Feast of Sorrow by Crystal King {The featured selection of Cook the Books}

feastofSorrowThis book is the featured selection at Cook the Books for December/January. Thank you Debra for choosing this one….I was completely engaged with this story. Food, drink, historical content, political maneuvering, joy and yes….sorrow.

Be prepared to be intoxicated with vivid descriptions of lavish meals and the preparation for wickedly decadent parties.  I enjoy historical fiction as it gives me appetite (pun intended) to learn more about the real characters.

Your heart will go out to Thrasius, the slave purchased  for an astronomical sum to become head chef for Marcus Apicus.  The story is told from his point of view and I found it very interesting, especially the depictions of real life characters such as Apicus, Apicata, Pliny, Sejanus and Drusus.

Apicus was maniacal in his quest to become Caesar’s culinary adviser and the journey to secure his dream was amazing.  I will try and find more books about him.  He didn’t realize wealth alone wouldn’t pave the way.

The actual rendering of Marcus Apicus surprised me a bit as I envisioned Gerard Butler while reading the book.  What visual came to mind as Apicus was losing his temper or sweet talking the guests?  It was Butler for me. Totally.

The treason and infidelities committed in this book makes for a good plot.  I was simultaneously fascinated and saddened to see innocents drawn in, suffering undeserved consequences. The ending chapters were indeed horrifying but I can’t give away the plot.  It all comes together and I could have read more.

With so many meals to choose from you can’t go wrong, although I was never tempted to have fried flamingo tongues or hyacinth bulbs. Spinach Pie did sound like a winner. So that was made in addition to a shrimp paella served with liberal amounts of white wine and homemade bread. (photos above)

The treat, the decadent addition to the table for us, is a cheese we’ve never had called Jasper Hill Harbison.  It’s a soft ripened cheese wrapped in strips of spruce cambium.  See it below?  It’s actual spruce wrapping.  The most unique cheese we have ever had and whoa….so delicious.   Instead of using a knife I used a mini spatula to dip into the cheese for spreading.  Maybe they made something like this in ancient Roman times, using tree bark. It’s wonderful.

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You have until January 31, 2018 to read and review if you’d care to hook up. I recommend this historical accounting of Apicus and ancient Rome.  Click HERE for the link to Cook the Books.

Adding my review to Goodreads and Beth Fish Reads for her Weekend Cooking Series.

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The Mountain Between Us. A tale of survival, love and regret….

mountainI have been absent on my reviews and participation due to a death in our family.  Everything stops and momentum is changed when someone leaves us.  This book I am sharing now came at a good time. I think so anyway.

So, to the book.  Earlier this month I saw a movie trailer for The Mountain Between Us and thought I’d like to see it….but I wanted to read the book first.  I always want to read the book first.  This is a tale of survival, love, regret and chances missed.

This story was engaging and I had a hard time putting it down. People are stranded at an airport and obviously frustrated.  It starts with Dr. Ben Payne recording notes into a small recorder about cases he’s working on.  Ashley Knox sits beside him on the floor so she can share the outlet to charge her computer.  They chat and then they part ways for the night since flights are cancelled during a snowstorm.  Soon they arrange to share a private flight in a two-seater plane.  The plane crashes it the Utah mountains and here is where the story really develops.

It seems they are lost, no way to tell which way to hike toward civilization yet they can’t sit and await rescue.  The pilot hadn’t filed a flight plan so no one knows where they are.  Both Ben and Ashley are injured and honestly, you’ll think things can’t get much worse.  Fabulous story with a twist at the end.

Without giving spoilers I will say a food item mentioned is soup.  It’s vegetable soup in the book but I present you with a Tomato Basil soup.  Grilled cheese and tomato soup.  What more could you ask for, great pairing.

Fresh Tomato Basil Soup

4 cups fresh tomatoes, chopped (or use a large can of Tuttorosso tomatoes).
Chop 6 fresh basil leaves.  1 cup vegetable broth or tomato juice
1 cup half-n-half or milk (Almond milk works!)
2 tablespoons butter
Salt and pepper, to taste

Combine tomatoes and juice in a saucepan. Simmer 30 minutes.  Now puree mix in food processor or use immersion blender.  Add basil leaves.  Return to saucepan and add milk and butter.  Serve with grilled cheese!

Linking up with:

Beth Fish Reads for her Weekend Cooking Series.
Girlxoxo for the 2017 Monthly Motif Challenge.  For August the theme is seasons, elements and weather.
Deb at Kahakai Kitchen for her Souper Sunday series. The linkup for this week may be found HERE.
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A Year Between Friends: Crafts, recipes and best of all….friendship.

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A Year Between Friends: 3191 Miles Apart is a lovely book filled with craft ideas, recipes, letters and best of all – friendship.

