twin beds and his relationship with his wife Ellen after watching Nora Silk as she walks, mows her own grass and does chores. Their son Stevie makes it his job to torture Nora’s son, Billy, in and out of school.
The Shapiro kids – Danny who could get into any college he wants due to his good grades and financial ability; he drifts into another world after discovering marijuana. His sister Rickie is on the fulcrum of duty and desire when it comes to
life and boyfriend choices.
Donna Durgin, who walks out on her young children and husband because her life feels too empty. And the tragic death of a character in the very beginning that helps shape the personalities of some of the youth who knew her.
The way the characters are portrayed are some true to life examples of this time period. Some issues are never resolved. Yet I found it a satisfying ending – a snapshot of a year in the life of the families on Hemlock Street .
If you grew up in this time period or you were an adult in 1960 I think it will strike a chord of authenticity. One or two of the characters are bound to remind you of one of your neighbors. Growing up in a similar small suburb outside Philadelphia , I find some of this rings true.
Nice work Alice Hoffman!
Now to the food…………
Reading about the past made me think of plain old foodstuff….the kind you might find in any of the houses on the street where I grew up.
Let your nose led the senses as you walk in the back door and smell sweet onions and peppers cooking in olive oil. You round the corner to the kitchen and your eyes clap onto locally produced smoked sausages. They sit on the sideline waiting to join the softening veggies. Polenta has been prepared and sliced into rounds.
Plain food…….good food. Memories of walking into any of my childhood friends’ homes in Brookhaven Pennsylvania . No recipes needed for this one as it’s self explanatory.
This was previously posted at Life in the Slow Lane at Squirrel Head Manor. I wanted to include the review and inspired dish here.
I am very happy to have stumbled onto this book and discovered Diana Abu-Jabar. She writes so descriptively that I can almost feel and smell the foods and sights of which she writes. Food and memories of home are conjoined for most of us; a definite connection of good and bad memories. Like Diana, I also grew up in a home where there were family gatherings, love, hugs and story telling. The smell of a food from childhood evokes powerful memories and takes me to a downy comfort zone.
1. In the memoir, Abu-Jaber’s father Bud, constantly uses food to reassure himself that his connection to his origins and family are not lost, and to attempt to connect his children to that heritage. Why, do you believe, does food hold power to forge such connections? What foods remind you of such connections?
Surely Bud embraced familiar foods for the very reason mentioned in the question above. It was perhaps his only connection with the heritage to which he clung so proudly. His comfort zone. I find myself sharing childhood comfort foods with my own son. He may enjoy the taste and the accompanying story but the memories obviously do not transfer, therefore it is important to make new memories with foods from our background.
When I read of Diana’s childhood experiences in Jordan and the descriptive way she conjures the foreign images yet familiar comforts, I think of my mother’s beef vegetable soup. The strong memory, that is inseparable from my childhood home and my mother, brings smell and taste that becomes a tangible sense of family, if such a thing can exist.
While I did copy down many of the recipes in this book, I opted to cook something from my my mother’s recipe box. The box is in itself a treasured memento from childhood. Particularly since the cards are written out by my mother in longhand. No typing. I can see her head bent over the cards, scribbling away.
Making the soup was an all day affair. First the marrow bones needed to steep and simmer in herbed water and bit of saved beef broth. While the bones simmered over the blue yellow flame on the stove, Mom was out in the garden, picking tomatoes, peppers and string beans. She was totally at home in the garden, plunging her hands into the soft soil and never thinking twice about dirt under the fingernails or in her hair. Most her wavy brown hair was contained under a blue or white kerchief when she gardened. Stray strands escaped now and then to blow lazily back and forth across her cheek.
I think this was one of the places where she was happiest. Immersed in the life she created in her garden; gently harvesting the fruits of her labor, surrounded by ripening vegetables that had so many possibilities in her kitchen. The cancer that was slowly sapping her life had no place in this garden. The garden was for life, for fun and the unlimited potential for special and distinctive dishes.
