Friday, August 29, 2014

The Book Tour Stops Here: A Review of "Season of the Dragonflies" by Sarah Creech with an Iron Chef's Summery Caprese Salad


There are books that seem made for a cold winter's night, those that are fitting for a rainy Sunday, or perhaps a breezy evening on the lanai. "Season of the Dragonflies" by Sarah Creech is a book that is made for a summer weekend. Summer is dragonfly season after all and this novel, full of family drama and magical realism, is a perfect escape for a sultry summer day, enjoyed with a big glass of icy-cold sweet tea and the scent of gardenias lingering in the air.

Hardcover: 336 pages
Publisher: William Morrow (August 12, 2014)

Publisher's Blurb:

For generations, the Lenore women have manufactured a fragrance unlike any other. Hidden in the quiet rolling hills of the Blue Ridge Mountains, their perfumery guards unique and mysterious ingredients. A secret known only to a select clientele of movie stars, politicians, artists, and CEOs, the Lenores’ signature elixir is the key to success for the world’s most powerful women.

Willow, the coolly elegant matriarch, is the brains behind the operation. Her gorgeous golden-haired daughter, Mya, is its heart. Like her foremothers, Mya can “read” scents and envision their power to influence events. But Willow’s younger daughter, dark-haired, soulful Lucia, claims no magical touch; wanting no part of the family business, she has left the mountains to make her own way in New York City.

When a divorce leaves Lucia at loose ends, she returns to the Blue Ridge Mountains for an uncomfortable family reunion and discovers trouble brewing. Willow is experiencing strange spells of forgetfulness. Mya is romancing a younger man and plotting to take the reins of the business. A client is threatening blackmail. And most ominously, the strange, magical plants that provide the perfume’s secret ingredient seem to be dying.

With the Lenore empire at stake, the sister who can save their lucrative scent stands to inherit when Willow steps down. Though Mya schemes, Lucia has suddenly begun to show signs of possessing her own special abilities. And her return to the mountains—heralded by a swarm of blue dragonflies—may be the answer they all need.

Capturing the essence of sisterhood with the sweetness of flowers, Season of the Dragonflies is a beguiling tale of practical magic, old secrets, and new love.

I am a fan of the magical realism genre--particularly Sarah Addison Allen and Alice Hoffman, and Season of the Dragonflies has that same feel. I loved the setting of the Blue Ridge Mountains and the town of Quartz Hollow, where Lenore Incorporated was formed and "the most enigmatic, expensive, and successful perfume in history" was created. Creech's writing had me picturing (and smelling) the scenes in my head--the magical fields of the mysterious Gardenia potentiae flower in particular. The concept of a secret perfume that makes its hand-selected wearer the top of their respective field--dance, music, movies, politics..., was fascinating. As much as Season of the Dragonflies is about magic, it is also about family and generations of strong women. It did take me a bit to warm up to the Lenore family so the first part of the book drug a bit. Lucia was the most likeable right off, Willow felt a bit too cold and Mya too angry at the world. As more of their stories and their motivations unfolded, I found myself feeling closer to them, and their somewhat dysfunctional family dynamic felt real. That growing attachment sped up the second half of the book for me, as I wanted to find out what would happen--things get a bit dicey--especially for Mya. Overall, it is a well-written and engaging story--especially for a first novel, and I look forward to reading more from this author. 



Author Notes: Born and raised in the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains, Sarah Creech grew up in a house full of women who told stories about black cloud visions and other premonitions. Her work has appeared in storySouthLiterary MamaAroostook ReviewGlass, and Glimmer Train. She received an MFA in 2008 and now teaches English and creative writing at Queens University of Charlotte. She lives in North Carolina with her two children and her husband, a poet. This is her first novel. Find out more about Sarah at her website, and connect with her on Facebook.