Molly Wizenberg wrote the forward and it’s a great beginning.  She explained how she discovered a blog called  Port2Port where Maria (MAV) was an author.  This was over 10 years ago.  Molly and Maria were fans of Stephanie Congdon (SCB) on Flickr.

The ladies began collaborating with photo projects and craft ideas. They have been corresponding for quite some time and the result was deep friendship between Maria and Stephanie.

This book is divided by the months of the year. They each take photos of their respective locales – Maria who goes by MAV is in Portland Maine and Stephanie (SCB) lives in Portland Oregon.  In addition to photos there are recipes and letters.

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My dear friend Mary Margaret lives in Alaska and I live in Florida.  About as far away as friends can be and still be in the USA. This book reminded me of our deep friendship and how the miles didn’t matter a lick.  I can still call her and talk to her as if I’d seen her a day ago.  This has been going on since the late 1970’s. (Yes, I am a senior citizen 🙂

What a lovely display of friendship this book is.

From Amazon:  Maria Alexandra Vettese and Stephanie Congdon Barnes share a love of art and design, handmade pleasures, and a well-lived domestic life. Almost a decade ago, they began their first year-long project together, posting a photo from each of their mornings on their blog, 3191 Miles Apart, named for the distance between their homes in Portland, Maine, and Portland, Oregon.

The inspired recipe from this book is soup. But we haven’t been eating much meat lately and so, while I planned on chicken soup….I diverted to a veggie chili.  Very different but one of the biggest components in this book features healthy eating.

I made a black bean chili with finely chopped zucchini, green onions,tomatoes, mushrooms and a little bit of water. Once everything started thickening up I added about 3/4 cup of brown rice.

The plus of our healthier eating (and additional walking) is the weight loss.  My husband has lost 22 pounds while I have lost 12 pounds. Yes, I keep up with him eating and drinking yet my weight loss has been considerably slower.  🙂  Oh well!

Good book with great recipes and craft ideas.  You will love flipping through it.

Linking up with Deb at Kahakai Kitchen for her Souper Sunday series. The linkup for this week may be found HERE.

Also linking with Beth Fish Reads for her Weekend Cooking Series.

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Strange Affair by Peter Robinson

strangeEach time I read a DCI Banks novel I think I will jump right to the next one. I love this guy! But then I realize I will be caught up and have to wait for the next publication so I am slowly savoring each novel, reading something else in between these books. It’s great that Peter Robinson writes these novels in real time. When I started with Gallows View (Book #1) Alan Banks had just moved to Yorkshire, his children were in school, he was in a happy marriage and his career was on the right path.

I just finished Strange Affair (Book #15) and so much has changed. Banks is, naturally, older and has had some boost in rank. His kids are grown and one is in college. It’s been nice reading along watching the progressions.

Strange Affair starts off with a woman driving away from London, obviously frightened for her life as she expresses she will be safe in just a few hours. Before you get too many pages into the book she is found dead, still in her vehicle, with a single gunshot wound to her head. Her purse and cell phone are missing but in her back pocket is a hastily written note with Alan Banks’ name and address.

Banks can’t be located because he has driven off to London in search of his brother Roy. A day earlier Roy called Banks and left a voice message that he was in danger and he needed help. When big brother Alan couldn’t reach Roy he decided to drive to London. He didn’t tell anyone about Roy’s call and he didn’t call in to the police station to let them know he’d be gone. With the discovery of a dead woman who was headed toward Banks’ Yorkshire address and him now missing, the Eastvale police have him as an unofficial suspect.

Most of this story line takes place in London. We alternate between Banks looking for his brother and DI Annie Cabbot looking into the murder of the young woman. Not too far into the book you see they are connected, both the murder and Roy’s disappearance. You also see a more reflective side of Alan Banks as he’s working though his depression over a house fire (Book # 14) and him getting to know more about his brother.

There are 22 DCI Banks books currently published. I will be on to #16 soon and once I catch up, I will one of the eager fans waiting for the next publication.

For my representative meal I made a chicken, sausage, potato and tomato bake.  Wine was the choice of drink as DCI Banks is off his whiskey for a while.

Recipe may be found at Squirrel Head Manor…. HERE.

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Linking up with Joy’s British Isles Friday
The British Book Challenge at The Overflowing Library

Beth Fish Reads Weekend Cooking Series

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In a Dry Season, book #10 in the DCI Banks series

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Reading Peter Robinson’s series about DCI Alan Banks has me wanting to drink more gin and tonics, eat more pub style food and wanting to visit Yorkshire. This is book # 10 in the DCI Banks series and I am already tucked into the next book. More on that one later. I am absolutely addicted to these police procedurals and will be at a loss when I have caught up with Robinson’s latest books.