One small corner of the garden was mine. I had permission to plant whatever I liked, as long as it was contained in my corner. How important I felt knowing I had licence and authority to plant anything I desired. One year, with great deliberation I chose powder blue morning glories, zucchini and corn. Mom wondered how my trailing vines of flower and zucchini would work without choking out the veggies she was tending. Simple. Dad rigged up a chicken wire bridge and some vines went over, spilling out onto the grassy lawn. The corn never produced or got very high. Still, I had licence to grow and choices.
The basket with fresh beans, tomatoes, scallions and colorful vegetables filled and Mom would haul it inside, sort the vegetables into candidates for soup. Back outside and drag the green and white striped hose to the rectangular patch of of garden, the water erupting from a pulsing sprinkler head to sluice over the plot with whoosh whoosh sounds.
Back inside the slicing and measuring would begin. The heat would seep through the kitchen and roll out the backdoor as a steamy invisible fog. Contentment was palpable and the aromas of the simmering soup made you hungry. That was a moment captured like a frozen image in my memory. One that no one can touch or share. It was home.
Here is my mother’s recipe:
Put meat, carrots, onions, celery, marrow bones, tomatoes and one can of tomatoes, string beans, cabbage and corn in water. Add last Lima beans, peas and potatoes. Salt and pepper. Sprinkle with pot herbs. One and half to two hours.
No measuring. I love it.
On Rue Tatin by Susan Herrmann Loomis
Most times I travel through the written word, through books instead of airline terminals…….so many reasons (I wrote about that issue HERE)
Much of what I enjoy is the detailed descriptions of the sites and history, paired with the local food. From afar I have fallen in love with France, as did Susan Herrmann Loomis. I visited France about 100 years ago when I was a young pup of 21. Culture shock aside, I loved the food, anticipated exploring the cultural differences and it was all an adventure. I had stepped through a looking glass of sorts as this was my first European experience.
The author fell in love with France too. Our similarities? She went to France when she was 20, she was interested in cooking and very interested in the culture and food. But I was an old hippie enjoying what life brought, not seriously looking beyond the next chocolate croissant to be scored in the morning. But Susan……. Susan acquired an apprenticeship at La Varenne de Cuisine in Paris . One girl coasting, another with drive and goals.
Susan and her husband Michael decide to move to France , bringing their small son along. Through a fortuitous turn of events, they are able to purchase a dilapidated former convent in Louviers – This leads to another portrait of Susan’s industrious work ethic. The convent was in awful condition but together, they fixed it up and Susan embarked on a writing and culinary career. She hooked up with Patricia Wells and fell ass backwards into an amazing cooking gig. Wow.
A life as ex-patriates……what a romantic idea. One Doug and I have hashed out over the years, the venue changes periodically but the end result has us living overseas, enjoying all the wines, cheeses, specialty foods of the area …..I guess I haven’t changed too much but have a soul mate that shares the (unattainable)dream.
In this book Susan shares the stories of her family’s adjustment to French culture, interactions with her friends, neighbors and best of all…..recipes!
If you enjoy the genre of Peter Mayle, Frances Mayes and Carol Drinkwater (I love Carol Drinkwater) – the sort of travel, adventure in settling in another country, foodie type book, then I think you’d like On Rue Tatin.
Many good recipes but let me share the Stuffed Tomato.
3 tablespoons canola oil
8 round medium tomatoes, halved crosswise
1 tablespoon unsalted butter
1 small onion, finely chopped
1 garlic clove, finely chopped
1/4 pound ground pork
1/4 pound ground veal
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground pepper
1/4 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
1/4 cup finely chopped flat-leaf parsley
2 large eggs, lightly beaten
3/4 cup coarse fresh bread crumbs
2 tablespoons freshly grated Parmesan cheese
1. Preheat the oven to 400° F. Coat a rimmed baking sheet with 1 tablespoon of the oil. Using a melon baller, hollow out the tomato halves, leaving thin cups; reserve the scooped out tomato flesh in a bowl. Set the tomato cups on the prepared baking sheet.