 
Although not a primary focus, there is food in this book--simmering vegetable stock with herbs, sushi, roast beef with rosemary, hummus and carrots, a grass-fed venison roast with a currant and coffee sauce, sour cherries for a pie, sausage biscuits and cinnamon-infused moonshine.  When Lucia is trying to make homemade supreme pizzas for a dinner with Ben, Willow helps her with the dough then makes a tower of a cherry tomato, a piece of mozzarella, and a basil leaf and pops it in her mouth. That got me thinking of a Caprese salad--one of my favorite salads. When done well, it is like summer on a plate. Then I was watching The Kitchen on Food Network over the weekend and they had a show about tomatoes. Iron Chef Geoffrey Zakarian made his version of a Caprese--simple in terms of ingredients, but a bit more prep than I often take with my tomato salads. Zakarian doesn't like tomato skin, or blanching tomatoes to remove the skin so he quarters his tomatoes, then cuts off the skin with a pairing knife then cutting them into bite-sized pieces. His salad looked amazing and I knew it had to be my dish for the book.


I adjusted the recipe to fit the local tomatoes that looked the best--using larger red vine tomatoes and sweet golden baby tomatoes. With the small basil leaves and little balls of Mozarella, it made for a beautiful plate of salad. 


Summery Tomato & Bocconcini Caprese
Recipe courtesy of Geoffrey Zakarian via The Kitchen at Food Network.com
(Serves 4)
 
1 vine-ripened red tomato
1 yellow tomato
1/4 cup currant tomatoes (or cherry tomatoes cut in half)
1 cup small fresh mozzarella balls (bocconcini)
3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, cold
1/4 cup loosely packed baby basil
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper

Cut the red and yellow tomatoes into quarters, and using a paring knife cut the skin away. Cut the quarters into 1-inch pieces. Scatter the cut tomatoes and currant tomatoes over a platter. Distribute the mozzarella balls between the tomato pieces. Drizzle with olive oil. Sprinkle with basil and season with salt and pepper.


Notes/Results: Probably one of the best Caprese salads I have eaten, every flavor note was spot on. Taking the time to remove the skin from the tomatoes and cut them into sections makes them even juicier and it is much nicer to eat than sawing through the slices that come with your average Caprese. The little tomatoes add a wonderful candy-like sweetness to the mix. Zakarian said he never uses balsamic because it overpowers the tomatoes and I agree, the olive oil--chilled before dressing and the pepper and sea salt (I used local Alaea salt--sea salt mixed with red alae volcanic clay) allowed the tomatoes and baby basil leaves to shine. Baby basil is another good call--using the small leaves that are tender and bite size works really well in this salad. In fact, with the bocconcini, everything in this salad is bite-sized and easy to eat. Zakarian says this serves 4 but I would say two comfortably as a starter and one hungry girl as dinner. ;-) A little more effort than my normal Caprese but very well worth it and perfect on a humid night. I will make this again.  


Note: A review copy of "The Virtues of Oxygen" was provided by the publisher and TLC Book Tours in return for a fair and honest review. I was not compensated for this review and as always my thoughts and opinions are my own. 
 
You can see the stops for the rest of the TLC Book Tours and Reviews here.


 

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

'StrawBarry' Marshmallow Mousse for Food 'N Flix August: Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs

This month's Food 'N Flix is a double feature of the animated movies Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs and/or Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs 2. Selected by Camilla of Culinary Adventures with Camilla, there is plenty of food in both of these films--if you don't mind it falling from the sky or running around chasing you. 


Having seen the first film when it came out, I was going to view it again and then watch the second film, but time got away from me as usual and I was just able to squeeze in CWACOM Part 2. In this one, Flint Lockwood and his friends are back to Swallow Falls, where the foodimals generated by Flint's invention have taken over the island and Flint has to find his FLDSMDFR and stop the hybrids from taking over the world. 


