Monthly Archives: May 2014

You win some, you lose some

To be perfectly honest, friends, I flubbed this whole blog thing a bit the past couple of weeks. Work has been extremely busy and all of my creative pursuits (including this one) have gone by the wayside.

I was going to try to pull the wool over your eyes by sharing a lovely rhubarb compote that I whipped up before the rest of the stuff hit the fan, but it turns out I’ve lost my notes on the recipe. So, I can’t even do that. Ah well, I guess you win some, you lose some.

The compote was based on this recipe, which is an old stand-by for me during rhubarb season, but it was slightly less sweet and made with local Meadowfoam Honey. Just look at how delightful it is:

finished compote

I am still very glad I made it because it has been my constant breakfast companion during this hectic time. You can spread it on toast or dollop it onto oatmeal and Voilà! A plain breakfast suddenly feels special and ever-so-spring-like. Maybe I’ll give it another go, now that things have calmed down, and share it with you then.

In the meantime, I highly recommend whipping up your own version if you get your hands on some rhubarb. The original recipe is quite simple and easily adaptable. It mixes well with berries (fresh or frozen), it takes kindly to the addition of chia seeds, and you can use almost any sweetener you have on hand. I even grated a Granny Smith apple into it one time because I was low on sugar and honey. Now that’s my kind of recipe.

So…what else do you want to talk about?

How about the cherries that I was absolutely delighted to find sprouting this week on the tree in our backyard? The thing with this cherry tree is that we knew when we moved in that it was a cherry tree, but we didn’t think it was going to bear fruit this year (or for a long time) because of the way it was pruned by the owner. Blah, blah, blah, long story, but lookit!

cherries

Those are cherries in the making, my friend, and there are lots of them. I’m so excited! Now, I’ve been warned about the havoc that birds can wreak on a producing fruit tree, and I have already begun planning evasive maneuvers (that will not hurt any birds!) So, assuming that goes well and we have cherries in the next month or so, I’ve also begun gathering cherry recipes.

Cherries are generally a fruit I enjoy raw because they are a) delicious raw, b) SO expensive I never want to buy enough for a recipe, and c) a pain in the butt to pit. If I have enough free cherries to eat raw and cook into to tasty treats though, you better believe I will do just that. Here are some of the recipes I have my eye on:

Do you have any other ideas for me? I’m all ears! And I promise to keep you posted on the results. Maybe I’ll even get it together enough to share an actual recipe on this very blog. Go figure!

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BookloverCook Reviews: Delicious! by Ruth Reichl

I’ve been cooking and reading a lot lately, but the reading has been better. Thus, I bring you my second review in a row. In all seriousness though, I am really excited to tell you about this book because I just had so much fun reading it.

Delicious! is food world star Ruth Reichl’s highly anticipated first novel, and it was published this week. I was lucky enough to receive an advance copy, which is why I’m able to tell you about the 375-page tome so hot on the heels of its publication.

It is the coming of age story of Billie Breslin, a shy and insecure 20-something who we meet just as she has dropped out of college to take an assistant job at a high profile food magazine in New York called Delicious! But not long after she starts this dream job, Delicious! is abruptly shuttered and Billie’s world is turned upside down – again. Out of this event comes a wonderful discovery, however, involving a secret room in the Delicious! library, a mysterious riddle created by a spirited former librarian (!!), and a cache of letters written to the magazine’s most famous employee, James Beard. What ensues opens Billie’s eyes to history, the world and people around her, and most importantly, to herself.

Delicious! cover

If I had to choose one word to describe this book, (which I realize no one is making me do, but just hypothetically) it would be Indulgence. The opening chapters are pure wish fulfillment, as we are swept, along with Billie, into a fantasy job (for any food-lover at least) at a food magazine and a gustatory tour of New York that is a sensory explosion. And the story itself just makes you feel good, like slipping into a warm bath with a glass of wine and a square of dark chocolate after a long day.

If you read for dazzling, literary language, I will caution that there are some clichés and foibles that will give you pause here and there. If, however, you read for a compelling story that keeps up a good clip, for characters who feel like your best friends by the end, for pure enjoyment, then you will eat it up. (Sorry, I just can’t help myself!)