2. In a large skillet, melt the butter in 1 tablespoon of the oil. Add the onion and garlic and cook over moderate heat, stirring occasionally, until softened but not browned, about 5 minutes. Add the ground pork and veal and season with the salt, pepper and nutmeg. Cook over moderately high heat, breaking up the ground pork and veal with a wooden spoon, until the meats lose their pink color, about 4 minutes; don’t let them brown. Add the reserved tomato flesh to the skillet and cook until the juices evaporate, about 5 minutes.
3. Transfer the meat mixture to a bowl and let cool slightly. Beat in the parsley, eggs, 1/4 cup of bread crumbs and the Parmesan. Spoon the stuffing into the tomato cups, mounding it slightly. Sprinkle the remaining 1/2 cup of bread crumbs over the tomatoes and drizzle with the remaining 1 tablespoon of oil.
Make Ahead – The baked stuffed tomatoes can be refrigerated for up to 1 day. Cover them with foil and reheat in a 350° oven for 10 minutes, then uncover and bake for about 15 minutes longer, or until heated through.
“You see statues everywhere to politicians, poets, bishops but none to cooks or bacon-curers or market gardeners.”
Heat is the featured book at Cook the Books.
George Orwell said it correctly…………
“A human being is primarily a bag for putting food into; the other functions and faculties may be more godlike, but in point of time they come afterwards. A man dies and is buried, and all his words and actions forgotten, but the food he has eaten lives after him in the sound or rotten bones of his children. I think it could be plausibly argued that changes of diet are more important than changes in dynasty or even of religion. The Great War, for instance, could never have happened if tinned food had not been invented. And the history of the past four hundred years in England would have been immensely different if it had not been for the introduction of root crops and various other vegetables at the end of the Middle Ages, and a little later the introduction of non-alcoholic drinks (tea, coffee, cocoa) and also of distilled liquors to which the beer drinking English were not accustomed. Yet it is curious how seldom the all-importance of food is recognized. You see statues everywhere to politicians, poets, bishops but none to cooks or bacon-curers or market gardeners.”
George Orwell, The Road to Wigan Pier
One of the many quotes in the book Heat by Bill Buford which start us out; some mental food before you turn the page and read about Bill Buford’s culinary education. At the hands of Mario Batali…think about it… (Talk about the school of hard knocks..whew!)
Mario Batali scares me a little. He is a larger than life figure (seriously, no pun on his size) that can out eat, out party and out drink anyone. So….a book that paints you a rare portrait of what it’s like in Molto Mario’s kitchen? Yeah, I was interested in reading this one. It’s a culinary adventure book – like Kitchen Confidential – giving you a front row seat to the heated tempers behind the scenes of a five-star restaurant.
The details about the kitchen such as the staff interaction with one another, Buford’s treatment as a “kitchen slave,” the disgust and thinly veiled scorn over him not bringing his own knives. Buford takes you on a journey few will take. It was an education of butchering and the artistry involved, the ever widening array of ingredients presented, the skill of how to handle a knife as experienced by a novice, as Buford’s confidence and training increased…… humiliation, injury…..this book has all the makings of a very good Food Channel mini-movie!
We are meant to make one dish to capture the featured book. So much inspiration …So many dishes came to mind as I read this book…which one would I prepare? Toughie…but I choose one of the simplest lasagna.
Early on Buford states he was captivated by the kitchen’s smells and by midmorning, when many things had been prepared…all was cooked in quick succession. The waves of smell, like sounds of music, lamb, chocolate, tripe, octopus, huckleberries and then the comforting chemistry of veal, pork and milk as someone prepared a Bolognese.
Heat is a good read, lots of interetsing insight from a kitchen slave’s point of view, lots of good quotes and it’s entertaining.
Check out the website Cook the Books and join in the fun
“Cooking is the most massive rush. It’s like having the most amazing hard on, with Viagra sprinkled on top of it, and it’s still there twelve hours later.” Gordon Ramsey
On my main blog I mentioned Cook the Books and what a great site it is for participating in an online book club and a foodie blog. The best of both worlds.
First off, if you have not read this book and you plan to, don’t read my post. Email me and I’ll send you the recipe for my “representative dish” ……but let’s not have any spoilers out there if this one is on your summer reading list. That being said, I am not divulging all of the plot…….but still.