The many foodimals were fun and at first I was going to make some Tacodiles--the somewhat scary taco-crocodile hybrids, but I changed my mind and decided to do a dish in tribute to one of my favorite foodimals--Barry, the cute strawberry with the big eyes that Flint's girlfriend, Sam Sparks, befriends and names. I was thinking something pudding or mousse like and when I went online looking for recipes, I came across a Strawberry Marshmallow Mousse on BBC GoodFood. Perfect as Flint finds and is later rescued by a large family of marshmallows. So, in honor of Barry and the marshmallows, we have a sweet, fluffy (and pretty cannibalistic I guess) 'StrawBarry' Marshmallow Mousse ;-) 
 

'StrawBarry' Marshmallow Mousse
BBC GoodFood.com (from GoodFood readers Gemma Newman & Ruth Allott) 
(Serves 4) 

250 mg (8-ish oz) fresh strawberries, halved
25g (1 oz) caster (superfine) sugar
140 mg (5 oz) mini marshmallows
200 ml (6.78 oz) heavy cream

Put all but 2 of the strawberries into a pan along with 7 tbs water and the sugar. Over a medium heat, cook the strawberries until soft enough to mash, about 3 minutes. Take off the heat and squash the berries, using a fork, until pulpy. Add the marshmallows, then stir them into the hot strawberries until they dissolve. Leave to cool.  

Whip the cream until it holds it's shape. Fold the cream into the cooled strawberry mix, then spoon into one bowl or separate pots and chill for about 2 hours or until set. Cut the reserved strawberries in half to decorate.


Notes/Results: I thought this mousse might be cloyingly sweet with the marshmallows but, although it is sweet, it is light and fluffy with a pleasant strawberry and cream flavor. You taste the strawberries at the start and then the marshmallow flavor and texture comes through at the end. I would recommend 1/2 cup to 3/4 cup servings depending on the size of your cups/ramekins. This recipe goes together quickly and then it is just a point of waiting for it to set up. I found that the 2 1/2 hours I gave my mousse to set up before taking the pictures wasn't quite enough and that they were better after about 4 hours, or even overnight. This recipe would be a kid-pleaser for sure. I would make it again.


Thanks to Camilla for a fun movie pick! Submissions for this Food 'N Flix round are due August 29th. If you missed this month and like food, movies, and foodie movies, join us for September. We will be viewing the classic Funny Girl starring Barbara Streisand, hosted by Caroline of Caroline Makes.

 

Sunday, August 24, 2014

Nigel's Pappa al Pomodoro: Tomato & Bread Soup for Souper (Soup, Salad & Sammie) Sundays

In terms of looks, Pappa al Pomodoro is a bit of a hot mess in a bowl. Definitely more peasant, than elegant. Flavor and satisfaction are where its beauty lies. The chunks of thick bread sopping up all of the lovely ripe tomatoes and their juices. This is Nigel Slater's Classic Pappa al Pomodoro, with a bit of a twist that he mentions--adding roasted red pepper for a more Mediterranean feel. Using a combination of canned plum tomatoes plus perfectly ripe local Romas and fresh basil, it's a bit of summer in a bowl.


Nigel says, "The deeply satisfying classic soup pappa al pomodoro is an excellent way of using up a glut of tomatoes. A thick soup, no doubt designed to make tomato soup substantial enough to eat as a main course, it is often made entirely with canned tomatoes, but better if you include some sun-ripened fresh ones."
 

Pappa al Pomodoro Soup
Adapted from Nigel Slater via The Guardian
(Serves 4)

200g (about 8 oz) ripe tomatoes
2 Tbsp olive oil
2 cloves of garlic (I used 3 large cloves)
400g (14-15 oz) can plum tomatoes
12-15 basil leaves
4-5 slices bread

(I added 1 cup packed of roasted red pepper puree)
(I drizzled pesto and sprinkled small basil leaves on top)

Roughly chop 200g ripe, sweet-sharp tomatoes. Warm 2 tbsp of olive oil in a large pan, then add a couple of cloves of peeled and sliced garlic. Let them soften for a minute or two then add the tomatoes and a 400g can of plum tomatoes, then a can full of water. Bring to the boil, then immediately turn down the heat and leave to simmer for 30 minutes. 