I can see this book appealing to a broad set of readers. If you love food writing you will be enthralled by the first few chapters, and by the time the food writing slows down and the story picks up, you will be too absorbed to notice. Reichl fans that read and enjoyed her memoirs will not be disappointed with her fiction debut. In fact this book made me want to go back and read everything she’s ever written. I predict that fans of genres such as Chick Lit or Women’s Fiction (both terms I hate, but how else to say it?) will like it, and even Romance readers might like it, though it doesn’t necessarily adhere to that form.

As I mentioned in the beginning Delicious! is long, nearly 400 pages. If you can believe it though, one of my criticisms of it is actually that some of the storylines are tied up too quickly at the end. I spent so long reading about them that I was disappointed to have them dispensed with in so few pages. Plus, once I got into the story I truly did not want it to end and I relished every one of its 375 pages.

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BookloverCook Reviews: Slices of Life by Leah Eskin

One of my favorite kinds of books, there have been so many of them over recent years that they might constitute a genre by now, is the food memoir. A book that explores, pokes, prods, and marinates in the connection between food and our internal lives. Because sure, food nourishes our physical bodies, but it also nourishes our souls – or at least it should – and thus the experience of it can be emotional, memorable, important.

Slices of Life by Leah Eskin, published in early April, has this connection at its heart. A compilation of her Chicago Tribune column, “Home on the Range,” this book packs a decade of such exploration into a single volume that can be enjoyed in quick bites or as long, leisurely meals. And speaking of meals, each column includes a recipe – 200 overall. These recipes are, for the most part, very accessible to the home cook. They aren’t fancy or complicated; they are the dependable, comforting fare that you cook for your family, which is, of course, what Eskin was doing during the years she was also writing the column.

Slices of Life

I have to admit that upon first receiving the advance copy of this book to review, I thought I wasn’t going to like it. The idea of a whole book of newspaper columns just didn’t sound like it would be up my alley. As much as I like to read about food, I need a story. Fortunately, Eskin is much more adept with her form than I gave her credit for and this book has a definite story – one that is funny, relatable, and touching.

In a creative and masterful way, Eskin arranges her columns – supplemented here and there by sections of new writing to provide necessary linkages – in a way that I like to think of as a mosaic. Through each essay you get a close-up, intimate view of individual moments and events in her life both big and small: a summer beach trip with her family, the death of her grandmother, a bad haircut, a move across the country, a storm that knocks the power out. And then through reading them all you can pull back and see the big picture of her life with all her identities: as a mother, wife, daughter, friend, pet owner, professional writer, and more. I loved reading one at a time when I could, finding pockets of reading time here and there to read one or two, but I also spent a few multi-hour sessions devouring scores of them.

Another aspect of this book that I admire, as a person who writes and adapts recipes, is Eskin’s recipe writing style. The only thing that can make a recipe “yours” (both figuratively and legally) is unique writing, especially in the method/instructions section. Eskin has this type of unique recipe writing down to a science. Take this recipe for Sparkling Salad, a celebratory dish Eskin includes after a poignant column about a breast cancer scare:

Serves any number (count about two pieces of fruit per person). Scrutinize the fruit drawer; gather all your citrus options. Lots of oranges, plenty of tangerines, some clementines, a grapefruit, a lemon, a lime. Relying on your sharpest knife, cut away the peel and pith of each. Slice into translucently thin rounds. Arrange the circles in a shallow bowl (glass would be traditional). Scatter with a handful of pomegranate seeds, if the arrangement is lacking color. Douse with Champagne. Chill until stunningly cold (if your fridge isn’t up to the task, consider a few minutes in the freezer). This recipe is a descendant of that culinary classic, Orange Ambrosia, also called, endearingly, Bride’s Dessert. In other words, exquisitely simple. Also bracingly delicious. And full of early-morning optimism.

Slices of Life speaks to precisely what I love about food writing and what makes food so important in all our lives. “I write about food,” she says in the Introduction, “so I write about home, about family, and about love. It’s not always Strife or Injustice; it’s rarely Paris. But it is, I’d say, Important.”

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