Selecting one recipe or meal to represent this book was not easy. The images of several delectable dishes crossed my imagination as I read. But in the end, it came down to the humble apple. Not as the star and centerpiece, but as an important component that interacted with all ingredients. The dish I would like to submit will be at the end of this post. Well, here is a photo…it’s a pork tenderloin….loaded with apples.
Lets get to the book. Erica Bauermeister has landed a spot in my favorite authors list.
I thoroughly enjoyed this book. Each chapter focuses on a particular student, alternating between the cooking class and the other students, then taking you into their background and previous experiences. I loved the interactions with the students in class and the way Lillian could select the perfect recipe for each one, the foods and spices playing into solutions for their own issues.
You could see the point of view of most of the students – Claire as a young mother who feels she is someone’s mom/wife/daughter and no longer…Claire.
Antonia – The beautiful Italian, struggling yet simultaneously enjoying trying to fit in to a foreign culture. Carl and Helen, an older married couple – each getting their own chapter, one having a surprising past, and how the other spouse dealt with it.
Chloe is trying to find her own place in life, her own identity, yet bends to her boyfriend’s wishes until she figures things out. Ian wanting everything so precise, the mind of a black and white perspective person.
Tom. Oh my. His back story made me well up with tears. Perhaps because I have personally experienced the life threatening repercussions of cancer. A dangerous beast tamed early or not at all, or so it seems.
Isabelle – whose story touched my heart more; hers or Tom’s? That’s a toss up and for very different reasons. Clearly she is courting Alzheimer’s disease and is aware she is losing her memories. I wanted to bring Isabelle home and help her remember her life. Lillian did an excellent job with that, awakening Isabelle’s memories.
“Salmon, thick, dense against her teeth, a beach of smooth white beans underneath. Isabelle at six years old, throwing thin flat rocks sideways, watching them sink and disappear while her father’s floated across the surface, dipping then spinning up, like birds looking for food.”
Something would open a door in her mind to a time in her past. As I read about Isabelle’s previous life I could empathize how she may feel about reviving a particular scene, the memory tangible for a few clear moments, feel her experiencing it again yet despairing that it too would recede forever.
And how does the teacher tie everyone together?
As a child, Lillian discovered the magic of food. Not just the taste, but the aromas and textures on the senses and in the mind, evoking memories of both good and sorrowful experiences.
Lillian’s father abandoned his family when she was a little girl. In response to this desertion, Lillian’s mother retreats into a world of books rather than stepping up to fill the void in their lives. So, Lillian decides to “cook her out” – to prepare a dish which will bring her mother back into their lives.
In the beginning chapter there was a reference to Lillian’s favorite orchard and the sweet crisp apples it produced. Now it wasn’t the apple that was all important but what the taste and smell of this apple evoked when shared with Lillian’s mother. Lillian waited all year for the apples to ripen and for the smile of the old man who shared the fruit with her.
“Here,” he said, handing them to her. “A taste of the new season.”
When Lillian arrived home with the two apples, her mother was, as usual, curled up in a chair with a book in her hands.
“I have something for you, Mom,” Lillian said, and placed one of the apples in her mother’s hand. Lillian’s mother took the apple and absentmindedly pressed its smooth, cold surface against her cheek.
“It feels like Fall”, she commented, and bit into it. The sharp, sweet sound of the crunch filled the air like a sudden burst of applause and Lillian laughed at the noise. Her mother looked up, smiling at the sound, and her eyes met her daughter’s.
“Why Lillian,” she said, her voice rippling with surprise, “look how you’ve grown.”
In the final chapter, the last few paragraphs to be precise, there is a moment when you know Lillian is wistful about her last cooking class and feeling very defined in her role as teacher; the role also keeps her outside the connections made by the students, keeping her from being part of the continuing friendships and relationships.
“The teacher fits in the kitchen, of course. Shaking her head at herself, Lillian walked to the back door.”
“Tom appeared at the bottom of the stairs, his collar pulled up against the cool of the evening air. In a garden full of cherry trees, she smelled apples.”
In my opinion, I think Lillian was remembering the old man in the apple orchard as he said, “A taste of the new season.” While she breathed in the aroma of apples, Tom suggested they take a walk so he could tell her a story. A new season for them both, wouldn’t you say?