Add 12 -15 large basil leaves, salt and black pepper and continue to simmer for 15 minutes. Tear up four or five thick slices of good bread, push them down into the soup then serve in deep bowls, trickled with olive oil. 

The Twist: I have eaten versions of this soup with roasted peppers in, turning it instantly into something more Mediterranean. Add them finely sliced and with a good pinch of sugar once the tomatoes have softened. I also like to blitz a little basil with olive oil to make a highly fragrant seasoning to pour over at the end.


Notes/Results: Thick, rich and very satisfying and quite a vibrant color too. I like the addition of the red pepper flavor. Nigel recommends slicing them thinly but I was looking for the flavor rather than the texture. The thin pesto drizzled on top adds a nice touch too. A great bowl of soup for a summer evening outside. I would make this again.



This soup is linking up for Potluck week at I Heart Cooking Clubs. The chance to make any Nigel Slater recipe or any dish from the previous IHCC chefs. You can check out what everyone made via the picture links on the post.


In the Souper Sundays kitchen with me this week is Joyce of Kitchen Flavours sharing her version of Giada's Chicken Stew. Joyce says, "No wonder there are so many good reviews about this dish at foodnetwork. This is one delicious stew! We ate this for our dinner on Sunday, with store-bought crusty bread. Such a simple meal, yet so satisfying. The veggies are tender-soft without being mushy. I cut the cooked chicken meat into bite-sized chunky pieces, discarding the bones, and the meat is tender and so tasty from the simmering with the herbs and veggies. I can see this stew appearing in my kitchen anytime in the near future!


Thanks to Joyce for joining me this week. If you have a soup, salad, or sandwich that you would like to share, just click on the Souper Sundays logo on the sidebar for all of the details.

Have a happy, healthy week! 

Thursday, August 21, 2014

The Book Tour Stops Here: A Review of "The Virtues of Oxygen" by Susan Schoenberger with Green Goddess Avocado Spread on Toast

"They weren't family, weren't the same age, or in remotely the same circumstances. They weren't colleagues either. But when Holly spent time with Vivian, she felt she was in the presence of a spirit akin to her own. They shared a peculiar mix of sentimentality and cynicism, as well as a mutual love of avocados.

--"The Virtues of Oxygen" by Susan Schoenberger


Publisher's Blurb:

From the award-winning author of A Watershed Year comes a heartrending story of unlikely bonds made under dire straits. Holly is a young widow with two kids living in a ramshackle house in the same small town where she grew up wealthy. Now barely able to make ends meet editing the town’s struggling newspaper, she manages to stay afloat with help from her family. Then her mother suffers a stroke, and Holly’s world begins to completely fall apart.

Vivian has lived an extraordinary life, despite the fact that she has been confined to an iron lung since contracting polio as a child. Her condition means she requires constant monitoring, and the close-knit community joins together to give her care and help keep her alive. As their town buckles under the weight of the Great Recession, Holly and Vivian, two very different women both touched by pain, forge an unlikely alliance that may just offer each an unexpected salvation.

Paperback: 242 pages
Publisher: Lake Union Publishing (July 22, 2014)

The Virtues of Oxygen is a beautiful and poignant book about friendship, family, and when friends become your family. I liked that it had depth beyond a typical women's fiction story of small town life and friendship. Holly and Vivian are both resilient characters who are trapped in different ways--Holly by her financial obligations and trying to keep a roof over her family's head, and Vivian by the iron lung machine that has kept her alive for 57-years, since the age of six when she contracted polio. The story is told mostly from Holly's point of view with Vivian's perspective and the history of her life given through her 'podcasts'--part of her online presence and a way she interacts with the world. It's interesting that technology, the thing that has helped Vivian open up her enclosed world, is the same thing that is making the town slowly crumble in the recession and moving Holly's newspaper job toward obsolete. I found Vivian's history and point of view fascinating. In the acknowledgements, the author writes of an article she read back in 2009 about a woman, Martha Mason, who contracted polio at age eleven and lived seventy years in an iron lung, and Vivian emerged from that article and Mason's autobiography, 'Breath,' that I have now downloaded onto my Kindle. (As well as Schoenberger's first novel A Watershed Year--to explore more of her writing.) My only complaint about this book was how quickly the pages went by as I found myself sorry to see the story end, I wanted to spend more time in the town of Bertram Corners and with these characters. 