In a Dry Season starts with skeletal remains being discovered under an old outbuilding. A boy is exploring village structures which had been underwater for over 50 years. The village had been flooded to create a reservoir long ago but with drought conditions, the reservoir dried out, this old town emerges. It’s mostly preserved and as you can imagine, a child would love to snoop around in such a magical looking place. The boy falls through the roof of a structure and discovers the human bones.

The mystery starts with DCI Banks being assigned to this remote little corner, teaming up with DC Annie Cabot. They have to determine if the remains are from an accident or a covered up murder. How can they possibly know who this was or what happened since the place has been underwater for so many years. The side story features a mystery novelist who is clearly upset when she views the emerging story on television news. Obviously she knows something, you can tell that from the first few pages of her storyline, but how much involvement or information does she have? The story moves back and forth between present day and 1941 in the war era.

This book and Final Account have been my favorites so far. I love how Alan Banks’ character continues to develop and hearing about his personal life interjected into the investigation.

I am already reading Cold is the Grave, book #11. Totally addicted!

Food references……….

Food mentioned throughout. As Banks was studying a menu in a pub:
“Banks went through tandoori chicken and chips, venison medallions in a red wine sauce and fettucine Alfredo before striking gold: beef and stilton pie.”

People in the countryside always fared better than city folk as far as food went during rationing:
“There were always plenty of vegetables, egg, butter and milk. Our neighbor, Mr. Halliwell, the butcher, was probably the most popular man in town, so we were able to swap any tea and sugar for an extra piece of mutton or pork.”

“For Gloria’s twentieth birthday … we gorged ourselves on grilled sausage with mashed potatoes, braised butter beans, followed by jam roll with custard.”

“Annie filled a large pan with water and added a little salt and oil then set it on the gas ring. She didn’t waste a gesture as she chopped mushrooms, shallots, garlic and courgettes…”

“Vivian Emsley sat down with her gin and tonic….”

Drinks include Swan’s Down Bitter, Theakston’s bitter, claret and Banks’ signature drink, Laphroaig Scotch.

This one is for Detective Constable Annie Cabot – a vegetarian offering, something hard to find in the pubs. I substituted eggplant for the courgettes, getting the recipe from Leanne Brown’s cookbook, Good and Cheap. Recipe may be found at Squirrel Head Manor

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Mystery and Police Procedurals – Do you have a favorite author?

Adding my review to Goodreads, The British Book Challenge, Joy’s British Isles Friday and Beth Fish Reads for her Weekend Cooking Series.

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Weekend Cooking is open to anyone who has any kind of food-related post to share: Book (novel, nonfiction) reviews, cookbook reviews, movie reviews, recipes, random thoughts, gadgets, quotations, photographs. If your post is even vaguely foodie, feel free to grab the button and link up anytime over the weekend. You do not have to post on the weekend. Please link to your specific post, not your blog’s home page. For more information, see the welcome post.

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Blood at the Root by Peter Robinson

blood In my opinion Blood at the Root isn’t one of Robinson’s best books with DCI Banks, but that certainly won’t keep me from reading more of this series. There is much going on this book besides the usual murder to solve. Relationships are shattered, there are problems between Banks and his immediate supervisor, his wife wants a separation and he suddenly realizes he is very alone.

I felt sorry for Banks in this book. He is stinging from his argument with Sandra and he drops in on his daughter who is a student at Leeds University, only to discover she is out with friends at a pub. When he arrives and sees Tracy laughing and enjoying herself with friends, he hesitates. Not wanting to join her and disrupt the fun he silently leaves without her ever knowing he was there. He is reminded of his wife as Tracy looks so much like Sandra, blonde hair and dark eyebrows.

The main storyline is about the murder of a racist, a young man who is/was a member of a neo-Nazi group. There was an argument between him and three Pakistani men so naturally, the Pakistanis fall under suspicion. There are other suspects cropping up once DCI Banks and DC Susan Gay start an investigation. Susan has a private revelation that she is attracted to Alan Banks, a situation that would cause big problems since Alan is her boss. And married. After reading eight books in this series I never tire of Eastvale and how a small town police agency operate, or Banks’ continuing musical journey with opera or jazz or rock and roll.

It’s not a foodie book but food is mentioned here and there. The unappealing omelet Banks prepared for himself on late evening, mushroom pizza and one that really grabbed me – Chicken and mushroom pie and an Old Peculiar.

Having to stay away from wheat I didn’t make a pie crust but was inspired to make a chicken dinner with brown rice and veggies. It’s not a pub meal but I guess it could be, right?

On to my stack of books and will be reviewing The Martian, Skinnytaste and Getting Even.

Happy Reading!

Adding my review to Goodreads and Beth Fish Reads for her Weekend Cooking Series.