So apples are my choice in which to build a dish, in tribute of Lillian. And for Tom. Whether they end up together as a romantic couple or in a quiet friendship………..this is for Tom and Lillian.
Please visit the Cook the Books website and check out the book selections and recipes. You’l be in for a treat!
Many moons ago, back in January 2009, I stumbled upon the Cook the Books website and was immediately struck that this was a brilliant creation, an outstanding website. Of course I say that because I love to read, love to cook, love to eat and love to write. If you have the same interests, please check out the website HERE
Once I dipped my proverbial toe into The Language of Baklava by Diana Abu-Jaber , I was hooked.
From The Language of Baklava I have prepared several recipes and they were quite good. I loved the Distract Your Neighbors Chicken even though the grill looked like an inferno as the honey dripped onto the hot coals, sending flames licking up the sides of the Weber and all around the sticky chicken.
One of the recipes I had copied and planned to make, several times, was Eat it Now Shish Kabob. The sizzling meat, burning fingers as it was gingerly and hurriedly pulled from the hot skewer sounded mouth watering. A few times we’ve bought the lamb and last minute made something else.
Eat it Now Shish Kabob
4 TB Olive Oil
2 TB red wine vinegar
½ cup red wine
4 cloves garlic, crushed
2 teaspoons oregano
2 teaspoons rosemary
Salt and pepper
2 lbs. boneless lamb, cut in small cubes
1 large onion, cut into chunks
1 large tomato, cut into chunks
Whisk together the oil, wine, vinegar, garlic and spices in a large bowl.
Add meat and stir to coat.
Cover and refrigerate overnight, turn occasionally.
Thread cubes of lamb on skewers, occasionally adding a piece of onion or tomato. Look at the kabobs…all ready for the charcoal grill.
Grill over hot coals, turning once. Cook to medium rare and eat while sizzling.
Grill for roughly 8 minutes for medium rare……..
Pair with a Shiraz…because Shiraz just goes sooo well with lamb. Pita bread and hummus. Salad……
Eating well, having fun, enjoying good company and a bottle of wine is as pleasurable an evening as you can hope for.
Please do check out the Cook the Books blog. Read and cook if it suits you or be a silent lurker like me And definitely try this lamb. Mmmmmm
Savoring the Flavors of Our Woods, Waters and Fields – American Terroir - a book by Rowan Jacobsen which Library Thing very kindly sent me to review.
Terroir, a French term usually associated with wine is about, in Jacobson’s words “the taste of place.”
You read about the history, science and culture in an entertaining way. It is succinct and imparts the information of how and why some foods taste the way do but it’s not overly scientific.
Almost all chapters of this book are devoted to specific foods in specific regions (terrior) for example maple syrup in Vermont, varietal honeys in Apalachicola area (special to me because I live in the area), Totten Inlet oysters from Washington, wines in California and many other specialties. There are color photos midway through the book – I love the one of the Florida bee swarm.
My only complaint would be that the book does not have an index. It sure is nice to go back and find a particular item and as a result, my book is littered with tiny slices of paper so bookmark my favorite spots.
Included in the chapters Jacobsen adds a recipe, highlighting the star of the chapter. I have prepared several. Here is one, the Maple Carmelized Apples.
Please Note: All recipes are from American Terroir by Rowan Jacobsen
4 TB butter
¼ cup maple syrup
6 apples, peeled, cored and sliced
½ teaspoon cinnamon
Pinch of grated nutmeg
Zest and juice from 1/8 lemon
Heat butter and maple syrup in skillet over medium heat until bubbling.
Add apples and cinnamon, toss to coat in butter-syrup mixture and cook, stirring and turning apples occasionally, until they are browned and soft but not mushy. This should take 6 to 8 minutes.
Turn off heat and add nutmeg, lemon zest and juice – stir. Let the dish cool enough so the sauce thickens,
NOTE: Use a firm and tart variety of apple such as Honeycrisp, Jonagold, McIntosh or Granny Smith,
You could serve this with a scoop of vanilla ice cream or to fancy it up, bake it in puff pastry.