Author Notes: Susan Schoenberger is the author of the award-winning debut novel A Watershed Year. Before turning her attention to writing fiction, she worked as a journalist and copyeditor for many years, most recently at The Hartford Courant and The Baltimore Sun. She currently serves as the director of communications at Hartford Seminary and teaches writing classes at the Mark Twain House in Hartford. She lives in West Hartford, Connecticut, with her husband and three   children. Connect with Susan at her website, susanschoenberger.com.


For my dish inspired by the book, I chose to go with avocados because of the shared love Holly and Vivian have for them. I too am an avocado lover and eat them regularly. Avocado toast is a common snack/meal for me--virtually any time of the day. Usually I keep it simple with just good bread, half of an avocado, a squeeze of lime, a pinch of salt and pepper, and a light sprinkling of Tabasco. Wanting something a little different and special to accompany this book review, I came across an Ellie Krieger recipe at FineCooking.com for a Avocado Green Goddess Dip. Being a fan of Green Goddess dressing, it seemed like a great match for the avocado, as well as a nod to Vivian and Holly, two strong and admirable women. 

To keep it chunky for optimum spreading, as well as dairy-free, I made a few small changes, noted in red below.  

Green Goddess Avocado Spread
Adapted from Ellie Krieger for FineCooking.com
(Makes about 1 1/3 Cups)

1 medium ripe avocado, pitted and peeled (I used 2 small avocados)
2 scallions (both green and white parts), thinly sliced
1/2 cup buttermilk (omitted)
1/4 cup fresh tarragon
1/4 cup fresh flat-leaf parsley
2 Tbsp sliced fresh chives
2 Tbsp white wine vinegar

(I added 1 Tbsp lime juice) 
fine sea salt and freshly ground white pepper

 
Put all of the ingredients in a food processor and process until smooth. Transfer to a bowl, season to taste with salt and pepper, and serve. (Note: As I wanted a chunkier texture and had two small avocados, I put one avocado in with the herbs, vinegar and lime juice and processed it until smooth. I then added the second avocado (chopped) and pulsed it several times so that it was still slightly chunky in texture.) 


Notes/Results: Creamy and herby with a nice bit of tang from the vinegar and lemon, this is a tasty spread--especially when slathered on a toasted piece of garlic bread. I liked the chunky texture which made it very satisfying. Although I show a knife and fork in the photos, it is best just picked up by hand and enjoyed. I will make this again. 


Note: A review copy of "The Virtues of Oxygen" was provided by the publisher and TLC Book Tours in return for a fair and honest review. I was not compensated for this review and as always my thoughts and opinions are my own. 
 
You can see the stops for the rest of the TLC Book Tours and Reviews here.  


 

Sunday, August 17, 2014

Nigella's Happiness Soup: Yellow Squash, Rice (& Lentils) for Souper (Soup, Salad & Sammie) Sundays

Can you find happiness in a bowl of soup? Nigella Lawson's Happiness Soup is a good place to start looking. A bright sunny hue of yellow squash, basmati rice, turmeric and lemon to which I added some split yellow peas to make it more substantial. It's a happy summer hug in a bowl. 


Nigella says, "Forgive the tweeness of the title, but this is a soup of such sunny, mood-enhancing yellowness that it overcomes even the most pervasively innate cynicism. To eat this is to feel cheered; even cooking it gives me a lift. It's incredibly easy to make, but that's not the clincher. This golden broth, rice-thickened and studded with a confetti dice of yellow courgettes and sprightly with lemon is pure joy. You only have to see it to believe it. And not surprisingly in some Middle-Eastern cultures, it is believed, in Claudia Roden's words, that 'eating yellow foods will result in laughter and happiness'. This, then, is a yellow soup to banish the blues."