Weekend Cooking is open to anyone who has any kind of food-related post to share: Book (novel, nonfiction) reviews, cookbook reviews, movie reviews, recipes, random thoughts, gadgets, quotations, photographs. If your post is even vaguely foodie, feel free to grab the button and link up anytime over the weekend. You do not have to post on the weekend. Please link to your specific post, not your blog’s home page. For more information, see the welcome post.

This book was also on my list for British Books Challenge

The Apprentice: My Life in the Kitchen by Jacques Pepin

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This is one of the most engaging memoirs I have read in a long time. I didn’t know anything about Jacques Pepin’s personal life, his childhood or training in the culinary industry. After reading this book I know so much about him and enjoyed each and every chapter. The funniest story, ok it was a little gross too, was about the calf’s heads. Actually there were many amusing stories in this book so it’s hard to pick just one.

Sometimes memoirs can be dry, a bit on the boring side. Not this one. I found myself reading some passages aloud to my husband.

As a child he worked in his mother’s restaurants and loved the hectic pace. His younger brother Bichon was the same way while older brother Roland felt it was slavery. As Jacques moved to an apprentice position in his first real job you learned how the new kid was “initiated” by running a fool’s errand for the chef.

He was sent off to a neighboring restaurant to get a heavy kitchen appliance where it had supposedly been loaned. Oh no, they had loaned it to another restaurant and so, off he ran. He was sent on to other places until he secured the item, making his way back across the village with a heavy load strapped to his back. It was just a load of bricks but it showed the drive and initiative of the young apprentice.

As he gained more experience he moved to larger restaurants and more responsibility. Learning to cook by observing and making a dish over and over and over was the teaching method. No recipes, no measurements.

The most surprising thing to me was he was in on the ground floor of Howard Johnson’s restaurants learning to reproduce good quality food that would be consistent in any of the HJ restaurants. He turned down a chance to work as a white house chef under the Kennedy administration to pursue his initial (American) career at HoJos. The standards were higher back then and you didn’t get sub-quality foods. That changed over the years, particularly after Howard Deering Johnson died. Subsequent owners concerned themselves with cutting costs at the expensive of good dining.

Reading about the differences in French and American cultures as seen through young Pepin’s eyes was interesting. Can you imagine being mocked for asking a question in a college class?

That was another good chapter where Pepin saw a startling difference between the two nations. Showing up for a dinner and patiently awaiting the bread and wine to arrive, only to realize the American hosts were tucking into their roast beef, potatoes and carrots without a thought of wine. Many more examples are detailed and I don’t want to ruin some of these stories for anyone who has not read the book.

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You’ll meet Pierre Franey, Craig Claiborne and Julia Child in this book and hear of their good times and business involvements. You’ll learn about hunting wild mushrooms, his military service, working for de Gaulle and his first experiences arriving in America.

Recipes follow each chapter so there are many to select and drool over. French cooking doesn’t have to be complicated. Any of the French cookbooks I own call for absolute simplicity and this is what Pepin delivers.

Semi-Dry Tomatoes and Mozzarella Salad

1 ½ pounds plum tomatoes (about 6) cut lengthwise into halves
¾ teaspoon salt
10 ounces mozzarella cheese, cut into ½ inch slices
2 tablespoons drained capers
½ teaspoon ground pepper
1 teaspoon chopped garlic
3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
½ teaspoon grated lemon rind
About 1 cup loose basil leaves

Method

Preheat oven to 250 F. Line a cookie sheet with foil. Arrange tomato halves cut side up on the sheet and sprinkle ½ teaspoon of the salt on top. Bake 4 hours. For a shortcut you can heat the oven up to 400 F and put the tomatoes in then turn off the oven. I do this as an overnight method sometimes.

Now remove tomatoes from the oven and place in a serving bowl. Let them cool then add mozzarella, capers, remaining salt, pepper, garlic, olive oil and lemon rind. Mix gently to combine.

Drop basil leaves into boiling water and cook about 10 seconds. Drain and cool under cold running water. Press basil between your palms to remove most of the water, then chop finely. Add to salad and toss well.

Let’s have a toast to Jacques Pepin!

I am cross posting to my foodie blog, Squirrel Head Manor.

Adding my review to Goodreads, Words and Peace French Book Challenge and Beth Fish Reads for her Weekend Cooking Series.

Weekend Cooking is open to anyone who has any kind of food-related post to share: Book (novel, nonfiction) reviews, cookbook reviews, movie reviews, recipes, random thoughts, gadgets, quotations, photographs. If your post is even vaguely foodie, feel free to grab the button and link up anytime over the weekend. You do not have to post on the weekend. Please link to your specific post, not your blog’s home page. For more information, see the welcome post.

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