Happiness Soup 
Adapted from Forever Summer by Nigella Lawson
(Serves 4-6)

500g/ roughly 18oz yellow zucchini/courgettes (2 large) 
(I added one diced sweet Maui onion) 
zest and juice of 1 small lemon
3 Tbsp olive oil (see my notes above regarding this)
1 tsp turmeric (see above also)
1 litre/ 4 cups chicken stock (I used 6 cups veggie mock chicken stock)
(I added 1/2 cup split yellow lentil/peas) 
115g/ 4oz basmati rice
Maldon or other sea salt & pepper

Wash and cut the unpeeled squash into very thin rings, and then dice them finely. Put them into the pan with the lemon zest and oil. (I started the onions first, cooked them for a few minutes and then added the other items.) Stir to coat, then cook on a gentle heat for about 5 minutes, stirring occasionally until slightly softened.  

Stir in the turmeric and pour in the stock and lemon juice and then drop in the rice (I added the yellow lentils at this point.) Cook, uncovered, for 2--25 minutes or until the squash, lentils and rice are tender. Taste for seasoning. Leave to cool slightly before serving so that you eat the soup warm rather than piping hot.


Notes/Results: A pleasing, thick and satisfying soup with bright lemony notes. You can't help being in a good mood looking at it. I liked the addition of the lentils to the mix to add some protein and the sweet local onion I added for more flavor. With the addition of the lentils, I added an extra two cups of broth but between the rice and the lentils, this soup sucks up a lot--if you want a brothier bowl, have more on hand to thin it out especially after it sits. A good soup for a summer evening, I would make it again. 


This coming week is Potluck at I Heart Cooking Clubs--the opportunity to cook any Nigel Slater dish or a recipe from any previous IHCC chef like Nigella Lawson. You can see what everyone made by checking out the picture links once the post goes live.


We have a couple of good friends with salads awaiting in the Souper Sundays kitchen--let's have a look.


Janet of The Taste Space shares this Creamy Curried Lentil Salad and says, "...itching to make something new, I decided to make a spin on two of my other favourite salads, aka The Best Lentil Salad and The Best Chickpea Salad. This time, I used lentils, capers and currants but with a dressing more similar to the tahini-maple-curry dressing from the chickpea salad. I added some greens, too, which I like to add to lentil salads. It was so delicious, it barely lasted one meal. Got to love simple salads like this."


 
Joanne from yummyveg is back with Pasta Salad with Kiwi Dressing. She says, "Tangy, sharp, surprisingly creamy, sweet, all of these words describe the kiwi dressing I´ve used on my pasta salad. It might seem like a lot of salad dressing but I have to say I didn’t actually use all of it. The thing is the pasta absorbs it so I think half isn’t quite enough. Better too much than too little. The watercress provides a spicy contrast to the tartness of the kiwi and the beans make this a complete salad which can be eaten as a one bowl meal."


Thanks to Janet and Joanne for joining in this week. If you have a soup, salad or sandwich that you would like to share, just click on the Souper Sundays logo on my side bar for all of the details.

Have a happy, healthy week!
 

Friday, August 15, 2014

Grilled Opah with Lemon Compound Butter and Lemon & Garlic Zucchini with Mint & Feta

My favorite weeknight dinners are a piece of grilled local fish and a side salad or veggie. Something that can be thrown together quickly, is satisfying and tastes great. These two recipes adapted from Nigel Slater meet that criteria. The zucchini dish is uses fresh mint, lemon and garlic for optimum flavor--I added a bit of feta I had in the fridge for even more flavor. Local opah (moonfish) already has a rich buttery texture so the lemon compound butter enhances it and makes it a bit decadent.  


Nigel says, "Middle Eastern cooking is flecked with the cool pepperiness of fresh mint. Italian, and especially Sicilian, cooks include mint with zucchini, often in tandem with garlic and lemon. I find mint invigorating with all summer squashes and often make a dish where they (pattypan is particularly suitable) are cooked in olive oil with mint and the merest hint of garlic. It is very good with grilled fish."  


Lemon and Garlic Zucchini with Mint & Feta
Adapted from Tender by Nigel Slater
(Serves 1-2)

small zucchini (14 oz)
2 cloves garlic
3 Tbsp olive oil (I used 2 Tbsp)
a good handful of mint leaves
a small handful of flat-leaf parsley
juice of 1/2 lemon
sea slat and black pepper to taste
(I added crumbled feta--about 2 Tbsp)

Cut zucchini in half lengthwise and slice. Peel the garlic and coarsely chop it. Warm the olive oil in a shallow pan. Add the chopped garlic, let it fry for a minute over medium heat, then add the zucchini. Let them cook in the oil, turning them occasionally, until they are lightly golden and tender. Add the whole mint leaves and parsley leaves . Increase the heat, pour in the lemon juice, and let it bubble briefly. Add sea salt and black pepper to taste. Crumble over some feta.

Lemon Compound Butter
Adapted from "A Simple Sole" --Notes from the Larder by Nigel Slater
(Serves 2)

"I grate the zest of a small lime lemon into about 3 tablespoons of butter, mash in the juice (easiest to do when the butter isn't too cold), then fry the fillets in a little oil in a non-stick pan. Then I serve it with the butter melted on top.


Notes/Results: This was a fabulous dinner for a summer night. I loved the flavors in the zucchini dish--especially with the added feta. Next time I might throw on some pine nuts. Portion wise, Nigel says it serves two and I didn't weigh my zucchini, but I would consider it medium and felt like it would not be enough to feed two people--so if making for more than a single serving I would use more zucchini. (It looks deceptive in the picture because I used a salad-size plate.) The lemon compound butter was from a simple sole dinner recipe in Nigel's notes. Since I didn't have a lime on hand, I used lemon which went well with the side dish anyway. You could do this with any fish and it would be great. I will definitely make both of these again.  


It's Zest It Up! week at I Heart Cooking Clubs. You can see the of the citrus dishes the participants made by checking out the picture links on the post. 


Happy Aloha Friday!
 

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

The Book Tour Stops Here: A Review of "Desire Lines" by Christina Baker Kline and Sesame Bagels with Homemade Blueberry Cream Cheese Spread

Desire lines--"Strictly speaking, it's a landscape-architecture term for the paths people create when they cut across the grass instead of taking a prescribed route--people who follow their desires, if you want to be literal."  In Desire Lines, a novel by Christina Baker Kline, they represent the paths we take in life, or the paths we find ourselves on. In Kathryn's case, she finds herself lost and aimless in her failed marriage and unsatisfying career. She heads back to Bangor, Maine, where she grew up and where her life stalled with the disappearance of her best friend Jennifer on graduation night back in 1986. Tasked with writing an article for the local paper to coincide with the 10-year class reunion and Jennifer's disappearance, Kathryn looks for answers and tries to find herself along the way. 


Publisher's Blurb:

On the night of her high school graduation, Kathryn Campbell sits around a bonfire with her four closest friends, including the beautiful but erratic Jennifer. “I’ll be fine,” Jennifer says, as she walks away from the dying embers and towards the darkness of the woods. She never comes back.

Ten years later, Kathryn has tried to build a life for herself, with a marriage and a career as a journalist, but she still feels the conspicuous void of Jennifer’s disappearance. When her divorce sends her reeling back to the Maine town where she grew up, she finds herself plunged into a sea of memories. With nothing left to lose, she is determined to answer one simple question: What happened to Jennifer Pelletier?

Paperback: 384 pages 
Publisher: William Morrow Paperbacks; Reprint edition (August 12, 2014)

This is my second Christina Baker Kline book, (you can read my Book Tour review of Sweet Water here--along with the recipe some tasty Sparkling Tarragon Gin Lemonade.) I liked the characters, especially Kathryn (although at times I wanted to shake her), and her high school friend and currently developing romantic interest Jack. The family dynamics between Kathryn, her divorced parents, grandmother, and dad's second wife seemed realistic. I related to the high school in the 80's flashbacks--the music, the times, and the author's description of the reunion reminded me of my own 10-year. "Age and experience are recorded differently on each face--some are fleshier, some fit, some shockingly older, some virtually unchanged." The book has enough of a mystery to have me change my mind several times on who was responsible for Jennifer's disappearance while wondering who knew what, and what actually happened to her. In the end the mystery isn't completely wrapped up but it was satisfying enough.There were a few suspenseful moments but the story unfurls itself slowly, in small bits and is more on the relationships--friends and family, Kathryn's self discovery, and her realization that she  doesn't know her friends as well as she thought she did--everyone has some secrets that they hide. Overall an easy and enjoyable read for a summer weekend.


Christina Baker Kline was born in England and raised in Maine. The author of five novels, including the runaway bestseller Orphan Train, Kline has taught literature and creative writing at Yale, New York University, and Fordham. She lives outside of New York City.
 
Find out more about Kline at her website, connect with her on Facebook, and follow her on Twitter.


There is food mentioned in the book--vegetable lasagna, mussels and salad, curried chicken salad and cold artichokes, pizza, banana-walnut pancakes with maple syrup, cold cereal and frozen pot pies, dinner at an Italian restaurant with 'meatballs the size of tennis balls' and a bagel shop with bialys and an oddly appealing matzoh-ball pea soup. Blueberries, a popular Maine fruit, were mentioned a few times--trains 'carrying potatoes from Fort Kent and blueberries from Cherryfield,' Blueberry lager, and a blueberry-filled jelly doughnut. While trying to come up with an angle to start the story, Kathryn finds herself at the Bagel Shop with a cup of coffee and a sesame bagel with blueberry cream cheese, and that's what I decided to make as my dish inspired by the book. A big puffy toasted sesame seed bagel slathered with homemade Blueberry Cream Cheese Spread is a great way to start a summer morning. I like the combination of lemon and blueberry so I added lemon juice and zest and a touch of good maple syrup to sweeten things up.  


Blueberry Cream Cheese Spread
by Deb, Kahakai Kitchen
(Makes about 1 1/4 Cups)

1/2  cup fresh blueberries + extra to garnish
1 (8 oz) package cream cheese, softened to room temp
1 Tbsp maple syrup or other sweetener (optional)
zest of 1 lemon
1 Tbsp lemon juice

Rinse and drain blueberries, making sure to remove any stems/dried leaves. Place blueberries into a small saucepan and add the maple syrup, lemon zest and juice. Simmer gently, stirring occasionally for 4-5 minutes or until berries have softened. Remove from the heat and cool completely. (You can also put them into the fridge to cool faster.)

Place the cream cheese into a mixing bowl and whip with an electric mixer for a minute or two. Using a slotted spoon, slowly add in the berries a bit at a time until thoroughly mixed into cream cheese--scraping down the bowl to make sure it is all mixed in. Add as much of the berry liquid as needed to maintain a good creamy, spreadable consistency. I like to have it slightly 'chunky' with bits of berry but you can process it until it is the consistency you like. Leftover berries and liquid are good on ice cream or on top of yogurt.

Place in serving dish and refrigerate, covered, until firm or until needed. Garnish with extra blueberries. Spread on toasted bagels and enjoy. 


Notes/Results: Gorgeously purple and studded with little chunks of blueberries, this is a creamy and indulgent bagel spread. If you want a smoother spread and/or don't have fresh blueberries, you could sub in a good blueberry jam. The lemon brightens things up a bit and depending on how sweet your berries are and how sweet you like your spreads, you can omit the maple syrup or adjust it to your taste. Simple to throw together and more flavor than the store-bought variety, it's worth the small amount of time and effort. I would make it again.   


Note: A review copy of "Desire Lines" was provided by the publisher and TLC Book Tours in return for a fair and honest review. I was not compensated for this review and as always my thoughts and opinions are my own. 
 
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